Not Long Ago NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle Racing Was Living On Borrowed Time. Now, Thanks To The Introduction Of Harley-Davidson And Buell V-Twins To Challenge The Dominant Four-Cylinder Suzukis, We're Seeing The Fastest, Most Competitive Pro Stock Field In Years. But Is The Change All Good?
If you attended a National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) dragracing event a few years ago, you might have thought Pro Stock Motorcycles was a secret code for snack break judging from the way fans made a mass exodus to the refreshment stand every time the bikes took to the track. No one ever accused Pro Stock bikes of being boring: Pumping out 330 horsepower and rocketing from zero to almost 200 mph in under 7 seconds, these are some of the most explosive performance vehicles on the planet. In spite of this, Pro Stock bikes failed to attract the attention of the huge NHRA fan base in the same way as Top Fuel Dragsters and Funnycars. Years of rules neglect caused the class to stagnate to the point where nearly every round looked the same, with 16 cookie-cutter Suzukis all running ETs within a quarter-second of one another and the same handful of well-funded teams always coming out on top. Of course the crowd walked out.
Recognizing this problem, the NHRA took radical steps in 2002 to revitalize Pro Stock racing, rewriting the rulebook to make V-twin-powered racebikes legal to put more and different bikes on the grid. Some would suggest it even massaged the rules a bit to make the new bikes even more competitive to put an end to the Suzuki juggernaut. Harley-Davidson immediately stepped up with a V-Rod-based Pro Stock program (and now Buell is entering the class in '05), and the game was on. Finally the fans had something to cheer about-V-twins versus inline-fours, American bikes versus Japanese machines, new upstarts against established teams. And if you haven't attended an NHRA race lately, well, let us assure you the stands are no longer empty when the Pro Stock bikes run. Instead they are packed, and people are on their feet to see the V-Rods and Buells battle it out with the Suzukis (and the occasional Kawasaki). Diversity proves good for the sport.
Increased competition, of course, breeds increased controversy. Now that V-twin Pro Stock bikes have gone through their teething period and are proving competitive (some would say dominant: The Vance & Hines V-Rod won the '04 Pro Stock Championship, and Andrew Hines' V-Rod recently ran the first-ever 6-second Pro Stock pass), the paddock (and the internet) is awash with incendiary accusations. "The NHRA went too far; pretty soon it's going to be an all V-twin class," some are saying. "The Japanese bikes are getting pushed out because they're not American enough." With so many conspiracies flying around, discussions of NHRA Pro Stock programs almost sound like an argument between Kennedy assassination buffs.
The V-Rod and Buell teams have a solid program in place, and the pressure is on the four-cylinder teams to step up their game and find more power and speed to compete. But is there any merit to some of these conspiratorial utterings, and is there really a level playing field in Pro Stock? Have the new rules made four-cylinders obsolete? To get a handle on these questions we spent some time in the off-season with a leading four-cylinder team (Schumacher Racing/U.S. Army/Suzuki) and a leading V-twin effort (George Bryce's G-Squared Motorsports) to get an in-depth look at their programs and pose some of these questions to them. We also tried to do the same with the championship Vance & Hines V-Rod team, but we were denied access. Hmm, maybe there is a conspiracy at work.