Words and photos by Tim Hailey
Big Payback Caps Off Short-but-Awesome NHDRO Season
NHDRO’s 2020 season was short on events but huge on Big Money payouts. The Midwest’s largest motorcycle drag racing series finished off this strange year with the CC Powersports NHDRO World Finals and Big Payback on at October 2-4 at Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Indiana—the world capitol of drag racing.
There was no easing into this intense race weekend, with the $18,000 BB Racing Bracket Shootout starting on Friday afternoon. “I’d really like to see NHDRO become the ‘Home of Big Money Motorcycle Drag Racing,’” said Bill Bullers, the “BB” of BB Racing. “I’m honored to have been even a small part in helping to bring record-breaking payouts to our friends and racers. I’d also like to thank all of the companies that donated products that we could give away to the racers: Full Spectrum Power, MTC, APE, Vanson Leathers, Eatmyink Motorsport Media, BB Racing, and others.”
The BB Racing Bracket Shootout featured a 32 no-box ladder and 32 delay box ladder, with the winners of each meeting in one big final. As per the usual, it was the best of the best splitting thousandths to determine winners.
The all-Suzuki Hayabusa streetbike No-Box final saw Rick Poole give up .011 to Norwalk hustler Kevin Adams at the tree, but Poole’s 9.36 was that much closer to his 9.33 dial-in to give him the win against Adams’ 9.208 on a 9.16.
Greg Mallett was able to carry the streetbike flag as far as the quarterfinals of the Box Shootout, but after that it was all dragbikes. The final boiled down between Ronnie Procopio and Jeremy Hicks, and Procopio lost this one with an uncharacteristically poor .105 light. Running .006 off his 8.30 dial wasn’t good enough for Procopio, and with an .045, Hicks was able to breathe a little bit on the big end with an 8.089 on his 8.05.
As the night cooled, Poole dialed into a quicker 9.30 for the Box vs. No Box big final while Hicks went the other way to an 8.07. Poole had an .052 light and spun. With a .027, Hicks needs only a good, no-breakout pass to win. A fair amount of chicken winging in Hicks’ lane could be heard from the starting line and he did, indeed, light his winlight for the $18K NHDRO Big Check.
Procopio may have missed out on one Big Money win, but he was determined to take another. Pro Ultra 4.60 presented with the I-65 series went deep on Big Money, with Grothus Dragbikes and Klemme Performance Motorcycle boosting the purse with Shootout side money to just under $10,000 to win—biggest in 4.60 history.
“Brian and Niki (NHDRO’s Brian and Niki Welch) started putting together some Big Money purses for this race and Grothus Dragbikes jumped at the chance to help sponsor the 4.60 class,” said Ed Grothus. “We love everything about the class.
“I brought in Tom Klemme (my wife Judy’s brother and owner of Klemme Performance Motorcycles) to help promote the race with us.
“There were 39 bikes who made the qualified ladder with 30 of them kicking in an extra $325 to the GDB/KPM Sunday Side Pot. The total money in the side pot was $9750. Add that to the $4K NHDRO purse, and that made for $13,750 up for grabs for your $500 entry fee. That’s a pretty darn good amount of money to be racing for in 4.60. That is the largest purse I can recall in the class ever, in any sanction, since the inception of the class. So that right there is pretty badass. Granted it is also the largest entry fee ever, but still, there is something to be said for a $13,750 purse.”
Craftily, Procopio was able to race the same bike—his former 4.0 PXM Suzuki—in both the bracket race and the world’s quickest two-wheel index class. “On nitrous it goes through all five gears in the eighth,” said Procopio. “On motor, it goes through all five gears in the quarter.” Note that Ronnie used a too-slow-for-Top-Gas 8.30 dial-in in the bracket race.
“In only two rounds of qualifying, there were seven bikes that ran a 4.60X and the next six bikes ran a 4.61X,” noted Grothus. “That’s thirteen bikes—one third of the field—that ran within two hundredths of a second off the 4.60 index. Pretty stout no doubt.”
Procopio landed 34th in the order with a 4.59, but knows how to race. “Indy has a short roll-out, so that makes everybody have good lights—not like Maryland or Virginia, where you have to roll in to cut a light,” said Procopio. “So knowing that, I had to go for .00 every round because I knew they were bringing it.”
And there was no better illustration of that than the 4.60 final against Chase Van Sant and his iconic Trick-Tools Suzuki—the winning combination of the last two races. Van Sant’s .014 reaction time would seem stout enough until compared to Procopio’s .005. Ronnie’s 4.611 would seem right-on until compared to Chase’s 4.609. But that jump at the start is what won it for Procopio with a .0075 margin-of-victory.
“I feel like I had some of the best races I ever had in Fo60,” said Ronnie, who evened the series between the East Coast and Midwest. “The win was awesome. The bike ran very well with the help of Dan Wagner and Steve Nichols by my side, and my man Josh Kreyssig getting my bike ready every round. Makes it a lot easier if all I have to do is think about riding.”
“The track was tight albeit with air temps in the 50s, so a lot to be said for the Lucas Oil track crew, Kyle Lang and all,” said Grothus. “I can’t say enough good things about the crew in the tower. Carolyn had the official 39-bike ladder to me within 15 minutes of qualifying ending and after each round produced the sheet with results from the just finished round. And not enough kind words can be said about the announcer Ron Ruggless. He was on-spot all weekend, really an incredible job by him.
“Brian and Niki Welch and their entire crew appear to be a well-oiled machine. It had been a few years since we have been a regular to an NHDRO event and I can say that I was very impressed with their management of the event, the giving away of the additional GDB/KPM prizes, and the posting on social media. Very well done.
“I think the chances are very good that Grothus Dragbikes and Klemme Performance may increase their involvement with NHDRO in the future as many positives came from the event.”
Van Sant may have missed out on the Big Check this time around, but he did score the 4.60 championship. “It’s definitely a weird feeling only being able to have two races this year and being the points champion,” said Chase. “I would have loved to race the other three races and get to race a little bit more for the championship, but I’m trying not to let that take away from the season we have had.
“I have to give it up to Brian Welch and the whole NHDRO crew for making the best out of the cards they were dealt. I think they did everything they could given COVID and the weather that never seemed to go in their favor.
“I can’t help but feel like there’s a little bit of an asterisks next to this year’s championship since it was only 2 races, but at the same time we were able to make it to the final round in both against some of the best racers I’ve ever been up against. It was so cool to meet and race against new people from all over the country and have such a good bike count. It makes it really tough to go rounds throughout the weekend, but I think that is the most rewarding thing about the championship. There were so many close races and so much good competition, you couldn’t take any round lightly. There are so many guys who can contend to win a race on any given weekend, and that’s what makes the championship feel like a good accomplishment.
“I can’t thank my dad Bruce, Rusty Kramer, and my Uncle Craig enough for all of the help and work they put in. The bike didn’t shift into third on the first qualifier, and they were able to change out the shift forks and shift drum while I made a run in Super Comp and get the bike ready for round two. I don’t know how we would have done that without them, and the weekend and championship would have looked very different if it wasn’t for a great team.
“Overall, it’s been a great season for us and I’m loving being able to compete with so many good guys.”
4.60 number one qualifier Jason Buus wasn’t able to make the call for round 2.
865 Racing and Corey Lee boosted the 865 Racing Top Gas 8.20 index purse this weekend to $9,000, with $6K going to the winner. That would be Jeremy Teasley, who also won the championship.
Teasley’s final round opponent was Heather Wagner, who only started making laps on her newly purchased, ex-Dave Page Hayabusa dragbike on Friday night. “If you would’ve told me Friday I was going to be in the Top Gas finals on Sunday on this new bike, I would’ve laughed,” said Wagner. “I still have a lot of seat time before I get 100% on this bike, but we became best friends this weekend. And Mike Wagner (Heather’s dad) proved that he can not only tune a KZ, but he can tune a Suzuki too.”
As it was, Heather’s bike didn’t shift into second, handing the final to Teasley and his ‘Busa streetbike. “The short time was off, so we suspect a spin that led to it not shifting,” reported Heather. “But we just had made a clean pass down the right lane 15 minutes before.”
“Thanks to my family,” said Teasley. “And HTP, DME, Montgomery Motorsports, Brock’s Performance, Schnitz Racing, Worldwide Bearings, NHDRO and 865 Racing. Without them, none of it would happen.”
Number one qualifier Ron Morris lost to Teasley in round 3.
Not to be left out, Saturday’s Kevin Dennis Insurance Street ET pot rose to $5,000. “I think it is awesome that Brian and Niki put up a great payout and really happy to see Street ET racers get a chance at a huge pay day,” said Indiana insurance magnate/racer Kevin Dennis. “NHDRO has done a great job getting something special for each of the classes, and I think it’s great so many racers get a chance at a huge win at least once a year.”
And the winner of this one was Louisville racer Rylan Rowe, and it took 8 rounds to do so. Rowe nailed an .011 light in the final against Stephen “The Right” Knight’s .094. Both were on Kawasaki ZX14s and dialed within .010 of each other. Knight gave charge but broke way out in the double breakout race.
“My girlfriend is battling grade three brain cancer, and I promised her Thursday morning I would get her a win for her birthday—which is Tuesday,” said Rowe, who also won the Street ET championship. “Also, give a shout-out to my older brother Rashad, who works day and night to make sure I have winning, rideable motorcycles.”
Tennessee racer Wes Brown won M2.Shocks 8.70 Quick Street. In the final, Brown beat Page—who may have sold his Top Gas bike but isn’t done racing yet. Brown’s .027 light to Page’s .066 paved the way for Wes to win the double breakout final.
“It has been a great year for me racing,” said Brown. “It’s my seventh win this year between all the series I’ve ran. Ole’ Krispy (his rebuilt, burnt-down ‘Busa) has been on point all year and I’ve been able to capitalize on it.”
Quick Street number one qualifier Marcus Taylor Jr. lost in round 2 to Dustin “Biscuits” Lee, who was able to capitalize to the tune of a Quick Street championship.
Multi-time, nationwide champion racer Lee also won the MPS Pro ET championship. “It was an odd, short season,” said Lee. “I’m thankful to pull off a couple championships because one mistake could end the chase with the season being short.
“I’m also very thankful for Brian and Niki awarding gold cards for 2021 for us even with a short year. We came and they appreciate us as much as we do them!”
Dustin won the MPS Pro ET championship but Tom Klemme won the race over Kevin Adams—a two-time runner-up at this event—in the final. It generally happens at the starting line and a .006 advantage was all Klemme needed to push Adams too far in another double breakout race.
Double breakouts and winning at the tree were indeed the theme of the day in cool October weather. In the 8.90 index BB Racing Super Comp final, Chad Isley took the tree with a .014 light on his dragbike vs. no-bar delay box master Mallett’s .031, and as the story goes, Mallett broke out by more.
“There was a lot of tough competition and some close racing,” said Isley, who also won the Super Comp championship. “My combination seems to fit Super Comp very well.
“My girlfriend Jennifer pointed out to me that on these multi-day races, I seem to do best on the last day. She’s right. Maybe I just can’t stand the thought of going home empty handed!”
Super Comp number one qualifier Jeremy Himes Jr. was one of two second-generation racers making successful NHDRO debuts this weekend. The other was Trevor Schnitz, who runner-upped to John “Spooky” Markham in Dirty 30 9.30 index.
Also a double breakout final, Schnitz actually took the tree .017 to Markham’s .046, but hasn’t yet acquired the finishline skills to put on the winlight against a cagey veteran like Markham.
Spooky sold one bike just before the event and then broke one or two others, so he won Dirty 30 on a borrowed ‘Busa. “It’s Steve Mallet’s bike, and big thanks to him for showing me how to ride a real bike!” said Markham. “I appreciate him. He trusted me with his awesome machine. Glad I was able to put it in the winners circle.”
Jeff Hall was the Dirty 30 number one qualifier and Ron “Ju-Jitsu” Arnold won the championship. “Two race championship,” said Arnold, diminishing his own accomplishment. “Fn’ COVID19! But thanks to all the people that helped me get there: Fun For All Motorsports, Brock’s Performance, Montgomery Motorsports, Terry McIntosh, Schnitz Racing, Renegade Racing Fuels, Eatmyink.com and Dragbike.com, Hard Times Parts & Service, and all My DRR brothers and everyone at NHDRO!
“I’m going to take a couple of years off from drag racing to spend more time with my family. My ‘Honey Doo’ list is getting big!” We all hate to see Ron go, but he’s got some damn good stuff for sale.”
The most dramatic moment of the weekend came when Pro Street racer Brett Ware went 12 O’clock and over in round one of PST eliminations. Ware was mostly OK, with a compression fracture in his back that, fortunately, requires little more than rest and common sense. His bike didn’t fare to badly either, leaking nary a drop of anything despite sliding to the 330—a showcase for Ware’s and Quicktime Racing boss Rudy Sanzottera’s fabrication and welding skills. As soon as Ware was scooped into the ambulance, racing was able to resume. Thoughtful!
Once again, Gabe Frederick and his turbocharged ‘Busa dominated everything until the final round. Frederick gapped the field by over 4/10ths in qualifying but left for home still winless-at-Indy after going -.002 red in the final.
Frederick’s gaffe propelled Ware’s teammate Brad Christian to the win and the championship. “It’s been one hell of a year,” said Christian. “With the COVID and the rain at damn near every NHDRO event, we had very little testing. I didn’t go as fast as I wanted to this year.
“I had so many 7.00s last year, and Rudy worked his ass off to get me into the 6s. But we fought wheelies and spinning on the line during the little testing we had. So at both of the events we put a conservative A to B tune up in the bike and got the job done.
“I want to thank my better half Jessica Sanzottera for believing in me and pushing me to do better, and also putting up with all of what goes into racing. Rudy for all of what he does for me and trusting me to ride Pops’ bike. All of the Quicktime crew for their help. Gabe Frederick and Nem (Nemecio “Lucky” Beltran) for the help this weekend. The crew at NHDRO for giving us a place to race. All of our sponsors—Quicktime Motorsports. A.I. Choppers, Wossner pistons and rods, Worldwide Bearings, Low Dollar Motorsports. Phoenix Fittings Company, Midwest Turbo Center, DME and Dunlop Tires, Western Powersports, Cometic Gaskets, Biker Kitty, and M and M Powder Works. I can’t wait to see what we can do in the 2021 season.”
Richard Gadson swept HTP Performance Super Stock, qualifying number one, winning his second straight, and collecting his first NHDRO championship. This win came by virtue of a huge .082-.193 holeshot over Indy racer Dustin “Naked Boy” Clark in the final. Clark gave game chase on his Kawasaki ZX14 with an 8.93 at 158 mph but couldn’t catch the 8.96 at 161 that kept Gadson and his Suzuki GSXR1000 in front.
“I want to thank Brian and Niki for hosting the class,” said Gadson. “It’s a breath of fresh air to have a class to race these style of bikes again. I’d like to see more Super Stock racers join me in racing at NHDRO.”
Interestingly, top Super Stock speed of the meet was set by Ryan Schnitz on his Ducati Panigale V4R by a whopping 6 mph.
Hard Times Parts and Service Jr. Dragster was won by Eli Edwards when Caeson Markham redlit before Eli did.
VooDoo Grudge saw plenty of track time with Midwestern racers like Ryan Reed and Josh Keller making laps, and a few money races.
A kids costume parade was held and goodie bags distributed, thanks to Lisa Wagner.
NHDRO’s Brian and Niki Welch, along with CC Powersports’ Tina and Jose Gonzales, thank everyone for coming and racing at the CC Powersports NHDRO World Finals and Big Payback.
Brian and Niki are hard at work on the 2021 schedule, and remember—since 2020 turned out to be only a two-race season for the NHDRO family, 2019 Gold Cards will still be good in 2021, along with the new 2020 champs. That’s racer-friendly.
And what’s more racer-friendly than Big Money? Look for more of it at NHDRO in 2021. “We’re hoping to do a few Big Money races in 2021,” added sponsor Bullers. “Maybe even bigger. As long as we have racer support, I know Brian and Niki would love to continue, and I look forward to doing more with all of the classes next year.”
NHDRO thanks its series sponsors: M2.Shocks, Kevin Dennis Insurance, MPS Racing, Liguori Drag Racing, CC Powersports, Schnitz Racing, Voodoo Custom Motorcycle Components, Vanson Leathers, BB Racing, Hard Times Parts and Service, APE, 865 Racing, Grothus Dragbikes, and Klemme Performance Motorcycles