The red BUB Seven streamliner became the fastest motorcycle in the world during the 3rd International Motorcycle Speed Trials this September, but there was more to the story than that…
The record for the world’s fastest motorcycle, at 322 mph, had been stagnant for 16 years. But over the span of five days last month, three different streamliners topped the 350-mph mark in pristine conditions at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Those wanting a quick summation of the world-record breaking 3rd International Motorcycle Speed Trials by BUB will be satisfied to know that the entire event can be tidied up into one neat sentence: Seven-time AMA Flat Track champion, Chris Carr, became the fastest human of two wheels when he piloted the BUB Number Seven streamliner to an official speed of 350.884 mph.
That would only be half the story, however, as this year’s Speed Trials featured three streamliner teams: the BUB Number Seven, Top-1 Ack Attack, and E-Z-Hook, which all took their aim at the ultimate record. In the end, the Ack and BUB teams would each take a turn breaking the coveted world record with respective 342.797-mph and 350.884-mph times, but neither was able to boast the fastest time of the Trials, a feat claimed by the E-Z-Hook squad with a one-way pass of 355.303 mph.
As far as action sports go, land speed racing tends to be pretty dry stuff. The racing takes place from long distances, with it impossible to see from one side of the course to the other. And even though the object is to achieve the fastest speeds possible, the event creeps along at a tortoise-like pace. What differentiated the racing at Bonneville this year were the optimal conditions of the racing surface and the unprecedented three-way competition for the world record. The three streamliners dueled for the historic record out on the salt like a trio of battleships exchanging booming, long-range volleys while they steamed miles apart from one another.
The Bonneville Salt Flats were formed by the recess of the ancient Lake Bonneville, which occupied much of western Utah. You can see on the old shorelines on the mountain in the background.
Requiring vast amounts of flat real estate, world-record land-speed racing takes place in a select few places across the globe. Dry lake beds are the destination of choice, and the unique hotspots include El Mirage in California, the Black Rock Desert in Nevada (also the site of the Burning Man festival), and Lake Gairdner in Australia. None of these locations, however, are more wrapped up in the mystique of record-breaking runs than the famed Bonneville Speedway situated on the Salt Flats located on the western edge on Utah.
A natural phenomenon formed by recess of the ancient Lake Bonneville, the Salt Flats are a 30,000-acre stretch of, well, flat salt, with the salt deposits having been measured in some areas to be as deep as six feet. The Bonneville Salt Flats are a living natural wonder with water pooling at intervals on the surface to produce a leveling effect (kind of like a zamboni on a skating rink), which creates mile upon mile of flatness. In fact, the surface in so flat that one can observe the curvature of the earth.
Moisture, although essential in smoothing out the surface, can spell trouble as far as racing is concerned. The salt for the 2006 Speed Trials, however, was as good as many of the experienced participants could ever remember. Compared to the five-mile course from 2005, there were 11 miles of smooth, compact, dry salt ready for racing. The pristine surface conditions are imperative for the streamliners to break the world record, as several miles are needed for the high-performance machines to reach their peak potential.
World’s fastest no longer. The 322-mph Easyrider streamliner piloted by Dave Campos was on hand for the event where its 16-year-old record would fall.
The Bonneville regulars knew something special was in the air when the racing got underway on Sunday September 3rd. Every summer, the same stalwarts return to Bonneville wearing the same straw hats with sun-burnt faces squinting as they tinker with the same bikes, trying to break old records or better their own. These old Salts who make up the Bonneville establishment seemed to sense history was about to be made, and everyone felt there was a good chance the 16-year-old world record of 322 mph, set by Dave Campos in 1990, would get toppled within their presence.
Leading the list of streamliner contenders was BUB himself, Dennis Manning. As far as personalities go, at the BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials, Dennis Manning is Bonneville. In 1978 Manning founded BUB Enterprises, which manufacturers exhaust systems for motorcycles and ATVs. BUB (which stands for Big Ugly Bast… well, you know what it stands for) has been chasing the title of world’s fastest motorcycle at Bonneville for over three decades. Three years ago he took his Bonneville obsession one step further by creating the International Motorcycle Speed Trials by BUB. Sporting his trademark wide-brimmed straw hat and sponsoring the self-titled motorcycle-only event, Manning casts a broad shadow over the entire proceedings. The actual operation of the event is managed by Manning’s daughter-in-law, Delvine, with officials from the FIM (Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme) and the AMA there to legitimize any new world and national records. BUB himself is a constant presence at the event, but this time around because of the perfect record-breaking conditions he was there to race his streamliner.
Sporting his wide-brimmed hat, Dennis Manning (AKA BUB) is a constant presence at the event which he founded three years ago.
Manning’s red BUB streamliner is dubbed “Seven” as it is the seventh streamlined machine he has built since he made his first back in 1968. Two years after his initial attempt, a 24-year-old Manning was the driving force behind the Harley-Davidson streamliner piloted by Cal Rayborn, which raised the world-record bar to 265 mph.
The ace in Manning’s hand for the high-stakes streamliner standoff was his new rider, seven-time AMA Flat Track champion Chris Carr, whose involvement with the BUB record-breaking effort came in odd manner. BUB was in need of a pilot for his streamliner when he and former rider Rocky Robinson went their separate ways. Sending out a want ad in the form of an industry press release, a number of potential candidates answered the call, but the seven AMA Flat Track championships on Carr’s resume (he was in the midst of tight race for his eighth title during the Trials) made sure that his name floated to the top of the candidates list.
“I cold-called him,” said Carr on his response to the BUB press release. “I told him I’d put my name in a hat. He said he had about 40 different people apply for the ride, and he chose me.”
BUB’s ace in the hole was seven-time AMA Flat Track champion Chris Carr, who joined the Seven crew after BUB announced the rider vacancy in a press release.
Aside from his impressive flat-track credentials, it also helped that Carr’s 5’3″ frame was able to fit into the Seven’s snug cockpit, as a larger-statured individual would have a hard time even sliding into the cramped quarters. Later citing the film On Any Sunday (a motorcycle racing documentary which touched on the Manning/Rayborn world-record collaboration) as one of the reasons he wanted to attempt Bonneville one day, Carr’s land-speed racing learning curve was a steep one. By the time he rolled into the Speed Trials, he had just a handful of at-speed runs under his belt, with his fastest time just a hair over 300 mph.
At Carr’s disposal was the brute horsepower generated by the BUB Seven’s turbo-charged 158-cubic-inch V-Four. The 16-valve, liquid-cooled, double-overhead-cam motor was purpose-built and designed from scratch, with BUB’s Joe Harralson deserving much of the credit for the Seven’s powerplant. A monocoque chassis constructed of carbon fiber and Kevlar surrounds a host of one-off components fabricated by Manning and Seven’s machinist/fabricator John Jans (whose role in the BUB project was so crucial that Manning refused to be photographed in front of the world-record-breaking machine without Jans by his side.) Parts which the BUB squad didn’t construct on their own they borrowed from other high-performance machinery, like the steering controls which were plucked out of an F-4 Phantom fighter jet.
The BUB Seven streamliner is powered by a turbo-charged purpose-built V-Four. The almost three-liter powerplant is housed in a monocoque chassis of carbon fiber and Kevlar.
While the BUB squad arrived at Bonneville as the odds-on favorite, they were upstaged for the first two days of the event by the upstart Ack Attack team. On Sunday, the very first day of competition, the Ack streamliner obliterated the standing record of 322 mph with an initial pass of 344.673 mph followed up by a return run of 340.922 mph for a combined time of 342.797 mph.
An added wrinkle to the BUB vs. Ack plotline is the name of the Ack Attack rider: Rocky Robinson. The former pilot of the BUB machine, Robinson had worked for Manning at BUB Enterprises for 15 years and got into land-speed racing when he rode BUB’s precursor to the current Seven streamliner. Robinson was then instrumental in the development of BUB’s current streamliner. Robinson would go on to part ways with Manning but the Grass Valley, California resident’s departure from BUB Enterprises (also based in Grass Valley) coincided with the Ack Attack streamliner parting ways with its former rider, Jimmy Odom.
The evening after breaking the record both Robinson and the Ack owner and designer, Mike Akatiff, were enjoying the moment “I’m still walking on air,” said Robinson. “This is the happiest day of my life so far (laughing).”
“Dennis suggested Rocky when we were looking for somebody else. Rocky fit the bill real well and we’re real happy we got him,” said Akatiff, who was obviously pleased with the results of his new addition to the Ack squad, as he explained how he snagged BUB’s former rider.
The BUB team may have got the most attention, but for the first two days of the event the Ack Attack streamliner and its rider, Rocky Robinson, were the toast of the town and the fastest motorcycle in the world at 342.797 mph.
The new world record was an amazing display of power right out the gate and announced the arrival of the relative newcomers in the streamliner race. Akatiff, who has retired from his motorcycle and aircraft parts production businesses, joined the hunt for the world record back in 2002 when he first began work on the big blue monster. A memorable sight at Bonneville, as the tall Akatiff was often seen towering around the pits on his Segway scooter, the Ack designer chose to tackle the streamliner challenge with the same brute horsepower approach as his BUB rival, but with different tools for the task.
Instead of a purpose built V-Four, Akatiff utilized two Hayabusa motors combined with a turbocharger boost to deliver hideous amounts of horsepower to the rear wheel. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 700-900 ponies are generated by the dual-Busa configuration, depending on what the Ack team feels is appropriate. Like all the streamliners involved in the battle at Bonneville, much of the components on the Ack machine are one-of-a-kind. Carbon-fiber panels surround a chrome-moly tube frame, and overall the Ack machine provides a different profile than the BUB Seven. The BUB is like a torpedo, with a cockpit in the larger nose. The Ack looks more like a fighter jet, with a lower nose and its cockpit set back in the chassis. Both are designed to cut through the air like a bullet.
Akatiff began work on the blue Ack Attack streamliner back in 2002. Four years later he owned the world record with Rocky Robinson at the controls.
Robinson, like Carr, brings flat-track racing experience to the table at Bonneville. At first the flat track/Bonneville connection seems like an odd correlation, but both riders acknowledged the two disciplines do possess some important similarities.
“Obviously this bike is a lot different than what I ride for my real job,” said Carr. “It’s totally different but the premise is the same. In flat track we’re trying to get our bikes to go straight, they just happen to throw a turn at the end of it. The guys that win races are the guys that are getting the best drives off the corner, guys that are getting their bikes straight. I know I can make a bike go straight, and so far we’ve done that. The cool thing is I don’t have to worry about somebody cutting me off. I don’t have to worry about hitting a wall or what’s going to happen if I hit hay bales or an air fence or anything like that.”
“Dirt tracking helps in so many ways,” added Robinson. “What it boils down to is being comfortable drifting and sliding at speed. Even in these streamliners, when you’re going real fast and you have so much power, the tires are spinning and you’re drifting, and dirt track teaches you to be comfortable doing that. Also, when you’re going real fast you’re fighting the wind, the wind’s making you have to lean the bike into the wind and it’s pushing you off course, off center. Flat track helps you with that because you learn how to manipulate the bike going fast.”
At first glance the comparison between flat track and land-speed racing seems odd, but Robinson and Carr were quick to point out the similarities. “What it boils down to is being comfortable drifting and sliding at speed,” explained Robinson.
While flat-track experience helps, piloting a streamliner is a different animal altogether. Being fastened into place by the same five-point harness system utilized by Top Fuel dragsters, which immobilizes the rider’s body, the rider can only move his hands and feet to operate the controls.
“Where on a motorcycle you can lean your body to initiate a turn,” said Robinson, “in a steamliner that’s all done by steering because you can’t move your body. So, to turn left you actually steer the bike to the right and what that does is it makes the bike lean to the left, initiating the lean angle.”
The counter-steering principle described by Robinson is basic to all motorcycles, but exaggerated in the streamliner due to not only by the lack of mobility but also because of the excessive speeds.
“The faster you get going, besides making the bike lean, now you’re also having to carve through the wind when you’re going that fast to make it steer also,” Robinson went on say. “So, the faster you get going, the greater the input you have to give as far as countering the wind.”
Anchored down by the same five-point harness used in Top Fuel dragsters, streamliner riders can only move enough to operate the controls, their only way to manipulate the steering with the body immobilized.
At Bonneville the official mph figures are measured by averaging the entry and exit speeds thru the timed measured mile, which is located in the middle of the track. With an 11-mile course, the streamliners had five miles on each side for acceleration and deceleration. After making an initial run to validate an FIM world record, the team has a two-hour window within which to make a return run the opposite direction. An average is then made of the two runs to calculate the official time. It makes sense to try to peak at either the entry or exit of the timed mile, but as far as a practical strategy is concerned, it’s pretty simple: go as fast as possible. The key is building up speed right off the bat and being in high gear thru the mile.
“It’s real critical to build up speed early, as fast as you can, because everything you gain at the lower speeds you carry on the other end of the course,” said Robinson. “Once you get going toward the measured mile, in the middle of the track, it’s hard to build more speed because you’re pushing so much wind. Your acceleration rate is really pretty aggressive at the beginning of the run, but the farther you get down there it takes longer to keep adding speed to the run. So you try to build it up as early as you can, but the downside to that is the tire is wanting to spin at the lower speed, so you got to be right on the edge of breaking it loose and getting it to the ground. Also, I try to be in high gear about a half mile before the measured mile, so that as you enter you’re already in high gear accelerating as much as you can.”
Rocky Robinson has a unique perspective on the differences between the Ack and BUB streamliners, being the only man to pilot both machines.
While getting up to speed is the name of the game, it means nothing if you can’t slow it down in a safe manner (which became apparent later in the Trials). Streamliners utilize parachutes to decelerate from their 300-plus-mph speeds. Robinson’s experience as a rider of both machines is unique, since the BUB and Ack streamliners have somewhat varied approaches.
On the BUB streamliner Robinson would deploy a small high-speed parachute while still on the throttle, slowing down and then rolling off a little before throwing the main chutes. The high speeds on the streamliners are so great that the weight transfer from letting off the throttle too fast can overload the front end and cause instability. Robinson doesn’t have the luxury of a high-speed chute on the Ack Attack machine, and instead utilizes two main chutes each about four feet in diameter.
“At almost 350 mph when you hit that big parachute, it’s like hitting a padded wall,” said a chuckling Robinson. “So what I would do is roll out real smooth and coast down ’til I was below 300 or so and then hit the parachutes, because it hits a lot harder on the Ack Attack.”
After claiming the world record on Sunday, the Ack squad tried to better the mark on subsequent runs but were unsuccessful. The BUB team’s prospects were beginning to look grim. The streamliner hadn’t gotten a single run in due to the late arrival of their rider Carr, who on Sunday was busy racing the second-to-last round of the AMA Flat Track series in Springfield, Illinois, and then the weather started looking bleak. When he arrived on Monday, Carr was greeted to news that the Ack team had broken the record.
Robinson described the experience of hitting the chutes at 300-plus mph as “hitting a padded wall.” Deceleration is dangerous on the streamliners as the load transfer to the front wheel can create instability.
“I thought it was cool, to very honest with you,” said Carr on his reaction to the Ack record. “It’s not often that somebody breaks a 16-year-old record. It’s not like people are doing this every year. People have come out and tried – Dennis has come out and tried on several occasions. It’s not an easy thing to achieve, for them to bump it up 20 miles an hour, that’s impressive.”
As for the natural rivalry and competition between the two teams as they fought for the record, Carr laid out his feelings on the subject.
“I have respect for anybody that can build one of these things that can go fast, and I have even more respect for anybody that has the guts or intestinal fortitude to sit in the saddle and try and go 300-plus miles an hour. I’m not here to compete with anybody, we’re here to compete against a number.”
On Tuesday Carr summoned up his own intestinal fortitude and went after the number. On his first, and what would prove to be his only, complete circuit on the Speedway during the five-day event, Carr smashed the two-day-old Ack record with an initial pass of 354.832 mph followed up by a return run of 346.937 mph for the current world record of 350.884 mph.
Carr was one of the people most surprised by his initial 354.832-mph pass, as an inaccurate speedometer had him thinking 333. “I was shocked that we went that fast, to be very honest with you.”
“The first run out, I was a little conservative off the start. Going off my speedometer I felt like I had about a 333 (mph) run,” explained Carr of his record-setting performance. “The speedometer was inaccurate and they come back and tell me I got 354 and my jaw hit the salt. I was shocked that we went that fast, to be very honest with you.”
As for being the new record holder, Carr was excited but knew it might not last that long. “It feels really good. I may only hold it for 24 more hours, but I think we have the capabilities to go faster if we need to.”