Archives Column | Russ Collins

Cycle News Staff | March 21, 2021

Cycle News Archives


This Cycle News Archives Column is reprinted from issue #21, June 2, 2004. CN has hundreds of past Archives columns in our files, too many destined to be archives themselves. So, to prevent that from happening, in the future, we will be revisiting past Archives articles while still planning to keep fresh ones coming down the road -Editor.

Collins’ Crazy Creations

By Scott Rousseau

Today, NHRA drag-racing fans marvel at the sight of low seven-second, high 190-mph Pro Stock motorcycles blasting through the quarter mile. And the truth is, although the skill required to guide these machines down the track is debatable, the machines themselves are extremely safe designs brought out through years of drag-racing evolution.

Archives Column | Russ Collins
Russ Collins was a true pioneer in motorcycle drag racing.

It wasn’t so long ago that seven seconds in the quarter mile on a motorcycle was more akin to breaking the sound barrier in a jet aircraft, a life-threatening endeavor left to courageous pioneers whose greatest skill may have been their ability to overcome the fear of the unknown. Russ Collins was one such pioneer.

Collins began drag racing motorcycles in the late 1950s. By the mid-’60s, he was an authority on high-performance motorcycle engines, and he designed the first four-into-one motorcycle exhaust header.

Collins went on to set the first-ever National Hot Rod Association track record for a Japanese motorcycle and was winning races on his R.C. Engineering-built Hondas at a time when Triumph and Harley-Davidson dominated the sport.

Collins’ reputation for pushing the limits of technology led to the first successful blown-injected-on-fuel drag bike. Built in 1971, “The Assassin” weighed a mere 360 pounds and was powered by a 400 horsepower Honda four-cylinder engine. On The Assassin, Collins set drag-race records all over the country. Innovations abounded on The Assassin. It had the first dual Weber carburetor setup for a motorcycle, and later it was the first motorcycle to use fuel injection and a supercharger together. It was the first Japanese motorcycle to use magneto ignition. It was the first Japanese bike to run on alcohol and nitromethane fuels. By 1973, to beat The Assassin, other racers were forced to use double-engine Nortons, Triumphs and Harley-Davidsons.

Responding to the double-engine trend, Collins raised the bar another notch by building the freakish “Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe,” a thundering, three-engine, nitromethane-burning Honda. This frightening machine became the first seven-second motorcycle in drag racing and the first Top Fuel bike with a Japanese engine to hold an NHRA National Record. The “AT&SF” also became the first motorcycle to win NHRA’s coveted “Best Engineered Car” award at the Springnationals in 1973. Collins’ three-motor monster eventually ran a best of 7.80/179.5 mph.

But the AT&SF was a harrowing ride, and in 1976 it was destroyed in a horrendous crash at Akron, Ohio. Collins was nearly killed, the crash putting him in the hospital for several weeks and confining him to a wheelchair for several more.

Rather than call it quits, Collins went on to design “Sorcerer,” his final Top Fuel bike creation. Built in early 1977 and later billed as the World’s Greatest Drag Bike, “Sorcerer” was powered by a pair of 1000cc Honda fours. This bike won a second NHRA Best Engineered Award for RC Engineering. Blown, injected and running on 90-percent nitro, Sorcerer set a world motorcycle-acceleration record for the quarter mile of 7.30/199.55 mph, a mark that stood for 12 years.

In 1980, Collins passed the 200-mph drag-bike torch to younger competitors. Two were his own employees, Terry Vance and Byron Hines, who went on to great success in both NHRA Top Fuel and Pro Stock Bike racing, ultimately forming the world-famous Vance & Hines aftermarket concern.

Turning his driving and engine tuning talents to dragsters, Collins made a deal with piston and rod manufacturer Bill Miller to drive the Bill Miller Engineering Top Fuel Dragster in NHRA competition. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, driving the 6000-horsepower, Arias/Chevrolet-powered top fueler, Collins ran a best of 5.03/287 mph. He retired from competition in 1993.

Collins was recognized for his accomplishments in 1999 when he was inducted into the American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation’s Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

Collins passed away in 2014 at the age of 74. CN

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