Time Capsule – Top Fuel bikes of the 1970s
There was a time when the NHRA ran Top Fuel motorcycles as a professional eliminator. When I first started going to the drags in the latter part of the 1960’s, I was instantly drawn to those that burned the magic elixir known as nitromethane….Top fuel dragsters, fuel altereds and, of course, the emerging phenomenon called funny cars. Somewhere, not too far down the road, I figured out that anything burning nitro was cool, whether it had four wheels or only two.
When I first discovered fuel motorcycles, the breed was dominated by Harley-Davidsons although Clem Johnson with his Vincent and Boris Murray twin-engine Triumph did their best to keep the Harley-Davidson boys on their toes. Joe Smith’s “King Rat” Harley-Davidson powered entry (shown running into a support truck below) was the first bike ever to break the nine-second barrier with an 8.97 at 167 mph pass at the Bakersfield March Meet in 1971. Soon, however, multiple engine bikes took over and less than two years after the first eight-second pass, bikes were running in the 7’s with T.C. Christensen’s “Hogslayer” twin-engine Norton being the dominant bike of the early 70’s.
The mid-70’s saw an influx of Japanese engines including Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki. Kenny Annesley on the Motorcycles Unlimited Kawasaki, Ron Teson and later Jim Bernard on the Teson & Bernard Yamaha as well as Boris Murray’s triple-engine Kawaski two stroke.
Russ Collins’ triple-engine Honda powered “Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe” entry followed by his twin-engine “Sorcerer” were probably the best known bikes of the era and Collins set a record of 7.30 @ 199.55mph in 1977 that stood for a number of years. When Collins started his RC Engineering business, among his first employees were a couple of guys named Terry Vance and Byron Hines. Bryon built engines and Terry rode for RC for several years before they left to form Vance and Hines and soon Vance became the poster boy for Suzuki.
By 1980, the pendulum had swung back to single engine bikes with supercharged Suzukis, Kawasakis and Yamahas as the powerplants of choice. Terry Vance on the Vance and Hines Suzuki and Bo O’Brochta on Mike Grey’s Terminal Van Lines Kawasaki were leading the charge towards the six-second zone with speeds eclipsing 200 mph.
Even though I only got to see Top Fuel Bikes once or twice a year in the 70’s, they were always among my favorites and I feel very fortunate to have seen, photographed and mingled with some of the true pioneers and legends of motorcycle drag racing.
Top Fuel Bikes of the 1970s Photo Extra!