Warning: If you have an addictive personality and have ever considered selling your house, your wife (or husband), your kids, even your family dog (And he's a good dog isn't he?) to further your motorcycling obsession-read no further. In fact, why don't you just put this magazine down and go outside to do some chores...that's it...(INSERT YOUR FAVORITE OF THE TWELVE STEPS HERE).
For the rest of you, drag racing could be the most instantly gratifying of all the instantly gratifying activities you can undertake on a motorcycle. Drag racing involves speed, competition, and absolute, unwavering concentration from beginning to end. The combination is positively addicting. Add in a relatively high number of races to broken bones ratio, and you've got an activity that even your spouse might allow-that is until the disease gets its hooks into your joint check book.
Still, I can almost hear all you road racer types starting to whine: "It's in a straight line. Where's the challenge in that? Any monkey can go fast straight up. It's cornering that counts." Well, then why is a rider like Kawasaki's Rickey Gadson, with six championships to his name, such a rarity? And if you've got cornering mastered already, why not consider the dash to Turn One for what it is-a drag race? Who knows, you might actually enjoy yourself.
I was lucky enough to have...
I was lucky enough to have Kawasaki's Rickey Gadson as my personal coach for the weekend. Here Gadson coaches me on getting my weight low and forward-the proper position for a launch.
Getting some heat in the rear...
Getting some heat in the rear tire is essential for a good launch. Back the bike into the burnout box so the front tire stays dry. Clamp down on the front brake, bring the revs up to about 7000, and dump the clutch. Don't stop until things get good and smokey.
The tree all lit up and ready...
The tree all lit up and ready for action. From top to bottom: The pre-stage light tells that the front tire is almost to staging. Once the staging light illuminates, the yellow lights could start at any moment. In street lights, the yellows light exactly 0.5 seconds apart. Pro lights flash all the yellows at once for 0.4 seconds. In a perfect launch the rider never sees the green. Red means someone got a little too greedy in anticipating the green.
Setting up a bike for the drag strip is pretty easy. You replace ethylene glycol coolant with water and put gas in the tank, oil in the engine, and air in the tires (oh, about 20 to 22 pounds or so in the rear). If you want to lower your bike, drop the triple clamp on the fork stanchions but make sure the front wheel or fender doesn't touch the radiator. Lowering the rear is more complicated. If your bike's shock has ride height adjustment, use that. Otherwise, lightening up on the preload will help some. Next, you need to rig a tether to kill your engine should you be unfortunate enough to fall off at speed. Companies such as Schultz Race Products (941/694-1919) sell trick kill switches that you splice into your wiring harness. Or you can choose the simple route of mounting the lanyard to your stock engine cut off switch with a self-tapping screw.
You'll need to prepare yourself also. Although rules vary with the track or organization you visit, the basics include: a full face SNELL 90 or 95 helmet (with a visor), a leather jacket and pants, sturdy gloves, and boots that cover your ankles. Don't worry if you don't have all this stuff, you won't have to spend a bundle. You can rent riding gear at select events. Vanson Leathers (508/678-2000), for example, will rent suits at most ADBS, AHDRA, AMA/Prostar events in 2000, plus three IDBA events.
When the time comes to make your first run, you'll notice that everything moves pretty quickly once you get out of the staging lanes. So, it helps to have an idea of what's going to happen before the tree lights up.
The first area you'll pass is the burnout box. Since this section is usually hosed down to assist breaking the rear tire free from the pavement, avoid the water to keep your front tire dry. Although doing a burnout isn't necessary on your first run (but it's fun and you will need to learn how to as you improve), the proper technique requires that you back your rear tire into the water, clamp down on the front brake, bring the revs to 7000 or so, and dump the clutch. Once the tire is spinning you can modulate its speed with the throttle. When the tire's good'n'smokey, ease up on the front brake and let the bike spin forward onto dry pavement before you pull in the clutch.
Finding the friction zone...
Finding the friction zone (the point where the clutch begins to engage) and backing off until the clutch disengages-and no more-will shorten your reaction times and ease the control of wheelies off the line.
Forget what you were told...
Forget what you were told in your MSF class. Throttle control in drag racing means getting wide open as soon as possible. So, get your wrist up to make it easier. Note the tether connected to the kill switch.
Next, you'll want to do a "dry hop," which is essentially a short, practice launch. Bring your engine up to launch rpm and let'er rip-for about five feet. Did your engine start to bog or did your tank come up to greet you? Depending, you may need to adjust your launch rpm.
Now comes the fun part. Push your bike to just shy of the white line that marks the starting point. Ease the clutch out until it begins to engage and deliver power to the rear wheel, then pull it back in slightly until the engine spins freely again. Raise the rpms to your launch rpm. Using your toes push the bike forward until the pre-stage light on the Christmas tree comes on. Wait until your opponent is also pre-staged. Check that you are still at your launch rpm then push the bike forward until the stage light illuminates-and no further. Once both riders have staged, the tree could light up at any time. Be ready.
To keep the front-end down, the proper position for the launch has as much of the rider's weight forward as possible. Press your, er, crotch right up against the tank. Your upper body should be as low and forward as possible, too. Gadson, my coach for my first weekend of drag racing, said one of the most common novice mistakes is to sit too upright at the start of a race. Not only does the rider not get enough weight forward, but also the launch is complicated by having to lower down into a tuck while concentrating on the clutch. While most drag racers start with both feet on the ground, a few (myself included) prefer to keep the left foot on the peg to be ready for shifting. What is compromised with this technique, however, is stability on the line. Get a little tilted and the bike must also be straightened while the clutch is modulated.
Good form-if not speed. My...
Good form-if not speed. My pelvis is all the way forward against the tank. My head is low and forward, placing as much weight as possible on the front wheel.
The clutch is where the real action occurs. There are two routes to blowing the launch. First, the popular letting the clutch out too quickly and lofting the front wheel costs time because backing out of the clutch long enough to get the front-end back down kills the drive. The second blown launch is caused by slipping the clutch too much and not getting the power down soon enough. On the razor's edge between these two options lies the ideal launch. Finding the right launch rpm will help you to ride the edge without getting cut.
Don't get too greedy too fast, however. Begin with a conservative 3000 rpm and listen to the motor leaving the line. Does the load pull the revs down? Build the rpm 1000 at a time for each successive pass. Once the rpms don't drop on the launch, the timing slips come into play. Keep increasing the rpm in 500 rpm increments to see how the 60 foot times are affected. If the front starts to lift or the 60 foot times begin to suffer because of the excessive clutch slippage required to keep the front down, back off to the rpm that resulted in the best 60 foot time. Good notes will pay off.
Once the stage light on both lanes are illuminated, the three yellow lights could start at any time. When running a street tree, 0.500 seconds separates the lighting of the yellow bulbs. The pros get all three yellows on at once for only 0.400 seconds. Since most people with good reactions can respond to a signal in about 0.400 seconds, the secret to a good reaction time is to start releasing the clutch as soon as the last yellow light comes on. If you anticipate the light, you may scratch, and the tree's red bulb will signal that your run doesn't count. Since Reaction Times are measured from the final yellow light, responding correctly will move you one step closer to the much sought after perfect Reaction Time-0.501 seconds (or 0.401 for pro lights). If you see the green and you're not already moving, you're toast!
Use the practice runs and...
Use the practice runs and the 60 foot times on the timing slips to determine the proper launch rpm. Don't spend too much time idling the engine while in the staging lanes. A hot engine will generate less power.
Since you need to ease from...
Since you need to ease from pre-staging to staging without disrupting your readiness for the launch, use your toes to creep forward until the staging light comes on. Drag racing boots with their supple soles help immensely. Riders who like to start with their left foot on the peg should try bracing the right peg against their calf to help steady the bike on the line.
The standings during qualifying...
The standings during qualifying are posted near the staging lanes. Here Gadson points out the gap between my times and competitive ones: "Up there at the top, that's me. And way down here at the bottom, that would be you."
Rocketing away from the line in first gear gives you almost no time to prepare for the shift. Preloading the shifter by lifting up with your toe until the shifter stops will help a bit. Since the transmission is under a tremendous load, the bike won't jump out of gear. Shifting is then accomplished by either partially closing the throttle for an instant or keeping the throttle open and fanning the clutch. Both these techniques unload the cogs briefly, allowing the shift to occur. Once in the new gear, release and preload the shifter again. One caution about clutching with the throttle wide open: If the clutch is disengaged for more than an instant, the revs will skyrocket, causing big squirms or wheelies when the clutch re-engages. Fanning the clutch entails, in effect, slapping the end of the clutch lever with your hand to keep the clutch disengaged for a short time. Another method of speeding the clutch is to pull in on the lever (a quarter or half inch should do it) enough to unload the tranny for the shift.
Although the shift from first to second is crucial, the other gears are no less important. Keep a careful eye on the tachometer. Tapping the rev limiter will hurt your ET in a big way. Short shifting before peak power will hurt you also, but not as badly. If you must err, be sure to do it on the short shifting side.
Anatomy of a (losing) timing...
Anatomy of a (losing) timing slip.
After completing your first run, you may be surprised that what seemed like an instant was closer to 15 seconds. Stop at the timing slip booth to get your record of the run. Next-after the adrenaline rush has subsided-find a quiet place to sit and go over the run in your head. Break it down into sections. How was your launch? Did all the shifts go well? Did you realize you were dragging your right foot until you shifted to second? Write it all down. As you begin to get the hang of this drag racing thing, you'll find timing slips and your notes invaluable in helping you dial in personal best times or, as with ET racing, consistent reproducible runs. Look around in the staging lanes. Many racers will sit with their eyes closed, not in prayer, but to visualize their next run. Beginning racers will benefit from focusing on one aspect of their technique and visualizing it before the run. Afterwards, it's back to the books. Did what you tried in the run have the desired result? After a while, you'll have enough notes to construct a perfect run on paper and a goal to strive towards on every trip down the strip.
So, boys and girls, what have we learned here? First, drag racing is a gas. Second, the sport centers around a constant search for perfection. There is no time to make up for mistakes in a quarter-mile. Drag racing is a mental exercise. What happens off the strip is almost as crucial as what happens on it. Most importantly, drag racing is addictive (even for you road racers out there). Give in to that addiction, get your friends involved, but most of all, have fun doing drag!
Supersport versus ET Racing
The popular misconception about drag racing is that it's just a straight line shootout between two bikes with the first one across the finish line winning. While this impression is partially true, things get more complicated than that. The Supersport and Street ET (for elapsed time) classes provide good examples of the two main forms of drag racing.
As in the AMA's road racing series, AMA/Prostar's Supersport class is based around 600cc sportbikes. Also, as in the road racing class, modifications allowed to these bikes are sparse and mostly of the cam timing/jet kit/pipe variety. Lowering the bikes is legal, as long as two inches of ground clearance remain with the rider aboard. To keep people honest, fuel legality and the rider/bike minimum weight is checked after every run. In large events, qualifying rounds precede the elimination rounds. Once the qualifying rounds are completed and the pairings for the elimination rounds are set-the quickest run of each pairing wins. The initial pairings for elimination rounds are based on time. During qualifying, the time (not the bike that crosses the line first) is all that counts. Once elimination begins, only the winner advances to the next round.
ET racing or, at some locales, bracket racing gets its name because competitors must select their ET (the total time for the quarter mile) they will run prior to each run. If the rider "breaks out" of the bracket set by running a quicker quarter mile, then that rider loses. The goal of ET racing is, in short, to come as close as possible to the predicted time without breaking out.
Sounds too easy? Well, don't forget about the rider in the other lane, who is also trying to accurately predict and perfectly run a time. Then there's the little chore of launching the bike with the shortest reaction time (i.e. as close to the green light) as possible because it's not enough to simply run the predicted time; the winner needs to beat the other rider across the finish line. Which brings us to the beauty of ET racing.
Since both the start and the elapsed timing at the drag strip are controlled by computer and the riders must predict what their time will be, the bikes have their starts staggered so, if both riders have perfect launches and run their times exactly, both bikes will cross the finish line at exactly the same time. If the riders predict drastically different times, one bike may be one third of the way down the strip before the other person gets the green light. So, to apply the theory, a Vulcan 1500 can beat a ZX-12 if the cruiser rider has a flawless run. ET racing takes the bike out of the equation and puts the onus on the rider.
While both the Supersport and ET classes are designed to allow participants a relatively low cost entry point into drag racing, the Supersport class, again not unlike in road racing, has attracted the factory teams to show off their most popular class of sportbikes. Competition is fierce with many professional riders participating. ET racing remains true "run what you brung" racing, allowing riders to experience the fun of drag racing-and possibly winning-without emptying their wallets into their bike.
QUICKEST STREETBIKE SHOOTOUT
It took just 8.4 seconds for Tom Miceli to claim a title that has narrowly eluded him for four years: quickest streetbike rider in the world.
Once a terror on New York City's illicit drag racing scene, Miceli, 31, has matured over the years from a Brooklyn street brawler into a legitimate professional. In addition to chasing the Pro Mod title, he won the first two rounds of Prostar's five-race Streetbike Shootout series riding the same nitrous-oxide drunk, 1425cc GS1150 named Godzuki that took him to street-racing infamy.
The next pair of events were won by Chris Williams, Miceli's teammate on nitrous gas guru Joe Franco's House of Power race team. When Williams' fire-breathing GSX-R belched a load of nitrous and burned to the ground in Indianapolis-the last race of the series-the title was Miceli's to lose.
All Miceli had to do was get past defending champion Kent Stotz in the fourth round of eliminations. Stotz, who recently retired his Hahn Racecraft turbocharged/fuel-injected GSX-R1100, sat out the first four events to develop Honda's potent CBR1100XX into a fearsome puffer in preparation for a major factory-backed assault on the class in 2000. Riding a borrowed "Dos Equis" with a version of his proven Gixxer's turbo system plumbed in, Stotz electrified the class by quickly establishing the fastest runs (in the 177-mph range) of the event.
At the starting line for their match-up, Stotz-a wily veteran-tried to force Miceli into a mistake by refusing to move the big, black XX into the timing beams. Miceli didn't flinch. When Stotz made a microscopic move which set off the Christmas tree, all hell broke loose as the two riders unleashed 700 horsepower, searching for traction in a desperate attempt to keep their front wheels from rocketing skyward. When the big GS sailed through the trap lights at 173 mph-just 8.40 seconds after breaking the starting beams-Miceli looked up to see the win light flashing on his timing board. Stotz' slower 8.45-second, 177-mph run made Miceli the 1999 Prostar Quickest Streetbike Shootout champion.-Eric Putter
This story originally appeared in the April 2000 issue of Sport Rider. To get more information on drag racing, call Prostar at (256) 852-1101 or check out www.dragbike.com.