With signed physical exam papers in hand, I managed to evade California’s finest state troopers as I zipped back up to Famoso after swiftly pissing away (yes, pun intended, I did that test as well) two hours of possible track time. While Lombardo warmed up the ZX-14R, I hastily tugged on my leathers in preparation to make my six demonstration runs in front of the track personnel as the final part of my NHRA license paperwork.
The license demonstration runs provided a good chance to get some practice time on the Kawasaki and see how different it would be from the stock bike. When I made a full launch on the third run, I quickly discovered that getting my left foot up to make the first-second upshift was a bit more difficult than with the stocker. It basically felt like attempting to climb onto the back of a fleeing fire truck; a good deal of concentration was necessary to convert one of the two flailing lower appendages behind me into something that could activate the shift lever in time to avoid the rev limiter.
A requirement for many dragstrips...
A requirement for many dragstrips is a kill switch tether, so that if the rider somehow leaves the bike the engine will immediately shut down.
We decided to try our first handful of runs with the Kawasaki’s traction control set to level 1. The ZX-14R’s TC system is one of the better ones on the market, with the least intrusive level 1 allowing just enough wheelspin for maximum acceleration while straight up without excessively intervening…as long as you don’t loft the front end too high. Allow too much wheelie, and the TC will start to noticeably cut power.
My first runs were in the 9.3-second bracket, with a best of 9.341 seconds at 155.11 mph. I noticed that I was hitting what was either the rev limiter or activating the TC at the top of first gear just before I shifted. I was shifting at an indicated 11,000 rpm on the tachometer, but something was cutting power. It turns out that the Kawasaki’s engine builds revs so quickly in first gear that the tachometer can’t keep up; shifting at a lower rpm cured the power cut issue without negatively affecting times.
Our continued frustration...
Our continued frustration at hitting a wall at 9.2-second E.T.s resulted in us frying a clutch by midday, forcing a clutch replacement that ate up precious time.
One aspect of dragracing that isn’t well known is how difficult it can be to keep the bike headed in a dead-straight line when launching off the start (just like roadracing, traversing excessive distance when not necessary is detrimental) while dealing with all the other physical aspects of controlling the bike. Simultaneously feeding out the clutch and controlling the throttle to get maximum acceleration without wheelying — while preventing the bike from leaving you behind on the dragstrip’s concrete launch pad — astride a bike like the ZX-14R requires significant physical effort. Like other riders, pro dragracers have learned to keep their bodies in a certain position to ease this problem, something I needed to figure out in a hurry.
During the next set of runs, I was able to get into the 9.2-second bracket without too much trouble. The Kawasaki is so powerful that launching at lower rpm — as in 3000-3500 rpm — is paramount to a good run, otherwise the engine will overpower the clutch too easily. We then decided to try turning off the TC to see how much, if any, improvement could be made.
Unfortunately, that move didn’t bring the expected results. A few times the tire spun up off the line and ruined the launch, and in others, the launch was fine but it appeared there was some tire spin down the back end of the run, as the rpm was a tad higher than it was in previous runs.
It was at this point that we frustratingly appeared to hit a barrier. Try as I might, I couldn’t get past the 9.2 mark; we tried changing tire pressures, making the gearing taller with the one-tooth smaller Vortex 40 tooth rear sprocket (which even extended the wheelbase a little), changing launch rpm — nothing seemed to help. The frustration resulted in continued attempts that eventually ended up frying a clutch pack, necessitating a clutch replacement by Lombardo that ate up more time. My 60-foot times (which play a huge role in the E.T.) were stuck at the 1.60 mark, which I was told by a few pro dragracers is just a tad quicker than molasses in winter.
The day ended with my best run being a 9.225 seconds @ 156.17 mph. While an impressive time for a stock wheelbase bike with basic bolt-on mods and pump gas, it’s still a long ways off from approaching the eight-second barrier. We were left to pack up and figure out our next plan of attack for the next attempt in the future.
Due to time constraints, these dyno figures are from Kawasaki Motor Corp USA’s Dynojet dyno, not our Superflow dyno. Still, the numbers are relative, and the power boost from our mods is clearly visible in the graphs.
THIS ISN'T FINISHED
While obviously disappointed to have not achieved our goal on the first try, this demonstrates just how difficult quarter-mile dragracing on a motorcycle really is. It’s definitely not a matter of simply giving it full throttle and lettin’ ‘er rip. You only have 1320 feet to get everything right, and when you’re dipping into the nine-second bracket, the compression of time and space makes running laps on a roadrace track seem like an eternity.
While in hindsight it would have helped to have a pro racer help with riding and tuning tips (and even riding chores) in order to succeed on our first try, we wanted to approach this like any weekend racer would. We’ve got a few more tuning tricks up our sleeve that we’d like to try, and we’re going to attempt at keeping the bike in as streetable form as possible — and then maybe even go all-out with some major mods to see how quick we can really go. Stay tuned. I’m not reaching for the short sword to perform seppuku just yet…