Salt Addiction First, Best and Next

September 8, 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.

I asked fellow land speed racers to share these experiences:

Your FIRST TIME: Your first pass down the salt. What did it feel like? Share the experience.

Your BEST TIME: Your best two-wheeled pass. What changes did you make to get there? What worked and what didn’t? Details, please…

Tod arrived an hour early and was greeted with a magnificent Bonneville sunrise.
Tod arrived an hour early and was greeted with a magnificent Bonneville sunrise.

Your NEXT TIME: Goals for the future. What changes will be made to get you there? What is your ultimate goal as a land speed racer and where do you draw the line and say that is fast enough?

I met Tod Cole in the registration line at the 2007 Bub Speed Trials his first year at Bonneville. I could already tell the bug had bit and he would be coming back year after year. Here’s his take:

“Arriving Saturday with no hotel room, I slept in my truck at Bend in the Road.” Tod mentioned meeting an 80-year-old gentleman from Indiana who came to compete on his V Rod. Ironically, it was as close to bunking with the likes of Burt Munro as one could get. That “gentleman” was Robert “Bud” Schmitt, known for besting Rollie Free’s record in 1955 on his twin-engine Knucklehead drag bike known as “The Monster”.

Tod makes a pass on a Triumph Speedmaster.
Tod makes a pass on a Triumph Speedmaster.

“Sunday found me on the salt in line for my first run. Three deep breaths and I watched the green flag drop, let out the clutch and gradually twisted the throttle. The first half mile was a bit rough and loose. Inside I wanted to just rip through the gears like I would on pavement; not very smart when on salt. I enter the measured mile—my heart is pounding, full throttle and looking straight ahead. I’m settled in and believe it or not, enjoying the view. I see nothing but flat, white salt with mountains in the distance. This is what the little kid in me has been waiting for all these years!”

Tod posing with his Triumph TT600. He hopes to reach 175 mph in 2009.
Tod posing with his Triumph TT600. He hopes to reach 175 mph in 2009.

“I exit with gradual deceleration and a lift of the head, followed by a yell for joy of accomplishment.” Back to the pits and straight to the booth to pick up the timing slip—105.567 mph.

A turbo is added for his return in 2008. “I arrive at the entrance at 5:15 a.m., an hour earlier than I had planned.” Greeted by a magnificent sunrise, Tod sets out to up the ante. After a few spirited runs, the final two net a 162.47 mph average and a new AMA record. There’s more yelling, all of it elated. Tod hopes to return in 2009 and top the 175 mark with his turbo-powered Triumph TT600.

Leslie was all smiles at the start of the 2007 meet before crashing hard and breaking some ribs in the process.
Leslie was all smiles at the start of the 2007 meet before crashing hard and breaking some ribs in the process.

Leslie Porterfield came into the land speed racing scene with a bang—literally. In 2007 she went down hard at over 100 mph, breaking seven ribs instead of a land speed record. A previous run of 196 on her turbocharged Hayabusa had her convinced she could break the 200 barrier at her first meet. It wasn’t from lack of trying. Loose salt and maybe a lack of seat time on the tricky surface all played a role in her demise.

Leslie and the production CBR 1000 which went 193 mph!
Leslie and the production CBR1000 which went 193 mph!

Leslie’s Best Time is open for debate. In 2008 she had to overcome nerves and an overzealous media at Speed Week but walked away with a 209 record running naked, (un-faired) on her official return to action. This put her into the Bonneville 200 MPH Club as the first female on a conventional motorcycle. A few weeks later at the Bub meet she added two additional records to her resume; 192 on a production CBR1000, and an impressive 232 mph run on the mighty turbo Busa.

Leslie in staging area at Speed Week 2009.
Leslie in staging area at Speed Week 2009.

Leslie received the Women’s Spirit Award at the Bub awards banquet, and later AMA Female Rider of the Year. What’s next? “I am hoping to go faster. I am looking forward to chasing more records. I think as technology improves we will continue to see faster speeds.” Author’s note: World’s fastest open bike has a nice ring…

Hartmut Weidelich hails from Aldingen, Germany, where he runs Dominator Engineering, specializing in British bike rebuilds and restorations. Hartmut is one of two riders campaigning Black Lightning, the twin-engine Vincent streamliner built by the Kansas Bad Man himself, Max Lambky. (Don Angel is the other rider.)

Hartmut gives some last minute advice to co-rider Don Angel.
Hartmut gives some last minute advice to co-rider Don Angel.

Hartmut had several “first times” just trying to make it through the timing lights to get that official slip of paper. One run was aborted due to severe vibration, so much so that Hartmut couldn’t see. The padding inside the roll cage vibrated against the shell of his helmet giving the anxious pilot a severe migraine. On another run the rear wheel came apart dropping the streamliner on its belly. Hartmut somehow managed to keep the liner upright and brought it to a stop with minimal damage.

Locked up and in a spin  Hartmut goes through the lights at 150 mph-backwards!
Locked up and in a spin, Hartmut goes through the lights at 150 mph—backwards!

In 2006 a run came to a premature end with the engines starving for fuel locking up the rear wheel. The bike spun and the rear tire blew, but not before Hartmut made it through the timing lights at 150 mph—going backwards!

The calm before the storm. Hartmut gets his thoughts in order before climbing and buckling down.
The calm before the storm.
Hartmut gets his thoughts in order
before climbing and buckling down.

The last day of the 2008 Bub Speed Trials was Hartmut’s best. “I put the pedal down, the engine responded accordingly—no sputter or missing. Within one mile of breathtaking acceleration the tach showed 5500. The red flags on each side were flying by. Lifted the pedal and switched to second gear. Felt a nice clean shift, something I never had before inside the liner. I smiled and nailed the throttle. The beast really came on song and I was pressed into the seat, the Vincent motors showing their raw power, pushing me forward hard. I couldn’t count the red flags anymore.”

The blower drive spindle sheared, but not before Hartmut reached an impressive 275 mph while still in 2nd gear. It was then that he realized their machine had the potential to take on the world. 2009 will be Black Lightning’s last attempt at the ultimate two wheel record. Hartmut would like nothing more than to bring the record home for Max and the team. If he does, have your steins ready!

(to be continued after coverage From Bub and Cook’s Landspeed Shootout)