HomeFeatures & ColumnsIn The Spotlight : Ryan Schnitz

In The Spotlight : Ryan Schnitz

2001 was a breakthrough year for Ryan Schnitz. Known as one of the most promising and talented young riders in motorcycle drag racing, Schnitz came into his own in 2001 with standout performances, numerous trips to the winner’s circle and his first #1 plate.

Schnitz garnered a championship in the 600 SuperSport class in AMA/Prostar competition, stepping up from his third place finish in 2000. Riding a Team Green Kawasaki ZX-6R, Schnitz took three wins off six number one qualifying efforts in the hotly contested class. He was the first to bring a 600 down the quarter mile in under ten seconds and eventually established the elapsed time national record at 9.792 seconds.

Schnitz came close to winning a pair of championships, coming in second in the AMA/Prostar Streetbike Shootout class points with three event wins on Coby Adams’ nitrous injected 1340 cc GSXR.

Adding to his resume, Schnitz took the record in the Maryland International Raceway Pro Sportbike class with Adams’ GSXR. He also became a member of the East Coast Timing Association’s “200 MPH Club” running 200.00 mph at Maxton, North Carolina, on the ZX-12R of Chip Ellis.

The future looks even brighter. This year Schnitz will be riding for Rob Muzzy Racing competing on a Kawasaki ZX-12R Pro Stock and ZX-12R Formula Superbike. With the deal, Schnitz becomes one of only a handful of true professional motorcycle drag racers.

Humble Beginnings

Ryan Schnitz became involved with motorcycles at a very early age. His father Dave fosters a real passion for bikes and turned his own weekend hobby into Schnitz Racing, one of the sport’s leading aftermarket retailers. The young Schnitz had the opportunity to ride motorized bikes soon after he got the training wheels off his pedal-pusher. He was almost destined to be a motorcycle racer.

His first trip down a dragstrip came on his buddy Nick Bryan’s 600R at Muncie Dragway in Indiana at an age of 16. Running mid 12 second passes on the bike, Schnitz eventually ran low 12’s on his own

His competition debut came at the Prostar Virginia event in 1997. Running a nitrous Kawasaki formerly owned by multi-time Prostar Champion Tony Mullen, Schnitz ran in Top Gas, the fastest of the sportsman index classes, giving him combined experience on a wheelie bar bike, a pro tree and index racing all in one.

But his passions still lied in no-breakout racing. In 1999 Schnitz began running in the 600 SuperSport class, renting a Suzuki GSXR 600 from Brock Davidson.
Schnitz made five events in the class and felt the experience was instrumental in his development as a rider. “Running 600 SuperSport for the first time was a great learning experience,” said Schnitz. “It gave me a lot of skills and Brock taught me a lot on running the 600’s.”

The next season Schnitz was named to Kawasaki’s Team Green and showed immediate promise, scoring a runner-up finish to Rickey Gadson at the opening event of the year. Schnitz campaigned the ZX-6R for the full season, taking the event title at the Orient Express U.S. Motorcycle Nationals at Atco, New Jersey with a final round win over Gadson.

Schnitz placed third in the points in 600 SuperSport in 2000 and made a run at the championship in Top Eliminator.
Trading in his Top Gas bike for a new Koenig “Low-Boy”, for
the no-breakout class, Schnitz came in second in Top Eliminator points to Matt Smith, despite taking the first four event wins of the season.

2000 also marked Schnitz’s debut in the Streetbike Shootout wars. Introduced to Coby Adams from fellow Kawasaki teammate Chip Ellis, Schnitz got his first taste of big motor nitrous sportbike racing when Adams asked him to ride his 1340 cc GSXR.

“That was the biggest no wheelie bar bike I had ever been on,” said Schnitz. “The only sportbikes I had been on were 600’s. It was weird and kind of neat. It was a little spooky at first. I was nervous. I couldn’t believe Coby was letting a 17 year old kid he just met ride his bike.”

The nervousness went away quickly as Schnitz placed fifth in the points on the Adams Performance GSXR and was slated by Adams to challenge for the championship the next season.

The 600 SuperSport Championship

Schnitz’s charge to the 2001 AMA/Prostar 600 SuperSport championship started with a splash as he became the first SuperSport rider to crack into the nine second range with a 9.990 elapsed time during early eliminations at the MRE Sunshine Nationals at Gainesville Raceway in Florida. “It really meant a lot to us to get the mark,” said Schnitz. “It was a goal of ours after we ran 10.01 in New Jersey the previous year. It was a big relief. Kawasaki was really pushing for it.”

Even though he had the hot bike, Schnitz’ first 600 SuperSport win didn’t come until the third race of the year, at Houston Raceway Park in Baytown, Texas. Qualifying number one for the third race in a row, Schnitz took the final over Johnnie Locklear, who redlighted. 

“I was more focused on setting a record than winning,” said Schnitz of his early season losses. “I had to work on my reaction times but I was trying to get the bike to perform. The lights are something I have to work on. Luckily, my e.t.’s have been quick enough to make up for it most of the time.”

The rest of the season went much the same. Schnitz held a sometimes daunting performance advantage over the highly competitive field but suffered a series of miscues which took him out of eliminations. He missed a shift in the quarterfinals at Rockingham, North Carolina, after qualifying in the number one spot, and broke a motor at the Canada event.

Schnitz noted that competing in three classes – with different bikes and staging procedures – makes it difficult to maintain composure. “Running three classes is tough, especially later in a race when you have to rush to get up to the line,” he said. “It is really difficult when you lose in one of the classes. You have to get past the loss. When you lose, even when you win, you just have to forget about it and focus on the next round or next task at hand. If you didn’t do well, at the end of the event is when it really hits you. I get frustrated. You have to fade it away.”

At the Pingel Thunder Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park, Schnitz qualified in the second position and took the event win. At Atco, New Jersey, Schnitz again qualified on the pole but a staging infraction took him out of competition in the quarterfinals.

Schnitz’ performance advantage was so far away from the rest of the field that some competitors cried foul. “People have accused me of cheating but you have to put that behind you,” said Schnitz. “I have had a lot of people tell me that as soon as you start running fast people will start to say things. I don’t let it bother me. You have to be proud of what you’ve done and focus
on winning more races. I have nothing to hide. If anyone wants advice or wants to look at anything on the bike I have always helped them out.”

The championship came down to the World Finals at Gainesville with Schnitz, Johnnie Locklear and Chip Hunter all in contention for the #1 plate. Locklear, who had led the points going into Gainesville, had lost his sponsorship just before the event and did not compete. All Schnitz had to do was maintain his points lead over Hunter to get the plate.

“I would have had to go out early and Chip would have had to win the race for him to get it,” said Schnitz. “I still didn’t let it faze me. In my head I said told myself I had to win that race. I really wanted it. I hadn’t had a win since Indy.”

Schnitz took the number one qualifying spot and set the elapsed time record at a stunning 9.792 seconds. Hunter went out in the semifinals as Schnitz went on to take the event win over Keith Thompson to leave no doubt to the championship. “It felt good to get the championship, set the record and win the race,” said Schnitz. “That’s the way you dream about it.”

Streetbike Shootout Wars

The run for championship in the Streetbike Shootout series started much stronger for Schnitz, but despite a comeback from mid-season struggles, he came up just short for the #1 plate.

He took the Adams Performance GSXR from the pole to winner’s circle in first two races, winning Gainesville over Brock Davidson and Atlanta over Chris Williams. “They added weight to the class this year and I was concerned on how the bike would react and if we would have the horsepower to make up for it,” he said. “After the first two races, getting used to the weight and doing some testing, I was able to launch the bike harder and get the 60 foots and the 330’s down. We were actually able to put more nitrous to it sooner and it showed up in the e.t.”

Troubles set in at Houston when an engine failure kept him out of eliminations. “That was a first time for me,” remembered Schnitz. “I felt it vibrate and the motor let go. I hit another gear when I should have let up. As soon as I hit the gear the left side of the motor just kind of disintegrated. It was probably going 150 mph and the rear wheel locked up in the oil.”

The problems continued in Rockingham where the bike again blew a motor, this time in round two of eliminations, after Schnitz qualified in the top spot. In Canada, Adams inadvertently thought a race could be dropped and opted not to go. Schnitz scrambled for a ride and landed a one-race deal on a Hayabusa. When eliminations were postponed until Indy Schnitz lost the ride and under Prostar rules could not switch bikes – effectively a round-one loss.

But Schnitz made a hard press in the last part of the season. He qualified number two at Indy and went to the semifinals. At Atco, he took his fourth number one qualifying spot of the season and his third win, getting the final over Rickey Gadson. “That put us in a good points position for Gainesville,” said Schnitz. “We were 14 points ahead of Kent Stotz for the championship.”

Schnitz qualified third in the World Finals field, putting him on the same side of the ladder as Stotz. The two met up in the semifinals and, with the championship on the line, Stotz produced an unearthly elapsed time of 7.63 seconds – over a tenth better than the record.

“In the semifinals Kent had an outstanding pass,” offered Schnitz. “I had a decent pass but it was like I was standing still. We found out later we had a broken valve spring. It may have hurt a little bit on the horsepower but not enough to make up what Kent’s pass was. I ran a 7.83 which is not a bad time but it was not a championship time. Kent ran a championship time.”

Pro Sportbike Jaw-dropper

Schnitz also left his mark on the 60″ Pro Sportbike class run at Maryland International Raceway. Adams put a shorter swingarm on the shootout bike and after a few test laps, Schnitz opened qualifying by obliterating the 8.63 record with a stunning 8.24 elapsed time at 174 mph and eventually won the event.

“Coby was challenged to run the class by a couple of his friends,” said Schnitz. “We took out probably 75 to 100 horsepower with the nitrous but kept the weight on it. We just guessed at the tune-up, putting smaller jets in it, guessing what the build time should be. It ended up being dead-on. I don’t think we could have put anymore to it any quicker or an sooner than we did. The first pass was just a great pass.”

“On the rest of the runs were just trying to cut a better light and launch a little harder. It was a lot of fun learning to race huge horsepower with a short street wheelbase. You couldn’t hit the nitrous until late in second gear whereas in a regular shootout bike you can hit it in the top of first. The bike ran flawlessly and we were able to win that race.”

The rules have since been changed in the class but Schnitz feels his performance can be bettered. “Even with the new rules, I still think someone is going to beat that record,” he said.

The Maxton Mile

One of the big thrills for Schnitz in 2001 was running the East Coast Timing Association (ECTA) event in Maxton, North Carolina. Riding the ZX-12R of Chip Ellis, Schnitz set the APS/G 1350 4 class record at 200.00 mph to become a member of the elite ECTA “200 MPH Club”.

“Maxton is great,” said Schnitz. “It can teach you a lot as far as body position and wind resistance and how to focus on a point ahead of you. You have a focal point down the track like you do in drag racing. Since Maxton is a mile you get 10 or 15 seconds at speed instead of 7 seconds of acceleration.”

“The speed is a great rush,” he continued. “It’s great to get the timeslip when you are done and see a fast speed like 200 mph.”

Schnitz also tried for the “Meet Record” on the Fish’s Custom nitrous Hayabusa of Rob Bush. He came up short but still ran a stout 213 mph.

“It was unreal going that fast,” said Schnitz. “Running a Hayabusa with all the gearing we can give it, tagging the rev limiter wide open in sixth gear was unbelievable. It was just awesome. Everything is going by so quickly, knowing you are right on the edge was kind of fun but a little scary too. Slowing down was even a bigger thrill.”

The Deal With Muzzys

By far the biggest news for Schnitz this year was being signed by Rob Muzzy Racing to a multi-year contract as a development rider. Schnitz will ride the Muzzy ZX-12R Pro Stock bike currently in development as well as a ZX-12R Superbike.

“Rob approached my dad and I in New Jersey this year,” said Schnitz. “He said he always wanted to build a Pro Stock bike. It is like his own little project. He enjoys working on the bikes and the development. He decided he wanted to go NHRA Pro Stock racing and he wanted to do it with a ZX-12 – something that hasn’t been done before. He wanted to bring something new into the class and he asked me if I would be interested in riding for him. I told him, ‘Yeah’. It was just unbelievable.”

Schnitz and his father Dave flew to Bend Oregon to meet with Muzzy and the contract was signed.

“The Superbike will actually be a bit of R&D for the Pro Stock,” said Schnitz. “We will run the Pro Stock bike in testing and if it runs good we will run Prostar with it. The goal is for 2003, or whenever we feel we are ready, to go NHRA racing and try to win a championship. That’s the whole idea. We don’t want to be out there playing, we want to win a championship. We want to promote Muzzys and any sponsors to come along to ride the wave with us.”

Being courted by Rob Muzzy was literally a dream come true for Schnitz. He had known of Muzzy through his championship roadracing efforts. In fact, the young rider was a bit awe-struck by it all.

“I first saw Rob at Atlanta in 1998,” said Schnitz. “I remember going by his pit on the pit bike real slow, looking. I saw him and I thought, ‘Man it’s Rob Muzzy, look at the mustache, it’s Rob!’ I just couldn’t believe Rob Muzzy was at a drag race.
I met him at Indy that year when my dad introduced me to him. When I started on Team Green, Rob was giving me clutch advice I couldn’t believe how friendly and down to earth he was. I was blown away when he told me how well he thought I rode.”

“I could not even imagine being approached by Rob Muzzy to ride a bike for him,” continued Schnitz. “I have a poster of Doug Chandler when he rode for Rob in 1996 hanging on my bedroom wall. I would think, ‘That would be neat, to ride for Rob Muzzy’. Now it’s happened. I just can’t believe it. It’s neat to know that I have Rob Muzzy’s cell phone number.”

Schnitz is a sincerely modest and humble young man. He never tends to the bragging or self-important dialogue so prevalent in motorcycle racing. But what does he feel makes him stand out in his sport? “I guess I would say good clutch management,” he commented. “I can launch bikes pretty decently. It’s taken a lot of practice. I am able to use the throttle in conjunction with the clutch well enough to make the bike do what I want it to do. I think because I have been able to jump on so many bikes I have been able to develop that skill.”

“With a drag bike I am fairly good at hitting the shift points and going down the track straight,” he continued. “You lose e.t. wobbling around the track. I am comfortable running bikes that launch differently.”

Even with his talent, skill and strong work ethic, Schnitz has an undeniable advantage in racing motorcycles. With his father Dave being one of the largest aftermarket retailers in the sport, the young Schnitz has enviable logistical support.

“I can’t even put into perspective what my dad does for me,” said Schnitz. “He takes care of everything. I get to work out of that big trailer with all the spare parts and special tools you need. He also let me set up my own dyno business in the shop. And my mom is really supportive. She is always staying at the track late hours just so I can get some test and tune passes. Everyone at Schnitz Racing is really great to me. I can’t thank them enough. I am really fortunate.”

Still, Ryan earns his keep at Schnitz Racing, doing general shop work and go-fer duties as well as answering tech calls and e-mails. Part of the routine, of course, is cleaning up. “My dad keeps me in my place,” he says. “I have a contract with Rob Muzzy but I still have to empty the trash at Schnitz Racing.”

All in all, the future looks really bright for the new champion. “I really am excited,” he said. “It is really like a dream. The Pro Stock thing is going to be good, but I am sure a little frustrating. I am really looking forward to working with Rob and learning more and more. I am psyched for everything.”

It is definitely an exciting time to be Ryan Schnitz.


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