Let's Go Racing
With the bike ready to go, we ventured out to Willow Springs last July to see how we'd fare. So what's it like to ride? Well, it's slow. Really slow. But that lack of speed allows the rider to focus on learning track markers and hitting them every time. Racing small horsepower machines also emphasizes corner speed and maintaining momentum rather than relying on horsepower. The key to being successful on the Ninja 250 is keeping the throttle open for as long as you can, maximizing momentum, and staying in the draft. All of which are skills that will come in handy on bigger machines.
Originally we had only planned on making a solo cameo appearance at the monthly Willow Springs Motorcycle Club races. At the start of the first weekend it was clear that the bike had more gusto than a stock 250, but figuring out where we were compared to the rest of the field was still anyone's guess. The answer would come soon after as all the bikes lined up on the grid for the race. The scene as the green flag dropped was akin to a swarm of bees stuck in molasses: all noise and no forward progress. Because I hadn't raced in the class before and therefore had no points I started from the back of the grid. So far this year one man has won all of the Ninja Cup races: Wes Totsubo, so obviously our goal was to beat him. By the third lap we had cleared the rest of the field, leaving only one person to chase. If it was that easy to pass everyone else, catching up to the leader would be easy, right? Wrong. In a series like the Ninja Cup, emphasis lies more on the rider than any other factor and the fact that the bike in front of me was only getting smaller was proof.
To add insult to injury, a sure podium finish was erased when a fellow competitor tried to sneak through for an inside pass. Unfortunately, he leaned the little 250 over so far that the sidestand mounting plate made contact with the ground, lifting the rear wheel and causing him to go down, taking us both out in the process. Game over.
Not wanting to bow out of the series with a DNF, team SR decided to give the race another go in the September round. Experimentation with different lines and braking markers in practice (the word "brake" is used very loosely) put me right in line with Totsubo and in the race it became a three-way battle for the lead between the two of us and another local fast guy, Jeff Tigert. This race would prove the importance of the draft as the leading pack used it to break away from the rest of the field. The entire eight lap sprint was a jockeying match to see who would be in the best position to draft past the leader on the final lap. Coming out of the high-speed turn nine, yours truly caught a draft from the leading bike of Totsubo onto the front straight. As I maneuvered to the left of Totsubo to overtake, he moved left to thwart my advance. With little track space to my left before the dirt, elbows were extended to gain some precious real estate. Totsubo and I made contact no less than three times on the run to the finish line. Meanwhile, Tigert in third place took advantage of the double draft in front of him to edge past both of us and take the win.
After the race, the fourth place rider filed a protest against the SR bike claiming we had an illegal windscreen and a keyless ignition. And while it's an unfortunate way to gain a position in the final standings, we were disqualified from second place during post-race inspection for lack of an ignition switch (the windscreen was legal). Ironically, the rules were later changed to allow the use of keyless ignitions.
By now we had participated in the series twice with nothing to show for it. Clearly not the way we wanted this story to end, we ventured back to Willow again in October. During the race it was the same three-rider battle for the lead. And just like the month prior everyone was jockeying for position, setting new lap records along the way. On the last lap again we were in prime position to repeat the draft move on Totsubo. It was all for naught as we made a mistake in turn five and couldn't make up the gap. Although we didn't win we finally had a second place plaque to show for our efforts.
When all is said and done, racing a Ninja 250 is a barrel of giggles from the word go. The limited modifications allowed makes for a level playing field with a minimal cash commitment. Tires last for weekends at a time as does the fuel. Better still, the competition is tight no matter where you are on the grid. But best of all, we still managed to stay under our budget; you can build a bike similar to what you see here and still have a Benjamin Franklin left over. If there was ever a way to go racing on the cheap--this is it.