When Eric Teboul crossed the finish line in Wellingborough, England, on Sunday, September 11, 2022, at 4:09 PM local time, (11:09 AM Eastern Daylight Time in the United States), the world stopped. When the scoreboards flashed the results, the near sell-out crowd on hand at Santa Pod Raceway for the FIA European Finals let loose a roar equated by some eyewitnesses to the response to Peter Crane’s “Stormbringer” Top Fuel Dragster beating Don Garlits by clocking the first five-second quarter-mile outside North America almost a half-century ago in April, 1976. Beyond any doubt, it was the Run of the Year in Europe and a serious contender for the greatest pass of 2022 anywhere on the planet. In the closest thing to a suicide mission seen in drag racing in decades, Eric Teboul clocked 4.97 seconds on two wheels…and lived.
Seldom has electronic media blasted drag racing news so quickly to every corner of the planet but the response by nearly every human who received the news was one of dumbfounded silence. It seemed to be slightly more believable when it was learned Teboul was aboard the same rocket-powered motorcycle on which he became a global sensation over the past thirty years but, even then, it seemed impossible to cover a quarter-mile in less than five seconds on a machine which offers only the opportunity to hang on at nearly 300 miles per hour. A successful run in a Pro Stock automobile requires precision. Funny Cars force their drivers to fight the car to the finish line. Top Fuel Dragsters mandate pilots of courage and physical stamina. Even Top Fuel Motorcycle racers seem to defy physics wrestling their mounts down the course. However, this…this was something completely beyond the grasp of most sane people.
Although he has appeared in the U.S., Eric Teboul is a true celebrity in European motorsports and the veteran racer from southern France has enjoyed that reputation for years in the dozen countries where he annually competes. Teboul’s indelible mark in the sport’s history was no accident. It was the culmination of four decades of drag racing leading to a grand conclusion which was carefully crafted and, through skill and tenacity, effectively completed.
His rocket-powered machine, (utilizing a chemical reaction powerplant in which hydrogen peroxide expands at an incredible rate and exits through a small nozzle when it contacts a mesh screen of pure silver), produces six thousand pounds of thrust to push a vehicle weighing barely six hundred pounds. There is absolutely no other entry in drag racing which boasts such a power-to-weight ratio.
Rocket-powered vehicles have been active in motorsports for ninety-five years. The hydrogen peroxide/silver catalyst motor was pioneered by Pete Farnsworth, Ray Dausman and Dick Keller and their Reaction Dynamics company which created drag racing’s first effective rocket dragster, the record-shattering X-1 “Rislone Rocket”, in 1966. Rocket-powered motorcycles are nothing new. More than a dozen have been campaigned in the United States alone since the early 1970s.
One of the sport’s most popular misconceptions states all rocket-powered machinery, including hydrogen peroxide versions, was banished from the sport in the 1980s. However, no rocket vehicle was ever banned by any drag racing association. The number of active rockets dropped severely during that period when premium grade, (100% purity), peroxide became a rare commodity. However, there have always been rockets in drag racing, (from dragsters to Funny Cars to motorcycles to go-karts), from 1966 to the present day. The peroxide was available in far greater quantities in Europe which enticed several of the best-known racers, including legendary rocket racer “Slammin’ Sammy” Miller, to simply move overseas to be closer to the fuel source. Many teams learned to compete with lower quality peroxide and continued to race.
Top Fuel Motorcycle legend Terry Vance took a supercharged, nitromethane-burning Suzuki campaigned with partner Byron Hines to the first the first six second, two hundred mph wheel-driven motorcycle run in the sport, (6.98/203), in August, 1983, at Irvine, CA. However, only two months later, European Top Fuel Bike racer Henk Vink of Holland debuted a hydrogen peroxide rocket-powered bike which, in 1984, clocked an astounding 6.54 at 214 mph at the Drachten track in the Netherlands. Vink quickly gained a massive following making him one of the biggest attractions in European drag racing. However, in 1998, he sold his successful operation to another veteran of wheel-driven Top Fuel motorcycles, Frenchman Eric Teboul.
Eric began campaigning the same Nico Bakker-built chassis with his brother, Phillipe, a popular French music star who used his stage name of Bob Feeler. Phillipe had experience in everything from Top Alcohol Dragsters to jet-powered machines. The Teboul brothers also received massive assistance from fellow French rocketeer David Pertue who campaigned several of Sammy Miller’s rocket Funny Cars. Even in his first season, Eric got the rocket into the six-second zone at over 210 mph. It was American legend Larry “Spiderman” McBride, who rocked motorcycle drag racing in October, 1999, however, with the sport’s first two-wheeled five-second quarter-mile at Houston, TX.
Teboul and Feeler continued to tour their bike through Europe while gradually increasing the duration of the chemical reaction by adjusting the amount of fuel onboard. While the chemical combustion can be stopped by the rider, rocket performance is usually controlled by making certain the vehicle runs out of fuel at a certain point in the run and coasting across the finish line without power. In Teboul’s case, he preferred to run the motorcycle to the 1000-feet mark and coast the rest of the way. By slowly increasing thrust but still shutting down early in the run, Teboul became the sport’s quickest motorcycle rider with a stunning 5.64 at 235 mph at Hockenheim, Germany, in 2003.
From there, Teboul upgraded the rocket motor and chassis annually with his own ideas and equipment producing the appropriate performance results. By 2009, his reputation went global with a staggering 5.27 at Hockenheim and a coasting 251 mph speed at Long Marston, England. The following year, Eric dropped his elapsed time world record to a 5.23 at Santa Pod.
In November, 2013, Teboul was invited to attend his first race in North America, the prestigious Manufacturers Cup event at Bradenton, Florida. He made multiple runs at the event but closed it with a simply astounding 5.121-second blast at 264.39 mph. Equally astounding was his new eighth-mile record of 3.39 seconds with a speed…under power…of 232.01 mph!
That mark stood for a full five years. At the FIA European Finals at Santa Pod in September, 2018, Teboul rode the bike under power farther than ever before to record the fastest speed ever clocked by a drag racing motorcycle, 286.87 mph, on a 5.24 pass. The following year at the same event, Teboul ran a nearly identical 5.25 at a coasting 258 mph but the bike’s speed at 1000 feet, (just before it ran out of fuel), was an unreal 271.38 mph…over 14 mph faster than on the 286 mph pass of 2018. The bikes potential for a four-second, 300 mph run was now obvious. The only question centered on whether the bike could be ridden to those numbers.
Teboul has always insisted he run without a braking parachute on the bike, (or on his person), stating the motorcycle was too light to retain control against a blossoming parachute. Eric was a master at using the bike’s brakes to slow the ride but photos from the finish line showed the bike’s narrow street tires often had less than a four-inch contact patch on the ground due to centrifugal force. Those same photos also often graphically illustrated Teboul was simply hanging on to the handlebars while his legs were extended behind him almost to the height of his helmet.
At the beginning of the 2022 season, Eric Teboul announced he would retire from active competition at the end of the year. While the thought a four-second pass was tantalizing, it would require an inordinate amount of bravery to make that run.
In May at Santa Pod, Teboul stretched the duration of power just a bit more and came up with a near career-best of 5.17 seconds at only 253 mph. His 2022 schedule was highlighted by a pass during his annual stop at the sold-out NitroOlympX event at Hockenheim where he shut off before just past 1000 feet and still posted a blazing 5.123 at a mere 261 mph, missing his all-time ET record by two thousandths of a second. The run came with more history, though, when Teboul produced an incredible eighth-mile speed of 242.97 mph!
The Frenchman’s season-ending appearance came at the annual FIA European Finals at Santa Pod on Saturday and Sunday, September 10-11, 2022. Teboul’s runs were advertised to be his last at the track and, possibly, the final passes he would ever make. On Saturday, his lone shot made more history with an amazing 5.06 at only 263 mph. Nearly every progressive timing point produced a new personal best on the run including a best-ever eighth-mile ET of 3.38, a 1000-feet ET of 4.25 and an shocking 1000-feet speed of 274.67 mph just before the bike ceased its acceleration.
Teboul’s career could have ended after that run and his spot in the sport’s history books would be secure. However, with a seemingly insurmountable barrier only six hundredths of second away, the ultimate achievement didn’t necessarily involve a change in the performance of the bike but only the guts to stay under power for a few milliseconds longer.
On Sunday, the crowd rose to its feet for Teboul’s final ride. The motorcycle covered the first sixty feet in a record 0.910 seconds. Eric covered the first eighth-mile in the least time yet at 3.37 seconds. At 1000 feet, the bike slammed to a 4.22 ET at an indescribable 290.49 mph. Just a few feet later, the peroxide fuel was gone and the machine began to slow but Teboul stayed off the brakes until it crossed the finish line.
The result was an unearthly 4.976 second quarter-mile at a coasting 290.51 mph. The crowd exploded into cheers.
We may never know the highest speed achieved on the run. Teboul told Drag Illustrated, “The tank was empty somewhere between one thousand feet and the finish line”, but he couldn’t be sure where it ran dry. However, if the distance between 1000-feet and 1254-feet is used as a separate speed trap, Eric covered that 254 feet in 0.9528 seconds which converts to 292.14 mph. Therefore, the bike WAS accelerating past the 1000 feet timer for a brief period. Using the 1000 feet to 1320 feet distance as another speed trap, the bike covered the distance at 291.80 mph.
Did they bike exceed 300 mph in that distance? It’s a tantalizing question but, without onboard telemetry, we can surmise Eric Teboul came close but probably just missed 300 mph. Even with the motorcycle picking up a nearly unbelievable 51 mph between 660 feet and 1000 feet, all we know for certain is Teboul coasted across the final 66 feet of the quarter-mile at an average of 290.51 mph.
That’s good enough. Simply being the first under motorcycle racer under five seconds in the quarter-mile would cement his legacy. To build the vehicle and be brave enough to wheel it to the finish line repeatedly at tracks all over the globe certainly assured his place in drag racing history. Asked after the event at Santa Pod if he would pursue the elusive 300 mph timeslip, Tebould told Drag Illustrated emphatically, “The 4.97 is my last run”.
Eric Teboul’s career in the sport covered eighteen years before the two decades he spent sitting on a rocket bike. He designed, constructed and raced his machines with limited assistance from the very small group of people who have any knowledge at all about the unique method by which he chose to traverse the quarter-mile. He even distilled his own hydrogen peroxide to eighty-five percent purity after one hundred percent peroxide became unobtainable. In the history of eighth-mile, thousand feet and quarter-mile competition, only Top Fuel Dragsters and Funny Cars have ever gone quicker and faster than Eric Teboul’s creation.
For the past thirty years, Eric Teboul did all this alone with a machine unlike any other in the world. Likewise, he will stand alone in drag racing annals for his incomprehensible achievements throughout his career.