Salt Addiction The Nebulous Theorem

September 12, 2008
Rocky Robinson
Rocky Robinson
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Having raced everything from Flat Track to Trials, Rocky Robinson now pilots streamliners at the Bonneville Salt Flats and currently holds the ultimate land speed record at 376 mph aboard the Ack Attack streamliner.

Jack and his 5050 streamliner.
Jack Costella, seen here with his 5050 streamliner, is an ‘Old Salt’ when it comes to the Flats, and owns over 50 LSR records.

I’ll never forget the first time I officially met Jack Costella. I heard a lot about him, knew of his successes on the salt, and also knew he danced to the beat of a different drum. If he rode the “short bus” to school when he was a kid, it was only because it was smaller and more efficient, much like the unique land speed racers he creates which hold more records than most of his competitors combined.

I was waiting in the long line at Speed Week in 2006, melting in the hot sun under the canopy of the Ack Attack trailer. Jack rode up on his pit machine and parked next to me to have a closer look at the Ack Attack and to take refuge under the canopy out of direct sunlight. I took an immediate liking to him after hearing his story of why he wasn’t running that day.

“I’m in Bonneville prison,” he says, shaking his head. “I guess I didn’t turn out where I was supposed to and I stopped too close to the track. My machine is so low to the ground I couldn’t see the return road. They won’t let me run again until tomorrow, after I’ve learned my lesson.” You could tell by the sarcasm in his voice that in his mind the punishment exceeded the crime. I enjoyed his company and learned quickly Jack was a master storyteller.

Jack holds over 50 LSR records, is a member of both the 200 and 300 MPH clubs, and the Dry Lake Racers Hall of Fame. One of his streamliners, Nebulous Theorem II, has gone over 360 mph and is the fastest four cylinder car utilizing a motorcycle engine. When I got word he was building a new motorcycle streamliner, I had to find out more.

Jack’s creations are like nothing else out there. Long  sleek and low; practically “invisible” to the air.
Jack’s creations are like nothing else out there. Long, sleek and low; practically “invisible” to the air.

I already knew about his 5050 motorcycle streamliner, a yellow salt serpent so tiny you can barely see it hustling down the salt. Jack places his rider face-down in this machine, arms and legs extended like Superman, only the red and blue tights are replaced by a Nomex racing suit. Lois Lane will have to wait her turn however, as Erin Hunter is scheduled to put her skills to the test this year running the 5050 against the current 100cc world record utilizing an 80cc Swedetech engine.

The motor will then be removed, a larger, 250cc engine installed, and Nick Rock will take his turn as the man of steel, attempting a 200 mph pass lying on his stomach, mere inches off the ground. This is the only streamliner of its kind, and rightfully so. The machine holds nine records-a few that were set by Jack himself.

Jack’s designs are different for a reason. “If it looks like everyone else, it will probably go like everyone else,” he says, “I want to make my vehicle invisible (to wind resistance), or go under the air.” Of course Jack always has to take things one step further with his tiny, low-profile machines: “My next machine is going to be so low you’ll have to get in it through a manhole cover.”

I actually tried getting into a lakester he built for a female driver of a petite stature. I got stuck halfway and had to abort the mission. I’m only 5′ 9″ and 175 lbs. Jack shrugged, armed with yet another witty comeback: “One of the requirements of my drivers is that they are small, courageous and rich,” he said, amused by my shortcomings. Having none of those qualities, I removed myself after realizing there would be no phone calls from Jack anytime soon asking me to drive one of his latest creations.

The body practically rides on the ground. Keep in mind this is a motorcycle!
The body practically rides on the ground. Keep in mind this is a motorcycle!

I asked him to describe to me the meaning of Nebulous Theorem, which was emblazoned on the side of many of his machines. “It indicates a non-scientific idea at work. I build intuitively and artistically rather than using traditional engineering, realizing if it looks the same as the others, it will have no appreciative advantage.”

One of his latest artistic creations is Nebulous Theorem VII, a 23-foot long, 22-inch wide, two foot tall motorcycle streamliner that he and his partner, Cliff Gullett, plan to race into the record books hoping to amass 16 class records, including the ultimate two wheel record, which currently stands at 350 mph. Cliff is an accomplished racer in his own right, but judging by his enthusiasm, the union of Costella and Gullett to take on the world is the highlight of his career.

Their machine is unique in many ways. The front wheel is aluminum, has a flat profile and no rubber! It’s flat shape keeps the bike level, so it doesn’t really lean like a regular motorcycle. There are no skids, and the body is less than an inch off the ground. I didn’t get what was going on until I watched Cliff take off from the starting line at Speed Week. Streamliners are difficult to drive, especially at low speed due to all the counter steering needed to keep it upright. Usually you take off with the skids down then retract them when you get enough forward momentum that they are no l

Nebulous Theorem VII—naked. Notice the flat profile of the aluminum front wheel.
Nebulous Theorem VII – naked. Notice the flat profile of the aluminum front wheel.

onger needed.

Cliff revved the 350cc Yamaha two stroke engine, slipped the clutch and motored away from his push vehicle leaving us standing in his wake. There was no counter steering. No skids bobbing the long machine from side to side, and no wobbling of any kind. It drove away like a car, plain and simple.

The run was nearly 200 mph, seemed effortless, and left everybody either smiling or scratching their head. I was one of the latter. 200 with only 350ccs. Wait till they put the “big guy” in there. (2000cc motor) Luckily they still have about a dozen other records to break before they attempt ours. Maybe by then I can lose a dozen pounds, have my arms and legs taken in a few inches, and climb into Ack Attack II through a manhole cover.

Don’t think that’s a wise idea? That’s because you don’t know Jack!

Enjoy the ride.


Cliff Gullett Takes Final Ride at Bub Speed Trials

It is with a heavy heart and deep sadness to report Cliff Gullett has just taken his last ride at the famed Bonneville Salt Flats. Cliff left us Wednesday, September 3rd, after a violent crash on a return run record attempt in which he successfully shattered the existing 500cc motorcycle record driving Nebulous Theorem VII, a two-stroke powered streamliner designed and built by Jack Costella.

Cliff Gullett and salt veteran  Scott Guthrie.
Cliff Gullett (l) and salt vet, Scott Guthrie.

Cliff made it through the timing lights travelling over 237mph when he lost control of his vehicle. It is not certain what caused the accident, but many who witnessed the event said the machine went sideways all of a sudden and began to tumble. The rear tire may have failed, but that is only speculation, since the tire was said to be deflated when the machine was later inspected.

Cliff leaves behind his wife, Leanne, a 10-year-old son, Casey, and his 15-year-old daughter, Nicole. I spoke with him the night before his run (at the Bub Speed Trials) while having dinner at a local casino/hotel. He was excited about the prospect of setting yet another record and seemed confident in his abilities and in that of his equipment and team.

Cliff was a business owner, family man, and inspiration to many. He loved racing motorcycles and was a fierce competitor. He was also a really nice guy. To live your dream is a thrilling experience many will never know. Cliff did just that, and he did it with style and grace.

Godspeed, Cliff.


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