Before September 5, 2006, no one had ever gone more than 350 mph on two wheels. On that day, however, on a dry lake bed made of up salt at the Bonneville Speedway 100 miles west of Salt Lake City, Utah, Chris Carr made history by piloting a two-wheeled vehicle called the BUB Streamliner 354 mph at the FIM/AMA International Speed Trials. He shattered a previous record set that day of 342 mph. This is big news anyone can appreciate, motorcyclist or not.
The official record is actually an average to two runs. The first pass Chris zoomed down the 11-mile course, he registered a mind-blowing 354 mph. On the return pass, he came in at 346 mph.
The name Chris Carr may seem familiar. Chris is a champion flat track racer winning the AMA Grand National Flat Track Championship seven times. For his Bonneville debut, he partnered up with Bonneville veteran Denis Manning. Denis has been holding and chasing the land speed record for nearly 40 years with different variations of the Streamliner. This latest iteration of the torpedo shaped vehicle is christened number 7 because its the seventh streamliner Manning has designed in his career.
The fastest motorcycle in the world features a purpose designed and engineered V-four cylinder turbo-charged 16 valve liquid cooled double overhead cam motor that delivers nearly three liters (158 inches) and close to 500 brake horse power to the technically demanding and notoriously difficult Bonneville surface. The chassis is a custom designed monocoque carbon fiber and Kevlar construction frame that provides the strength needed by the worlds most demanding racing test.
WRN Editor Genevieve Schmitt spoke with Chris about this major career achievement by cell phone in between golf swings on a golf course on one of the last mild days of the year near his hometown of Fleetwood, Pennsylvania. Golf is one of his passions, as is spending time with his wife, Pam and two sons, Cale and Cameron.
Describe the sensation of going 350 mph on two wheels?
I didnt have time to think about it. If you think about how fast 350 it is. Its a 10-second mile for the most part. Im concentrating on so many other inputs with the motorcycle and the wind keeping the thing straight and upright that you dont really have time to feel it. My only point of reference that Im going that fast is the flag on the side of the track at every quarter mile. At 350 mph on the last mile they go by pretty quickly. I never really thought about the speed. I just tried to max out a number on the speedometer.
What was your anxiety level going into the run and how does it compare to a flat track race?
In flat track, thats second nature. Ive only ridden at Bonneville six times before going there and setting a record, and then I only ran twice there. The feeling was as a lot like going to my first grand national dirt track races as a rookie. Im basically a Bonneville rookie. Those old feelings from 20 years ago resurfaced a bit in a new environment. I had a little bit of butterflies after the first run. Im sitting there and Im halfway to the record and I have to repeat it. That feeling reminded me of when I first started as rookie in flat track.
Youve certainly accomplished a lot in your flat track career with seven Grand National titles. Now you have another big title next to your name, “fastest man on two wheels.” How does it feel to have that accomplishment under your belt?
Its huge. I think back on the days of “On Any Sunday,” a movie I grew up watching about guys who did the flat track stuff. There was a little piece in that documentary about Cal Rayborn and Denis Manning about going to Bonneville and they set a world record at that time. That always stuck in the back of my mind. I always talked about wanting to go to Bonneville and doing something and then this opportunity came up. It was perfect timing.
Why did Denis pick you?
He put out a press release on the Internet in late October 2005 inquiring if there were racers who wanted to give this a try kind of a talent search in a sense. After talking with my wife and getting permission to ride a motorcycle over 300 miles an hour to try and set a world record, and after going out and having some discussions with Denis and his team and looking at the bike…and then bringing my people in to look at things because it was unchartered waters for me, it all just worked out. I was the only guy who wanted to look at the bike. Everybody else just wanted to ride it. I think my approach to the whole Bonneville thing from their standpoint and my standpoint is part of the reason why I got to ride.
What qualities do you possess that enabled you do this right and set a record?
The biggest thing is all the parallels that can be drawn between flat track and Bonneville. In flat track were always trying to make our bikes go straight. They just happen to throw these turns in. In all forms of racing, the rider who can get his bike picked up on the flat part of the tire and ride it straight longer than the rest of the them is going to be the guy who can spend more time at full throttle. Bonneville is a full throttle deal. I know how to do that part. Im not trying to make it simpler than it is. Having seven flat track championships and making the bike go straight was part of the reason for my success.
Describe the cockpit of the Streamliner.
Im basically sitting on a flat floor all made of carbon fiber; my back is set at a 135-degree angle. I have a push/pull steering system with joysticks from F1 Phantoms in each hand that work opposite of each other, almost like a steering wheel without the loop. I could essentially steer the thing one handed if I needed to. I have a gas pedal like a car. I have a rear brake thats more of a parking brake; its not really effective at stopping the bike except at low speeds. I do have a clutch that to this day Ive yet to use. On my left foot I have a release for the tow rope that tows me up to speed.
My feet are busy; my hands are busy. Torpedo buttons on the right joystick are for the high speed parachute, the main parachute. On the left one, I have an auxiliary chute. My gunner trigger is on both sides on the right is transmission up, on the left is transmission down. I have a low speed and a high speed neutral. Im doing a lot of things opposite of a motorcycle. Part fighter, part car, part motorcycle but its really fast.
Do you think 400 mph is possible?
Our next goal is in the 375 range. One of the things concerning everyone right now are tires. We chunked the tire [rubber pealed off] on our return run. I think we can work with them a little bit, take some weight off the bike and add a tire thats safe enough for 375. To go that next level we may need to come with a different tire.
The 2007 International Speed Trials will be held September 3- 7. To read more about Chris Carr and the Land Speed Trials, visit these Web sites:
Editors Note: I recently watched the movie “The Worlds Fastest Indian” starring Anthony Hopkins on DVD. Its the true story of one mans passion for racing his antique Indian motorcycle at Bonneville and what hell do to make it happen. You dont have to be a motorcyclist to appreciate this movie, which captures the human spirit with universal overtones. What I took away from it was a new understanding and appreciation of what goes at Bonneville each year at the land speed races. I highly recommend the film.