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.