Salt Addiction: Red Hat Diaries

October 26, 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.

Left to right: Bub 201 Club  DLRA 200 MPH Club  Australia   Bonneville 200 MPH Club  300 Chapter   and the famous Red Hat of the Bonneville 200 MPH Club.
Left to right: Bub 201 Club, DLRA 200 MPH Club (Australia), Bonneville 200 MPH Club (300 Chapter), and the famous Red Hat of the Bonneville 200 MPH Club.

Land speed racers have a unique wardrobe. LSR motorcycle attire includes full length leathers, boots, gloves, and a helmet. In streamliners, replace the leathers with a Nomex firesuit, gloves, head sock, helmet and approved arm and leg restraints.

Many will argue, however, that their wardrobe is not complete until the elusive “Red Hat” is added to their repertoire.

In 1953 the Bonneville 200 MPH Club was formed to honor those who’ve set a land speed record over 200 mph on the salt flats. No large payouts or multi-tiered trophies would be awarded. The prize, which to this day remains unchanged, is a Red Hat symbolizing these racer’s accomplishments and place in LSR history.

This prestigious club was the brainchild of noted journalist, historian and racer, Dean Batchelor, and Hop Up magazine editor, Lou Kimsey. Wilhelm Herz was the first motorcyclist to break the 200 mph barrier, the NSU Delfin III streamliner setting the bar at 210.650 mph in 1956!

Marcia Holley was the first female into the club with a 229 mph record, turning the heads of the all male four-wheel members whose elite club would be forever changed. Marcia did this piloting Don Vesco’s Kawasaki-powered streamliner, which was the world’s fastest motorcycle at the time, with a 318 record.

Brenda Sue sporting her new Red Hat after being congratulated by Dan Warner.
Brenda Sue sporting her new Red Hat after being congratulated by Dan Warner.

Two-wheeled streamliners weren’t the only motorcycles capable of speeds over the 200 mark. Sportbike riders like Fred Vance, born in 1943, began his quest for the Red Hat in 2008, and Brenda Sue Carver, a close friend of Fred’s, who with his help and his bike was also determined to add the famous hat to her personal wardrobe. Others came from across the pond, including Kiwi Richard Assen and Kim Krebs from Yackandandah, Victoria, Australia, who traveled halfway around the globe to see if she could add her name to the club.

It’s a prestigious group, open to men and women of all ages, sizes and nationalities. The price of admittance is a new record above 200 mph in your chosen class. The Red Hats aren’t for sale, but must be earned. For those daring enough, a Blue Hat can be acquired for a record over 300 mph, and a Black Hat for over 400. These are chapters of the 200 MPH Club, and have limited access. In fact, only six motorcycle racers to date have earned the Blue Hat, and no one has yet to go black. Jim Feuling is a “3 Club” member, but I’m still on the fence when it comes to classifying his record among fellow motorcyclists. His streamliner car is powered by a V8 automobile engine, and fitted with a wide, single rear tire, blurring the lines in the rulebook in his favor. Craig Breedlove did the same thing with his Spirit of America 3-wheeled, jet powered er, uh, tricycle, so maybe I stand corrected…

Fred Vance started drag racing cars in the 60’s. He mentioned that all the hot rod magazines had full coverage articles on Bonneville Speed Week and added, “It was always a dream to race Bonneville.”

In 1978 he finally did, on a turbocharged BMW 650. “It went really slow, like 88 mph.” He didn’t return to the Great White Dyno until 1991, as a spectator. His quest for a Red Hat began in 2008.

“I took my stock Hayabusa to Speed Week and ran 192 mph,” said Vance of his effort in 2008.

Fred poses with his Vance and Forstall Racing Suzuki Hayabusa. Fred has set numerous records and also helps Brenda Sue feed her addiction.
Fred poses with his Vance and Forstall Racing Suzuki Hayabusa. Fred has set numerous records and also helps Brenda Sue feed her addiction.

In 2009 Fred teamed with Larry Forstall. “He (Larry) gave me lots of parts and his advice was invaluable.” Fred credits Larry with his achievements on the salt. “I got my Red Hat in ‘09 on my 2007 Hayabusa.” He set the 1350 production class record at 205.3 mph, breaking the existing record by .09 mph. He then raised it to 211.526 before the meet was over, and was proud to be inducted into the 200 MPH Club by Larry and Allison Volk.

Brenda Sue started by racing at the paved airstrips that have joined in LSR competition. She set records at the Mojave and Loring airstrips, and has now progressed to the Great White Dyno. “My friend and race partner Fred Vance owns the awesome 2007 Hayabusa that I race.” Brenda Sue points out that at the end of 2011 Fred held all 9 records in the 1350 n/a (naturally aspirated) class.

“I got my red hat on September 11, 2012 at World of Speed. On my first pass after getting my 200 license I qualified for the 1350 M-G record held by Fred. The next morning I set the new record which was 10 mph faster than the one I was going after.” Brenda Sue remarked the vastness of the salt flats was intimidating at first, but a flight over the course helped put things into perspective and put her fears to rest.

“My favorite thing about the salt is getting to go fast for a long time compared to mile racing. I love going WFO.” Brenda hopes to someday go 250 mph on two wheels…

At the invitation of fellow Australian land speed racer, Greg Watters, Kim Krebs started her speed addiction at Lake Gairdner in South Australia in 2006. Kim also races post-classic historic bikes, a ‘71 Honda CB500 and a ’72 Honda CB750 sidecar. “I’m the throttle jockey, not the monkey.” Kim is quick to point out.

Betty Burkland  Greg Watters  Kim Krebs  Dan Warner and Fireman Jim Higgins celebrate Kim getting her Red Hat.
Betty Burkland, Greg Watters, Kim Krebs, Dan Warner and “Fireman Jim” Higgins celebrate Kim getting her Red Hat.

When asked why Bonneville? “It’s the mecca of speed trials. I’ve been fortunate to race at Bonneville since 2009. I can’t do this without the support, friendship and racing camaraderie of “Fireman” Jim Higgins and Greg Watters. We ship our bikes and gear to the USA where we have at least 3 race meets over a 4-5 week period. In Australia, we only have one race meet per year. Even though it’s a dry lake in the middle of the desert during a 10 year drought, we still seem to get washed out.”

In 2009 Kim set a SCTA/USFRA record of 209 mph on a 225 minimum. In 2010 she had a top speed of 228 mph, but still no record. In 2011 they removed the bodywork and Kim qualified at 208 mph on a 191 record on a naked turbo 750. That year the last day of WoS was lost to rain and standing water. “Impound was as close as I got to the Red Hat that year. In 2012, at World of Speed, on a turbocharged GSX-R750 (MPS750BF), I ran 228.925 down and backed it up with 229.576, giving me a 229.25 mph record. Strong enough for that Red Hat!” The goal is 250 mph on a 750 in 2013!

Enjoy the ride…