Salt Addiction New Land Speed Record

October 30, 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.

Climbing out of the Ack Attack after 361 mph run.
The world’s fastest man on two wheels, Rocky Robinson, is elated after completing a 361mph run in the Top 1 Ack Attack streamliner.

Robinson/Ack Attack Set New Land Speed Record

What a difference a day can make. Friday, September 26th, 2008 is a day I’ll always remember. Not just because it was on that day that the Top 1 Ack Attack rewrote history by becoming the world’s fastest motorcycle. We’d been there before. The first time it took only two days for that feeling of euphoria to turn sour when our record was stripped away. We’d been trying to recapture that feeling ever since.

There were plenty of reasons why it shouldn’t happen. 2006 was one of the few years the salt gods were smiling. At the ’06 Bub Speed Trials we had 11 miles of near-perfect salt. With the right combination of horsepower and aerodynamic efficiency, one could go really fast. The Ack Attack drew first blood, shattering Dave Campos’ 322 mark by over 20 mph. Chris Carr piloted the Bub entry to a FIM world record of 350.884 mph. But it was Sam Wheeler, the fastest of them all, who blistered the salt with a 355.303 average through the mile.

2007 turned out to be like so many years before. Wet weather produced poor salt conditions and the Bub Speed Trials course was shortened to 9 miles in length. Sam decided not to run, and though Team Bub was staged at the starting line for the entire meet, it was mostly for show.

Press coverage was plentiful at the Top 1 Shootout.
If the validity of Rocky’s feat ever came into question, there was plenty of media coverage documenting every move.

We had no such reservations and wanted our record back. Changes made to the Top 1 Ack Attack for 2007 included door panels that tapered the rear of the machine to a point like the wing of an airplane. Less aerodynamic drag usually equates to more top end speed and we were eager to see just how much more we could squeeze out of the twin-engine steed. A larger turbo also meant more horsepower. In land speed racing there’s no such thing as too much of that.

We took our shot with a shakedown run of 300 mph. The bike seemed a little unstable, but we attributed that to loose salt. We pushed hard on the return run, running close to record speed when the bike became unstable. After crashing hard, we returned home with top time of the meet and a severely damaged motorcycle.

2008 came far too soon. Mike Akatiff and his crew worked around the clock to straighten and rebuild the Top 1 Ack Attack. A new body was built and mounted; the engines (which had the motor mounts literally ripped from the cases) had to be replaced. There was damage to the frame and the entire electrical system had been deluged with salt.

The 2008 Bub meet became a testing ground for us as the Ack Attack was simply not ready to take on the world. Electrical gremlins and other issues kept us off pace. Luckily, we were able to make a handful of passes which helped us get pointed in the right direction. 315 was our best run, which for a motorcycle capable of being the fastest in the world, was a humbling experience.

An engine had to be replaced due to a broken main-shaft.
Seldom do things go as planned. An engine had to be replaced due to a broken main-shaft.

The Top 1 World Land Speed Shootout was next. This first of its kind invitational speed trials pitted only the fastest cars and motorcycles together in a single meet. All top contenders were invited to compete on 12 miles of groomed salt under the watchful eye of Mike Cook, promoter and race director of the event. I have to give kudos to Mike and his gang as this was the Super Bowl of land speed racing and every effort was made to insure that the needs of each competitor was met.

Every inch of real estate was used in making the course. The start was a 100 yards from the interstate and ran toward floating mountain until the salt turned into mud. For the most part it was rock-hard and smooth! Drivers were able to inspect the course each day if they desired, and communication among race teams and staff was the best I’ve ever seen.

The Poteet and Main Mopar streamliner started things off with two ultra-fast runs averaging 347 mph through the lights. The car guys meant business, posting the first record of the meet. On our first run a sudden gust of wind pushed the Ack Attack off line and had me dodging timing lights and course markers unexpectedly. Apparently a press helicopter hovered beside the measured mile filming the run. The “unexpected wind” was caused by their prop wash!

Sam Wheeler and his mighty EZ Hook streamliner.
Sam Wheeler and his mighty EZ Hook streamliner ran an unofficial pass of 340 mph and managed a 352 through the first light but ventured off course, so an official time was not recorded.

Sam Wheeler’s first run peaked at 340 mph. After a few tweaks he managed 352 through the first light but a handling problem took him off course so there was no official time. Leo Hess ran the new Kuryakyn streamliner just shy of 200 mph, but had plenty left on tap for later.

We made another attempt but started having handling problems of our own. At speed the bike would become unstable; the rear started drifting from side to side similar to what it did in 2007 just before going down. We realized it was the door panels causing the problem. The crew removed the doors and off we went. Within the first mile something let loose in the drive-train sending me coasting to the sidelines. The culprit was a broken mainshaft in the front engine. The crew worked late into the evening and by morning the engine was replaced and we were back in line.

The new motor backfired hard, causing more damage; this time to the turbo shaft and the butterflies in the intake. A loose ground was to blame, and again the crew worked feverishly making repairs. By late Thursday afternoon we followed the Kuryakyn team to the far end of the course hoping to get our record before a lingering weather front put an end to our hopes. Leo’s nitro burning V-Twin engine fired and off he went, chasing his tow vehicle down the salt.

Not long after he released, the streamliner went sideways and veered off course to the right. It appeared to high-side

The Top 1 Ack Attack takes off on what will be the fastest recorded run on two wheels...
The Top 1 Ack Attack takes off on what will be the fastest recorded run on two wheels…

and began tumbling, shedding the canopy and most of its bodywork in the process. Debris was strewn everywhere. Unfortunately, Leo’s injuries required that the meet be cancelled for the rest of the day. He was hauled off the salt by ambulance and later airlifted to a nearby trauma center.

We studied the wreckage and helped upright the severely damaged streamliner. The winds picked up and we began to wonder if we’d already missed our window. Friday morning we arrived before first light, staging at the far end of the course. We waited impatiently for the meet to officially open, praying for the winds to stay calm just long enough for us to make our runs. At 7:30 Mike Cook declared the meet officially open. The engines fired and the canopy closed down over me. My first thought was that it was still too soon. The smoke tinted windshield was almost too dark this early in the day. Mike pushed me off as I revved the engines. Today was the day.

From the start I knew this would probably be our last chance. I throttled hard, trying to keep the wheels in line and the machine pointed dead center down course. With the doors removed I was able to run full throttle without a hint of instability. Instead of it being a handful it was actually a lot of fun. Through the first light we ran over 361 mph, faster than anyone had ever gone on two wheels.

Of course it’s never as easy as that. No sooner had we entered the measured mile, the canopy jarred open

Top 1 Ack Attack crew posing with the world’s fastest motorcycle.
Top 1 Ack Attack crew posing with the world’s fastest motorcycle.

sending sunlight, wind and salt into cockpit. I backed out of the throttle not knowing what to expect. We had never gone this fast before, and apparently the negative pressure against the canopy was so great that it caused it to raise a couple of inches even though it remained latched in position.

We inspected the machine, repacked the chute and crossed our fingers. Mike told me the canopy couldn’t come completely off, but it may try and open again. Our return run was nearly a mirror image of the first. The winds remained calm and I ran her wide open again. and yes, it was still a lot of fun. The canopy did open again, but it didn’t seem to matter. Our two-way average was 360.913 mph. We beat the current record by over 10 mph and after ratification by the FIM, The Top 1 Ack Attack will officially be the fastest motorcycle on the planet. Somebody pinch me!


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