Parity Now! - One person who got all juiced up over Matt Smith’s 6.99 second qualifying pass was Steve Johnson.  Johnson, reigning Indy champ (he asked me to say that) is not only a racer but the president of PRO2, the professional riders’ organization for the Pro Stock Motorcycles.  Steve’s role is to give the motorcycle contingent a single voice so they can be effectively represented to NHRA management.

But Steve is also a Suzuki racer, and nothing is more on the minds of Suzuki riders is parity (or in their view, lack of parity) between the Suzukis and V-Twins.  Matt Smith’s 6.99 recorded on a Buell when the next quickest bike is a Suzuki and 5 hundredths behind, revitalizes the discussion once again.

“When is it going to be that we [Suzukis] are the ones in front and they [V-Twins] are catching up?” he asks.

Steve’s contention is that the V-Twins as a whole have been garnering the lion share of performance awards including number one qualifying, Mickey Thompson Six Second Club and Full Throttle Crew Chief awards.  “In the current configurations, Suzukis are not given the same chance of getting those awards,” said Johnson.

No one in the class has better contact with NHRA officials then Johnson.  And he has been told that at this point no changes are forthcoming. “They have stated that they have carefully reviewed the situation and come to the conclusion that there is parity,” he said. “They still hold the contention that the Suzukis are winning races.” 

“I understand that they don’t have knee-jerk reactions to situations like this and I also understand that they have an incredibly difficult job,” continued Johnson.  “I just want it to be also known that I still think that the best thing for Pro Stock Motorcycle is for the V-twins to be in this class.  I just feel that changes are needed before things get out of hand.  We want there to be real parity.”

Whether that remains possible is yet to be seen.

Speaking of Parity - The NHRA recently had a meeting with leading members of the Pro Stock Motorcycle community to review the class structure and rules.  A representative cross-section of players were invited including sponsors, engine builder and riders, from the well-funded to the true independents.

On the agenda were items like EFI, brakes, front tire width and even leathers.  Nothing was decided at the meeting, race officials just wanted to open the conversation on open issues.

One point of interest was the possibility of allowing in-line four cylinder bikes 4-valve cylinder heads.  These have been allowed in the past but the displacements were so limited that no team ran them.  The discussion went from the displacement that should be allowed now that the inline fours have been given bigger engines starting this year.

The Suzuki racers have long contented that they would need aftermarket cases due to availability of current circa 1986 cases, the strength of those cases and the need to run plain bearing cranks (current engines run roller-bearing cranks where the connecting rods are permanently mounted in the multiple-part, pressed-together cranks.

The NHRA is open to, and some say currently exploring, the possibility of allowing a billet, purpose built, inline four cylinder four-valve.  Knowledgeable sources say that they factories (Suzuki, Kawasaki, et al) would not themselves build the engines but hire a company to build them (like Harley-Davidson contracting Vance & Hines to build the current V-Rod Pro Stock motor).  The $64 question is what parameters would be allowed to make it worthwhile to fund such an endeavor but not so much that it would dominate the class.

The same sources say that such and engine program would take 12 months before an engine hit the track.

Stepping up - Two-time AMA/Prostar Pro Street champion Barry Henson was in attendance at the US Nationals and has announced that he will compete in the NHRA POWERade tour in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class next season.

Henson, who owns Velocity Racing motorcycle performance business in Kentucky, stormed onto the Prostar tour five years ago and in his second full season, scored the championship. Henson embraced cutting-edge technology of EFI and digital turbocharger boost controllers to propel the Pro Street class to new performances.  He was the first over 200 mph and holds the quickest time slip in the history of the class at 7.25 seconds.  He currently represents the Suzuki factory at AMA/Prostar events and his prototype machine has become the standard in the class.

Henson will compete on a Suzuki TL in the NHRA series. He has a Kosman chassis that he is modifying, is working with Steve Nichols with an EFI system by Magnetti Morelli – the same company that builds EFI boxes for F1 racing.   Rick Ward with be building the engines.

“We are going in all the way,” said Henson. “I don’t do anything half-way.  There are people that say we don’t know what we are getting into but I think we are going to surprise some people.  We are serious about what we do.”

Itching to get back on it - Sam Wills of Racing Innovations in OKC was seen cruising the pits at the US Nationals.  Wills is a long-time motorcycle drag racer who is currently best known for building the frames for the creations of Orange County Choppers on the TV show American Chopper.  Fans of the sport remember Wills as the second pilot of the infamous S&S Blown Top Fuel Harley that was the first Harley over 200 mph when ridden by Andy Gotsis in the mid-1990’s.

Wills announced that he is building a blown in-line four cylinder bike for AMA/Prostar competition.  The rider?  Himself. 

“I need to get back into it,” he said.  “It’s time.”

Wills is working with the multi-time championship of Larry and Steve McBride for power.  He wants to debut the machine at Prostar World Finals in November but current business commitments may delay it.

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Not So Dead Ringer  - For the third year in a row a Screamin’ Eagle V-Rod took the win in the Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle.  Andrew Hines scored his third Ringers win in three years with a final round victory over the Drag Specialties Buell of Chip Ellis.  Hines’ teammate GT Tonglet, who was shut out of the competition this year, won the event in 2005. Hines’ brother Matt won the event four times.

“This has been a great event for our team and it is a real honor to be able to keep the tradition going,” said Hines.

Hines, seeded second in the event, overcame a Tom Bradford holeshot in round one to advance, 7.04 to 7.12.  In round two the race was closer with Hines edging out the Torco Buell of Matt Smith 7.06 to 7.09 after nearly identical reaction times.

In the final Hines held land choice over number one qualifier Ellis.  Hines got the holeshot and never looked back taking the win 7.06 to 7.11.

“It was a tough day,” said Hines.  “I had to race three Buells out there.  It’s been an amazing run. This Screamin’ Eagle V-Rod is flying right now.  I have not been this consistent since Columbus 2004.”

“My team knows how to work in a crunch,” he continued.  “We work very well under pressure.  I am going take this money from Ringers and split it with my team.  I would not be here without them, my brother and my dad.”

Smith’s Six is first and fifth - Matt Smith's 6.99 run in the first round of the Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle not only advanced him to the second round of the race within a race, it put him in the number one qualifying spot for the Mac Tools US Nationals.  Maybe the biggest of all, it earned him the fifth spot in the Mickey Thompson Six Second Club and the $500 that goes with it.

“The six second run was a great run,” said Smith.  “I hit all of the shift points, it went straight and the bike was tuned up right. Those picture perfect runs come up once in a while.”

A run later he lost to Andrew Hines, 7.06 to 7.09, and was out of the Ringers Battle, but still in the top qualifying spot.  “I don’t think the tune-up was right on the bike in the second run today.  I am upset because I don’t think they made the right call.  I wanted them to take timing out but they overrode me. The same think happed to Chip.”

This would be Smith’s second number one qualifying spot in a row. 

“I think the 6.99 will hold up,” he said.  “Number one at Indy would be great. This is a special place.”

Carrying the colors - Tom Bradford had a special gift for Army Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher – an American flag that had seen combat in Iraq.

Bradford’s brother-in-law (brother of wife Theresa) is Army Lt. Col. Jim Barker of the 2nd Battalion 6th Air Cavalry.  He is in his third tour of duty in Iraq and due to the combination of Bradford’s participation in the sport, the Army’s presence in drag racing and the internet, Lt. Col. Barker and his men have become fans of “The Sarge”.

The flag Bradford presented to Shumacher was carried on an actual mission in Iraq and was accompanied by a plaque vouching for its authenticity.  With Schumacher when the flag was presented was Major General Thomas Bostic.

Little More - Gary Stoffer feels pretty good with wife Karen firmly planted in the second position at 7.04 after the second session.  Her first session 7.06 led qualifying after the first day and by the time she ran in the second session she was back in fourth but the 7.04 leaped her back toward the top.

“I knew we could improve on the first run but looking at the computer,” said Gary.  “It was just minor stuff but it made a difference. Right now we are having problems with our 60 foot times.  We ran a 1.089 which is 13th best.  If we can get up to a 1.07 like the top riders are running I think it’s possible to run a 7.02.  But a 6.99? I don’t know if we have a 6.99 in it.”

Gary wouldn’t find out at least not on Saturday.  Karen’s bike shut off inexplicably just after it was fired.

Fast by Gast Again - Paul Gast doesn’t make many NHRA events but when he shows up, he makes his presence know.

Veterans of the class know Gast from back in the day.  His ability, both riding and tuning, is unquestioned.

Gast hit a strong 7.14 in the first session which placed him 9th.  In the second session he stepped up to a 7.07 which moved him up to the 6th spot. 

He sat out the third session. 

“Someone asked me why I sat out the last session,” said Gast. “I told the guy I was trying to save gas. It’s $3 a gallon!  Seriously, did you see what those guys were running?  I watched too many guys go slow. There was no way I was going to improve.

“The first run needed some tuning. But the second one was sweet.  I ran a 7.07. Do you know how fast it could have been? A 7.07. That was it. There was no more.  It was a perfect run.

“I am feeling good right now. Sixth at Indy?  Ain’t bad.  Only way it could be better if my wife and puppy were here.”

Not easy being green - Independent rider Jack Baldwin, a fireman from Belleville, NJ, is making his second appearance of the season on he Worldwide Bearings/Liska racing Hayabusa.  Teamed with Baldwin is Gordon Liska, a long-time drag bike rider and mechanic who has a small business making engine parts.  Helping out at this event is one-time Pro Stock and Pro Mod rider, and not webmaster of Dragbike.com, Scott Valetti. 

What do all three have in common? They are all die-hard Kawasaki guys.  Baldwin came from the AMA/Prostar Top Gas class where he ran a Kawasaki, Liska is known as THE Kaw guy in Northern NJ and his company makes parts ONLY for Kawaski’s and Valetti is perhaps best known for is top end crash on Pete Briggs Kawasaki.  Green guys all.

If you can’t beat em’ join ‘em is the call. 

“We didn’t feel we could compete on a Kawasaki,” said Baldwin.  “This was our best option.”

Coming into the third round of qualifying Baldwin has yet to make a legitmate run down the track. A broken top-end oil bolt caused a shut-off in round one and a mis-adjusted clutch drug him through the lights before the tree was activated in session two.  He did the same thing in round three.



(9-1-2006) - Weighing in on the issue - As expected there was a fair amount of discussion on the new point structure for 2007 where with four races remaining the top eight riders are the only ones eligible for the championship and their points are normalized for the remaining races.  Then with two races left the field is again cut and only four riders are in contention for the championship.

The idea is to keep the championship open to the very end of the season.  Traditionalists, (like myself), have a bit of a problem with this for no other reason than it departs from the accepted championship structure that we have grown accustom to.

The real person this is going to anger is the racer that is successful all season long and then goes flat with some bad luck in the last few races.

Still, all the major championship sports run a season and have a playoff.  You can be the best team in football all season but if you lose a playoff game, you are playing golf early.  Just ask the folks here in Indianapolis.

Three time champion Matt Hines had some very good points about the system. 

“It puts too much luck into it,” he said.  “It should be based on skill.” 

Hines offers a compromise.

“We should cut the field to eight and do not make the second cut,” Hines said. “Also, make the cut after Indy, not the race before as it is now scheduled.  This way it would add drama to the US Nationals, the most prestigious race on the tour, as racers would be vying to get into the top eight.  If the eight are locked in before the event, it would simply not be as compelling as it could be.  We like it.

One Down, Four to Go - The first round of Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying held a few surprises. 

The first eye-opening run came in the fifth pair when Paul “Fast by” Gast, one of the longest-running veterans of the class, clicked off a 7.14 off a 1.074 60-footer.  Gast, a man who used to race two-strokes with Dave Schultz, is the sole distributor of the Lectron carburetors that all the inline-four cylinder bikes use. 

Gast’s 7.14 held until five pairs later when Michael Phillips, sporting new sponsorship from Sharp Construction, Speed World Performance Part and CATmando, ran a 7.09. 

Matt Smith lowered the top number to a 7.089 and then Karen Stoffer set the mark for the night at 7.068 at 187 mph, surpassing  the 7.081 track record set by Andrew Hines last year.

The Geico-sponsored machine had a 1.08 60-foot time. The run that might have been was in the other lane when Ryan Schnitz had a 1.065 60-foot – one of the best of the season – only to have the bike go silent before the 330 clock when the rear wheel bearing slid causing the chain to come off.

Angelle Sampey challenged Stoffer’s mark with a 1.064-iniated 7.09 and Andrew Hines got a bit closer with a 7.083 but for the first time in her career, Stoffer leads qualifying in NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle.  And to top it off she holds the Indy track record.

“I am number one qualifier and track record holder for at least a whole night,” said Stoffer.

“I think testing here last week really helped,” she continued. “It wasn’t cloudy like it was tonight but the other metrics were similar.  The 60 foot time wasn’t very good, mid track is where we really did well.”

“Doug [Johnson, team co-owner] has this thing where before I run he tells me what he want’s to see.  He told me a 7.08. After Michael Phillips ran that 7.09 he looks at me and motions ‘lower’.” 

“It is very satisfying for me and my [crewchief] husband Gary.  We don’t have the budgets that some of the other teams do. We do it with a lot of heart and soul. If we hang on to the number one spot the girls aren’t going to be the ones crying, it will be the boys.  They really put their hearts into this.”

One More for the Road - Riders in the Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle are given a second non-qualifying shot at the track following qualifying so they can have a pass in the opposite lane.  Three riders took the opportunity: Ryan Schnitz, Craig Treble and Tom Bradford.

Ryan has a 1.059 60 foot which may be the only 1.05 of the season.  The back half is not there and he runs only a 7.21.  Treble has a 7.21 in the other lane.  Bradford, who ran a 7.09 in qualifying, goes a 7.12.




Chip Ellis will headline a special eight-motorcyclefield from the No. 1 qualifying position as he is seeking his firstvictory in his second start in the Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle at
O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis on Sept. 2. The special bonus
event for NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors will be held during the
52nd annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, the world's most prestigious drag

The total race day purse for the 16th annual Ringers Gloves Pro Bike
Battle is $61,000. The winner will earn a $25,000 bonus from Ringers
Gloves. Any rider who can win the Battle and the Mac Tools U.S.
Nationals will earn a $10,000 'Double-Up' bonus from the NHRA.

The Battle runner-up will earn $10,000. The two semifinalists will earn
$6,000 each, while the four first-round finishers will earn $3,500

Ellis claimed the No. 1 spot for the special event by earning five No. 1
qualifying efforts and qualifying fifth or better at 13 of the 15 NHRA
events that make up the Battle series. In addition to the $61,000
available in the Battle, $15,000 in bonuses were awarded to quick
qualifiers throughout the 15-race Battle series.

Ellis posted a runner-up finish in 2005 to GT Tonglet, who did not
qualify for the bonus event this season. Ellis will face veteran rider
Craig Treble in the opening round. Treble won the bonus event in 2002.

Other first round pairings include 2004 winner Andrew Hines against
rookie Tom Bradford; Matt Smith vs. Ryan Schnitz; and teammates Antron
Brown and Angelle Sampey meeting in a battle between U.S. Army Suzukis.
Brown won the bonus event in 2000, and Sampey is still looking for her
first victory in the event.

Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle rounds are scheduled for 2:15, 6 and 7:25
p.m. on Sept. 2.

1. Chip Ellis, Salisbury, N.C., Drag Specialties S&S Buell
2. Andrew Hines, Indianapolis, Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson     2,340
3. Matt Smith, King, N.C., Torco Race Fuels S&S Buell         2,180
4. Antron Brown, Indianapolis, U.S. Army Suzuki 2,155
5. Angelle Sampey, New Orleans, U.S. Army Suzuki2,075
6. Ryan Schnitz, Decatur, Ind., Trim-Tex Buell
7. Tom Bradford, Eagle, Wis., Hal's Speed Shop Buell
8. Craig Treble, Hensley, Ark., Team Tigue Suzuki


Ellis vs. Treble
Hines vs. Bradford
Smith vs. Schnitz
Brown vs. Sampey

Ellis-Treble winner vs. Brown-Sampey winner
Hines-Bradford winner vs. Smith-Schnitz winner

FINAL (7:25 p.m., Sept. 2)