Triumph Thunderbird dragbike

Triumph Thunderbird
What were you riding when you were 13 years old? In 1953, Californian kid Bobby Sirkegian was racing in the equivalent of the NHRA Nationals, so I’m surprised he’s not a household name in motorcycling circles. Bobby used to campaign this Triumph Thunderbird dragbike, “Pretty Boy II”: as a teenager he was a successful drag racer, before taking the flat tracks by storm and becoming the 1957 AMA Novice Champion. By 1960, though, Bobby’s track career was over—curtailed by his father’s untimely passing, and the need to look after the family motorcycle business. Today Sirkegian (below) is 71, but he’s held on to his racebikes all these years. “Pretty Boy II” is a 1952 Triumph Thunderbird 650 dragster, restored by Bobby himself, and it’s going on the auction block this coming weekend.

Triumph Thunderbird
The Thunderbird got its speed from a hopped-up motor put together by ace wrench man Fred Ford, who gave the top end oversize valves, S&W springs and a flow-benched cylinder head. A lightened valvetrain with special Iskenderian cams also played a part, as did high-compression pistons and a custom twin-carb setup. (Remote-mounted floatbowls helped combat fuel starvation at high rpm.) This is the actual bike that Bobby rode in 1953 in Pomona—when he was just 13 years old—in the first sanctioned drag race championships. Sirkegian won both the 500 and 650cc classes, and repeated the feat in ’54. Eventually there were three “Pretty Boys”; #1 and #2 ran on gas, while #3 inhaled a potent nitromethane mix. Before he quit drag racing, Bobby had amassed more than 200 wins, from California to Kansas City. I guess that’s what you call a track record.

“Pretty Boy” is for sale at Bonhams‘ auction at The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles on 13 November 2010. Browse the catalog here.

Triumph Thunderbird
Triumph Thunderbird
Triumph Thunderbird
Triumph Thunderbird
Triumph Thunderbird

  • http://subcaferacer.com Brendan Falkowski

    Didn’t think a 13–year–old could possibly look cool before seeing the third photo.

  • iRivas

    Man, when I was 13 I was riding the bus to my freshman year in high school. This kid was racing against hot rods on his bike and winning. On a cool bike to boot. That’s awesome.

  • KIK

    I AM HUMBLED AND RE-INSPIRED..ALL I HAD WAS A BEAT UP SCHWINN STINGRAY..

  • phil

    Great piece. And, definitely humbling.

    Did he shift with his heel? … or from the passenger peg?

  • KIK

    the ‘drag safari” trailer home on the background is awesome….

  • NutCracker

    Honey … please pass me a Kleenex. I just drooled on myself!

    Man, do I love the looks of this bike -

  • http://freaksquares.blogspot.com/ boyracer

    i was wondering the same thing with the shifting. one would thing there wouldnt be passenger pegs on a drag bike.

    • moto-bum

      passenger pegs are for stretching out….or riding all the 15 year old chcks around

  • Justin

    This machine is fantastic, especially with the back story. 13 years old and a drag racing champ, congrats to him as a boy and now as a man. Really like the purpose built bike with elegant craftsmanship, cool stance, and like the details such as the painted inside of the pipe. great all around. would like to see if rip down the street. hope whomever buys it rides it.

  • gilldog

    the story, the bike just spectacular. wish i had motorsport parents

  • http://static-panic.tumblr.com/ Shawn F.

    @ boyracer

    I noticed that as well. I also would think that a drag bike would have rearsets on it, instead of mid controls. Wouldnt you want as much weight forward as possible, to keep the front end down?

    Its a really really cool scoot, I just wouldnt have guessed that it was a drag bike.

  • w

    A bit over restored maybe?

  • Mule

    Should bring some serious dough at the auction! Estimated at $30-35K in the catalog.

    A jewel in any collection!

  • dna

    This bike has been with Bobby since he was 13. I wonder why he is putting it up for auction? It must be like selling a limb…
    Gorgeous machine though…

  • Sportster Cafe

    Nothing better looking then a Hardtail Triumph race bike, only whats needed for speed! If your wondering if all the chrome is period correct, I have a friend whose parents had a shop in California, he said they chromed every metal part they could take off, seems chrome was real cheap! When he moved to Colorado in the late 50s, he couldn’t believe the price of chrome!

  • Trelman

    Pretty Boy I was started life as an immaculate (hence the nickname) Triumph 500 bob-job run on the street by Bobby’s dad, an L.A. Triumph dealer. When 12-year-old Bobby first wanted to go drag racing, they took the lights off and had at it. Pretty Boy II was built along the same lines. Both those bikes ran on gas. Pretty Boy III was a nitro 650 with shortened forks, dropped handlebars and rearset foot controls mounted by the rear axle. I believe on the less fierce gas bikes, there was time to make the upshifts from the normal position and then move his feet back to the passenger pegs for the last part of the run.

  • besserwisser

    Theres a couple of versions of this bike around isnt it. Just like the Porsche numbers that turn up on three different racecars… Ubercool bike but some honesty would be appreciated

  • Ritchard

    Gorgeous.

  • jag

    Interesting to know what times he was running back then – also an educated guess on the engine output, after the serious work done on it.
    The compression must have made kick starting interesting !!

  • Mule

    The guy has a website, email him and axe him. Just make sure you post the answers here!

    http://www.bobbysirkegian.yolasite.com

  • el vencejo

    I had a ’53 T6 when I was a poor student,,, wish it looked like that!
    Put some lights and modern tyres on it for me :)

  • http://www.pinheadlounge.com/neodutch Neo Dutch

    Re. Passenger pegs and reverse shifting. Do you think maybe, that he put his feet on the passenger pegs during runs?

  • Trelman

    Says Bobby, “Regular pegs were used until after final fourth-gear shift, then move to rear pegs; reversed shift lever allowed quicker downward steps to shift.”

    Far as times: “ET’s not really used until 1955 when lights for starting became standard. Best ET was 11.50 seconds.”

  • Al Jones

    It looks like he has the rear passenger pegs folded down. Once he’s in 3rd or 4th (maybe never gets to 4th?) he probably puts his feet on them to cross the line.

  • http://elsolitariomc.blogspot.com/ ElSolitarioMC

    I always loved that Triumph but didn’t know the story behind.
    Thx bikeexif for your great work!!!

  • Jim

    I raced Bobby with a very built 47 Ariel sq four. Never won. but he and I were about the only kids in early drag racing. I just sent him a note. Thanks for the site.

  • Al Carlstrom

    I know nothing about motorcycles, but that is a piece of art!! I got to this site by looking up “The Two Fat Ladies” cooking show. They drove one thru the English countryside as guess cooks.