Having ridden XR750s for years, Smith pointed out that getting a Harley to a baseline "doesn't take long. You bolt it together and it's pretty close." Whereas with the Kawasaki, "We've just got so many variables we've been working on all year. The main thing we're working on is getting power to the ground. The biggest thing for me is everything happens real slow on the Harley, the power comes on real slow, you can ride it more aggressively. With the Kawasaki, the power comes on quicker and the handling is a lot quicker. You have to ride it differently. With the Kawasaki you need more finesse, you have to be more precise in doing your job. The Harley engine's a big tractor, which is the obvious advantage it has on slicker tracks, it just goes forward. The Kawasaki, horsepower-wise it's equal, but it just comes on quicker - you have to be easier on the throttle. So it's that fine line we've been messing with all year. On smaller tracks you have work to do getting the power to the ground. It doesn't matter how much power you have, you have to get it hooked up. The mapping, the cam timing, with a brand new bike there's a million variables and during the season it's hard to test."
No discipline is more dependent on racing as development than dirt track. Rarely is any testing done, which means that everything has to be done at the track, which is constantly changing. The track could be watered at any time and, Werner said, "they don't tell you whether they are or they aren't. Or they just perceived the program's going along too quick or whatever...and then they'll water it before the main." Smith concurs. "It's really crazy in dirt track with them watering or not watering it and it gets slower and then dries up and gets faster. That was the case at Springfield," he said. "They watered the track before the heat race and it lost a bunch of time. We made a gear change for the final, went one way with gearing thinking it would be slower. The last third of the straight we were on the rev limiter. The very first lap, I wished I had one more gear." Werner remembers that, "Luckily it was good enough coming off the corner that the only time they could pass him was going into the corner and he could get them off the corner and get back in front of them. But it got to be kind of hairy, because they were all over him at the end of the straight. So it created some issues, but he rode it well enough and was strategic enough that we still managed to pull off the win."
Bryan Smith's win at the Indy...
Bryan Smith's win at the Indy Mile during the Indy MotoGP weekend was the improbable culmination of several years' hard work by Werner (on right) to turn a commuter/sportbike into a dirt track winner.
"I'm the outcast, the power comes on in different places and I can ride it differently," Smith said. "The advantage at the Indy Mile is I could do things nobody else could do because of how the power comes on. The thing's a handful, not better, but different, and it opens up options. It's not the same old rat race on the same groove. You make your own lines."
Simply being different won't be enough to convince the teams who have major dollars tied up in Harley XR750s to jump ship. "I think we're all looking for an affordable replacement to the XR750," sais Carr, "but it's just not there yet. Obviously Werner and his guys have done a good job, but they haven't proven it's a good choice week in and week out. I think that's what it's going to take for someone like myself or some of these other team owners out there who have hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in XR750s over the years. Werner did because he could. And there's a difference between those who can do it and can't afford to do it. And Werner set it up to where he could afford to go another route and play for a while and he's done a good job with it."
Seven-time AMA GNC legend...
Seven-time AMA GNC legend Chris Carr (4) has seen the Kawasaki's potential. "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...it accelerates like a son of a bitch."
In the end, Carr believes, "A lot of this was done by Werner because he wanted to prove a point. He also wanted to turn his nose up at his former employer and he won't be shy to admit that either."
Until then, the Kawasaki will only get faster. Werner will figure out the fuel injection and traction issues. Smith will continue to adapt to the bike. Others will join in and increase the knowledge pool. And dirt track racing will be better for it. Says Carr, "People do astounding things when they're motivated and he was certainly motivated to do something."