Russ Collins was one of the leading motorcycle drag racers and drag bike builders of the 1960s and ‘70s. His dual- and even triple-engine monster motorcycles, such as the Assassin, the Sorcerer and others, marked the apex of the outrageous drag racing motorcycle designs of the era. Collins rode these incredibly powerful machines to the fastest quarter-mile times turned on motorcycles during that time. 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.
Collins was born in Somerville, New Jersey, on August 27, 1939. He grew up with a love of all things mechanical. His first interest was in cars and he became quite accomplished as a car mechanic and body man. In 1957, he bought a dilapidated, basket-case 500cc Triumph. Collins rebuilt the bike and started riding on the street. A hot-rodder at heart, Collins gradually hopped up the engine of the Triumph and drag raced on a local strip, Highland Dragway, near his home.
Motorcycle racing took a back seat when Collins went into the trucking business. He drove his truck all across the country and fell in love with California. In 1964, he moved to Los Angeles hoping to work in the movies and instead went to work in the burgeoning motorcycle business as service manager and mechanic at various shops in L.A.
He quickly got into the Southern California drag racing scene. When Honda came out with its revolutionary CB750, Collins got one, began modifying it and started setting records on the bike. Collins built a four-into-one exhaust system that a lot of Honda owners wanted, so in 1970 he quit his job at the motorcycle dealership and opened RC Engineering.
Collins was a bit of a radical in drag racing circles. First of all, he was going against the grain of the normal British or American-made drag bike of the time and was racing the new Japanese machines. And instead of wearing the standard all-black leathers, Collins showed up sporting colorful red, white and blue leathers.
He also pushed the boundaries of motorcycle drag racing design. His talents as a builder became evident when he built a supercharged, fuel-injected Honda 750 he named the “Assassin” in 1971. The 400-horsepower Assassin dominated the smaller class so completely that Collins began racing it in Top Fuel with some success. The biggest problem he faced in Top Fuel was a huge displacement disadvantage compared to the big Harley-Davidsons and Triumphs. After experimenting with some double-engine designs, Collins decided to attempt to build the most radical drag-racing motorcycle ever.
In 1973, Collins built the revolutionary, three-engine, Honda-based drag bike he dubbed Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe – named in honor of the famous railroad line of the late 1800s. The monstrous three-engine Honda was featured in numerous motorcycle and drag racing publications and was perhaps the most famous drag bike of the 1970s. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe set numerous records and Collins rode it to the first seven-second quarter-mile turned on a motorcycle in Ontario, California, in 1973. It even became the first motorcycle to win NHRA’s coveted "Best Engineered Car" award at the Springnationals in 1973. The bike was so powerful and heavy that it proved to be very hard to control and in 1976 the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe was destroyed in a horrendous accident in Akron, Ohio. The crash landed Collins in the hospital, and while recuperating he dreamed up his next monster creation – The Sorcerer.
The Sorcerer came together in 1977 and it featured dual Honda 1,000cc engines. This bike won a second “Best Engineered” award for RC Engineering and proved to be the fastest motorcycle ever built by the company. Collins ran a record-setting 7.30 second/199.55 mph run on the Sorcerer. That record stood for an astonishing 11 years.
Collins also happened to find some of the most talented builders and riders to work for his company. Terry Vance and Byron Hines both worked and raced under the RC Engineering banner before branching out and forming their own company, Vance & Hines.
Collins was the best-known figure in motorcycle drag racing during the 1970s and former employee Terry Vance went on to become the top rider of the 1980s. Collins continued to race motorcycles until the early 1980s when he turned to drag racing Top-Fuel cars. RC Engineering eventually became a leading maker of racing fuel-injection systems for Japanese-made sports cars.
When inducted in 1999 Collins continued to run his successful business and lives in the Los Angeles area.
Collins passed away on May 12, 2014.