Convincing existing teams - some of which have hundreds of thousands of dollars tied up in XR750 inventory - to switch is a tall order. But for riders moving up to Grand National Championship Twins racing, the Kawasaki is a viable alternative.
"I would certainly look at the Kawasaki route, but I would put an asterisk next to the $12,000 price tag. It's BS," seven-time GNC champion Chris Carr said. "It's a good sales pitch, but it's not reality."
"The numbers that have been proposed are that it costs $6000 to $12,000," continued Carr. "I don't know many race teams at the top of the sport who are going to buy a motor off of eBay, for one, as a basis to start a program. Is Bill Werner going to tell you everything he's done? He's always going to hold something back. So we're going to have to develop our own stuff. They'll tell you how to do basically a stock one. Bill Werner is not going to tell everything he does to his motorcycle and give that to the world. It's just not in his makeup," nor anyone else's, Carr says. "I guarantee you Bill Werner didn't spend $12,000 to win those races over the last four years." Very few people have Werner's knowledge, experience, expertise, or connections, all of which he's drawn on in improving the Ninja dirt tracker.
The different power and handling...
The different power and handling characteristics of the Kawasaki forced Smith to adapt. "I spent my whole career adapting to [the Harley]. Just about the time I figured that out, I had to get on something totally foreign to me"
Kawasaki knows they can't rely on teams buying wrecked bikes and motors as the heart of their programs, which is why they've agreed to sell complete engines, according to Werner, which Carr believes is a positive step.
"I don't want you to get the impression that I'm dumping all over this thing," he said. "I think it's great that the Kawasaki has been competitive and it's won a couple of races. That was the idea of narrowing the gap between the Harleys and the existing motorcycles out there and those guys are to be commended. They did a good job with the rules package the way it was. It was something that needed to be done in order to help identify some competitive brands. And the Kawasaki has proven to be one of them, at least on given days. I think it's great for flat track, I really do. The key will be are there any more out there?"
According to Werner, there will be five or six more Kawasakis next year, including two being built by longtime tuner Skip Eaken, Bubba Shobert's former tuner. There are dealers in Pennsylvania and Texas going to Kawasaki, as well as one in Canada, "so it's made its mark because it's an inexpensive alternative for some guys who just say, 'Well I can't beat Kenny Coolbeth anyway, but I want to be able to get fifth or sixth, so I have a bike just as good or maybe better than him I can get my fifth or sixth, and at a third the price.' Some guys are realistic about their abilities. They just want to go racing and they're thrilled with fifth or sixth or whatever, and they can go to the next race and not invest a fortune doing it."
Still Some Development Needed
Although the Kawasaki is still...
Although the Kawasaki is still having problems getting hooked up in the middle of the turn, there obviously aren't many issues coming off the turns, as demonstrated by Smith's lead during a heat race at Springfield.
The area that needs the most improvement on the Kawasaki is mid-corner grip. From his vantage point behind Smith, Carr could see that "in a straight line [the Kawasaki] accelerates better. We're running all over it through the middle of the corner and he gets the thing off the corner OK. But once he picks it up onto the fat part of the tire, where it's more apt to get really good traction, it accelerates like a son of a bitch." Obviously, mid-corner is a struggle. But that might be an engine problem as much as a chassis problem, Werner admits, since he hasn't sorted out the fuel injection.
"I've been learning on the fly, and believe me, I'm of the age where computers were not taught in school," Werner laughs, when asked how he learned programmable fuel injection. "And I still have a lot to learn. I've taken some class work from Dynojet over the phone, so to speak, and muddle my way through it. But it's still an area that I need more expertise on, because it's one of the keys to operating a fuel injected bike successfully. Once you understand the systems better and learn how to manipulate the controllers for the ECU, it could be a decided advantage because you can do things fast. Between practice and the heat race, you just open up your laptop, instead of changing jets in your carburetors with needles and pilots and mains.
"Fitting a power curve to a given track is still the biggest challenge in dirt track racing," continued Werner. "That's where Harley-Davidson just has reams and reams of history. The guys that are on them have been at the same track on the same bike many, many times and there's banks of data that you can reflect on, and that's always an advantage."