Salt Addiction: Get Ready and Wait

September 25, 2012
Rocky Robinson
Rocky Robinson
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

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 Top 1 Ack Attack was rebuilt from the ground up after a nasty tumble in 2011 nearly put an end to the worlds fastest motorcycle teams efforts.
The Top 1 Ack Attack was rebuilt from the ground up after a nasty tumble in 2011 nearly put an end to the world’s fastest motorcycle team’s efforts.

One of the shortcomings of land speed racing is the amount of actual “seat time” one gets on the salt. Granted, those from Southern California can get in multiple events at El Mirage on the shorter mud lake, but I’m talking about those whose main destination is the Bonneville Salt Flats, the “Big Daddy” of LSR.

Preparation can take months, sometimes years, before putting it all together to make an attempt at history. Then you have to decide which sanction to run under, what type of record, and which set of rules best applies to you and your machine. Speed Week and SCTA put on the largest attended event each year, with 400 to 500 cars and bikes entered each season, sometimes more.

World of Speed, World Finals, the BUB all-motorcycle meet; these events are designed to cater to the specific needs of the entrants and the clubs that represent them. USFRA, BNI, AMA, FIA, FIM; pick a club, a sanction, and a time of year that best suits your needs. Sounds easy, right?

For us, there are only two events that run under AMA/FIM sanction that would qualify us for an internationally recognized land speed record: BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials and Mike Cook’s Land Speed Shootout. Under their set of rules you have to make two consecutive passes, one in each direction within a two hour time limit. I like this format best. Several of the other events require two passes in the same direction. If your initial pass is at record speed, you go to impound and wait until the following morning for your second pass. I like the idea of having to make two passes because winds can change, weather can become a factor, and the machine has to be not only lightning fast, but somewhat reliable. I hope that someday the paved airstrips hosting speed trials events will follow the lead of the more established venues requiring a two-pass average, adding consistency and depth to the sport.

This is what the salt looked like on the International Course during the Bub meet. Top left was taken from highway 80 heading inland. Top right shows various degrees of preparation with drags and wheel packers. Bottom left is 8 miles in running in the same direction. Bottom right shows puddling in the middle of the course. Over the next couple of weeks the course did improve  but still wasnt suitable for our needs.
This is what the salt looked like on the International Course during the BUB meet. Top left was taken from Highway 80 heading inland. Top right shows various degrees of preparation with drags and wheel packers. Bottom left is eight miles in running in the same direction. Bottom right shows puddling in the middle of the course. Over the next couple of weeks the course improved, but wasn’t suitable for our needs.

We run, on occasion, at the BUB event as a test and tune for the Shootout. The course is typically shorter and not as user friendly to streamliners as the Shootout, but can definitely be a benefit when trying to sort out new equipment, or after rebuilding the machine after a bad tumble, to confirm if everything is running straight and true.

This year was another rebuilding year for us, having crashed the Top 1 Ack Attack at the previous Shootout in 2011. Mother Nature also came into play for 2012. The International Course became rough on either end of the extended course and there was little to no salt in the first mile or so coming from Floating Mountain. A harsh low spot crossed the course within the first mile of the pole line, marking an underground river crossing. The wet conditions make aggressive acceleration difficult.

During the BUB meet Mike Akatiff, Ken Puccio, Buzz Muhlbach and I flew out to the salt to have a firsthand look. Unfortunately, though it was good enough to run the meet, and probably good enough for sit-on bikes with full suspension and fast cars with four wheels on the ground, it didn’t meet our requirements, which admittedly have changed as our speeds increased. With the motorcycle record currently in our possession, it makes little sense to run on a course where we feel we can’t reach our goal of 400 mph successfully and safely. As unpopular a decision as it has become, we decided to sit this one out and hope for better conditions next year.

A shining light during our trip was an evening spent at the Black and White, where Buell Brothers founder Tom Anderson, known by his friends as Santa Claus for obvious reasons, had put together the first annual Motorcycle Legends night. In a crowded back room of this favorite local watering hole more two-wheeled talent had gathered to share stories from their racing days than at any other time I could remember. Not just motorcycle land speed racing legends, but all disciplines of motorcycle racing. Guys like drag racing legend Pete Hill, or long time racing hero Marty Dickerson. Other legends included builder/racer Wink Eller, John Yeats, S&S hotshoe Dan Kinsey, and of course Warner Riley.

Warner Riley  John Yeats  Dan Kinsey  and Marty Dickerson take their turn at the mic sharing their stories.
Warner Riley, John Yeats, Dan Kinsey, and Marty Dickerson take their turn at the mic sharing their stories.

There were several others, each taking a turn at the microphone, which like an old Ironhead Harley, was temperamental and on occasion refused to work. Luckily, with a room full of gear-heads it wasn’t long till the problem was diagnosed and cured. Maybe the “loud stick” utilized Lucas electrics. All I know was after a quick battery change everyone was coming in loud and clear.

The stories were heart-warming. Marty Dickerson shared a moment when racing buddy Burt Munro went into a liquor store and emerged with a gallon jug of red wine. Marty knew Burt didn’t drink so asked him what he was up to. “I’m going to dump the wine and fill the jug with some leftover nitro so I can smuggle it home on the plane.” Marty laughed and told the old geezer he’d be right back. Marty returned with another gallon jug.

“You can’t use a red wine bottle, Burt. Nitro is clear.” Burt sweated off the cap/cork without damaging the seal. He poured the nitro into the bottle which he heated under hot water from the sink which created a vacuum as it cooled, sealing the top back in place looking as new as when it was purchased off the shelf. “Burt was simply crazy,” Marty recalled. “But he was also an intelligent man. He knew how to get things done.”

The stories went on into the wee hours of the night. Mike Akatiff and myself even got a turn at the mic. The Motorcycle Legends gathering will be an annual thing according to Santa. His gift to those who want to meet and sit and listen to legends of the sport we all love. I’m looking forward to meeting and hearing more. The team and I are also looking forward to returning to the salt next year as are all our competitors. We’re hoping conditions will be better, the competition stronger, and that the big numbers will fall.

Enjoy the ride…

Facebook comments