The AMA/Prostar series used to be the only important event in the two-wheeled dragracing world, but that's hardly the case today. First the ascending (and very successful) MIROCK series in the dragbike-mad Southeast chipped away at the base of the Prostar pedestal; now Prostar will weather another blow in 2005 as the wildly popular NOPI Drag Racing Association announced it would introduce streetbike-based dragracing to a select number of its events this year.
It's too early to tell how the entrance of a major power such as NOPI will shake up the motorcycle dragracing world-the first NOPI motorcycle event wasn't scheduled until late April at Virginia Motorsports Park, weeks after this story went to press. If the NOPI fields are full, payouts are flush, series are large and car-crazy crowds are enthusiastic, this could be a great thing for the nation's underappreciated motorcycle dragracers. But if motorcycles quickly fade from the NOPI scene while factiousness drags down existing motorcycle sanctions, the sport could have a big problem.
It's somewhat less than encouraging, then, that the AMA/Prostar season opener, the Buddy Gregg Motor Homes-sponsored BikeWeek nationals, was rather sparsely attended. Don't let the BikeWeek title trick you-though the series opener occurred at the same time as the huge bike fest in Daytona Beach, it wasn't even in the same state, moving to the South Georgia Motorsports Park in Valdosta, Georgia, instead of its usual Gainesville location. AMA/Prostar President Keith Kizer claimed bike counts were down at Valdosta primarily due to high gas prices that prevented some competitors from traveling long distances-gas prices actually shot up 20 cents a gallon that very weekend. But the new venue was just part of the Prostar story-many new rules and class structures went into effect at that race as well, which may have had some competitors taking a wait-and-see attitude. With so much change in the air the thin fields can hardly be blamed on the NOPI news, though the NOPI-series semi parked on vendor row (which Kizer eventually kicked off of the premises) was certainly the 800-pound gorilla looming large over the weekend's event.
1000 SuperSportEven before the NOPI challenge, the AMA/Prostar series was already shaken up over Kawasaki's withdrawal from dragracing (Kawasaki's lucrative dragracing contingency program remains in place, though). Ford is often criticized for letting NASCAR racer Jeff Gordon get away, and the same may be said about Kawasaki and Ryan Schnitz. A Kawasaki racer since his mid-teens, Schnitz rode the ZX-10R to the 1000 SuperSport championship last year while also riding Rob Muzzy's factory-backed Kawasaki Pro Stock bike in NHRA competition. Defending SuperSport class champ Schnitz wasn't even at Valdosta. He and Muzzy-the face of Kawasaki dragracing-were instead two hours south in Gainesville winning Pro Gas at the AHDRA race with their brand-new, S&S-powered; Buell (see page 58 for more on this bike).
But the rider most affected by the Kawasaki pullout was Rickey Gadson, who lost his factory ride when Team Green left the building. Gadson isn't bitter. "I feel it was unfortunate, but I also know that in the field I'm in, it's business," he said. "[Kawasaki] put a lot of money in its dirtbike program to hire Bubba Stewart, and the money had to come from somewhere. It wasn't just the dragracing-ATVs and jet skis were cut, also."
But Gadson's certainly not unemployed. For '05 he's lined up a ride on Harry Lartigue's NHRA Pro Stock Suzuki, in addition to running his own 60-inch program in MIROCK events and the NOPI series, which will make Gadson a very busy boy. At Valdosta all that mattered was the Zero Gravity 1000 SuperSport class, which Gadson won on his own Kawasaki ZX-10R despite new rules (ground clearance raised to three inches and no ballast) that left him less than pleased.
"The three-inch clearance sucks," he said. "The class used to run 9.0s and now it's 9.50s. My last pass on the old rules [with 35 pounds of ballast added to all the right locations on his ZX-10R] was a 9.05, and my first pass with the new rules was a 9.61."
Gadson won with a 9.507, but Norman Jackson qualified first with a 9.391. Darren Burnett, who won last year's opener, treed Gadson in the final but was outrun on the top end. "I ran out of gear and hit the rev limiter, allowing Gadson to come by," reported Burnett, who was also on a ZX-10R. "Until we got on the track the Friday before the race, I hadn't even been on the bike since November-and never with the bike set up for the new rules."
For the record, Burnett is (mostly) a fan of the new rules, which, though they caused ETs to rise drastically, also produce much higher mph figures. "Removing all the ballast allowed us to hit our highest mph to date: 127.09 in the eighth and 156.88 in the quarter," Burnett said. "I am more than pleased with those numbers." Even Gadson begrudgingly admitted that even if he didn't agree with the new rules, they did help him. "The way the rules are now, they're giving the advantage to old guys like me," said Gadson, who is gaining on 40. "We're used to riding the clutch and not relying on chassis setup. It took me back to old-school riding."
The ZX-10R remained the SuperSport bike to beat at Valdosta, but many riders are looking forward to how the all-new GSX-R1000, which hadn't hit dealerships yet when the season opener went off, will shake up this class. Burnett was the only rider we spoke to who had ridden the '05 GSX-R1000, and he said he wasn't overly impressed. But he is certain the bike has plenty of potential with a bit of development time. "We're gonna do a lot of side-by-side testing in the next weeks with the 10R and '05 Gixxer to determine what bike we finish the season on," Burnett said. "My sponsor, Smoky Mountain Motorsports, is a Kawasaki and Suzuki dealer, so they win either way."
(Editor's note: A few weeks later at the MTC Elmer Trett Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, the second round of the AMA/Prostar series, '05 GSX-R1000s took the top four places in 1000 SuperSport competition. This should give you some idea exactly how the new Suzuki might shake up this class.)
Pro StreetAMA/Prostar's crowd favorite Streetbike Shootout class gets a new name in '05 (Pro Street) and sees minimum ground clearance raised to three inches, theoretically to make rider consistency (inconsistency?) more of a factor in the results. Well, no one told defending class champion Barry Henson he was supposed to be inconsistent. Despite the new rules and Valdosta's slippery, washboard track, Henson was in top form, running 7.502, 7.470, 7.511 and 7.473 on race day. "It was a tricky track," reported Henson, who arrived in Valdosta early to test. "It would grip and go loose and grip and go loose and was really hard to tune to. I ran a 0.37 at 200.35 in testing, but it was a pretty bumpy ride. I knew it wasn't gonna be consistent trying to run those numbers, so I decided to settle into the low 0.50s."
Henson won the event but lost the number-one qualifying spot to one of his customers, Elvin Torres of Puerto Rico, who took the top spot on a brand-new Hayabusa Henson's Velocity Racing just finished building before the event. Henson clearly doesn't mind sharing his secrets with paying customers-Torres not only took the top qualifying spot, he also made it all the way to the final round before losing to Henson. After Torres and Henson, the Velocity-equipped bikes of Jack Cambra, Trevor Altman and Alphonso "Lil' Butch" Thompson scored the next three qualifying positions, making the qualifying sheet again look like an advertisement for Velocity Racing.
This was Henson's sixth straight event win, and he's hoping as much as anyone that one of his customers will eventually step up and knock him off the top rung. "I'm afraid if I keep winning it's going to become boring," Henson said a few days later in Daytona Beach, pouring pump gas into his Pro Street racebike at the Hess gas station. "Boring means less racers come out, and that eventually leads to the death of the class." But with his customer list on the come-up, we don't think Henson has to worry too much.
Super StreetStreetbike-based dragracing fans have good reason to be excited about AMA/Prostar's all-new Super Street class, sort of a baby Pro Street class for racers who don't want to challenge guys like Henson and his customer roster in an unlimited shootout. The fact that the tighter Super Street rulebook (64-inch maximum wheelbase, stock fuel tank, headlight and taillight, three-inch ground clearance, either nitrous or turbo [max inlet diameter of 54mm] and no multi-stage or slider clutches) is easier on the pocketbook should make the class popular with racers, even though only two Super Street racers showed up for the inaugural round. Paterson, New Jersey, tuner/racer/promoter Del Flores was the winner of the two-bike field, taking the win on a monster-motored Hayabusa ("15-something," Flores quipped mischievously when asked about displacement) over runner-up Jerry Young. Flores' bike was also running a dry shot of nitrous, but Flores says he didn't bother to use it. "What am I gonna spray it for? For Tampa Pete and his 9.40s?" For the record, runner-up Young ran consistent 9.30s against Flores' winning 8.76.
As you can tell, Flores definitely was on his shit-talking game. "I put 8.08 on my dial-in just to f*ck with those guys," he said. "Now that they saw how slow I went, they'll all be there at the next race running 7.80s." Super Street seems like a natural class for all the nitrous bikes that have been outrun by turbo machinery in Streetbike Shootout competition in recent years, and Flores is calling those riders out. "Shorten your bike up and come on out," challenged Flores. "Johnny Vermuelen, come on out. Rudy Sanzoterra from Quicktime might bring one out, and I hope he does. Coby Adams is gonna bring something out and ride it-it's gonna be the battle of the fat mechanics! I'm beggin' Joe Marasco to come out, and that wooden-toothed pilgrim Brock Davidson. Maybe we can get Lee Shierts to come out with a Chevy motor in a 600 frame or something!"
Hopefully some of those guys will show up next time and shut Flores up.
AMA/Prostar BanquetAMA/Prostar's 2005 season officially started with the series' annual awards banquet that honors last year's champions and other notable achievements. The highlight was the presentation of the Elmer Trett Mountain Magic Award, named after dragracing legend Elmer Trett and intended to serve as a lifetime achievement award for exceptional service to the sport of motorcycle dragracing. Presented only three times since 1996, past recipients include John Hoover, Larry McBride and Dave Schnitz. AMA/Prostar President Keith Kizer was proud to present the award to none other than Rickey Gadson, a five-time AMA/Prostar national champion and tireless ambassador to the dragracing sport. Gadson's presentation was something of a bittersweet moment, as '04 was likely his last full season of AMA/Prostar competition as he moves on to pursue the '05 NHRA Pro Stock championship aboard the Lucas Oil Suzuki. In spite of making the NHRA series the focus of his efforts, Gadson did stick around Valdosta long enough to win the 1000 SuperSport category on his Kawasaki ZX-10R, so hopefully this isn't the last we'll see of him in the Prostar paddock.
Barry Henson won Pro Rider of the Year, the most sought-after award in the sport. Finalists for '04 included Rickey Gadson, Top Fuel pilot Larry McBride, funnybiker Travis Davis, '04 Funnybike champion Korry Hogan and Pro Mod racer Charlie Farrar. After a serious streetbike accident early in the '04 season, Henson bounced back on his turbocharged Suzuki Hayabusa and won every event after his return, along the way becoming the first rider to break the 200-mph barrier in Streetbike Shootout (now Pro Street) competition.
The other '04-season class champions recognized at the banquet included McBride (Top Fuel), Hogan (Funnybike), Farrar (Pro Mod), Todd Doege (Pro Stock), Glenn Brown (Top Gas), Andy Baumbach (Super Comp), Mark Coulson (Super Gas), Ryan Schnitz (1000 SuperSport), Chip Ellis (600 SuperSport), Rick McWaters (Hot Rod Cruiser) and Mike Perry (Pro/ET).-Don Smith
The 700 Club: Dynojet's Horsepower ChallengeTraditionally held during Daytona Beach Bike Week on the American Motorcycle Institute campus, this year the popular Dynojet Horsepower Challenge was moved to Valdosta, Georgia, and held in conjunction with the season-opening AMA/Prostar Buddy Gregg Motor Homes BikeWeek nationals. The change in venue had absolutely no effect on the purpose of the event, which is to allow the top engine builders in North America to demonstrate their talents on a level playing field.
The factory Dynojet boys showed up with two portable dynos ready to take on all the power the tuners could pump out, and needless to say, the crowd was not disappointed. Each year power output levels in all the various classes move up a few ponies-that's to be expected-but absolutely no one was prepared for what happened in the Unlimited Import class, the premier class for turbocharged, monster-motored sportbikes. The horsepower record from '04, a rod-bending 514.7 hp, would only net you fourth place in '05 after Montana's Hank Booth decimated that mark with a mind-blowing 701-hp dyno pull with his turbo Hayabusa!
The Booth-owned Arcane Motorsports Hayabusa is the result of an international effort between Christer Johansson of Nxt Level Racing/Sweden and Sebastian Domingo of NLR/USA. Estimated to have more than $30,000 worth of exotica inside the stock-displacement (1297cc!) motor, the bike was rebuilt especially for this year's event. Johansson says the bike is full of custom, one-off parts, including a dual Tial wastegate setup, Borg Warner S400 turbo unit, JE pistons, Web cams, an NLR-ported head and some special tuning by AMA Superbike data guru Ammar Bazzaz of BP Designs.
As if obliterating the record and winning first place weren't enough, Booth also brought another NLR-built, alcohol-burning turbo 'Busa that put down a 609.55-hp run. Third place was snatched up by the gorgeous, carbon fiber-bodied RCC Turbo Hayabusa owned by Richard Peppler of Ontario, Canada, which made "only" 568.14 hp.
If the determination shown by these competitors is any indication of the seriousness of the tuners involved, we would not be surprised to see 750 hp on an Unlimited Import-class machine next year. In the meantime, it looks like Booth will have to order up a new license plate for his Hayabusa, since the current Montana tag reads "685HP."-Don Smith