Salt Addiction Jack Dolan

August 25, 2009
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 of all trades…

Don Vesco poses with wife Norma  and crew behind one of his many motorcycle streamliners.
Don Vesco poses with wife Norma, and crew behind one of his many motorcycle streamliners.

Jack Dolan’s an old salt who’s worn many hats over the past 40 years when it comes to motorcycles and land speed racing. At one time he was the AMA/FIM Chief Steward, appointed by the FIM Board of Directors – at the recommendation of Earl Flanders, his much accomplished predecessor.

Jack was the official timekeeper for many land speed events and magazine tests and was president of the San Diego Roadster Club. He was the SCTA Steward for motorcycles at Bonneville and El Mirage. As builder, owner, driver or rider, Jack has 41 land speed records to his credit.

At 21, straight out of the military, Jack and his brother Chris took to the drag strip on identical Honda 350 Scramblers. As much as he liked twisting the throttle, Jack was very mechanical, and soon found himself tinkering on things to make them go faster.

In the ‘70s, the Kawasaki 500 Triple had loads horsepower but handled like a forklift with flat-spotted tires. “The problem was keeping the front wheel on the ground during takeoff.” Jack massaged the clutch for a softer hit, but it wasn’t until he developed a wheelie bar that the mighty three-cylinder became a force to be reckoned with. “We showed up at the Winter Nationals at Beeline Drag Strip in Phoenix and were told it wasn’t allowed.” Jack’s argument was that it was okay for the cars to use, why not his motorcycle.

They decided to let him run it. Jack won the event.

Jack and Don Vesco making repairs to the electrical system on his Kawasaki streamliner.
Jack and Don Vesco making repairs to the electrical system on his Kawasaki streamliner.

In 1975 he rode a 750 in the American Hot Rod Association (AHRA) series, winning 5 of 7 events and the championship. He and Don Vesco were good friends and Don convinced him to give Bonneville a try. In 1976 Jack put an RD 350 motor in a specially equipped lay-down frame. Road racing legend Kel Caruthers supplied a fairing from a 125 road racer for better aerodynamics. The bike never made it to the salt that year. Jack took it drag racing instead.

In 1977 Vesco convinced him to give Bonneville another try. This time he made it to the salt with a new machine, sporting Kawasaki body panels and a Yamaha engine. Jack said the body panels were to “confuse the competition.”

His unique starting procedure had him hanging onto the door handle of the van while his wife Sami, accelerated to 30 mph! Back then three passes were required to set a land speed record. Your qualifying run had to be over the current record. The following morning you would make your two-way attempt.

Jack teamed with Vesco to up the current motorcycle land speed record which Don already held at just over 300 mph. They approached several of the factories looking for sponsorship. In one particular meeting with Suzuki, parts and contingencies were offered, but no hard cash. One of the head mucky-mucks said, “Yeah, but we can make you famous.”

Vesco stopped at the door on his way out. “I’m already famous. Now I want to be rich.” The deal with Suzuki didn’t go through, and a couple of Kawasaki Z1 900’s were fitted to the whored out streamliner. The Yamaha TZ 750 motors that got him into the books had served their purpose and were tossed to the curb. The Kawasaki engines were turbocharged, running on alcohol, making 270 horsepower each.

Marcia poses next to Vescos Kawasaki streamliner. Marcia was the first female into the 200 MPH Club with a record 229 mph run.
Marcia poses next to Vesco’s Kawasaki streamliner. Marcia was the first female into the 200 MPH Club with a record 229 mph run.

Several weeks were spent on the salt battling the Great White Dyno in search of a new record. Jack spoke of one pass where a blown exhaust header filled the cockpit with fumes, forcing Vesco to turn out at over 300 mph. He just missed his crew and support vehicles by less than 100 feet. Nothing swayed them and the end result was a new ultimate two wheel record, 318.598 mph!

Marcia Holley was in attendance during their private record attempt. Marcia is an accomplished Hollywood stunt woman and an avid motorcyclist, noted as the first female to finish the grueling Baja 1000 on a motorcycle. She was asked if she’d like to try Jack’s lay-down bike on the salt. A 150 mph licensing run was organized. Jack made a mark on the tach with a piece of tape. “Run it to third gear and try to make the needle reach the mark. That should put you around 150.”

She took off, shifting three times and pegging the needle against the tape marker as instructed. She went through the lights at over 180 mph! When Jack caught up with her she told him she hoped she’d gone fast enough to hit the 150 mark. In reality she took off in first gear, but shifting three times put her in fourth gear instead of third. As for the 3/4-inch-wide piece of tape Jack used to mark the tach, she kept the needle on the mark, only on the far side, not in front of it as Jack intended. She was read the riot act by chief steward Earl Flanders after he caught up with her, but the experience was worth it. Marcia realized she liked going fast!

She returned home from the salt flats and was injured in a stunt related accident, putting a premature end to her motorcycle land speed racing career – or so it would seem.

This is the Easyriders streamliner that Bob George later built and Campos rode to a new land speed record of 322 mph. Jack officiated over the speed trials attempt. The record stood for 16 years.  Campos is in the black shirt standing in front of the cockpit  The many blue lines you see on the side of the bike are the names printed of those who donated money for project through solicitations from Joe Teresi of Easyriders magazine.
This is the Easyriders streamliner that Bob George later built and Campos rode to a new land speed record of 322 mph. Jack officiated over the speed trials attempt. The record stood for 16 years. (Campos is in the black shirt standing in front of the cockpit) The many blue lines you see on the side of the bike are the names printed of those who donated money for project through solicitations from Joe Teresi of Easyriders magazine.

Instead, Vesco asked if she’d like to drive their streamliner at the upcoming SCTA meet. Jack modified the powerplant utilizing power from the rear engine only. The rest as they say is history. Marcia went on to become the first female in the 200 MPH Club with a 229 mph record, and did so with a motorcycle, turning heads from the all male four-wheel members whose elite club would be forever changed.

Jack officiated over other notable attempts like the Campos / Easyriders record set in 1990 at 322 mph. He was there for Richard “Rocket Man” Brown’s attempt with a three-stage hydrogen peroxide rocket-powered streamliner, which succumbed to tire problems and a bent chassis.

I spoke with Jack for hours and could have continued on for days. His knowledge of racing and Bonneville in particular, confirm my suspicions that there’s no such thing as too much salt in one’s diet.

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