Salt Addiction: Ack Attack World’s Fastest

October 8, 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.

Top 1 Ack Attack – World’s Fastest Motorcycle

Like a favorite Spaghetti Western, Mike Cook’s Loctite 2010 Bonneville Shootout presented the Top 1 Ack Attack team with bouts of good, bad and the ugly. On the bad list we wasted three days fighting a batch of new Mickey Thompson rear tires that deformed once they reached operating temperature and moderate speeds. The right side grew in circumference over an inch larger than the left, causing the streamliner to turn left at speed.

The tail doors were removed before we realized the handling gremlins were coming from a faulty rear tire.
The tail doors were removed before we realized the handling gremlins were coming from a faulty rear tire.

Before realizing what was causing the problem, Ack Attack team owner Mike Akatiff and the crew checked wheel alignment, removed the rear tail doors (which we hoped would give us an aerodynamic advantage over previous years), and readjusted the steering linkage. It was only then that we noticed the true culprit and replaced the faulty rubber. After a couple more attempts with the bike veering left we decided to regroup and figure out what to do next. The new tire we’d just installed was no better than the original. The handling was so bad that I had to lean the bike hard right just to stay on course; it was a struggle just to keep the wheels under me. That was ugly…

Mike jumped in his plane and flew back to San Jose to pick up the same tire we’d ran in 2008 to 361 mph. He didn’t make it back to Wendover until 11:30 p.m. A couple of crew members returned to the salt to install and balance the tires that evening, returning to their rooms around 2 a.m. This was the second late night excursion, the first being an unscheduled top end repair when a handful of valve springs gave up the fight and needed to be replaced and reshimmed.

The next morning I noticed an immediate improvement in handling. Had we not just lost first gear in the front motor I’d say things were starting to take a turn for the better. After a few more stabs at taking off in low gear, we tried starting off in second. It worked, but clutch troubles and odd readings through the data acquisition had us back in the pits yanking

World renown adventurer and copilot  Speedy!
World renowned adventurer and copilot, Speedy!

out the front motor. About this time we were also having trouble getting the bike to shift out of fourth gear. Our crew would burn the midnight oil once again, but at least we had the parts to make the corrections and continue our quest for speed.

I might add at this point that from the beginning of the meet we were carrying along a mascot of sorts for the Rice brothers of Chronologic Timing. Speedy is the world’s fastest stuffed gerbil. Aside from going for a ride with John Noonan setting a sit-on bike land speed record, or riding shotgun with Tom Burkland on his 425 mph run in the familiar number 411 streamliner, Speedy has gone 822 mph in a rocket headed for outer space, he’s been caving in Guatemala, and been on world class scuba diving expeditions. He even crashed at the famed Talladega Speedway, and in true racer form, he continues to push the envelope to this day. It was an honor to take Speedy along, and besides, he didn’t say much and we didn’t have to feed him…

Bob Clevelands big rig that hauls his record setting lawn mower. Get er done!
Bob Cleveland’s big rig that hauls his record-setting lawn mower. Get ‘er done!

A large car hauler pulled into the pits, the biggest, fanciest truck I’d ever seen. It would have fit nicely in the pits at NASCAR beside all the other big bucks sponsor’s rigs. Everyone watched as the big rear doors opened, hoping to see some exotic racer hidden under wraps being pulled out to make an attempt in the last hour. 104 Octane Booster was the corporate sponsor emblazoned across the side of the giant custom painted, chrome accented hauler. Everyone watched as the four-wheeled, state of the art, er, uhhh, sit-on lawnmower was guided down the ramp onto the hollow grounds of the Bonneville Salt Flats.

That’s right, Bob Cleveland and his crew had come out to set a new land speed record for lawnmowers. Their plan was to make a few test runs that day, but they would save their actual record attempt until Saturday, reserving the salt for private time like many of the larger budgeted teams had done in the past. Besides, the rules said their vehicle had to actually cut grass during the event to be deemed a true lawnmower, and their sod hadn’t arrived yet.

Bob Cleveland and the worlds fastest lawnmower.
Bob Cleveland and the world’s fastest lawnmower.

Now on the last day of the meet, the tension was thickening; we were running out of answers and time. Technically, the meet was already over. Friday was to be the last day of speed attempts. That is until we heard of Bob Cleveland and his lawnmower racing team. They were fine with us sharing the salt on Saturday. Thank you Bob and crew!

I made a couple more passes Saturday morning, a 326 down run and a 330 return. If only the darn thing would shift into high gear! To be honest, by now the moral was slipping in the Top 1 Ack Attack camp. We’d chased tire issues, top-end failures, motor swaps and now a transmission that refused to let us into fifth and sixth gears. We still needed another 40 mph. Things weren’t looking good.

With no new direction to go, Mike and most of our crew members headed down course to watch Bob and the mower team’s record attempt. They’re really a fun bunch and everyone was tickled when they set a new home improvement speed record of 96.529 mph. They then installed the cutting blade and pulverized the mandatory patch of sod in .065 seconds! Good job guys.

Rocky and Buzz Muhlbach repack the parachutes after every run. Note the tight fit with the tail doors in place…
Rocky and Buzz Muhlbach repack the parachutes after every run. Note the tight fit with the tail doors in place…

While the crew was gone I shared my thoughts with our engine guy (Bob Wirth) about an idea I had that made sense, if only in my own mind. What if we changed the gearing dramatically so that fourth gear was tall enough to run over record speed? I could almost see his gears turning inside his head. He pulled some gear ratio charts, did some calculations on rpm needed, boost amounts, etc. “It might be possible.”

That was all I needed. I called Mike on the cell phone and told him what I had in mind. He liked it, and he and the crew high-tailed it back to get to work on making the changes. Several teeth were changed on the rear sprockets as well as the motor. The Ack Attack is chain driven from both sides so it was no small task. Bob raised the rev limiter so I could rev the motors higher to hopefully assist in pulling such a tall gear. He also leaned on the boost giving us still more horsepower.

Strapped in and ready to go  Rocky gives the thumbs up before the canopy is closed and hes sent on his way.
Strapped in and ready to go, Rocky gives the thumbs up before the canopy is closed and he’s sent on his way.

My first run down the course after the changes was in the early afternoon. The clock was ticking. We had to get it right and soon. When I released from the push vehicle, the “skewer” that inserts into the back of the bike got hung up and nearly pitched me into the salt. It took me a while to recover but I pinned the throttle as soon as I was pointed in the right direction. The bike took off. I could hear the turbo whine as I made my way through the gears. It felt fast for the first time since we arrived at the salt flats. My mile speed was 366 with a 373 exit. There was still hope!

My return run was another disappointment. Heading in the direction from floating mountain to the highway the salt is much looser and rutted pretty good in places. I struggled with wheel spin and loose salt making it really difficult to stay in the throttle. My speed through the mile was a heart-wrenching 365 even though I had a 369 exit speed. I drove the bike to the pits and got out. There was no high-fiving going on, in fact it was quite somber, not what we were expecting. It was now almost 5 p.m.

The Top 1 Ack Attack at speed. Note how rough the salt is off the course.
The Top 1 Ack Attack at speed. Note how rough the salt is off the course.

The bike was wheeled under the pop-ups. The near-boiling water was recycled with cold water while a brief inspection of the overall condition of the machine took place. I spoke with our engine guy once more. “Is there anything left?” What I was asking was if we were already running maximum boost. If we were able to make another run and if I could get a hold of the salt, and if the wind held out, and if the gearbox didn’t let go, was there anything left on tap to give us a little extra top speed?

Bob kept his cool while looking at the data. “I’ll give you as much as I think the engines will tolerate.” It was that simple. He dialed in more boost. How much, I didn’t want to know. There was a good chance the motors would self destruct on the final run. There was also a slim chance they’d stay together and we could go home with smiles on our faces. We didn’t have anything to lose. kept those less fortunate to be here a play by play of our attempts from day one. If you listened close enough you could hear Denis Manning pulling a Tums from its wrapper and choking it down…

Coasting back to the pits; parachute is out  landing gear is down  and the shiny side is up. Nice job!
Coasting back to the pits; parachute is out, landing gear is down, and the shiny side is up. Nice job!

We arrived at the start running from highway 80 toward floating mountain. It was my favorite direction at this event, especially with the sun lowering just behind us. Mike gave me the thumbs up and jumped inside the push vehicle and mashed the pedal. For the second time when I tried to separate from him we got hung up and again, I was pitched to the side and nearly went down before I could get going. I steered hard left to right the bike and get the wheels back under me. As soon as I regained control the drag race began.

The little tweaking Bob did made a huge difference. The extra boost, the leaner fuel curve, all things that take away durability but add to the big number seemed to be working. There was zero wind and for whatever reason, almost no wheel slip as I managed to steer between the ruts and loose salt. The motors screamed. My poor start meant I had to drive as aggressive as possible if we were to have any chance at all.

Let the good times roll!
Let the good times roll!

I did just that.

The throttle was pegged nearly the entire run. I think I only blipped it one time when the rear tire got loose, but for the most part it felt like the bike was on rails. I needed to be above 10,000 rpm entering the mile. 10,000 rpm was exactly 367 mph; we needed to be above that. As I entered the mile the shifting light lit up; I wasn’t thinking shift into 5th gear—that wasn’t an option anymore. No, that beautiful glow of yellowish orange meant I was already at 10,300 rpm, which meant I was entering the measured mile well above the record. I kept the throttle wide open throughout the mile waiting for the thing to grenade but instead it just kept going faster…

From the timing tower: “entry speed, 379.3 mph; kilo, 387.1; mile speed, 386.9,” there was a brief pause and

These are the guys and gals who made it happen. The crew of the worlds fastest motorcycle  the Top 1 Ack Attack…
These are the guys and gals who made it happen. The crew of the world’s fastest motorcycle, the Top 1 Ack Attack…

then a snicker from James Rice of Chronologic Timing before continuing, “exit speed, 394 mph,” wholly sh*t!

The reunion at the far end of the track was surreal. My wife Tricia was the first to greet me once I got the motors turned off and the wheels finally to rest. Knowing what we’d been through and how hard everyone worked at getting us here, it was very humbling. As much as I like to think of myself as somewhat of a tough guy, I was pretty choked up as I climbed from the bike and hugged my wife, followed by my kids, Mike Akatiff, the crew, and anyone else within reach. Mike and I got to shower everyone with champagne before getting that final group photo behind the world’s fastest motorcycle.

What a ride…