In 2006, Rocky Robinson was the planet’s fastest man on two wheels when he went 342 mph at Bonneville. He tells his land-speed racing story in the autobiographical Flat Out: The Race for the Motorcycle World Land Speed Record.
For one day during the 2006 International Motorcycle Speed Trials by BUB, Rocky Robinson was the world’s fastest man on two wheels when he piloted the Ack Attack streamliner to a speed of 342 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats. The new mark shattered the standing record by over 20 mph and put Robinson’s name in the record books. It was a feat which culminated many years of ups and downs for the Grass Valley, California, resident, all of which can be heard straight from the man himself in his 256-page book, Flat Out: The Race for the Motorcycle World Land Speed Record.
In Flat Out Robinson relates his land-speed racing career from its unexpected beginning right up to his world record-breaking pass at last year’s Speed Trials.
A native Californian, Robinson, raced Flat Track in the Camel Pro Series during the late 70s and also dabbled in Trials for a time, but his land-speed racing career didn’t get underway until he got hired on as a welder by none other than BUB himself, Mr. Dennis Manning, the owner of the aftermarket exhaust firm BUB Enterprises. Manning had already built a world-record streamliner in his youth and was looking to regain the title with his streamliner at the time, Tenacious II. Manning saw a potential rider for his world record hopes when he discovered the racing background of his new employee. At that point a partnership was born.
Over the years Robinson worked with Manning on the Tenacious II project and was pivotal in the development of the current BUB streamliner, Number 7 (the machine which broke Robinson’s day-long record). The bulk of Flat Out focuses on how Robinson learned first-hand what it takes to succeed in land-speed racing.
From the outside looking in, land-speed racing seems pretty straight forward: Ride really, really fast in a straight line. But the sport is a hazardous, sometimes fatal, endeavor, which requires a rider with great skill and steely resolve. Writing the book himself, Robinson is able to communicate the physics and nuances of what it feels like to pilot a purpose-built ground missile up to speeds well over 300 mph.
In the book, Robinson also talks about the reality of racing. Contrary to what some might think, this is not a sport where the riders get paid millions to gallivant around the world like MotoGP. Land-speed racing is a hobby/slash obsession for folks with regular day jobs. For Robinson that day job for many years was working as a V.P. at BUB Enterprises. For a long time the partnership worked and Robinson and Manning were united in the BUB Number 7 world-record dream, but it didn’t work out, with both men going their separate ways before the 2006 Speed Trials.
Once the rider for BUB’s Number 7 streamliner, Robinson is pursuing the world record behind the controls of the Ack Attack streamliner designed by Mike Akatiff.
The relationship between Robinson and Manning is complex and central to the narrative in Flat Out. On the one hand, Robinson is forever thankful for the unique opportunity given to him by Manning (he credits BUB in the acknowledgements). On the other hand, it is clear that there is some friction between the two. Robinson states his side of the story in Flat Out, noting several disagreements he had with Manning in the past, which culminated in his dismissal as Vice President at BUB and his subsequent duties as pilot of the Number 7 streamliner. Robinson manages to air his grievances without sounding too bitter, but there is no question that there’s a little bit of extra motivation to wrestle the record away from the boss who canned him.
That’s not to say Robinson and the BUB team didn’t know how to have a good time together. This reader’s favorite chapter from the book was when the BUB squad went Down Under to race their streamliner at Lake Gardiner, which saw Robinson backing in rented RVs on dusty roads in the Australian Outback, the BUB team firing up its two-stroke-powered giant Margarita blender and race officials suspending the action due to kangaroos on the track. It is clear that the BUB squad gave Robinson some memories he looks back on with fondness.
The change of scenery worked out well for both men, from the looks of things. Robinson went on to hook up with the upstart Ack Attack streamliner squad, with whom he broke the world record and seems primed to force that record up toward the 400 mph mark, perhaps bettering the BUB effort for good one day. Manning, on the other hand, was able to get seven-time AMA Flat Track champion Chris Carr to pilot his Number 7 to the current world record set at last year’s Speed Trials. In the end, both men were able to achieve their ultimate goal, although Manning has the record… For now.
The Ack Attack and Robinson’s inability to hold the ultimate record doesn’t diminish the rider’s story. No doubt many fans will be rooting for Rocky in the years to come as the world record edges higher and higher. With both squads pushing for the title of world’s fastest motorcycle, a definite rivalry has sprung up between the competitors, with Rocky Robinson smack dab in the middle. The rivalry, which this book furthers, has spiced up what can sometimes be a dry sport.
Those interested in the land speed racing would be well served to sample Robinson’s biography. It is well written and moves along at a steady, chronological pace. The reader doesn’t have to be a Bonneville fanatic to follow the action, however, because at its core it is a book about a man who achieved his dream and is still chasing it. Just don’t be surprised if the paperback edition has another chapter tacked on the end, one which states how Robinson retook the world record.