Joe Minonno, (Jon’s dad) on a fuel burning 650 Triumph in 1952 passed on the racing gene to his son.
Jon Minonno is a racer’s racer. He does most of the work on his machines himself, and is equally comfortable being launched down a quarter-mile drag strip or finessing his way through a demanding road-race circuit pushing the limits of his abilities and that of his machinery. He’s also an accomplished land speed racer, and though he doesn’t ride a Suzuki Hayabusa—like many of the open-wheeled record holders, he claims to be the first to exceed 250 mph on an open bike, which he did way back in 1992 with a 250.718 one way average, with a back door top speed of 256 mph!
Jon’s dad, Joe Minonno, was raised during the Great Depression, was a Pearl Harbor survivor, and a motorcycle racer. He and Jack Wilson raced out of Pete Dalio’s shop. Pete and Jack Wilson later opened Big D Cycles, and were well respected for producing championship-winning motorcycles, as well as world record-setting machines.
Joe drag raced a fuel-burning Triumph, and though Jon claims his father wasn’t particularly keen on Jon becoming a motorcycle racer, like father like son. Jon loved going fast on two wheels and there wasn’t much anyone could do to stop him.
Jon’s Texas roots are steeped in racing history. Riders like Mike Kidd, former AMA Grand National Champion; Colin Edwards, World Superbike Champion; Bubba Shobert, AMA Grand National Champion / AMA Superbike Champion; and Kevin Schwantz, former World GP Champion; all products of Texas.
Jon’s own credentials carry equal weight to the above mentioned list. In 1963 he began his racing career at only eighteen years of age, competing against dirt track regulars such as Gary Nixon, Terry Poovey and Mike Kidd on a regular basis. Having earned his pro class “C” license, Jon instead left the dirt track arena to try his hand at road racing.
It didn’t take long for him to become competitive, winning three-consecutive WERA national championships in 750cc Production in 1976, 77, and 78; two 750cc Superbike Championships in 1976 and 77; and the Open Superbike Championship in 1976 and 77. In addition, like his father, Jon also excelled in drag racing, taking the IDBA National Championship in the ultra-competitive Pro-Modified class in 1995 and 96 at the World Finals in Memphis, Tennessee.
Ross Downs, a horse track which was sometimes used for dirt track racing, became the proving grounds for a bet between a group of race horse high-rollers, and Minonno, Pete Dalio and Jack Wilson. The high-rollers were convinced their “one trick pony” could beat Jon and his motorcycle in a 100 yard dash on the cushioned oval surface. Rumor has it a large wager was on the line and both sides took the proposition very seriously.
On the day of the big race, two horse trainers trotted out the biggest, most powerful looking, four-legged specimen to step hoof on the planet. Because they’d built a special motorcycle just for this race, Dalio insisted Jon be allowed a practice run to put their yet-to-be-run race bike through its paces. The overconfident equestrians agreed, making way for Jon and his fat, knobby tire-equipped sand rail on two wheels.
Jon launched from the line in second gear, the ear-splitting exhaust note from the open megaphones rattling everything in sight. With his head down, the throttle wide open, and the front wheel lofted in the air, a rooster tail of sand and gravel chased the angry Triumph the length of the straightaway, shooting higher than the sagging power lines that crossed the track.
The high spirited race horse came unglued, jerking its trainers off their feet as he tried desperately to escape. “All bets are off!” the trainers scowled, knowing they were no match for Jon’s fire breathing Triumph. A bet is a bet, and even though they won by default, Jon’s winning streak remained intact.
It was Jack Wilson who later got Jon involved in land speed racing. Jack has a storied history on the Bonneville Salt Flats, most notably for his involvement with Stormy Mangham in creating the Texas Ceegar, the nitro-burning 650cc Triumph streamliner that rocketed across the Utah landscape at 214 mph with Johnny Allen at the controls. At the time, this was officially the world’s fastest motorcycle. The feat had such an influence on the British manufacturer that two years later the Triumph Bonneville was released, a hopped up version of their popular Triumph Thunderbird model.
Jon took to the salt like he did all forms of two-wheel racing, setting records and winning meets. Jack Wilson teamed with Ed Mabry of Mabry Racing, with Jon as their rider. Big things began to happen right away. 256 mph on an open-wheeled Triumph was just unheard of. Had it not been for a rain storm that literally washed away the course, the team had every intention of making the mandatory return run and setting the first open bike record over 250 mph.
In 2003 Jon had a similar experience to Burt Munro, tucked in at 241 mph, Jon received burns to his leg and crotch area when an oil/fuel fire erupted within his fairing, possibly as a result of running too much boost. “The fire was ignited by the down pipe by the turbo. I got into trouble trying to get her stopped too fast which got the rear end to wagging. I began looking for a soft patch to unload, but was luckily able to bring her to a stop upright.”
Jon is now riding a 1650cc S&S equipped V-Twin with help from David Rash of D&D Exhaust and Chuck Redfearn, a loyal sponsor during Jon’s drag racing years. He also lists Jack McRight of 40 Fluid Products as a sponsor of his latest efforts. Already Jon has established an SCTA record of 225.819 mph, has two AMA records and is hoping to reach 240 mph this summer at Bonneville on his American V-Twin equipped with a new fairing.
The little Texan with the big smile has left his mark and isn’t ready to hang up his boots anytime soon.