Back in 2010, clocking in at 376.363 mph, Mike Akatiff set the new Land Speed Record.
Akatiff’s quest isn’t over yet; he plans to break his own record in early August. He’ll travel to the Salar de Uyuni salt flats and try to reach 400 mph.
“I’ll never retire,” he says. “The day I retire, I’d be dead. I always need to be doing something.” Since 2000, that something has been the quest for the motorcycle land speed record. He has succeeded in building the world’s fastest motorcycle — three times — but the fact that going more 400mph is theoretically possible continues to motivate Mike. “We touched 400 mph, but it doesn’t mean anything because it’s not officially recorded… we had onboard equipment that showed about 402.6 when we set the record.”
Akatiff has always had a passion for bikes. He built his first one when he was only thirteen years old. From there he went on to start a career in flat track racing, tuning and tinkering, and to open a motorcycle dealership in his 20s. He always seemed to succeed at doing the impossible.
Finally on September 3, 2006 with perfect conditions on the Bonneville Salt Flats, his TOP1 ACK ATTACK, driven by Rocky Robinson, broke the land speed record. The twin Suzuki Hayabusa engines propelled the 20-foot long streamliner to a two-way average speed of 342.797 mph, which was approximately 20 mph faster than the previous record — a record that had stood for 16 years! It was a remarkable achievement for everyone involved, and as Mike said, “we thought that record would stand forever.” As it turned out, the record lasted just two days. Chris Carr in the BUB Lucky 7 streamliner built by Denis Manning eclipsed the ACK ATTACK’s record by going 350.884 mph. The next year was more fireworks as pilot Rocky Robinson crashed at a little over 300 mph. “He wasn’t hurt, but the bike was pretty well messed up,” Mike recalls. What do you do after wet and slippery conditions caused a crash at the 2007? Come right back and go for the Land Speed Record again! “We’re racers… we’ve got to get the record back!” But when the team went back out to Bonneville in 2008, they really struggled with problems. “Handling was an issue. But in the very end we were able to up the record to 360 mph. We again had the record and thought we would hold it for awhile… it lasted less than a day as another team went out and ran 367 mph on the last day of the time trials.
A host of modifications were made before TOP1 ACK ATTACK finally took to the salt again in 2010. “We wanted to take it to the dynamometer just to make sure the bike was running right. We thought what would be one day on the dyno became almost three weeks of thrashing the bike.” No matter what they did they could not figure it out. “We had some of the best people on it, but we couldn’t make the bike run cleanly.” Still not satisfied, the team ran out of time and headed to Bonneville. “It was just one challenge after another out there! First thing we ran into was the bike wouldn’t go straight. It wanted to turn left no matter what we did. Rocky would have to lean it to the right to try to keep it going straight.”
Turned out one of the changes from 2008 was swapping the rear tire. An accomplished pilot (as could be expected from his Avionics background), Mike flew back to San Jose in the middle of the night, found the old tire and then flew back to Bonneville. “Worked fine and the bike ran straight… however it wouldn’t shift into low gear!” The team decided to swap out the front engine right there on the salt, which took them 24 hours straight. After the marathon engine swap, the bike ran straight as an arrow and Rocky was happy with how it was running… then it wouldn’t shift out of 4th gear. It wouldn’t shift into 5th or 6th, so Rocky suggested they put the highest gear they could and run for the record in 4th. “Theoretically it was possible… but the bike accelerated so slowly that we passed him up in the truck by the first quarter mile,” says Mike. Perseverance paid off and the record TOP 1 ACK ATTACK set on the last run of the day back in 2010 stands to this day.”
You can see an extended interview with Mike describing his 15-year quest for the land speed record on the next episode of the TOP 1 ACK ATTACK video series here.