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Salt Addiction Joe Amo

Friday, December 18, 2009
The majority of competitors play to their average, rarely breaking out of their comfort zone. Be it the golf course, the bowling alley, even in the bedroom—which isn’t exactly a competition, but definitely a place where performance can be measured. There’s a certain expectation of the end result, an inner belief that seems to control the outcome.
Joe Amo-The fastest man on an open bike at over 272 mph.
Joe Amo - the fastest man on an open bike at over 272 mph.

It’s on those rare occasions that we perform above all expectations—that we outwit that inner belief, that our true potential is reached. The golfer shooting six strokes below his handicap, the bowler breaking 250, who consistently bowls a 200 game. Or Romeo, lasting the entire episode of 60 Minutes, a daunting task considering the big finish includes a critique by Andy Rooney.

Or Joe Amo, whose average speed on the Salt Flats until recently was in the low 200’s, suddenly blasting a 272 mph run on a 1000cc open bike!

What makes Amo’s accomplishment significant is that his peers run much more powerful machines. The norm, it seems, for the fastest of the fast open bikes is the proven Suzuki Hayabusa. Add a turbocharger, a few tweaks here and there, and you’ve got a motorcycle capable of nearly 250 mph. Some Busa riders, including John Noonan, Jason McVicar and Richard Assen, have gone faster on the salt, but nowhere near the latest milestone set by the Hermosa, South Dakota racer. (John Noonan still holds the FIM Record for non-streamliner motorcycle at 252.832 mph. World record's require two-way runs, with the average of both times marking the official record time.)

Improved aerodynamics played a major role in Joes new found speed…
Improved aerodynamics played a major role in Joe’s new found speed…
Jon comforts his brother who was overwhelmed after his first pass over 240 mph!
Jon comforts his brother who was overwhelmed after his first pass over 240 mph!    
Joe rides a Kawasaki ZX-10R. This machine has been successful for a select few at the Salt Flats. Sam Wheeler has ridden his over 355 mph, which at one time was the fastest a two-wheeled machine had gone, period. Of course this was a full on streamliner, purpose built from the ground up. Joe’s machine started life as a weekly commuter, designed as a street legal sportbike complete with mirrors, turn indicators, and a high-pitched, DMV required horn.

I asked Joe to tell me a little about his bike before the 272 run. What worked and what didn’t, and who was responsible: “What worked well was all the stuff I didn’t do. My buddy Rory Manhalter MADE me let him fabricate stuff. Anything that looks right, he probably made. Dave Dahlgren of Engine Management Systems sprung some serious guru magic on us. It’s like that Ron Popeil commercial, “set it and forget it.” Intercooling is via Bell Intercoolers. We used Terry Kiser’s turbo system with help from Rick Head of Exile Turbo along with some suspension goodies from Traxxion Dynamics.” Joe also gives credit to Scott Guthrie Racing, Top One Oil, and anyone else who lent a hand with his racing efforts.

The Amo name is well known in land speed racing circles. In addition to Joe’s success on the salt, his brother Jon is the founder of Landracing.com, the leading website and forum for all things land speed related. He also competes on the salt and holds a 650cc class record at more than 180 mph. Jon was recently named the Bonneville 200 MPH Club “Person of the Year” at the Club’s annual banquet during Speedweek 2009. He currently campaigns a four-wheeled streamliner, but has his work cut out for him if he wants to keep pace with the success of his older brother.

I asked Joe to share some of his more memorable moments on the salt: “Al Teague making any run, Nolan White, Terry Kiser and Sam Wheeler celebrating when they made the fastest run in bike-liner history. Raw exuberance—priceless.
Duct tape is a necessary part of every racers tool box.
Duct tape is a necessary part of every racers tool box.

“The 1000cc MPS-F record, as it was a freakin’ awesome battle with Jason McVicar. Probably the biggest reason for any of the speeds we achieve, being pushed by Jason motivated us to push even harder. That day in October that we got the record over 223 was a big step up from earlier speeds. What made it most special was the look on my brother Jonathon’s face when he came to get me—it was more than cool…

“I went through the #4 mile marker a couple years ago. I’ve always engineered a fair amount of instability into my bike and have gotten close to the markers over the years. This time between the instability that I seem to enjoy, and some wind, I thought it would be close, but it became apparent that I was going to go through it. I’ve had plenty of runs where I thought I might come off the bike, this time I thought, I AM coming off the bike, but I managed to hit it dead center. There was nothing but a big “bang” and I was off the course.

“It was after the marker incident that I heard John Noonan and others could run them damned Busas down the course—usually faster then me, with one hand off the bars. I realized I’ve got to do something to make the handling better, so we’ve been working on that.”

In 2009 Joe showed up with new bodywork more streamlined than most. His 272 mph pass - the fastest open bike pass on record - proved it obviously worked. I asked what prompted the change and who was involved: “The SCTA in its infinite wisdom have enhanced the rules over the years allowing folks to pursue more innovation. In my case maybe it was a higher power. There was this biker guy in our ICU preparing for emergency surgery. He was babbling to the staff about motorcycles. ‘We have a guy who goes to Bonneville,’ one replied. I came and talked to
Judie poses with Joe shortly after his run-in with Mile Marker #4. The 200 Club stickers on the fairing hide damage caused by crashing through the marker.
Joe Amo looks for more and more MPH out on the Bonneville salt.
him. Two years later we unloaded the bike at Bend in the Road, and this guy walks up, ‘Hey Joe, you probably don’t remember me. You came and talked to me about Bonneville in the hospital back in Rapid City.’ Turns out he (Stacey Becker) was in our hospital for 109 days with serious complications. The surgeon had asked his family to say their goodbyes.

“But Stacey wanted to go to Bonneville—and eventually did. ‘Hey, if you ever need anything just let me know.’ About the only thing I really needed was someone good with fiberglass. Stacey responded with ‘that’s what I do’… so my addiction to simply keep working on the bike, and Stacey’s willingness to pour his heart and soul into this dream led us to some new speed this year.”
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Johhn Greenough -Hey Joe! Remember McDonalds on East North Street?  May 16, 2010 04:05 PM
Joe!! Great to see that you are doing so well for yourself. Remember after work at McDonalds taking your GPZ550 up and down the street with all of us co workers watching? Great times. I owned a Kaw Eliminator 900 that I crashed up pretty well a few years ago. Take care of yourself old freind. I will be watching for you from here in Colorado.
John Greenough
staci -salt flats racer..motorcycle and running  January 26, 2010 09:18 AM
I spent a week with stacey at speedweek, he is not loud or obnoxious, he is a sweetheart that would do anything for anyone. He was so nice, helpful and patient with me when I raced there. It was my first time and I am so glad I met up with stacey.
Brian Ackerman -Stacey  December 30, 2009 12:23 PM
I have known Stacey four yrs now and some people thinks he babbles on alot but but when you sit back to think about some of his great attributes you get to know that he knows exactly what he means,to others he may come off as loud and obnoxious but that is because they do not understand when he is passionate about what he does and first is Safety, so its great minds put together to make this possible,NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES DOUGHT THAT THIS MAN HAS ANY QUALMS ABOUT DOING THE ABSOLUTE BEST AT ANYTHING HE DOES FOR ANYONE. BA
Gabriel Uttley -Joe at 272mph!  December 23, 2009 06:04 AM
Thanks Rocky for your latest instalment in this fascinating tale of the Bonneville racers. Joe is surely up there among the best, and his spirit of endeavour is truly remarkable. I salute him! Gabriel.
Seldom Seen Slim -Joe Amo  December 21, 2009 05:27 AM
I inspected Joe's bike -- in the trailer, still parked on the pavement when we thought World of Speed might be a rainout. Joe MADE me look at each and every past -- let me dig farther into the bike than many competitors want, much less insist. Joe's work - and Stacey's help - are wonders to see. And when he finished his run I remember Tom Shannon, the safety worker at the far end of the course, calling me on the CB to tell how Joe was so excited and jumping up and down and boyoboy, what a run, hey? Congratulations one more time, Joe -- and thanks, Rocky.
Keith Turk -Joe Amo  December 20, 2009 01:43 AM
Awe inspiring run... 272 on a open bike... Incredible... That it was Joe is no shock... Nobody works harder. Thanks for the article Rocky.. it's nice to see one of my hero's get a little ink for his efforts. Keith
Jan Cairncross -Rocky  December 19, 2009 05:02 PM
Awesome articles Rocky.. Thanks for sharing! :)
Dynoroom -Joe Amo  December 19, 2009 09:26 AM
I've known Joe for around ten years. We've talked about chargeair coolers, icewater tank size, & other turbo related things. I'm not a "bike guy" but this accomplishment simply amazing. Joe is one smart cookie, & what he doesn't know he finds someone who does. It is just the beginning of what he can do I'm sure.

Congratulations my fast friend....

dan warner -Joe Amo  December 19, 2009 08:44 AM
I was sitting at the impound table when Joe presented his time slip. This was at the 2009 World of Speed event last Sept. He had set a record earlier in the week and I asked him how he did on this last pass. Joe, in his modest way, responded "A little better". I took a look at the 272 speed and immediatly thought "I'm not worthy".

Joe is a perfect example of the land speed racer, modest, hard working, appreciative and fast.
Wm. T. (Sparky) Smith -Joe Amo  December 18, 2009 07:21 PM
What an absolute inspriation to us "Johnny Come Latelys" to the Salt Flats. I know of no equal in perseverance, dedication,and inspiring example when it comes to LSR. I remember meeting Joe because of Jon's Landrcing.com while they were thrashing late one night in THEIR room at Motel 6 while he was after the 1000cc fuel record.

If he would give up that small wimpy 1000cc class it would not suprise me that he will be the first to 3 with a step over, on second thought, I wouldn't bet against him on his "Holy Kaw" !!!!!!!!!
Stainless -Joe Amo  December 18, 2009 07:17 PM
More please....
Rocky, I guess you must have gotten Joe to talk more than usual. He is a fairly modest racer, but he was ecstatic when he ran 272, it would have been great to have a back door trap for that one... You did a good job of giving us a glimpse of the fastest sit on bike racer in the world.