You don’t send an expensive one-of-a-kind streamliner down the salt at Bonneville if the crosswinds are gusting above 4-5 mph. Here Akatiff and Robinson wait alongside Sam Wheeler to hear the wind readings along the track from race officials. Part of land-speed racing success is picking the right moment to go.
Carr’s world-record performance was made all the more impressive by the fact that it was just his eighth time behind the BUB streamliner’s controls. His answer to Robinson’s earlier record also signaled game on for the head-to-head BUB/Ack faceoff. It wasn’t long after the BUB team celebrated the new record that the Ack streamliner could be seen getting towed out to the starting line by Akatiff, with Robinson following in a chase vehicle. As the BUB team cut the celebrations short, knowing it wasn’t over yet, Manning threw his hands up in the air and expecting some more ups and downs said, “There’s gonna be more.”
Robinson was able to do a back-and-forth circuit on the salt Tuesday afternoon at 347.326 mph down with 349.031 mph on the return, his fastest times of the meet. It would turn out to be the closest Ack would get to wrenching back the record. In order to break a standing record, the old speed must be bettered by 1%. In other words, Ack had to average 355 with their two runs to better the magic 350.884 of Carr and BUB. Sitting on a one-way run of 349.031 Akatiff and Robinson had a two-hour window to make a back up run. A return of 360 would have given them the advantage they needed, but Mother Nature would not comply and the time period elapsed as crosswinds kept gusting too much for Akatiff’s liking. The Ack team would have to wait until Wednesday for better conditions.
Also waiting for the right window of opportunity to run was the third machine in the three-way world-record battle, Sam Wheeler’s E-Z-Hook Streamliner. Wheeler’s arrival had been rumored earlier in the week but was not set in stone. The E-Z-Hook streamliner was the dark horse candidate for the world record, having already reached speeds of 334 mph way back in 2003, measured by the SCTA (Southern California Timing Association). With surface conditions at Bonneville being optimal, everyone felt like the E-Z-Hook builder and pilot would make the trip up from his Arcadia, California, home to give at least one go on the green streamliner.
Everyone in the know at Bonneville has complete and total respect for Sam Wheeler, the designer and rider of the E-Z-Hook streamliner. The man received uniform praise from competitors at the mention of his name.
Wheeler, who is a mechanical engineer for E-Z-Hook (a manufacturer of electronic test equipment), took a more professorial approach in his streamliner design. Unlike the BUB and Ack machines, the E-Z-Hook trades brute horsepower for sheer aerodynamics. The green streamliner’s shape, which at 18’5″ in length is noticeably smaller than its competitors, creates a miniscule drag coefficient of 0.1007. The secret to the E-Z-Hook’s aerodynamic success came courtesy of a student class at the California Institute of Technology, with five graduate students spending a year working on the shape of the green streamliner, along with two weeks of wind-tunnel testing to refine the design.
The E-Z-Hook’s smaller overall size extends under the hood as well, where a smaller powerplant makes it the underdog to its larger competition. A turbocharged 1991 ZX-11 engine, which was the biggest mill available at the time, provides all the juice the E-Z-Hook needs. There’s no denying the E-Z-Hook’s engine is a potent high-performance piece of machinery, but next to BUB and Ack it is undergunned. Yet, like the fierce middleweight who is able to spar with larger heavyweight rivals, the E-Z-Hook was capable of landing a knockout blow in the world-record fight.
With an engine half the size of its competitors the key to the E-Z-Hook’s success is its advanced aerodynamics, which were developed by five graduate students at the California Institute of Technology.
The E-Z-Hook machine has one glaring weakness, however: its over-burdened front tire. Wheeler’s streamliner employs a special 17-inch Goodyear tire, but the discontinued design is not always able to endure the stress which accompanies 300-plus mph speeds. Wheeler was down to his last two front tires at Bonneville, with one in reserve but unusable as it was not shaved down to fit. The E-Z-Hook machine was reaching beyond the threshold of its tire’s capabilities, but in order for Wheeler to put in a larger, more available front tire like the ones use by BUB and Ack, he would have to redesign the entire machine. Instead, Wheeler showed up at Bonneville for one last shot at the record.
With his opportunity reduced to a single circuit back and forth (if he was lucky), Wheeler was even more selective than the Ack team about picking just the right moment to go. On Wednesday Wheeler followed up an aborted run by the Ack team with one last desperate charge down the salt.
As the green machine motored out of sight from the start line, the surrounding journalists and race officials, along with sympathetic members of the Ack squad (Wheeler has raced the Ack machine in the past) waited in suspense. A man who draws uniform respect from everyone associated with Bonneville, the easy-going Wheeler was a sentimental favorite for many in attendance. When the radio announced the E-Z-Hook had exited the timed mile at 355.303 mph, the amazed celebration at the start line was matched only by the disappointed shock when a few moments later it was announced the E-Z-Hook was on its side, the result of a blown out front tire.
The E-Z-Hook’s Achilles Heel is the 17-inch Goodyear front tire, which is unable to endure the high-speed 300-mph stress. Utilizing a bigger, more available, tire would require redesigning the entire machine.
Minutes later at the other end of the course, Sam Wheeler was the epitome of a man capable of putting it all on the line without regret, as he sipped a beer while surveying the damage done to his streamliner. If he felt any great loss, it was concealed behind a stoic front, and there was a certain bravado in going out in one last blaze of glory. Plus, although he was not able to back it up with a return and make it official, Wheeler did record the fastest time of the event.
As for the E-Z-Hook’s future at Bonneville, the front tire will always remain an issue, unless a replacement could be found which is capable of withstanding the abuse. Upgrading to a bigger more durable tire is not an option at this point, a fact made obvious by viewing where the current tire rests. There is simply no room for anything larger.
“I don’t know,” said Wheeler. “I’d have to build a whole new bike to get new wheels in it. And I don’t know if I have that in me. It’s a lot of work, a lot of money.”
With Wheeler now out of the show, the drama was building for a BUB vs. Ack showdown on Thursday, the final day of the event. The Ack squad was ready to roll when the course opened in the morning, but their attempt was thwarted by a crosswind which blew Robinson off course.
“The bike was flying, that’s the fastest it’s ran this whole trip,” said Rocky after what would prove to be Ack’s last best chance to topple the BUB team. “I went past the levee break and I got a gust of wind, and I got a good one, and it just took me right off course.”
The Ack streamliner, which set its earlier world record at just 75% of available power, had been cranked up to deliver a worthy response to the BUB team. As an example of the amount of power on tap, Akatiff explained to Robinson as he began the run that it might feel a little different because he had added about 200 horsepower to the engine. Those extra ponies came at a price, however, and the risk of running to close to the mechanical brink was exhibited on Robinson’s next run.
Around 10am the blue streamliner was pushed off the line, but as it motored out of sight the sound emanating from the Ack as it wound thru the gears was wrong. Everyone at the start agreed something mechanical had gone awry with the blue streamliner’s two Hayabusa powerplants.
Thursday morning the Ack machine’s first run was spoiled when a gust of wind blew it off course. Afterward Robinson would say of the aborted run: “The bike was flying, that’s the fastest it’s ran this whole trip.”
Returning to the pits, the Ack squad had all but conceded the event, believing they had irreparable mechanical damage in the form of a broken driveshaft. The suspected shaft had been damaged earlier in the meet. But on closer inspection Akatiff and his crew discovered the culprit appeared to be just a broken chain, and the Ack mechanics scrambled to fix it before the high-noon deadline. In actuality, the shaft was the real cause of the problem after all, with the broken chain being just a symptom of the true ailment.
“When the chain had broken, the shaft was actually damaged and it was loose inside the case,” clarified Robinson. “It had a little bit of slop, so when you put that much power to it, it would go and bind and break the chain.”
Not knowing the full extent of the problem, the Ack team still felt like they had a fighting chance. The news came as a nasty surprise to the BUB squad, who were relaxing as they camped out on the start line, waiting until noon just in case. Instead of letting the morning drift away, the BUB team went up to DEFCON 1. When the Ack Attack machine showed up again at the start line the BUB machine stood at the ready.
Carr and Manning played a waiting game, content to sit on 350 unless the Ack streamliner was able to challenge their mark.
The Ack team hustled at the start as the minutes ticked away. Had the BUB team wanted to be poor sports they could have claimed the right to run first, as they had been waiting at the start all morning, and then taken their sweet time leaving the Ack team out in the cold. Instead Manning (who is under extra scrutiny to curtail the perception of favoritism by being the event sponsor) went out of his way to let the Ack team run ahead of him, but not before letting Akatiff know he expected the courtesy of being able to run within the noon cutoff as well.
The rules stated that if a bike were to trip the mile lights before the noon deadline, they would have until 3pm to initiate a return run. If the three-hour window seems strange (since only two hours are allowed for a world-record return), it is because the team could opt to waive their initial pre-noon time and then make a full circuit before the 3pm deadline.
The mood was tense as each team jostled to prep their machines. Robinson and Carr loaded into their respective cockpits in anticipation. As the clock ticked closer to noon, the tenser things got. The Ack machine shot down the runway with just minutes to spare, while the BUB team was poised to launch at a moment’s notice.
When the Ack Attack streamliner deployed chutes and exited the course while in the timed mile the BUB team celebrated, believing the event was over. Counting down the seconds to noon, Manning and Carr popped champagne in triumph. After celebrating and conducting interviews, including TV interviews with Speed Channel’s Dave Despain, for the second time attending journalists began packing up, ready to find an internet connection to file reports on the day’s exciting events.
Manning was camped out at the start line, but when Akatiff showed up he told the blue streamliner to go ahead. If they made it through the timed mile the BUB squad was ready to match them.
But the “There’s gonna be more” statement, which Manning exclaimed after celebrating the original record-breaking run Tuesday, proved prophetic. The Ack team was requesting to exercise an afternoon run. The tensest moments of the meet took place while the FIM and AMA officials determined what would happen. If Ack had been allowed to run in the afternoon and broken the record, BUB would be left without recourse as they had not made a morning attempt. Concerned faces in the BUB corner were soothed when the race officials decided that because Robinson had exited the track before completing the entire measured mile the Ack machine would not be awarded an afternoon pass.
In theory, a solid argument could be made that the Ack squad had a right to contest the ruling, and the explanation by race officials seemed to leave a grey area open for interpretation. It was a moot point, however, as the Ack machine’s chain problems would have rendered a legitimate record-threatening pass impossible. One thing is for sure, the start line at future Speed Trials should prove to be an interesting place around the noon deadline.
The decision now official, Manning and Carr were able to enjoy the record at long last. For Carr, the waiting game, which found him sitting on a lead for two days, was not something he is acquainted with – a checkered flag always concludes the action in his day job.
“I was told it was over.” There were some tense moments in the BUB camp after Manning was informed that the Ack team may be eligible for another attempt. The team had already celebrated the noon deadline with champagne and media interviews.
“Wow, I feel like we were in a soap opera,” said Carr. “It was crazy. For me, the mental part of this has never drug on for 48 hours. I mean, I usually race and we’re in the bar having a beer afterwards and its over and you don’t worry about things ’til next week. I’ve never been leading the race for 48 hours.”
While the Ack Attack’s rollercoaster events may have given the BUB team a scare at the end, Carr didn’t hold anything against the blue team, sticking to his earlier words of admiration for anyone capable of busting 300-mph barrier.
“They went down to the wire giving it all they had,” said Carr on Ack Attack’s Thursday effort, “and that’s what you would want from any competitor. It makes what you accomplish that much more special when you know it was a tough fight, and they fought their ass off and I admire that.”
Robinson, whose hold on the record was brief, laughed when asked about the dramatic events from this year’s Speed Trials. “You know, 16 years and the record never changed,” said Robinson. “Then in one meet we break the record, Carr breaks the record, and then Sam Wheeler goes faster than all of us, all in one meet! That was pretty intense. It was history.”
With the decision finalized by race officials, the three men who made the Seven the fastest bike in the world, Dennis Manning, Chris Carr, and John Jans, were able to enjoy the moment.
While the BUB crew did make history in 2006, looking ahead it appears the BUB and Ack Attack streamliners should be butting heads over the record for years to come. Although both Manning and Akatiff hold their cards pretty close to the table, it was evident that the top speeds they reached in September weren’t all their machines had by a long shot.
Which begs the questions: what is the ultimate barrier, and will these streamliners be the ones to find it?
The BUB team, except for those crazy moments on the final day, radiated a confidence throughout the event that they had plenty on tap to answer even the best challenge from the Ack Attack. Akatiff has since begun to redesign the weak link in his drivetrain system and is sure to have his blue machine ready to vie for ever faster speeds. It is obvious everyone involved is shooting for the 400-mph barrier and beyond.
And while the BUB and Ack machines receive the lion’s share of attention, this year’s trials proved what Manning, Akatiff, and other old Salts who were in the know said multiple times throughout the event, “Don’t count out Sam.”
At the Trials Akatiff told Robinson a phrase not many people will ever hear, “We turned it up about 200 horsepower.” Because of statements like that, the Ack Attack figures to challenge BUB in the years to come.
Wheeler acted like the E-Z-Hook was finished after he evaluating the damage and future of his E-Z-Hook machine. But those who know him made it sound like once he got around to taking a closer look at the machine, he’d start tinkering around and then just might decide it wasn’t quite finished yet. And if he were ever able to get his hands on a proper front tire, you never know what might happen. If anything, he does have one last front tire remaining.
The level of commitment Manning, Akatiff and Wheeler have devoted to their record-breaking dreams is hard to imagine. When asked how much the Ack Attack streamliner has cost him, Akatiff was at a loss because it would be impossible to measure. Even with Top Oil sponsorship, the time and resources devoted to the streamliner project makes it almost certainly a multi-million-dollar venture. As large a financial investment as the Ack machine represents, BUB’s machine has consumed a similar amount resources and even more time (in fact, compared to Manning and Wheeler, at six years Akatiff’s project makes him a relative rookie to the land speed racing game). Wheeler’s E-Z-Hook streamliner had to have cost a pretty penny as well, considering his estimation that 8,500 man hours were required for its construction.
With his one-way 355.303-mph pass Sam Wheeler proved why he can’t be counted out of the world-record fight yet. The E-Z-Hook rider still has one front tire left, so another Bonneville run isn’t out of the question.
The dedication all three men display in regard to the ultimate record is apparent in the rewards involved. In short, there are no awards. In theory there is a $10,000 prize awarded for the fastest time of the Trials, but that money is put up by BUB himself. In reality, it’s about three extra zeros short of making the world-record quest all about the money.
Instead, the ultimate prize is the prestige of owning the world’s fastest motorcycle. It is a feat which all three men, to varying degrees, can now claim as their own.
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