They called him Rocket Man, and for good reason — he rode a rocket-powered drag bike through the measured quarter-mile with the relaxed calm of someone making a simple cross-town milk run. His real name was John Dixon, and he was the first person to squeeze out a sub-7-second elapsed time in the quarter-mile aboard a motorcycle. He also was the first motorcycle rider to unofficially post a 200 mph sprint through the traps.
Dixon set his 6-second ET mark (6.996 seconds) in 1981 as part of a staged segment for the television show That’s Incredible, a popular weekly series at the time. Although Rocket Man secured official sanctioning from the national DRAG-BIKE organization for his run at Cumberland International Raceway in North Carolina, his blistering time wasn’t considered a national record because he was unable to back it with another elapsed time of within 10 percent of his first ET.
Even so, his run was rather impressive because it was only the eighth pass he had ever made on the bike. Prior to that Dixon spent most of the 1970s competing in the Top Fuel ranks, riding a nitro-burning Harley-Davidson. Eventually, though, he realized he could make more money riding an exhibition bike, which led him to build a drag bike powered by an automobile V-8 engine, a combination he rode at select meets. Dixon described that ride as “a real crowd pleaser,” but it was unreliable. Enter the rocket bike that featured tandem rocket engines originally intended as auxiliary boosters for military aircraft.
The rocket engines used, of all things, hydrogen peroxide for fuel, and the combination was eye opening. The engines were so powerful that Rocket Man claimed he could only use about 40-percent power before shutting off half-way through the measured quarter-mile, coasting the duration to the trap lights. Otherwise, he said, the bike would continue accelerating at a progressive, and rather ungainly, rate. For the 6-second pass Dixon left power on for the first 700 feet, coasting the remaining 620, all in 6.996 seconds, but with a non-sensational terminal speed of 161mph.
Which brings us to Chapter 2 of Rocket Man’s story. Later in the year he saddled up to chase the 200mph mark, only a distant target among motorcycle drag racers back then. At the time the remarkable Russ Collins was closest to reaching the double-ton with a speed of 199.5mph, set aboard his legendary twin-engine Honda, the Sorcerer.
Rocket Man secured himself for blast off. With sights on 250mph, he readied the hydrogen peroxide cocktail for a go. Nearing the 250 mark he lost control at about 225mph, the bike ejecting him just before the lights. Result: bike and rider surpassed both of RC’s established marks; the bike’s trap speed was about 225, while Rocket Man tumbled closely behind, easily exceeding Collins’ solo act of 175mph that he unofficially set during a get-off at a prior meet.
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