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Top Fuel Motorcycle Legend: Ron Teson

Top Fuel Motorcycle Legend’s Series

Welcome to the Top Fuel Motorcycle Legends Series here at Dragbike.com. This series will bring you stories past and present on the greats of Top Fuel motorcycle drag racing. As the months and years roll on, here you will find a collection of tales embracing the who-what-when-where-how, concerning some of the fastest and quickest motorcycles ever constructed.

This story collection is meant not only to entertain the reader, but to serve as a historical record, for all time. Thus here at Dragbike.com, we are creating an archive of the entire history of not only the class of Top Fuel Motorcycle but in so doing, we are presenting the very roots of our sport.

Indeed, what have we today? Are we not the sum of what we have learned over the past decades of motorcycle drag racing? Who then pioneered the way, laying the groundwork, paying the high price – sometimes with their lives – for the world record speeds we see in motorcycle drag racing today?

These are their stories…

Ron Teson: Top Fuel Motorcycle Visionary

Ron Teson, a one-time furniture maker from Southern California, is a man who at one time forever changed the course of Top Fuel motorcycle drag racing.  What he accomplished was so profound, his creation he raced between 1976 and 1981 became the model for Top Fuel bikes that to this day continues.

Ron Teson: Top Fuel Motorcycle Visionary
Ron Teson in 2017 drove from his home in So, Cal to Memphis, Tennessee, with his scrap book for the author to interview him for this story. He’s as sharp today as the days he raced on the 1320.

Just as Don Garlits proved that the rear-engine Top Fuel Dragster was the quickest combination for covering a ¼ mile racing surface with a Top Fuel car – so too Ron Teson proved to the world that a single-engine motorcycle, equipped with a supercharger, injected with nitromethane, was the quickest combination for drag bikes in motorcycle drag racing.

His little Honda T/F motorcycle led to a new era in TFM drag racing and ended the Jurassic Period of Top Fuel bikes.  An era when giant pondering Top Fuel motorcycles of all makes, models and configurations once roamed the drag strips of the world. In 1976, when Teson entered Top Fuel for the first time, he was facing the likes of Russ Collins with his triple engine Honda T/F bike, T.C. Christensen on his double engine Norton, Marion Owens with his twin Shovelheads and Bob Davis was building his triple engine injected T/F Kawasaki. Bigger was better in the mid 1970’s and Ron Teson thought otherwise.

Ron Teson: Top Fuel Motorcycle Visionary
The Top Fuel motorcycle that forever changed the way Top Fuel bikes would be configured. Built by Ron Teson, chassis by Kosman Specialties, Magna Charger by Jerry Magnuson, this is the Teson & Bernard Top Fuel team, October 1977, L to R: Randy Darnold, Rick Gero, Ron Teson, Miss Winston, Jim Bernard, Wally Parks, and Bill Bernard.

He began his motorcycle drag racing in earnest in 1970 as an avid motorcyclist who enjoyed street bikes for years before discovering motorcycle drag racing and he decided to give that a try for some fun at age 29. His job was solid enough that he had some money to work with as well as a skilled intuitive mind from his years of working with his hands, building furniture at California Frames, in Los Angeles.

Ron was born in 1941 and he actually was going to drag strips in the 1950s like the dawn on drag racing as a sport was developing. In the 1960’s he was no stranger to Southern California drag strips for both the cars and the bikes.

He first visited his local racetrack, Lions Drag Strip, which was just a few miles from his home, as a teenager, in the late 1950s. In fact, the track, located near Long Beach was so named after its association with the local “Lions Club” that helped get the track open on October 9th, 1955. One of the founding fathers of the facility, Mickey Thompson played a vital role in getting the place up and running.

During the late 1960s, Ron rode a 450 Honda street bike and would occasionally visit Lions drag strip where he initially met local motorcycle racers like Boris Murray, Clem Johnson, Joe Smith, Sonny Raslawski, Russ Collins, Terry Vance, and Byron Hines. In 1970, everything changed for Ron Teson.

That year was a great turning point for motorcycle drag racing history. On the east coast, the once loosely affiliated Mid Atlantic Motorcycle Racing Association, was dissolved and one of its leaders, a motorcycle drag racer turned promoter, Roy Strawn, now headed up the first coast to coast organized “all motorcycle” events as a formal sanction: the AMDRA. The newly formed American Motorcycle Drag Racing Association was affiliated with the NHRA and was determined to bring the sport of motorcycle drag racing to a higher level. This would in due time bring the first “National” events of an all-bike nature to the West Coast.

At the same time, when the first four-cylinder Honda 750cc motorcycles arrived in the USA, as soon as they arrived at Long Beach Honda in California, Ron Teson bought the fifth motorcycle to hit the shop floor. That was Ron’s turning point and he was literally off to the races. He soon began hot-rodding it with whatever he could lay hands on.

Ron Teson: Top Fuel Motorcycle Visionary
When Ron Teson put the 750cc SOHC motor from his new 750 Honda into a hand-made aluminium chassis, this is how he began motorcycle drag racing. His B/Gas Honda for AMDRA competition. Note the “Posi-Flow” flat-slide carbs that look much like Lectrons.

Then one day at the track, he learned about a new enterprise by this local guy, Russ Collins, who had go-fast goodies for the new 750 Honda. Russ Collins newly opened business enterprise that was just beginning the same year Ron started dedicated motorcycle drag racing was named R.C. Engineering. It was located in Gardena, CA, less than an hour away from Ron’s stomping grounds. Coincidently, next to R.C. Engineering was Dale Armstrong’s shop, who was also then a very big name in drag racing as well. Southern California was again becoming a house-of-horsepower as it did in the 1950’s.

As this perfect storm took shape, Ron also discovered “Action Fours” locally, another budding high-horsepower motorcycle enterprise. Originally Action Hydraulics, Action Fours was headed up by motorcycle horsepower pioneer Bill Hahn. Bill became a good friend and advisor to Ron Teson over time. They spoke often, as did Ron and Byron Hines, at R.C. Engineering.

The Action 4’s Honda was a top performer at this time.  But the RC Eng. Honda Top Gas bike built by Byron Hines with his close friend Terry Vance was killing everyone in 1974 through the 1975 time frame and it was Byron Hines, an employee of Russ Collins, who had very significant input, along with Russ, into Ron’s builds that eventually impacted T/F MC drag racing on the scale that they did.

From his close association with his Saturday night racing buddies, at Lions, Russ, Byron, and Terry; Ron was inspired to get serious with his new interest and decided to have a drag bike chassis built. For this, he turned to his friend, Ralph Muldoon, a local welder/fabricator.

Ralph, working with Ron, built Ron’s aluminum frame in six hours one weekend.  Ralph’s dad owned a shop where he (Ralph) was a fabricator and one weekend in 1971, the two of them, headed into the shop. Ralph machined up a neck, to accept Ron’s front end, bent some alum tubes, and six hours later, Ron had a lightweight 750 Honda drag bike chassis.

Ron Teson: Top Fuel Motorcycle Visionary
The aluminum chassis bike was reconfigured to accept dual 750 Honda motors. Ron did not run this combination long before going back to single-engine, with injection.

This bike started off producing elapsed times in the 12’s, foot shifting, with the bone stock 750cc SOHC motor. During competition years 1972 through 1974, he dialed in his ET’s down from 11’s to 10’s, which were very respectable times for a mostly stock Honda gas dragster, foot/clutch shifted.  Keep in mind this drag bike had no air shifter, no shift light, pump gasoline, and a stock factory ignition system.

In 1972, Ron drove east to Bowling Green, KY where the big East Vs. West clashes were taking place at Beech Bend Dragway. There Ron competed in his first “All Bike” event, (AMDRA) and he won his class with the aluminum chassis 750 Honda dragster bike.

Once Ron had a full-on drag bike on his hands, he was all in. His future in the sport had a hold on him, there was no getting away from it. After hanging out at local Lions Drag Strip with fellow racers like Boris Murray, (double and triple engine T/F), Joe Smith (T/F Harley), Clem Johnson (T/F Vincent), and Russ Collins (Triple engine T/F); there was little doubt what direction his drag racing future would take.

Ron began his journey with his aluminum chassis with a keen eye on his metamorphosis for the future. During the latter part of the 1972 season as Ron became more confident with his aluminum chassis dragster, he made the decision to go double engine as this was the serious move of that era for serious drag bike racers pushing the envelope of performance.

In 1972 Joe Smith had gone double engine nitro, abandoning his single-engine carbureted Shovelhead. Danny Johnson was a double engine, Russ Collins was bringing out the triple Honda “Tri-Clops,” later named officially the Atchison, Topeka, Santa Fe after a legendary railway train company. Boris Murray was piloting the Denco Triple Kawasaki, or seen frequently on his double engine Triumph. Top Fuel racer T.C. Christenson with brilliant crew chief John Gregory was out slaying hogs, with their iconic “Hog Slayer,” Kenny Annesley was piloting Carl Ahlfeldt’s double engine, injected nitro monster, Kawasaki. This was the Jurassic era of the great dinosaurs of motorcycle drag racing. Soon Ron Teson joined in.

During this time frame, Byron Hines, who was doing a ton of R&D for Russ Collins as his employee at R.C. Engineering, Byron helped Russ build his ponderous triple engine ATF Top Fuel bike. While Byron was working with the entire new team just coming together at R.C. Engineering, which as a company was growing at an exponential rate, Byron was helping with the triple, yet Russ gave him free rein to build a double engine gas Honda for the AMDRA class of Top Bike. A class where two engines, a slipper clutch, and a two-speed transmission was the norm. So Bryon and his friend, a new employee at R.C. Terry Vance, created their double engine Honda for Top Gas competition.

This is the route Ron now embarked upon and he had his aluminum chassis altered to accept two motors. This proved to be a bit unwieldy and didn’t yield nearly the performance in ET and speed, Ron was looking for. After months of struggle, this evolved back into a single-engine bike but injected with nitromethane for fuel. It was time to step up.

At a drag race in Ohio, in 1973, Ron first experienced Nitromethane and went 9.50 @ 158 MPH.  The bike was a fit for B/F Jr class. Now the bike sported a stock transmission, foot shifted, with an ARD Magneto, burning nitro.

As a class of competition, double engine gas was abandoned by all sanctions by end of the 1975 season. The NHRA closed out the double engine dragster Top Gas class, so did the AMDRA for motorcycles, being affiliated with the NHRA.

Ron had made the move back to single-engine nitro-injected, but that combination was still not as quick and fast as he wanted.  After his performance at Bowling Green in June of 1976, that was the last outing of the injected bike combination.

Shortly thereafter, one day while talking on the phone with his friend Russ Collins, Russ suggested to Ron “Why not call Jerry Magnuson about a supercharger, give him a call and see what he says?” Ron called Jerry and that changed everything.

Soon his drag bike was outfitted with a roots-type, twin-rotor, supercharger, not unlike what the NHRA Top Fuel cars were running. However, this was a scaled-down version for small displacement motors. Jerry Magnuson had been developing these reduced-size superchargers for a while and Ron Teson’s drag bike was a perfect size testbed for Jerry’s ideas.

The first night in 1976 when the bike was fitted with the new blower, when Ron tried out the combination, as he shifted it into high gear it sat him back in the seat HARD. That impressed him “I never felt a motorcycle pull like that before.”

Sometime in 1976, while testing the new combination, the bike was producing 9.20’s at close to 145 MPH at first. Now keep in mind before this, Ron was used to a 10 sec 128mph ride, so this was an unfamiliar territory in the handling department for Ron. On the second run one night, Ron came off the bike on the top end of the track.  Shortly after that, he asked partner Bill Bernard if his younger brother Jim Bernard wanted to drive it. Jim had been racing the fast stuff too at this time, so he was a good fit for the team.

1976 and 1977 were developmental years for Ron Teson. Now he had Jimmy Bernard driving, so Ron could concentrate fully on tuning the bike. Superchargers came apart easily at first, they could not stand up to the stresses of drag racing. Ultimately the blower snout and drive areas had to be very beefed up substantially for the superchargers to live.  This was followed by rotor issues inside the supercharger housing cases. But Jerry Magnuson worked with Teson & Bernard to meet the challenges of using his blowers for nitromethane-based drag racing. In later years, looking back, Jerry Magnuson once commented, “That was about $100,000 of R&D to work that out.” Considering this happened during the mid-nineteen-seventy-dollars time frame – that was a phenomenal investment of time and money!

With the tremendous power now being produced by this combination, in 1976, Ron Teson took delivery of a Kosman Specialties built, chrome-molly, state-of-the-art, Top Fuel bike chassis to replace the aluminum one.

When the new Kosman chassis arrived, built by Jim Jennings while working for Kosman Specialties, it sported new, well-thought-out advancements in design, no one else was using at the time. The frame featured a triple-rail-upper section design, reinforcing the steering neck of the bike from above. It also featured a 2.5-gallon fuel cell located as low and far forward as possible. It sat just behind the front tire. Its box-like configuration was then shaped into an air-dam, thus adding to the aerodynamics of the bike, while complimenting a better center of gravity. Jerry Magnuson created the fiberglass-shaped body parts for the air dam and the tailpiece, during the construction process. The eventual short upper aerodynamic fairing seen in the most popular photos of the bike was an off-the-shelf item from R.C. Engineering.

The 1976 creation of the historic Teson & Bernard Top Fuel Honda was as follows: Inside a Kosman Specialties chassis, sat a 970cc SOHC Honda motor with an R.C. Engineering cylinder block, 6.5:1 compression pistons, Golden Rods, Honda cylinder head ported and polished by R.C. Engineering, Vertex Magneto, Hilborn PG-150 fuel pump, 10” Crowerglide slipper clutch, Cragar car rear wheel with a 9×28-inch Goodyear slick mounted on it, and a Lenco-two-speed transmission. The Magnuson 80 supercharger was fed 90% nitromethane and was lubricated by three quarts of slippery Valvoline 20-50 racing oil. Weight race-ready was close to 465 pounds.

Once the blower problems calmed down, it didn’t take Ron long to see the bike start showing him it’s potential. At the 1976 NHRA Supernationals, held at Ontario Motor Speedway, Ron stopped the clocks with an 8.24 ET @ 162 MPH and was runner-up to T.C. Christensen in Top Fuel motorcycle. Then at an IDBA race in November of 76, he stunned everyone with a 7.96 @ 172.74 MPH.

This increased performance led to constant teething problems throughout the five-event 1977 season. However, by the season’s end, Teson & Bernard forged a personal best of 7.65 for a new official NHRA Top Fuel motorcycle record on October 8th, 1977. They also cornered the I.D.B.A. top speed record of 184.42 MPH.  They had brought this combination to its full potential. But they knew they would need more to forge ahead of the rest of the Top Fuel motorcycle pack. So in 1977 they made the call for the next generation chassis and motor combination and the little Honda’s days were numbered.

Ron Teson: Top Fuel Motorcycle Visionary
Once the Honda arrived and began running to its potential, everyone knew that the days of the doubles were over. This NHRA Official National Record Certificate sealed the deal. Most double engine T/F bikes at this time were running 8.40’s to low 8’s. On a good day, an 8.0 would be a stellar run. The Honda was lighter, more powerful and most of all quicker.

At the end of 1977, Ron Teson knew the little Honda was tapped out and they were already implementing his next move. His combination proved that a single-engine, blown, injected nitromethane bike was not only as powerful as the Top Fuel double engine bikes, it was lighter and therefore quicker in the ¼ mile. It had a far superior power to weight ratio. At 465 pounds race-ready, it was a third lighter the weight of the average double engine nitro Harley Top Fuel bikes of the day.

In thinking ahead, Ron knew that Yamaha was coming out with a new XS Eleven bike during 1978 and he put one on order right away. Russ Collins was solid with support from Honda, so Ron knew he’d get no factory support from Honda. That motivated him to seek out Yamaha. A phone call was also made to Kosman Specialties once again, for a new T/F chassis. Kosman was the gold standard of chassis building in motorcycle drag racing at this time and held that position for decades.

Terry Vance and Byron Hines used Kosman for all their Pro Stock motorcycles. Orient Express Funny Bikes were Kosman creations. So Sandy Kosman’s craftsmen again delivered a magnificent creation for the new Yamaha, Top Fuel bike.

Ron Teson: Top Fuel Motorcycle Visionary
Knowing the Top Fuel Honda had maxed out, the need for a bigger power platform was obvious and Ron Teson chose to go with the latest offering from Yamaha, the XS 1100. However it was not long before Ron came to realize that this motor was not robust enough for the power levels he could now produce. This project was short lived. Carolee Teson, photo.

Going into 1979, as soon as the XS 1100 was delivered, the push was on to complete the new bike. The Top Fuel Honda was sold to a new Top Fuel motorcycle racer, Chris Hand of Alabama, in the fall of 1978. Funds received were used to help create the new T/F Yamaha project.

There were significant challenges in building the Yamaha. The transmission case was cut off the back of the motor and the engine cases sealed off, which was standard practice for building the single or double engine Top Fuel inline-four-cylinder bikes of the era. However, there was an additional trick to doing this with the XS100 due to its design – in effect, it rotated the crankshaft backward. This was intentional by the factory to accommodate the XS-1100 shaft drive. The street bike design was targeting the newly forming sport-touring market. In 1978 and 79, this was THE bike to own for sheer HP on the street. Intermediate gearing was added from the crankshaft to the clutch basket to rotate it properly.

Ron Teson: Top Fuel Motorcycle Visionary
As Ron began climbing the ladder of high performance, he advanced to single engine, with Hilborn fuel injection and now nitromethane, for fuel. Note the A/F for class A /Fuel.

Like the Honda before it, a Hilborn fuel injection system fed the nitromethane to the Magnuson supercharger and force-fed the mixture into the cylinders with close to 20 PIS of boost. The Crowerglide clutch and a B&J two-speed handled the power output to the new 12.5” wide Goodyear car tire.

In 1979, Teson and Bernard again cornered the #1 plate with the new NMRA motorcycle drag racing sanction with the Yamaha. They increased their performance to 7.45 @ 197 MPH, again proving they had it right: a single-engine, supercharged, injected nitromethane combination was THE way to go for Top Fuel motorcycles, thus ending the era of the multi-engine bikes.

From 1980 on, the doubles faded into history as the new era of single-engine, blown, injected nitro bikes were here to stay. Ron Teson was a Top Fuel motorcycle visionary, who carved his name into the history books and forever changed the way Top Fuel motorcycles were designed and built.


Tom McCarthy Until Next time…

– Tom McCarthy

Top Fuel Motorcycle Legend’s Series with Tom McCarthy is © Tom McCarthy 2022, all rights reserved. No text portions or images from this series may be copied in part, or fully, without the expressed written consent of Tom McCarthy. Violators may be subject to legal action.

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