Book review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz
Rocky Robinson has written an exciting book about his efforts to set a land speed record in the streamlined motorcycle class. The book is called Flat Out: The Race For The Motorcycle World Land Speed Record, and is published by Motorbooks, a division of MBI Publishing. The book is hardbound, measuring 6 ¼ by 9 ¼ inches in size and sells for $25.95. The dust jacket cover is exceptional, and as I have mentioned before, keep the cover in good condition as it enhances the look and value of the book. As with all Motorbooks/MBI issues, this is a quality addition to your racing library. The pages are separated into 6 sections and bound to the spine of the book with a high-quality cloth fabric. There are 255 pages of text on acid-free matte paper, double-spaced for easier reading. In addition there are 16 pages of photographs on a special waxed paper that provides excellent reproductive results. Flat Out: The Race For The Motorcycle World Land Speed Record contains 39 color photographs and 21 black and white photographs. The B&W photographs appear at the beginning of each of the 21 chapters to the book and are roughly 2 ½ by 4 inches in size. The color photographs are slightly larger in size.
Robinson provided a three-page acknowledgment section and a ten-page introduction followed by 21 chapters, divided into three sections. There is no bibliography, table of contents, appendix or index. The book was written to tell a story about a man’s quest to set an unlimited record in the motorcycle streamliner class on the Bonneville Salt Flats and it is the story that takes center stage here. There is crossover appeal for those who love motorcycles, motorcycle racing, ultimate speed contests and land speed time trials. There are many classes and categories for men and women to test their skills and courage in land speed motorcycle racing. Classes are created according to the size and power of the engine and whether the motorcycle is streamlined or altered from that of a showroom bike. Streamlining adds aerodynamic panels and turns the motorcycle into a two-wheeled version of a sleek four-wheeled racecar. From a distance the streamlined bike might look like a small racecar, but make no mistake, it is still a motorcycle and it takes skill and courage to drive these machines.
It’s hard to comprehend that the unlimited record runs for a four-wheeled vehicle is 200 mph faster than the average speed of a Jumbo jetliner in flight, but at least there are four wheels on the ground. For nearly two decades men and women have attempted to break Don Vesco’s record of 318 mph in a streamlined motorcycle. Dave Campos would improve on that mark by a mere four mph and his record would last another 16 years. It takes brazen courage to race motorcycles at these speeds, courage that few mortal men and women will ever possess, or absolute ignorance of the hazards faced at speeds that high. There is no doubt that land speed racing takes a very special kind of man or woman to create the vehicles and then race these machines to the ultimate in motorcycle speed records. Most of the time we are fortunate to have a newspaper or magazine interview, with a few photographs, to explain the motivation of these brave men and women. In the case of Rocky Robinson we are privileged to have his very thoughts and feelings as he sets out on his quest to break the world’s record. Robinson sets out to build suspense, telling the readers that there are challengers who are also set on breaking Dave Campos’ record.
Any book that sets out to create a suspenseful thriller is bound to have the weaker readers who can’t help but read the last chapter first. Yes, I was one of those readers who went to the end to see the results. What makes a book great is not necessarily the end of the book and which race team actually set the record, but in the rereading of the work, keeps our interests strong. Rocky Robinson has an easy style of writing. He is driven by zeal and though his story telling is not always polished, he doesn’t linger on any topic and effectively moves the story along. It is possible to read Flat Out: The Race For The Motorcycle World Land Speed Record in a few days, but I found myself returning to the photographs and the texts out of interest in the subject matter. I won’t give away the ending, only to say that one team set a record at 344 mph, another team broke that record with a two-way run of 346 mph and a third team went 355 mph, but failed in a second run to back up the record. For a land speed record to be certified, a racer must make two runs within a short period of time in the opposite directions and the average speed of the two runs is the record time. That rule factors in the wind advantage.
Knowing the final outcome did not satisfy my need to know why Rocky Robinson set out to put his life on the line to set these dangerous records. To do that I had to read each chapter and delve into the mind of men like Robinson. It is as fascinating to know these men as it is to marvel at their fast records. There is more to the story than one man wishing to go fast. It takes a great deal of support and dedicated team members to be able to build a streamliner and afford to race it. The technological skills and safety equipment must increase with the increase in the speeds of the motorcycles if the racers are to survive in their quests to set new records. There have to be volunteers who run the sanctioning bodies and maintain the courses where the riders race their bikes. Land speed time trials require dedicated men and women volunteers at all levels in order to make it possible for men like Robinson to attempt to set such records. Rocky Robinson is one of only a few men who have gone over 300 mph on a motorcycle and set a record. It is an exclusive club and the members are a tight knit group. There are more men who have orbited the moon than those who have set records over 300 mph on a motorcycle. Flat Out: The Race For The Motorcycle World Land Speed Record is available at book stores under ISBN#13-978-07603-3163-7 or by the title of the book.
Gone Racin’ is at RNPARKS1@JUNO.COM.