It's what hundreds try for...
It's what hundreds try for and few achieve, reaching and exceeding that elusive number. Burke joined the exclusive Grant 200 MPH Club in 1963.
After a number of attempts at the record, Summers spun again at the three-mile marker. The roadster flipped and slid on its back through the light at 224.85. The car was repaired and Summers "soft peddled" the roadster to a new record of 225.0785 mph.
Rear engine roadsters were banned by SCTA after the 1959 Speedweek when the most competent of drivers couldn't keep the cars pointed straight until suspension technology caught up with the speeds.
Made to Order
The diversity of land speed racing is totally unique in motorsports since there are no two race cars alike. Ninety-nine percent are handbuilt in home shops or garages around the country. "Store bought" spec racing this is not. That's why this form of racing (since day one) attracts hot rodders whose innovative creations know no bounds.
"I got a call from Bob Joehnck,...
"I got a call from Bob Joehnck, who asked if I was going to Bonneville. He said,'Bring your helmet. I'll see you at the start line.' That was my contract," Burke laughs. "He wanted to start the engine at the line, push-truck it a mile before I engaged the clutch, and take off in high gear. He said take it up to whatever it will receive throttle-wise and we have enough fuel to run the full five miles if we want. We ran slow on throttle pressure and went for the best speed between the fourth and fifth mile. That was the smoothest handling of all of the cars I've driven." The two were rewarded with 200-mph-plus runs with three different Chevy engines in Joehnck's '29 roadster in 1971.
Burke was made to order for the job, not only because of his size-he was a quick study as well. He had the reputation of being strapped into unfamiliar race cars that ran the gamut, keeping them and him in one piece, while bringing home a record. That reputation had owners seeking him out.
It was only natural working at Weber Cams in high school and being an early SCTA competitor, for Burke to gravitate toward the speed equipment industry to make a living.
From 1954-63 he worked for U.S. Motors as a fleet service tech. From there, he was in the purchasing department at Grant Piston Ring Company. He made a major leap when he became the first paid employee for the fledging SEMA organization from 1966-70 as its executive secretary. Then in 1970, Burke went to work for Phil Weiand as his sales, advertising, and promotion manager. Three years later he went on to Ak Miller's Garage as his general manager.
Burke was recognized by SEMA in 2005 and inducted in the SEMA Hall of Fame, which is the highest honor the association can bestow on an individual.
Phil Weiand (who lost the...
Phil Weiand (who lost the use of his legs racing at Mines Field, now LAX, in 1934) inspecting raw castings before machining. "Phil [Weiand] was very knowledgeable about sand castings, which is an art," Burke says (paper in hand), who was Weiand's sales, advertising, and promotion manager. "He had the first high-rise intake manifold for Ford Flatheads. The carburetor was 6 inches higher than the intake manifold, moving along the air/fuel mixture at a good rate of speed and not puddling when it got to the bottom of the manifold."
Burke spun at 180 mph in 1990 and left behind the world of deafening headers and the smell of nitro for good. Splitting Whittier, Burke headed for the serenity of Santa Barbara as the proprietor of a 20x30-foot book and gift shop. Called EZ Duz It, his store was filled with the smell of free cookies, candies, and overstuffed chairs. Selling books was almost an afterthought.
He pulled the drag chute to a crawl, retiring in 1993 to the town of Joshua Tree. It's a community of artists, musicians, and retirees in the high desert, far from the madding crowds. "Burke volunteers driving a minister around town," Burke's retired school teacher wife, Jean, says, "who can no longer drive. And he keeps track of me," she laughs. Turnabout is fair play Jean, because keeping track of Burke during his racing and working years was damn near impossible.
Benham and Burke became a...
Benham and Burke became a good fit together. Burke drove Ron's 2.0L VW-powered Tank. "The suspension was very rigid with the narrow tires, and the salt being very bumpy that year, I was having a hard time seeing the course. I was wearing my prescription glasses combined with the Bell helmet face shield; I saw nothing but a blur out of the tilted windshield. I couldn't see the black line clearly, which had faded in midweek. All I could do was sense where the course was. We only went 170."
Benham's slippery Karmann...
Benham's slippery Karmann Ghia with the VW engine borrowed from the belly tank. "At 125-150 mph," Burke says, "I lost all sensation with being in touch with the ground because the front and rear ends seemed to lift."
With Bonneville rained out,...
With Bonneville rained out, Burke coaxed the heavy Streamliner at El Mirage to 132 mph. The project was scrapped after the prohibitive cost of developing a new battery.
Yes, that's Burke's 5-foot,...
Yes, that's Burke's 5-foot, 5-inch frame stuffed in between 12 batteries weighing 1,200 pounds that drove four electric motors. The throttle system was basically a rheostat that controlled one bank of batteries until 3/4 throttle then all 12 kicked in, similar to a turbo.
The hanger in the background...
The hanger in the background close to the salt flats is where the Enola Gay took off headed for Japan, ultimately ending World War II for the United States. The Streamliner, however, never really took off because Bonneville was rained out and the project was scrapped before returning to the salt.