Like the pursuit of speed records on water, in the air and on four wheels, record attempts on two wheels also enjoy a long tradition. And what could be better suited to a speed record on two wheels than a specially tuned motorcycle? After the first unofficial records, set by Glenn Curtiss at the start of the 20th century in Yonkers (US state of New York) and on Ormond Beach (US state of Florida), Gene Walker set the first speed record to be officially recognised by the International Motorcycling Federation in 1920: Walker clocked an impressive 104.12 mph (167.57 km/h) on an Indian at Daytona Beach (Florida).
The record was improved on throughout the 1930s. In 1937, Ernst Jakob Henne set a record on the A3 motorway in Germany, which stood for over a decade – thanks largely to the outbreak of the Second World War: Henne reached 173.68mph (279.51 km/h) in the saddle of a BMW. The post-war years were dominated by the duel between Triumph and NSU. Until then, record attempts had always taken place either on a beach or on a cordoned off section of motorway. However, in 1956, the Bonneville Salt Flats in the US state of Utah hosted their first world record: Johnny Allen set a top speed of 193.730mph (311.778km/h) on his Triumph Devil’s Arrow.
Wilhelm Herz, on an NSU, broke Triumph rider Allen’s record in the same year, raising the bar to 211.4mph (340.2km/h). This made Herz the first man to break the 200mph barrier, but his record would last only 33 days before Triumph regained top spot courtesy of Johnny Allen, who set a speed of 214.5 mph (348.9km/h) on the Texas Ceegar.
William Johnson (1962) and Robert Leppan (1966) upped the ante for Triumph, before the British motorcycle manufacturer shelved its programme of record attempts – for the time being. In the 1970s, the record was held by Yamaha, Harley Davidson and Kawasaki, until Dave Campos achieved a speed of 322.150mph (518.449km/h) in the saddle of a Harley Davidson. This record stood into the new millennium. On 3 September 2006, the world record went to Suzuki for the first time. Rocky Robinson raced across the salt flats at a speed of 342.797mph (551.678km/h) with the Ack Attack. Just two days later, Chris Carr clocked 350.884 mph (564.693km/h) on a BUB Seven, breaking the 350mph barrier for the first time. In the following years, the world record changed hands on several occasions between Robinson on Suzuki’s Ack Attack and Carr on the BUB Seven, until Robinson finally set the benchmark with the current motorcycle world record of 376.363 mph (605.697km/h) on 25 September 2010. For comparison: the land speed world record for automobiles is currently 763.035mph (1,227.985km/h) and was set in 1997 by Andy Green at the wheel of Thrust SCC. Castrol was also involved in this record, marking the 21st time that the land speed record had been broken with Castrol as partner.
In just a few days, Castrol will set its sights on claiming yet another world record, this time in cooperation with Triumph. The machine of choice will be the Castrol Rocket, powered by Castrol Power1 and designed to break the land speed world record for motorcycles at the Bonneville Salt Flats in the US state of Utah. Meanwhile, a successor to Thrust SCC is already under starter’s orders for 2015, in the form of the Bloodhound SSC. Since Johnny Allen achieved a speed of 193.70mph (311.778km/h) with Devil’s Arrow in 1956, all land speed records have been set in Bonneville. The first record attempts to be undertaken there date back to 1914. As such, Bonneville is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. You can already sense the anticipation among all those involved, and that is set to rise over the coming days. “What's really special about Bonneville Land Speed Racing is the people,” says Castrol Rocket rider Jason DiSalvo. “The conditions are so challenging that for the past 100 years, racers with little else in common, have banded together to support and encourage each other to become the world's fastest.”
“What's really special about Bonneville Land Speed Racing is the people. The conditions are so challenging that for the past 100 years, racers with little else in common, have banded together to support and encourage each other to become the world's fastest,” Castrol Rocket rider Jason DiSalvo.