ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Back now with Day to Day. And to end our program, the weirdest story you will hear today or maybe all week on NPR. It features a junk car, a hurricane, and a guy who's risking everything to achieve an outrageous goal. From New Orleans, David Weinberg reports.
DAVID WEINBERG: New Orleans is often referred to as one of the last remaining bohemias in America. But what does that term mean, bohemia?
Mr. J.T. NESBITT (Bartender, Motorcycle Designer): The definition of a bohemia is that you do your work so that you can eat, and then you have your secret life where you soar.
WEINBERG: J.T. Nesbitt works as a bartender at Flanagan's Pub in the French quarter. But a few blocks away in a warehouse on Esplanade(ph) is where he spends his secret life. J.T., along with his friend Andy and a motley crew of mechanics, are attempting to break a world land speed record. But they are doing it not with a state of the art race car, but with a vehicle that was destroyed by the flood waters of Katrina. A car they've named the Stinkin' Linkin'.
Mr. NESBITT: The Stinkin' Linkin' was a flooded out 1998 Lincoln Mark 8 that came from Gentilly(ph). And she got about a foot and a half of water inside the car. And when I saw the car flooded out in the driveway, I said oh, yeah. Of course. This needs to be a race car.
WEINBERG: J.T. had never built a race car before, but he was no stranger to speed. In 2005, J.T. was one of the most famous motorcycle designers in the world. He worked for a company in New Orleans called Confederate Motorcycles, where he designed a ground-breaking bike called the Wraith. The list of people who came to J.T. for his outrageously expensive bike is a who's who of celebrities, which includes names like Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. In 2004, J.T. went to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah to test the limits of his creation, and it made a deep impression on him.
Mr. NESBITT: Bonneville is the last place where a normal guy can build a contraption in his garage that is the fastest contraption in the world.
WEINBERG: But J.T.'s meteoric rise came to a sudden crash. On August 28th, 2005, J.T. was dining in a palace in the Middle East. He'd been invited by the prince of Bahrain to discuss a million-dollar motorcycle deal. When he awoke the next morning, everything he owned had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, including the building that housed Confederate Motorcycles.
Mr. ANDY OVERSLAUGH (Driver, Stinkin' Linkin'): After the storm, Confederate Motorcycles decided that they wanted to move out of New Orleans, and J.T. was really against that.
WEINBERG: Long-time friend of J.T. and driver of the Stinkin Linkin, Andy Overslaugh (ph).
Mr. OVERSLAUGH: A company that does manufacturing in New Orleans is going to leave New Orleans when New Orleans needs that the most? He couldn't work for them after that.
Mr. NESBITT: I think that, for too long, this city has depended upon either tourism or oil, and those are very fickle sources of income. You have to also do manufacturing. You have to do export, and showing people that things can be made here is really important. And by things being made here, I'm not just talking about race cars and race motorcycles, I'm also talking about film.
WEINBERG: J.T. hired local filmmaker David White to teach him the basics of movie making. J.T. and Andy went to work making a documentary called "Salt Dreams." One of my favorite parts of the film is when J.T. is forced to transform an ice tea machine from the bar into an oil tank for the car. And then, as if the project were not crazy enough, J.T. decides he wants to drive the non street legal car from New Orleans to Utah, a decision that is universally referred to in the world of racing as monumentally stupid. The film documents every step of the process, from the first time they start the car...
(Soundbite of motor starting)
WEINBERG: To the disastrous 2000 mile journey. At one point, the car begins to leak oil so badly that they have to drill a hole next to the passenger seat so they can fill the engine with oil while they are driving. But miraculously, they arrive at the point where the road ends and a landscape that resembles another planet begins.
Mr. NESBITT: This is where the dream time starts.
WEINBERG: The film takes us inside the car as it speeds across the earth, but at 162 miles per hour, more than 100 fewer than the record, the car spins out of control and comes to a stop in the blinding light of the salt flats.
Mr. NESBITT: If Bonneville teaches you anything, it's that you don't get it right the first time.
WEINBERG: Today, J.T. and the New Orleans racing team will pull up to the starting gate for a second attempt at the record. But this time, J.T. is not expecting to break the record. He just wants to hit 200 miles per hour, which would make his car the world's fastest Lincoln.
Mr. NESBITT: If our car goes 200 miles an hour at Bonneville this year, I think I'm going to feel something that I haven't felt since I lost everything. And this is not just my revenge, but it's also how I, in my weird way, how I get my world back together. That's the only way that I, and I think we as a community, are going to be able to come through this is through ambition, through setting goals and achieving them at all cost.
WEINBERG: J.T.'s commitment to New Orleans and his quest for speed have had a devastating effect on his career. He's maxed out all his credit cards, and he's still tending bar to make ends meet. But he insists that he doesn't regret his decision to leave behind the world of princes and movie stars to create a land speed racer out of piece of junk that earned its name because it smelled like a sack of dead rats. For Day to Day, I'm David Weinberg in New Orleans.
CHADWICK: Now, don't you just have to see a picture of the Stinkin' Linkin'? You can. It's at our website, npr.org.
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