Salt Addiction: World’s Fastest Bagger

May 28, 2010
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.

This is the 2000 Sportster in race form that brought Chris the 2003 championship.
This is the 2000 Sportster in race form that brought Chris the 2003 championship.

In 2006 Laura Ellifson put her custom built “Bagger” into the record books running in the mid 140 mph range. Teamed with Brian Klock of Klock Werks Kustom Cycles, whom she later married, they seemed to own the “Bagger Class” until a relative newcomer to the sport of land speed racing entered the fray.

Chris Rivas knew a little about straight-line racing, only he did it a quarter-mile at a time. His medium was asphalt; his credentials included a career best 6.92-second quarter-mile with a top speed of 192 mph competing in the ultra-competitive NHRA circuit.

His first purpose-built race bike was a 1992 Harley Sportster modified from the gound up. With it he won two track championships, and an AHDRA (All Harley Drag Racing Assoc.) National Runner Up (Western Championship).

2004 professional debut in Phoenix.
2004 professional debut in Phoenix.

In 2004 he and his dad, Ruben, built an S&S-powered Pro Stock Bike in his garage from scratch. He had sporadic bouts of success competing in the AHDRA’s Western Division Pro Stock class. “To my amazement, by the end of the season I had accumulated enough points to accomplish a Championship Runner Up title my first year as a Pro rider.” It was good enough to land him a full ride on Mohegan Sun’s new NHRA Pro Stock machine.

Chris attended the Frank Hawley School of Drag Racing twice, and by 2007 had amassed a career best 11 round wins. He would later sign with the Drag Specialties / S&S Racing Team which dominated the field in 2008 winning three of the last five events in the countdown. Besides winning the Western Division championship, Chris was now the number two ranked rider in the world. The following year his attention turned to land speed racing and competing at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

ESPN captures the intensity at the start of Chriss run. PomonaThe crew leaps with excitement after Chriss win at Pomona.
ESPN captures the intensity at the start of Chris’s run. The crew leaps with excitement after
 Chris’s win at Pomona.

“I just love to race,” he explained as to why the new direction. “In early 2009 I found myself on a plane flying back to S&S Cycle headquarters in Viola, Wisconsin to talk about what it would take to build a hotrod bagger that could set new records at Bonneville.”

They went to work designing an engine that was up to the task. Record holders Jeff Bailey and Dan Kinsey, along with George Smith and Steve Rominski collaborated on the project while California resident, Carl Brouhard of Carl Brouhard Designs came onboard with additional sponsorship and a host of specialty parts to insure Chris’s first outing would be a success.

Staging for first run at Bonneville Speed Week 2009. Daughter Cayla is to his left.
Staging for first run at Bonneville Speed Week 2009. Daughter Cayla is to his left.

His warm reception into the new arena was short-lived. At the 2009 Speed Week event Chris was excited to get started. He warmed up his new land speed entry and cruised cautiously to tech inspection, eager to get through the registration process so he could return to his pits and prepare for racing. Or, as most of us who’ve competed at Speed Week already know, prepare to wait in line for the larger portion of the day…

He was greeted by an official dressed in white whose sole purpose, it would seem, was to make first-timers miserable. Any hint of a smile had long since been removed and replaced with blotches of sunscreen and chapped lips. His greeting to the anxious newcomer went something like this: “Welcome to Bonneville, now go home…”

“What?” Chris thought he couldn’t be serious.

“You heard me. Go load up.”

“Why?”

“There’s no riding in the pits, or anywhere else other than on the course.”

“Well, I didn’t know that.”

The well-seasoned official heard it all before. Speed Week is mostly a car meet, interspersed with the occasional leather-wearing, rule-breaking motorcycle racer. Its one of the few remaining ‘Good ol’ boys’ institutions where right is right and if you’re not one of them, chances are you’re probably wrong. “If you’ve read your rule book you’ve seen it. Absolutely no riding in the pits.”

Chris pleaded with him for forgiveness and eventually wore him down. “Who are you with?” the official grunted.

“Chris Rivas Racing.” A bell went off inside the official’s head.

“Chris Rivas from Pro Stock?”

On the drag strip at an NHRA national  or on the salt flats competing for the title Worlds Fastest Bagger  Chris Rivas is still the man to beat.
On the drag strip at an NHRA national, or on the salt flats competing for the title “World’s Fastest Bagger”, Chris Rivas is still the man to beat.

“Yeah.”

The stern gaze of the all-knowing gave way to the slightest of grins. “Okay Chris, we’re going to let you run, but don’t ever let this happen again.”

One never fully appreciates just how heavy a bagger really is, even in race trim, until you’ve pushed one back to your pits over a quarter-mile away. In this case it was a 1999 FLTR (Road Glide) which weighed in at over 800 lbs in stock form. The good news was he was in. It was time to go racing.

Right off, the coarse, slippery surface was a bit of a concern. Compared to the grippy tarmac he was used to, there would be a learning curve. The initial licensing run was to be no faster than 150 mph.

“I really wanted to break the existing record (146) on the first run so I mounted a GPS on the dash. I was able to hold the throttle right on the 150 mark which I was a little over when I entered the measured mile. At the timing shack I was handed a tag with an average speed of 150.6 mph. My very

At the end of their first speed trials  Speed Week 2009  Chris and his team set two new records: 3000cc mps-pg @ 152.197 mph  and 3000cc aps-pg @ 159.620 mph. Thats his dad Ruben  on the left.
At the end of their first speed trials (Speed Week 2009) Chris and his team set two new records: 3000cc mps-pg @ 152.197 mph, and 3000cc aps-pg @ 159.620 mph. That’s his dad Ruben, on the left.

first experience on the salt netted two important milestones, achieving my competition license and breaking a record. My return run the next morning netted a 153.7 mph average for a new record of 152.197 mph!”

Chris left with two records that first meet, returning a few weeks later upping the record to 166 with a top speed of 170 mph at the Bub Motorcycle Speed Trials, taking top honors as the World’s Fastest Bagger.

For 2010 Drag Specialties and S&S Cycle, along with Chris Rivas V-Twin will once again back Chris on a newly designed bagger with the help of close friend Carl Brouhard, who promises big things from the new design. More power, better aerodynamics, and less weight should make for higher speeds and an easier time pushing the bike to and from tech inspection…

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