Russ Collins, one of the leading motorcycle drag racers and drag bike builders of the 1960s and ‘70s, has died after a brave battle with cancer. He was 74.
Collins made scores of fans and earned the admiration of his fellow racers with a series of twin- and even triple-engine motorcycles that Collins rode. He was the first motorcyclist to break the seven-second barrier and a run he made in 1977 set a record that would stand for 11 years.
At 18, Collins bought his first motorcycle, a dilapidated 500cc Triumph, that he rebuilt and started riding on the street and, eventually, at dragstrips in his native New Jersey. He moved to California in 1964 and went to work in the burgeoning motorcycle business as service manager and mechanic at various shops in Los Angeles and quickly got into the Southern California drag racing scene. Collins’ first landmark bike was Honda’s revolutionary CB750 that he modified and on which he quickly began to set records. His homebuilt special exhaust system was the envy of Honda owners, and before long, he opened RC Engineering.
In 1971, he built a supercharged, fuel-injected Honda 750 he named the Assassin that he ultimately raced in Top Fuel but was at a huge displacement disadvantage compared to the big Harley-Davidsons and Triumphs. After experimenting with some double-engine designs, in 1973, Collins built a revolutionary, three-engine, Honda-based bike he dubbed Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe — named in honor of the famous railroad line of the late 1800s — that set numerous records. Collins rode it to the first seven-second quarter-mile turned on a motorcycle at the 1973 NHRA Supernationals in Ontario, Calif.
The bike was so powerful and heavy that it proved to be very hard to control, and in 1976, the bike was destroyed in an accident that landed Collins in the hospital, and while recuperating, he dreamed up his next monster creation — The Sorcerer, featuring dual Honda 1,000cc engines. This bike ran a record-setting 7.30, 199.55-mph run that stood for 11 years.
Collins continued to race motorcycles until the early 1980s, when he turned to drag racing Top Fuel cars for Bill Miller from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s.
Collins was inducted into the American Motorcycle Association Hall of Fame in 1999.
Collins is survived by his wife of 33 years, Deanie; sons Russell Jr. and David; daughters Tracy and Debbie; nine grandchildren, and six great grandchildren.
Services are pending. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Wounded Warriors.
Former NHRA Funny Car racer Tom Anderson, the first driver to run in the 5.7-second range and a three-time national event winner, died May 10.
Anderson got his start driving in the fuel ranks in 1975 with his own car, a low rider Vega with which he toured the country. With that car, he suffered the worst fire of his career, which put him in a burn ward for several months. He returned in 1976 with a Mustang II named Wild Thing, which proved to be a competitive ride mainly on the match race and divisional level. While out west at Bill Simpson’s Gasoline Alley, he struck up a friendship with Mike Kase, owner of the Speed Racer Vega. When Kase moved back east in 1978 to run the family business, Anderson followed and drove Kase’s Speed Racer until Dale Armstrong took over.
Anderson then partnered with Jim Wemett, who was looking to get back into racing after a hiatus following back surgery. Anderson moved to Macedon, N.Y., in 1980 where his home remained until his passing.
The team had three very successful seasons together racing Wemett’s Wombat Funny Car.
They won the 1981 NHRA Eastern Regional Funny Car points championship, and in 1982, driving Wemett’s Mercury LN7, Anderson was the first Funny Car to eclipse 5.7 seconds at the U.S. Nationals. In 1983, they finished an impressive fifth on the NHRA world championship race after scoring three runner-ups.
“Tom’s hand-built flow bench gave him insight into fuel systems, and that alone gave us a fighting chance for many years against highly sponsored cars,” said Wemett. “Tom also was a great leaver and won many races on holeshots. We lost a true talented friend of the racing community way before his time.”
After Wemett retired from racing, Anderson went on to become a successful crew chief with Al Hofmann and many other drivers and was instrumental in Hofmann’s five wins and second-place finish in 1995.
After he retired, Anderson, who was raised on a farm, came full circle and farmed 400 acres in Macedon.
Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car driver Courtney Force recently spoke to over 400 teens at Ford Driving Skills for Life’s “Strive for a Safer Drive” event, a teen driving initiative aimed at reducing serious traffic crashes, injuries, and fatalities among Michigan's most inexperienced drivers - teens.
“We were very happy to have Courtney with us today to support the Driving Skills for Life program. She has been a very strong advocate of teen safe driving. The schools here today were part of a program called Strive for a Safer Drive in the State of Michigan, so they’ve done in-school programming and this is kind of the icing on the cake; getting to come out and do hands-on training with professional drivers and getting to meet Courtney, so we’re really happy she’s here. She did a great program about wearing seatbelts and we’re just glad she’s here supporting Driving Skills for Life,” said Jim Graham, manager of Ford Driving Skills for Life.
During the DSFL Ride & Drive event, students learned key skills and gained experience in the areas that contribute to more than 60 percent of teen crashes, including: hazard recognition, vehicle handling, speed and space management, distracted, and impaired driving, but Force’s major focus was on one area- seat belts.
On the race track, it’s unthinkable for Force to drive without buckling up. Together with Ford, the 25-year-old is committed to helping teens understand that buckling up every time and exercising safe driving behavior is worth it to keep their car keys - from revocation by either parents or law enforcement, or losing them permanently through serious injury or even death from an auto accident.
Courtney and the Driving Skills for Life team are also encouraging teens to share their efforts to “keep the keys” by offering their safe driving tips on Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #keepthekeys.
The Real Pro Mod Association (RPM) has announced Protect The Harvest as a supporter of racers competing in the NHRA Pro Mod Series. Racers will have Protect The Harvest identification on their cars to promote the cause beginning with the upcoming NHRA Pro Mod Series race presented by J&A Service in Houston, and continuing through the 2015 season.
Started by Lucas Oil founder Forrest Lucas, Protect The Harvest was organized to bring a collective voice to American farmers, sportsmen and animal owners who have been challenged by organizations trying to interfere with their way of life.
“I’ve really enjoyed putting together a program with the RPM Association to benefit all of the drivers in the Pro Mod class at NHRA national events,” said Lucas. “We are going to generate even more awareness for Protect The Harvest through RPM over the years.”
The Houston race is the second stop of the annual 10-race series which starts in Gainesville, and ends at Las Vegas in October. More than 30 racers are members of the RPM Association and compete in the series.
“We are so thankful for all of the support that Forrest Lucas and his family have provided to NHRA racers over the years and especially thrilled to have all the RPM members participate in the Protect The Harvest promotion,” said RPM board member Mike Knowles. “It’s a tremendous cause that Forrest is an advocate of for families.”