Project Speed Profiled: Denise Mueller-Korenek and Coach John Howard

Years in the making, Project Speed is the collective effort of a small group of individuals. They have one singular purpose, getting Denise Mueller-Korenek to 167 miles per hour riding a purpose-build bicycle at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

The duo working together to break the paced land speed record are back after setting the woman’s record in 2016 with Project Speed. This September, they return to the salt flats of Bonneville, Utah to take on the overall record of 166.6 mph set by Fred Rompelberg in 1995.

Photos By Richard Lee

Years in the making, Project Speed is the collective effort of a small group of individuals. They have one singular purpose, getting Denise Mueller-Korenek to 167 miles per hour riding a purpose-build bicycle at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. The speed run is paced, meaning she will be towed by an ethanol-fueled dragster up to a rate of speed that allows her to turn pedals of the massive 403 gear-inch drivetrain. This allows her to maintain speed under her own power when the tow connection is released from the dragster. The pacing vehicle continues to encourage her speed with a low-pressure envelope that is created behind the moving vehicle. The width of this envelope is approximately 48 inches, and Mueller-Korenek must remain within that space to benefit from the draft created by the vehicle.

A symbiotic relationship exists with the driver during a paced speed run. The safety of the cyclist is entirely dependent on the abilities of the vehicle driver. For Mueller-Korenek, that role is filled by Shea Holbrook who will pilot the dragster on loan from Fred Rompelberg, the current holder of the record. Rompelberg posted a mark at 166.9 in 1995.

Fred Rompelberg tucks in behind the cowling of the methanol fueled dragster that paced him up to his record speed of 166.9 mph in 1995. Denise Mueller-Korenek will be pacing the same vehicle, with some safety and performance upgrades, this September where she will attempt a 167 mph run on the Bonnville Speedway in Utah.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, that is because Mueller-Korenek attempted a run previously. In 2016, she made her first attempt and in doing so set the women’s record for 147 miles per hour. Unfortunately, that first attempt wasn’t able to push through the existing record because of conditions on the salt flats. Due to rains previously in the year, the available stretch of salt was limited to 4 miles, only enough to reach the 147 mph speed.

With the continued help and guidance of Coach John Howard, Mueller-Korenek returns to the salt on September 14-16, where she will look to push through the existing 166.6 mile per hour marker and break the record. John Howard himself holds his own part of the paced-record legacy. The three time Olympian and Ironman triathlon winner, reset the record to 152 mph also at the Bonneville Salt Flats, on 20 July 1985.

We sit down with Denise Mueller-Korenek and John Howard during Episode 125.5 of the BICYCLIST Experience, a weekly cycling podcast.
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