Salt Addiction Joe Amo

December 18, 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.

The majority of competitors play to their average, rarely breaking out of their comfort zone. Be it the golf course, the bowling alley, even in the bedroom—which isn’t exactly a competition, but definitely a place where performance can be measured. There’s a certain expectation of the end result, an inner belief that seems to control the outcome.

Joe Amo-The fastest man on an open bike at over 272 mph.
Joe Amo – the fastest man on an open bike at over 272 mph.

It’s on those rare occasions that we perform above all expectations—that we outwit that inner belief, that our true potential is reached. The golfer shooting six strokes below his handicap, the bowler breaking 250, who consistently bowls a 200 game. Or Romeo, lasting the entire episode of 60 Minutes, a daunting task considering the big finish includes a critique by Andy Rooney.

Or Joe Amo, whose average speed on the Salt Flats until recently was in the low 200’s, suddenly blasting a 272 mph run on a 1000cc open bike!

What makes Amo’s accomplishment significant is that his peers run much more powerful machines. The norm, it seems, for the fastest of the fast open bikes is the proven Suzuki Hayabusa. Add a turbocharger, a few tweaks here and there, and you’ve got a motorcycle capable of nearly 250 mph. Some Busa riders, including John Noonan, Jason McVicar and Richard Assen, have gone faster on the salt, but nowhere near the latest milestone set by the Hermosa, South Dakota racer. (John Noonan still holds the FIM Record for non-streamliner motorcycle at 252.832 mph. World record’s require two-way runs, with the average of both times marking the official record time.)

Improved aerodynamics played a major role in Joes new found speed…
Improved aerodynamics played a major role in Joe’s new found speed…
Jon comforts his brother who was overwhelmed after his first pass over 240 mph!
Jon comforts his brother who was overwhelmed after his first pass over 240 mph!    

Joe rides a Kawasaki ZX-10R. This machine has been successful for a select few at the Salt Flats. Sam Wheeler has ridden his over 355 mph, which at one time was the fastest a two-wheeled machine had gone, period. Of course this was a full on streamliner, purpose built from the ground up. Joe’s machine started life as a weekly commuter, designed as a street legal sportbike complete with mirrors, turn indicators, and a high-pitched, DMV required horn.

I asked Joe to tell me a little about his bike before the 272 run. What worked and what didn’t, and who was responsible: “What worked well was all the stuff I didn’t do. My buddy Rory Manhalter MADE me let him fabricate stuff. Anything that looks right, he probably made. Dave Dahlgren of Engine Management Systems sprung some serious guru magic on us. It’s like that Ron Popeil commercial, “set it and forget it.” Intercooling is via Bell Intercoolers. We used Terry Kiser’s turbo system with help from Rick Head of Exile Turbo along with some suspension goodies from Traxxion Dynamics.” Joe also gives credit to Scott Guthrie Racing, Top One Oil, and anyone else who lent a hand with his racing efforts.

The Amo name is well known in land speed racing circles. In addition to Joe’s success on the salt, his brother Jon is the founder of, the leading website and forum for all things land speed related. He also competes on the salt and holds a 650cc class record at more than 180 mph. Jon was recently named the Bonneville 200 MPH Club “Person of the Year” at the Club’s annual banquet during Speedweek 2009. He currently campaigns a four-wheeled streamliner, but has his work cut out for him if he wants to keep pace with the success of his older brother.

I asked Joe to share some of his more memorable moments on the salt: “Al Teague making any run, Nolan White, Terry Kiser and Sam Wheeler celebrating when they made the fastest run in bike-liner history. Raw exuberance—priceless.

Duct tape is a necessary part of every racers tool box.
Duct tape is a necessary part of every racers tool box.

“The 1000cc MPS-F record, as it was a freakin’ awesome battle with Jason McVicar. Probably the biggest reason for any of the speeds we achieve, being pushed by Jason motivated us to push even harder. That day in October that we got the record over 223 was a big step up from earlier speeds. What made it most special was the look on my brother Jonathon’s face when he came to get me—it was more than cool…

“I went through the #4 mile marker a couple years ago. I’ve always engineered a fair amount of instability into my bike and have gotten close to the markers over the years. This time between the instability that I seem to enjoy, and some wind, I thought it would be close, but it became apparent that I was going to go through it. I’ve had plenty of runs where I thought I might come off the bike, this time I thought, I AM coming off the bike, but I managed to hit it dead center. There was nothing but a big “bang” and I was off the course.

“It was after the marker incident that I heard John Noonan and others could run them damned Busas down the course—usually faster then me, with one hand off the bars. I realized I’ve got to do something to make the handling better, so we’ve been working on that.”

In 2009 Joe showed up with new bodywork more streamlined than most. His 272 mph pass – the fastest open bike pass on record – proved it obviously worked. I asked what prompted the change and who was involved: “The SCTA in its infinite wisdom have enhanced the rules over the years allowing folks to pursue more innovation. In my case maybe it was a higher power. There was this biker guy in our ICU preparing for emergency surgery. He was babbling to the staff about motorcycles. ‘We have a guy who goes to Bonneville,’ one replied. I came and talked to

Judie poses with Joe shortly after his run-in with Mile Marker #4. The 200 Club stickers on the fairing hide damage caused by crashing through the marker.
Joe Amo looks for more and more MPH out on the Bonneville salt.

him. Two years later we unloaded the bike at Bend in the Road, and this guy walks up, ‘Hey Joe, you probably don’t remember me. You came and talked to me about Bonneville in the hospital back in Rapid City.’ Turns out he (Stacey Becker) was in our hospital for 109 days with serious complications. The surgeon had asked his family to say their goodbyes.

“But Stacey wanted to go to Bonneville—and eventually did. ‘Hey, if you ever need anything just let me know.’ About the only thing I really needed was someone good with fiberglass. Stacey responded with ‘that’s what I do’… so my addiction to simply keep working on the bike, and Stacey’s willingness to pour his heart and soul into this dream led us to some new speed this year.”