From left to right: Robert...
From left to right: Robert Parker, Shawn Ellison, Gadson, Angie Young and Jim Markham.
It’s not often an everyday rider gets to line up against a nine-time championship AMA drag racer without first climbing the national ranks. But that is exactly what five Kawasaki contestants got a chance to do after being selected for the Zero to Hero Challenge. Prior to selection, thousands of applicants spilled their hearts onto the page about why they deserved a shot at becoming Team Green’s face of straight-line speed. Eight essays were selected and placed in front of the online audience for votes. Finally, Robert Parker, Shawn Ellison, Jim Markham, and Angie Young were selected for a three-day lesson in killing the quarter mile. LaDon Hall was also flown in as an alternate.
Before the racing began at Las Vegas Motor Speedway each went through the Rickey Gadson Drag Racing School where each piloted bolt-on modified 14Rs. Gadson explained, “The first thing I did was lower all the bikes with Brock’s fully adjustable rear links, radial brake adapter and front end lowering strap. I slid the fork tubes up through the triple tree about 1.5-inches and then strapped it down. Roaring Toyz extensions increased the wheelbase to about 64-inches. They also have the Brock’s clutch mod.
I helped develop the clutch kit after finding out how mushy and different the clutch is. After measuring the springs, we came up with 180,000ths shim on heavy-duty springs to stiffen it up and increase clutch longevity.”
Other school bike mods included Brock’s exhaust, Power Commander, Vortex sprockets and Carrozzeria wheels to decrease rolling resistance and weight. Two days split between the classroom and track culminated in a test for an NHRA license. To pass, each rider had to show on-site officials that they could control the bike down the strip and clear two passes with an ET at or below 10.15 at Vegas altitude. Each passed but not nearly at the same level. The small and wiry Robert turned his quickest time that weekend at 8.94 @ 155.67 MPH—a time faster than Gadson in practice as he recounted, “He’s small and super light so he can recover much faster but he is riding the wheels off it. I was testing the bikes and went 8.97, he went 8.94 and I’m 40-50 lbs. heavier than him in suit. Weight makes a huge difference. I only went 152 MPH and he went 155 MPH.” The more intimidated Angie struggled to launch with conviction as the pressure intensified.
Not even the umbrella girl...
Not even the umbrella girl could hold back tears when the MVP winner was announced. Now that is going to make for good TV.
When it was announced the contestants would face off in a single elimination format under bracket racing rules it became clear the fastest wouldn’t necessarily have the greatest advantage. Bracket racing rules state a rider is eliminated if he red lights at the tree (jumps the start) or goes quicker than his target time, called the “dial.” The dial is mathematically decided from previous qualifying runs. The goal is to react off the tree as fast as possible and than cross the line as close to your dial time without going under it. It is not about beating your opponent to the line.
Come race day, the lightning quick Robert red-lighted against Angie first round and he was out. There is no doubt he will take it to the pros in the coming years. Shawn Ellison also red lighted in his heat with Jim Markham. That left Angie and Jim. When the board revealed the results, Angie was left to tears in helmet and Jim was shaking his head after beating his dial for a loss.
Finals time. Out came Gadson on a nearly bone stock 14R for what would be the best of three against Angie. When the smoke cleared, Gadson proved consistency kills after taking two of the three runs. With TV cameras rolling one final announcement was made, an MVP would be chosen and handed the keys to the green machine. Angie was that MVP and her response in a southern drawl was moving, “I came into this competition and was definitely the underdog and did not do the best of racing the first two days of class. I needed this bike so bad to move forward in my racing career, this bike is going full drag when I get home.”
What about LaDon Hall? When the competition alternate got a chance to race against Gadson for a grand, we experienced the best action of the weekend. Both lined up to attack a dial time of 9.38. After passing through the traps LaDon turned a 9.443 with a reaction time of .14. Gadson scraped by for the win with a millisecond slower 9.448 but a .06 reaction time. It doesn’t get any closer than that. The weekend was a success for all parties and we’ll be looking out for Robert in pro drag series to come. The first Zero to Hero Challenge episode will debut on SPEED TV later this summer.