When you’re a hobbyist of any kind, there is always a professional to turn to should you get stuck. But when you are that professional and even you can’t work it out, then you need one of those rare masters, who knows it all and is willing to share their genius with an enthusiastic smile. That was Mark ‘Makr’ Atkinson of the world-famous Speed of Cheese Racing, a friend, a teacher, a legend. Give him a call and if you could block out the sound of his noisy CNC machines running in the background, and could keep up with his quick and quirky turn of phrase, you were treated to one brilliant lesson after another. A few years ago I had the pleasure of writing his history on two-wheels, and called him one of the true beating hearts of our motorcycle-mad global community. Sadly last week, that heart stopped beating, and we lost a legend, who was not just a brilliant machinist, but very often, the genius behind the works of many a great master. 

You don’t have to be an admirer of automotive engineering to appreciate just how talented Mark was. Inside the mecca that is the Haas Motorcycle Museum are nothing but the coolest bikes to ever exist, and among the most incredible in the collection is not one, but two bikes built by “Makr”. One is the outrageous ‘Alpha’ BMW, which is simply unlike any other motorcycle ever created and the other, a bike called ‘Racer X’, rightly named by one magazine as the wildest electric motorcycle built to date. And yet all of this was done by a man who was a machinist at heart and one hell of a land speed racer in his soul!

To truly understand Mark Atkinson, you have to go back to the beginning, when a small boy, was growing up in an even smaller town in rural Utah, and there just wasn’t a lot of money around. He didn’t have the flashy toys of other kids, but he knew how to work hard and the value of giving anything a go. So when he was given a hand-me-down ’71 Yamaha YZ80, it was with his old man by his side that they tore the engine down and rebuilt it. The problem was the little 80 just couldn’t keep up with his mate’s more powerful bikes, that is until his Dad came home one day with an expansion chamber.

Photo by Brandon LaJoie.

“But oh my what a transformation it made to that little bike. I could now not only keep up with the newer bikes but outrun them. This was pure heaven. All in a strange looking pipe. I have been chasing that feeling and trying to understand that magic ever since,” he told me back in 2021. And it was that magical mystery tour of making two-stroke power that he would stay on his entire life. A keen, successful and record-holding land speed racer, his collection of Yamaha RDs was a constant test bed for his endless ideas on how to make more power and go that much faster.

Photo by Max Daines.

His love of motorsport and his uncompromising attitude of ‘Ride Fast, Safety Last’, were inspired by trips to Pamona California to witness the NHRA Winternationals with his Dad. And for all of the stupidly fast machines scorching down the 1/4 mile, it was the 2-stroke Yamaha twins and Kawasaki triples that really lit a fire in his belly. To get in on the action, he became a machinist and he turned out to be more than just a bloody good one, he was simply one of the greats. There was no machine he couldn’t use, no part he couldn’t create and no boundary he wasn’t prepared to push.

Photo by Brandon LaJoie.

When Don Cronin wanted an artistic representation of the actual Moto Guzzi that he’d won the AMD World Bike Building Championship with, Mark made it. A stunning sculpture, machined to perfection and one that sits just 20 feet from his own bikes at the Haas Museum. When Max Hazan needed someone to make him clincher wheels for his wild twin Velocette engined custom, he called Mark! A swingarm for a race team’s Ducati, a set of wheels for a SEMA-winning truck builder, or a thousand parts for a show winning Hot Rod, yeah they all called Mark too. So, when Turkish designer Mehmet Doruk Erdem dreamed up the Alpha bike and needed someone to build it, Mark was eventually enlisted to make the dream a reality.

Photo by Jun Song.

“Two guys with differing ideas, coming together for a common goal. A Mormon and a Muslim, across the world from each other. We’ve become friends,” Mark said at the time. He loved the exchange of ideas, in fact, he was already two steps ahead of you before you finished the sentence, and best of all, he had the skill and know-how to make it happen. When we featured his gorgeous Bultaco Racer, he’d explained that having searched high and low, he just couldn’t find a head for the engine. No drama, he simply made one that was better than factory, machined from a single piece of billet.

Photo by Max Daines.

He attacked his racing program in the exact same way, studying anything and everything he could find on making power from a Yamaha RD two-stroke engine. Before realising, he could do it better and he could build it himself. How many people are literally more talented than the entire engineering group of a major manufacturer? Mark Atkinson was! His YouTube channel showed off his genius from inside his machine shop, and for the “cry babies” who didn’t like the sound quality because of all the noise his machines made, he even bought a new microphone. He wasn’t being rude, on the contrary, he was trying to teach us and he just wanted to get on with the show.

The Racer X.

And then he’d detail exactly how he machined new pistons, because Yamaha had run out, and showed with theory and records out on the track, his really were the that much better. And he’d do the same with every part of the engine, where others had found the limit, he found the ways to push it and go past it. He road-raced his Yamaha RDs and he put endless miles touring on the things, and throughout it all, he was just a bloody good guy. Smarter than he knew, wildly talented and a true innovator with his own flavour of Speed ‘O Cheese exuberance.

Bobby and Mark at the Haas Motorcycle Museum – Photo by Brent Graves.

Mark Atkinson simply lived the bike racing life, with the enthusiasm of a child and the wisdom of a master, “I’m still an 8-year-old kid trying to understand how that beat-up exhaust pipe turned my YZ from a gentle nice bike into a screaming animal.” And somewhere up in the sky, amongst all the greats, he’s whispering into the ear of Bobby Haas, making him laugh and smile. And the brilliant lesson we are left to learn is to master your craft, live life at full blast and make time for the ones you love. Vale, Mark Atkinson.

Photo by Brandon LaJoie.

One man who knew Mark very well, is our good mate Craig Rodsmith and he sent through these words just before we were about to hit publish on this tribute to Mark:

“Mark was one of those people that on one hand he was a simple guy that just liked to laugh a lot and ride motorcycles yet on the other hand he was a complex genius. Obviously his main passion was motorcycles, he also had curiosity and passion for so many other things, one of those other things being people. He was always the one to encourage, help and enable anyone in whatever it was they were doing, regardless of how “ridiculous it may seem at the time. He was without judgement. 

I think his explanation to Bobby Haas of his bike the Racer X, while comparing it to himself says it all. “Racer X is an exemplary example of who I am. Simple mixed with mind bending complication. If I go to my death and that bike is the only thing I have to show the world, I’ll be happy.Mark got a lot of things and he definitely got himself, and the world is a better place for that and the many impressions he made on it and us.”