Book Review by Richard Parks, Photographic Consultant Roger Rohrdanz
A very interesting book, in fact a cornerstone for motorcycle enthusiasts is Dick Lague’s Ack Attack: Record Breaking Motorcycle: How Much Faster Can It Go? It’s a book that has international interest as I found out by googling the internet; and a book that should be in the library of every person who follows motorcycle land speed racing. My reviews are different from the artsy style of the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times. I leave it up to the readers to decide what the psychological motives are of the Ack Attack team; my reviews go into the nuts and bolts of the book and what you can expect for your money. There are a lot of great books out there to buy and build a home library around, but the typical hot rodder has only so much time and money to invest. We can’t buy them all and we certainly can’t read all the books that have been written; nor should you buy a book merely because I tell you so. A review should fit the style of the subject being discussed; so what you read here is the construction of the book and its contents. Ack Attack was written and copyrighted in 2009, so it has been out a while. It’s a quality hard bound book with a blue cover and silver lettering for the title on the spine. The book jacket has three color photographs and a very nice styling to it with a bit of text on the back side. I always remind you to take extra care of the book jacket or sleeve, because believe it or not, over time the value of a book is doubled by collectors who want both the book and the jacket. Part of the problem is the rarity of the jackets, because they often do not survive rough handling and are discarded. When I was young and foolish I often tossed out the worn and torn jackets and I regret that today; for the look diminishes rapidly when the jackets are worn or lost. The same thing is true with toys; we save them and toss away the boxes that they came in, thus diminishing the overall value of the collectibles.
Some books have the pages pasted in and over time the glue gives way and the book falls apart. Ack Attack has a high quality cloth binding that will hold the pages in and won’t let that happen. You have to really bang up a cloth bound book to see the pages loosen and fall out; and no cloth bound book has ever done that in my library. Ack Attack has the finest quality photographic waxed paper that shows off the plates to their fullest. The book has 160 pages, with 119 color and 5 black and white photographs. There are also 2 magazine covers and one poster, all of which are in color. There are a few photographs that are grainy, due to age, but for the most part they are excellent reproductions of the original. The author placed the photographs in such a way that there is one or two pictures on each page, in a sort of National Geographic layout that engages the eye and makes the reader follow along with the story. Ack Attack is published by Parker House Publishing, Inc, in Stillwater, Minnesota with a copyright date of 2009. The ISBN # is 978-1-935350-09-5, though I had no trouble finding copies on the internet by simply googling the title of the book. The design concept for the book was done by Molly Lague and the design itself by Mandy Kimlinger. The editors were John Stein and Adam Swenson. There is a two page foreword by Sam Wheeler, followed by a two page prologue by the author. There are nine chapters, a six page appendix and a three page index. There was no price listed on the book jacket, which is only an estimated one anyway, so I checked the internet and found the book available in many places. You can buy Ack Attack in India for 1310 Rupees, in Europe for 31 Euros, in England for 28 Pounds and finally at a site in the United States for $40. I only mention this to show that the interest in Ack Attack is international in scope. The world loves our land speed racing teams. One of the sites offered a free DVD with the book. The DVD is a documentary and I will tell you about that later in this review. Make sure that you find a seller willing to provide the DVD with the book as a set.
I searched the internet to find out more about the author, Dick Lague, but he is very illusive. He has a website called Ignition3 and you should check that out, though the only information I could find came from the book jacket. Lague is a California resident who worked in the motorcycle industry and retired to found Ignition3 where he creates videos. His interest in land speed racing and Bonneville racers was the basis for his work in creating Ack Attack. Sam Wheeler on the other hand, who wrote the Foreword, is a well-known racer at the dry lakes and Bonneville. I see his trailer around the area once in a while, hauling his E-Z Hook #999 motorcycle Streamliner to and from events. Sam and I have talked about a motorcycle reunion at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, California for some time. We have yet to get it going, but it is an interesting project. Wheeler is highly respected in land speed racing and his word carries a great deal of weight; so he was a natural for starting the book out with a foreword. It’s important to read the forewords to any book, for they prepare you for what is to follow. Besides, Wheeler knows a great deal and I wanted to read his remarks. He nails the sentiment that land speed racers are both competitors and friends who help each other. They want that record and are thrilled to see others rise to the occasion and challenge them. For Sam, this is the greatest generation of motorcycle land speed racing. Dick Lague’s prologue gives the story of the motorcycle land speed attempts from Glenn Curtiss in 1906 to the intense rivalry this past decade by Sam Wheeler, Denis Manning and Mike Akatiff (Rocky Robinson driving). These three and other motorcycle racers are intent on regaining the land speed record and boosting it higher and higher.
Chapter One is called “Sisyphus was punished.” The content of this chapter describes how hard it is to set a record and how sometimes it takes a decade or more to do it. The author describes Bonneville, the FIM organization in France and their record attaining requirements, and the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA). The story begins with the record runs of the Ack Attack team in late September, 2008. Rocky Robinson was the first driver off the line in the Ack Attack and achieved a speed in the 342 mph range. Sam Wheeler in the E-Z-Hook streamliner managed a one-way time of 352 mph. Then came the run of Leo Hess, who crashed his streamliner and was hospitalized in serious condition. The next day Robinson made a two-way average of 360.913 mph and the record now belonged to him and Ack Attack’s owner, Mike Akatiff. Some of the photographs are supported by good captions, but some of the pictures had little or no captions. In that situation the reader has to pay particular attention to the text in the book. Chapter Two, “Who is Mike Akatiff” discussed the drive and tenacity of Mike Akatiff to define a goal and set out to achieve it. Akatiff’s early history is portrayed; his ability to teach himself mechanical skills, his drive and persistence and his focus on a project. He went to work for Bob Chaves and later for Tom Sifton and later took up motorcycle racing. Tall, at six foot three inches, Akatiff became a skilled motorcycle racer. He was also a skilled mechanic and tuner and teamed with Jim Rice in AMA dirt bike racing. Mike Akatiff’s mind was constantly probing new challenges and after leaving Sifton’s he went into partnership with a former boss of his, Bob Chaves, to produce engine parts. He sold his position in the company and went into a partnership with Gene Rocchi of Rocky Cycle Corporation, forming Pacific Coast Cycle. Five years later Mike bought out the company, then sold off the product line and tooling.
In 1981 Akatiff earned his pilot’s license and this led to a new challenge; designing and building an improved version of an altitude digitizer. His partner in this enterprise was Jim Rice. His E-01 Emergency Locator Transmitter became a main product of his company, ACK Technologies. Akatiff also bought and developed real estate properties, buildings and infrastructure projects. Chapter Three is titled “The Ack Attack” and tells how he got the idea of a land speed record at the annual Mountaineers Motorcycle Club Oktoberfest reunion. Sam Wheeler couldn’t attend because he was running for a record at Bonneville and this gave Mike an idea. If Wheeler could do it, so could he. Akatiff had the skills, tenacity and drive, so why couldn’t he build a streamliner and go after the record. The more that his club members kidded him, the more determined he was to try. With Jim True, the project started two months later. Chapter Three is the longest one in the book and describes the methodology and construction of the car. Mike started with the tires and the power plant. He used a Hayabusa motor for the power and endurance and Mickey Thompson tires. At first MT couldn’t provide the team with tires as they had ceased production, and so the Ack Attack team put the project on hold. Three years later the MT tire company resumed production and the team was back in operation on a viable project. Special land speed tires are crucial when the speeds reach what they do at Bonneville. But going fast creates all sorts of problems, not the least is weather. The Ack Attack found conditions to be wet and difficult during the 2005 racing season at Bonneville and decided to ship the streamliner to Australia to see what the conditions would be like on Lake Gairdner in South Australia. After a great deal of work they finally reached this huge salt bed only to find that normally arid Australia had been deluged by rain. Sam Wheeler was the driver and could only manage a speed of 249 mph and the team shipped the bike back to the States.
The 2006 season proved to be the opposite of 2005 and the various teams attempting to set the record succeeded in doing just that. The record went back and forth with Chris Carr prevailing. Carr’s record would last through the 2007 racing season, which had been a disappointment for the Ack Attack. But that’s land speed racing, where success and failure wait for all. Land speed racing cars and bikes are custom built based on designs and ideas that have to be tested on dry lakes or on salt flats. Power plants, aerodynamics, braking, internal reinforcement are all skills demanded of the teams that go racing for records. Various sanctioning bodies have rules to follow and the best minds try differing solutions. The bikes look good in the shop, but only on the race course do the theories prove to be correct or not. There are some interesting shop pictures showing the construction of the streamliner. The frame was welded 4130 chrome-moly steel and the body was fabricated on a wooden lath. The Ack Attack is twice as heavy as the BUB Seven and three times the weight of Wheeler’s E-Z Hook streamliner. But the engines produce 1100 horsepower and make up for the weight differential. Racing teams will always face the dilemma of whether to go lighter and use less horsepower or heavier and produce more power. A bigger streamliner is also likely to be less aerodynamic. Theories abound as to size, weight, shape and power, but that’s what makes land speed racing so unique and interesting. The Ack Attack team chose to use turbocharging and make their own wheels. They used Erc gasoline rated at 118 octane rather than methanol.
Chapter Four was named “The Riders,” and tells us about the men who ride these streamlined motorcycles. Lague goes back into the past and tells us about men such as Bob Leppan, Dave Campos, Cal Rayborn, Don Vesco, Chris Carr, Rocky Robinson, Sam Wheeler, Bert Munro, Jim Odom, and John Noonan. There is a respect in the book that borders on reverence for these special men. There were no preparatory schools to hone their skills; they were self-made men with a great talent for driving streamline bikes to record-breaking speeds. Chapter Five is titled, “The Teams,” and list the people involved in bringing the record to the Ack Attack. The team consisted of 19 people, including; aerodynamicist Ken Mort, Jim and Mary True, Buzz Muhlbach, crew chief Ken Puccio, chief machinist Frank Milgram, engine builder Jim Leale, owner Mike Akatiff, electronics technician Greg Akatiff, Chris Bullwinkle, Bob Miller, Jason Akatiff, and Rich Bonner. Chapter Six is called; “Riding a Streamliner” presents the views of several racing teams and the thrill and dangers of the chase for the record. Chapter Seven is dedicated to “Top 1 Oil and Ack Attack.” Chapter Eight is entitled “The Aerodynamic Evolution.” There is a fascinating photograph of Tommy Smith, date unknown, clad only in a bathing suit, shoes and a helmet, lying prone on his bike as he tried to reduce the resistance against motorcycle and rider. I can only guess at what the SCTA/BNI and USFRA organizations would think of that today. With the adoption of airplane fuel drop tanks and customized bodies, the art of aerodynamics vastly improved the speeds. This is one of the more interesting chapters in the book. Chapter Nine is called, “Nowhere near the Limit,” and describes what the author believes will happen next. Several teams have held the record, with the Ack Attack being the latest, but redesigns and adaptations will increase the power, weight and aerodynamics of the bikes and new records will be achieved.
Akatiff is very philosophical in this regard. He sees the record as something that is lent to a team; it is never going to stay with the Ack Attack. He respects and admires the other teams that are trying to take his record away from them and even hopes that they succeed. For a record is best appreciated at the moment it is achieved; then it’s up to everyone else to break it, including the new, redesigned Ack Attack. Following the chapters are an appendices and an index. The first appendix concerns the specifications and dimensions of the Ack Attack. Appendix two tells us about the venue sites that streamlined motorcycles can run on besides the Bonneville Salt Flats; they are Lake Gairdner in Australia, the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada, El Mirage and Muroc in Southern California. Appendix three lists the sources used in the book.
Appendix four describes the DVD “Landspeed Shootout.” Make sure that when you buy the book that you also get the free DVD that comes with Ack Attack; Record Breaking Motorcycle How Much Faster Can You Go? The DVD provides a 50 minute feature, followed by a 30 video called “Riding the Ragged Edge.” There are two shorter films totaling 11 minutes with the last one showing what the driver sees from the cockpit when he is going 360 mph. Finally there is a three page index that is comprehensive and very useful. I often find racing books where the author has decided to forgo using an index. That lessens the value to readers. Here Dick Lague has made the decision to give us important appendices and an index to make this a more valuable book. Land speed motorcycle racing is an important component of timed trial racing. I enjoyed the book and it is a fast read. The text and photographs are not overwhelming in size, but they cover all the basic information for both the zealot and the average reader. The design of the book is very good and Ack Attack at 9x10 ¼ inches is a perfect size for a coffee table book or as a major work on the subject of land speed motorcycle racing. I give it a 7 out of a possible 8 spark plugs and recommend that you add it to your racing library.
Gone Racin’ is at RNPARKS1@JUNO.COM.
I rate this book a 7 out of 8 sparkplugs.
Pick Ack Attack up Today!
You can purchase this book wherever books are sold or
on the internet through major book stores