Salt Addiction: Ross Brown’s Triple Threat

December 15, 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.

Rockstars on the dirt  Ross and company get busy through the turn at full throttle.
Ross Brown (driver) is an avid sidecar racer as seen here getting busy through the turn at full throttle.

Since the invention of motorcycles some guys (and gals) couldn’t leave well enough alone. There was something about a stock engine that…well, just wasn’t good enough. It had to be tinkered with, made lighter, less reliable, noisier and of course, it had to be faster!

Guys like drag racing legend Boris Murray, racing a twin-engine Triumph powered drag bike that was nearly unbeatable in his day. Or Leo Hess with his twin engine Harley-Davidson, and certainly T.C. Christenson with Hogslayer, the twin engine Norton so named for defeating the dominant Harley-Davidson drag racers of the time.

The golden years of multi-engine, fiercely competitive drag racing has finally given way to technology and single-engine wizardry that is lighter, more reliable and still faster. However, like muscle cars of yore, the sound and visual component of tire screeching, front wheel carrying, in your face racing these past gladiators represented will be forever etched in the minds of the two-wheeled enthusiast lucky enough to have witnessed the thrill firsthand.

Unlike the evolution of drag racing on the quarter mile strip, brute power remains king on the Salt Flats. Not so long ago Dave Campos raced his Easyriders twin-engine Harley-Davidson streamliner into the record books as the world’s fastest motorcycle. Before him Don Vesco did the same, utilizing a pair of Yamaha motors early on, which he later exchanged for a pair of Kawasakis.

Front view of streamliner from Rosss small  but efficient workshop.
(Above): Front view of streamliner from Ross’ small, but efficient workshop. (Below): Do you have one of these sitting in YOUR driveway?
Do you have one of these sitting in YOUR driveway

In modern days the trend continues. The Top 1 Ack Attack was the first to dethrone Dave Campos of his 16-year reign. The Ack Attack uses a pair of Suzuki Hayabusa engines, and is currently the world’s fastest motorcycle.

But once again, if more is better…

I recently learned of a new competitor; Ross Brown, an automotive engineer from Coorparoo, a southern suburb of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. I took an immediate liking to Ross’s project. He’s going big. His yet to be named two-wheeled streamliner utilizes not two, but three methanol burning Kawasaki ZZR1100 engines nestled into a beautifully hand-crafted stainless steel chassis. When asked why he chose stainless over chrome molly tubing, Ross enthusiastically replied, “Because rust never sleeps!”

I asked for a little background on his racing career. In addition to racing Greyhounds – true story, he’s done test work for circuit cars and drag racing, but his true forte is Speedway Sidecar racing. In fact, he’s designed and built 10 of these wild machines from the ground up. He’s no slouch when it comes to twisting the throttle either. He and his mate won the 2008 Australian Long Track Championship, he’s a past Northern Queensland Champion, and has multiple victories in the Silver Sash and Laurel competitions. For those of you who haven’t seen Speedway Sidecar racing, a rider and companion speed around an oval in the wrong direction on a high-powered methanol burning machine that is part speedway bike and part sprint car, backing into the corner sideways and inches from their competitors. The two-man team must work in unison to balance and control their machine while spraying decomposed granite into the faces of their competitors and inevitably into the beer you just purchased at the concession stand in between races. It’s great fun…

Like TC  Ross knows how to pack multiple engines into a single chassis. Only Remember  more is better!
Like TC, Ross knows how to pack multiple engines into a single chassis. Only Remember, more is better!

For clarity I asked Ross what you call that fearless person who rides passenger on his rig inches off the ground clearly at the mercy of the one twisting the throttle. “A freakin’ lunatic,” was his official reply. Over the years his “lunatic teammates” have been male and female, and Ross tells me they are “the best and craziest friends you could ever have.”

Getting back to his streamliner project, there was a growing need to know his LSR background, as one doesn’t simply decide to build a world contender without years of experience competing on the salt at speeds most would wince at. He summed it up nicely with a single word: “Zilch…” I asked who has helped him along the way: “Mike Akatiff, Max Lambky and yourself are the ones that I’ve learned the most from. I do believe Don Vesco & Burt Munro are giving my hands some guidance. Currently I’m building this alone. I’ve actually never seen a streamliner in the flesh.”

Come to think of it, Mike Akatiff had little Bonneville experience other than working with Jim True a little while campaigning a Jack Costella-built car. Can it be done? We’ll all know the answer soon enough, but it’s fun to hear it from the man himself: “I’d like to say ‘shoot the bike down to the salt, light the fire, take the record, have a beer with me mates, shoot back home, put my feet up and watch it on TV…’ But, since reality seems to have a way of raising its ugly head ‘round here, with everything going well, with minimal mistakes and mother nature behaving herself I’m hoping to be on pace within three to four seasons.”

Close-up of unique cockpit design positioned in front of the front wheel. Steering is by a Difasio style hub.
Close-up of unique cockpit design positioned in front of the front wheel. Steering is by a Difasio style hub.

A unique feature of Ross’s thee-engine streamliner is the fact that the rider sits in front of the front tire. “Because of the three engines, adding a rider compartment into that area would have lengthened wheelbase considerably. It would have become too long; excessive chassis flex would have become an issue.” He also mentioned the need for additional weight over the front tire for proper handling. He utilizes a Difaso Hub steering design with a four bar rocker link suspension, which he admits is not totally worked out at the moment.

When asked if three engines in excess of 3000cc combined displacement is even legal for an attempt at the ultimate two-wheel record: “The first rule book that I purchased was that of the DLRA, which stated three engines were permissible and size was unlimited; the liner has been built to conform to those rules. As the DLRA are looking to adopt SCTA rules, they (the DLRA) have realized they’ve put me between a rock and a hard place, but are looking to grant me the “GRANDFATHER CLAUSE,” thus meaning it will be accepted under the old rules. “BUT”, if I were to sell the liner it would then have to conform with the new rules.”

Like all good engineers, Ross also has a Plan B: “Removing the front engine and replacing it with a super or turbo charger will not be an impossible feat, which will then bring it under 3000cc.”

I’m hoping he gets to run all three.

Enjoy the ride…