Barry Henson came to drag racing from the roadrace scene, wanting a place to compete with the turbocharged monsters he creates at his Davie, Florida, shop, Velocity Racing.
Henson made two Prostar events in 2001, running in back of the pack in the Streetbike Shootout field. In 2002 he ran the complete circuit, progressively improved and ended up with a number 5 plate and was a finalist for “Professional Rookie of the Year” honors.
Henson was destined for big things. In the off-season he signed a breakthrough contract with multi-time Shootout champion Kent Stotz to be a team rider on the Honda-backed Stotz Street Xtreme team as well as fabricate the next generation bikes for the team.
In 2003 Henson came out strong and continued his improvement, nipping at the heels of soon-to-be-champion Rickey Gadson on the mighty Rob Muzzy-built Kawasaki turbo ZX-12R. While Gadson took six straight event wins and locked up the championship, Henson had the dominant bike during the twilight of the season, winning three straight and setting both ends of the Streetbike Shootout record at 7.526 seconds and 192.63 mph.
After the season wrapped up Henson had major news to deliver; he was splitting with Stotz, he was sponsoring a whole gaggle of riders and he is even thinking about throwing his leg over an Outlaw Pro Street bike. We caught up with him to find out what is the latest with one of the most dynamic rider/tuner/builders in the sport.
Dragbike.com: Throughout the first part of the 2003 Shootout season it seemed like you were always a step behind Rickey Gadson. Then at the end of the end of the season you had a breakthrough, winning three events and convincingly setting new performance records. What happened to pull that all together?
Barry Henson: I think a little bit of what slowed me down was having to change bikes in the middle of the season. I started the season out on Kent’s bike. In my last race on Kent’s bike I lost to Rickey by .00 something. I mean it was really, really close. Then I came out with my Blackbird and I had to start all over again on another bike. It set me back a little bit. Nevertheless, I was chasing a lot of things other than the things I should have been chasing because I was on a new bike again. There were a lot of things that we had to rush because I was short on time. Towards the end of the season, actually right before we went to Gainesville, I was able to go back and take the bike completely apart and update all the stuff on it. I did a lot of things over the right way that I had to rush when I built it the first time. Finally, it all just came together. There really is no one single thing that was like “Hey this was it. That made it happen”. It was a whole sequence of things that I learned throughout the season and learned with Kent. I had a little break toward the end of the season and I really put a lot effort going into Gainesville to make sure that the bike was right.
BH: Using nitrous with turbos was 100% legal. It will not be legal for 2004. On some passes in 2003 I was and some passes I wasn’t. I had a nitrous kit on it from the middle of the season, but there never was any traction to use it. Like when we went to Alabama. When we ran Alabama, I did not have nitrous. At the World Finals, in qualifying and practice, yes I was using it. I hurt a motor in when I ran 7.47 in testing. I only had one engine left. That was the first time all year that I did not have spare motor sitting in the trailer. I did not hurt a motor all season. So after that, I kind of picked and chose the times in which I would use it. It was 16 horsepower anyway it and it did not really make any much difference.
DBC: What would be the advantage of having nitrous on a turbo? Couldn’t you just pick up horsepower by using more boost from the turbo?
BH: Yes you could. What I was doing, and I am an experimenting fool, was I wanted to see what nitrous was going to do with my intake temperatures and if it was going to actually bring my intake temps down and if that would be an advantage. My experience with it was that it wasn’t. Nevertheless, I never really got to the point where I was spraying enough of it that it was going to make a difference because I just did not have time experiment with it. We were working on so many other things that were more important. That extra 16 horsepower or even 50 horsepower or whatever I could have accomplished, I never really got a chance to utilize it.
DBC: What about water injection? Are they allowing that for 2004?
BH: They are allowing water injection and inter coolers. Those are legal for turbos next year, but nitrous is not.
DBC: There are a lot of people that say that the really fast bikes and the bikes that are heavy on the electronics like yours and Rickey’s have some type of traction control on them. What do you say about that?
BH: I am a firm believer of doing things by the book. That is why my ECU did not have traction control available in it. Everybody knew that all year. It has no wheel speed sensor input. It has no logging capabilities of wheel speed of any sort, shape, form or fashion. I’ve got the only ECU of its kind. Everybody else uses ECU that will calculate wheel speed and can do clutch slippage and have the ability to use traction control. And, yes I think that is a severe issue with this class next season. I am concerned about it. Because the class is getting bigger and more and more people are going to come out with ECU’s and it is going to become more difficult to monitor who is using traction control and who is using illegal means to make their bike go quicker.
DBC: If a bike does not have wheel speed sensors can it still employ traction control?
BH: Sure, but there has to be some sort of a wheel speed calibration. You can do it by multiplying the rpm versus gear position and tell yourself with a mathematical calculation how fast your bike is going. There are several ways that you can do it. My main thing behind this whole issue is to make the ECU’s that have traction control to be illegal. I sent a couple of emails to Brian [Chambers, Prostar Tech Director] to suggest that we only allow people to use ECU’s that do not have any of these features. If they don’t have those features then they can’t use them, simple as that. But I guess that didn’t make it to the rule book.
DBC: At that point does it not become a “black box” issue anyway? How can you actually tell what the box’s functions really are?
BH: My answer to that is to have a claiming on the ECU and a competitor can buy your ECU from you at any given time for X amount of dollars. Let’s say there is $1,000 limit on ECU, and then somebody could buy your ECU for $1,000. That will shut that stuff down. Then you put up a rule that says if you are caught cheating, you lose your points. They did that for 2004 which is very good. The new rules this year are going to be very, very, strict. If you get caught doing any one of those things then you are going to lose your points for the whole season. That is the new rule and I think it’s great.
DBC: After what has to be considered a very successful season with Kent Stotz, you decided to go on your own this season. What brought you to that decision?
BH: First, I want to thank Kent for all the experience and opportunity to race with the Stotz Street Xtreme and Honda the drag racing team. It was a great experience for me. Nobody in the industry has the experience that Kent does in the Streetbike Shootout class. And he shared a lot of that experience with me, which benefited me greatly. I hope that what I’ve done for him will benefit him in the future and I believe that it will. He has only been down the track a handful of times on his new bike and he has already gone within I think .03 of his quickest time ever on his old bike. So he is really, really close to breaking his own personal record with his current bike that we built. I think this was a very mutually beneficial situation for both of us. I really have to thank him for the opportunity he gave me and for the time that I spent with him.
DBC: So why the break up?
BH: It just came down to what was right for my business. Don’t get me wrong, my relationship with Kent did a lot of great things for my business but we spent a lot of time developing the race bikes for the team and I felt at least for 2004 I need to develop a wider range of products and put more focus on Velocity Racing.
DBC: What’s your relationship with Kent now? Will you be working together? Are you going to be doing development together?
BH: We still have a working relationship and we are still friends. I am no longer affiliated with Honda or Stotz Street Xtreme. However, I am a major sponsor of Kent in his race program and his Stotz Street Extreme. I am still going to be providing him with the complete turbo system and all that kind of stuff with for his race program. So that is all working very well. We are still doing a lot of R&D together. Even though we will be competing against each other, we will be working together.
BH: Velocity Racing has put together a great team for the 2004 season. As far as I go, I am going to start the season out with my Honda Blackbird.
DBC: Do you own that motorcycle?
BH: Yes. I own the bike. I am going to start the season out on that bike. It’s going to be strictly a Velocity Racing entry. I am totally redoing the bike…again. I’ve got it all torn down and we are rebuilding it as we speak. We are coming up with some new ideas and taking it to another level. But, I am building a Suzuki Hayabusa Shootout bike that Mike Slowe is going to be riding. Mike has joined my team. He is going to be riding the Shootout bike for me.
DBC: Will Mike run the Hayabusa Shootout bike as well as a 60″ Pro Sportbike?
BH: Mike will start the season on the Hayabusa Shootout bike. It is going to be my bike. Once I get the Hayabusa up to speed, somewhere through the season, I am going to make the transition from the Blackbird to a Hayabusa. Then Mike will continue the season on the Blackbird. As far as the 60″ class, I will be sponsoring Mike with a turbo system and I am helping him build his bike to defend his championship in the MIROCK series.
DBC: How did this relationship with Mike come about?
BH: We talked during the end of the season. He is a great guy, he has a great attitude, he is young, and he is a great racer. I think he is a very fresh, up-and-coming rider. He has a lot of support with his fans. He has a very good friend by the name of Gary Cramer that is really putting a lot of effort into this program. I think it is a marriage made in Heaven. With their commitment, I was more than eager to jump on board and help them get their bike down the track. I think it will be a great program. He had a great year last year now with Velocity Racing supporting him, he ought to be a pretty heavy force to be reckoned with.
BH: I am building an outlaw Hayabusa that I am going to be riding in the MIROCK series. Probably not the first couple of races because I don’t think I will have it ready in time. With the new bike and everything that is going with Prostar this year it will be tough to dedicate the time to it. Prostar that is going to be my number one goal and my number one focus. As long everything goes well with the Shootout program, and then I will ride Outlaw. If things are not going well with Shootout program, then I will not step foot on my Outlaw bike. My goal this year is to win a Prostar championship and I also want to help Mike win his second championship in the 60″ class.
DBC: What other teams are you going to be sponsoring?
BH: I am going to be sponsoring two other bikes as well, heavily. I am sponsoring Jason Miller on a 60″ Hayabusa and I am also doing a venture with Orient Express. I am going to be sponsoring an Outlaw bike that Orient Express is building and Jamie Steele will be riding. The bike will have one of my turbo systems and all my electronics and all that kind of stuff on it.
DBC: How did the connection with Orient Express come about?
BH: Joey Hahn and I started working together. I helped him on John Flood’s bike. We just kind of hooked up and enjoyed working with each other. I think that bunch over there at Orient Express are just an awesome group of guys. They got their heads screwed on straight and really are putting together a serious campaign for next year. And that is exactly the kind of people I want to be affiliated with this year. The people who are really putting their head down and really willing to make a commitment. And that is what I told all the people I sponsor this year. I told them; “I am willing to put into it as much as you are willing to put into it”. And people like Joey Hahn, man; he is just a 110%. He is ready to tear into stuff. He’s my kind of guy. Because he really, really puts in the effort that it takes to be successful. And with John Flood riding, you know that speaks for itself, that guy can really ride. I am excited about being apart of that program. So, we just kind of work together on that one little deal and as we built the friendship there, we started to discussing next season and we kind of come up with a pretty good plan. I think the Orient Express/Velocity Racing Outlaw bike with Jaime Steel riding it, is going to be a pretty tough customer there.
DBC: Are you also going to be involved with Orient’s 60″ program?
BH: Yes. I am an associate sponsor for their 60″ program. They are going to be running it again next year with John Flood. And I will be working with those guys on that program as well. We are going to have three pretty fast 60″ bikes next season.
DBC: Are you going to be working with Chuck Cunningham in the Texas Shootout like you did last season?
BH: Yes. I am going to be an associate sponsors for Chuck Cunningham in the Texas Shootout as well as Trevor Altman for Rockingham and Prostar, like I was last year. They are taking their bikes to a whole new level this year. They both are putting full stand-alone EFI units on their bikes this year. Just like what we have on ours. They are bringing their chassis up to date. Those guys are really stepping up to the plate this year. Their bikes are going to be far superior to what they were last year. I’m excited about their programs as well.
DBC: What do you think about barriers that are close to being broken? Take the 60″ class. Those guys are bearing down on 7 seconds. Will we see it?
BH: I think there is no doubt in my mind that we are going to see 7 seconds in the 60″ class. No doubt in my mind. It won’t be the first race, but I will say it probably will be by the second or the third race we will see a seven second pass. Base on what I saw with John Flood and his 8.10, I know that bike wasn’t anywhere near where its capabilities were. We just got started with it, I mean literally, I gave him a tune up in it and they went out and did it. They came back and we put in another tune up in it. And they went out ran it and within three or four passes we got it to the 8.10. So, I feel very confident that, that bike is going to get into the seven’s pretty quick. And I know that Mike Slowe’s bike is going to be in the seven’s pretty quick. That bike, we are building in our shop right now. To be my first actual project on a full out 60″ bike, I’ve never really built a 60″ bike in my shop. This will be my first one. I’m excited about that. I’ve built a few street bikes that are 60″, but not a real serious 60″ race bike before. This bike is going to be something.
DBC: Now what about the Outlaw bikes? They are coming very close to running 6 seconds and 200 mph.
BH: I have no doubt in my mind that we are going to see that this year as well. I am very optimistic and I like barriers like that. I like the 200 mph barrier. I was shooting for that this year with my shootout bike, but I did not quite get there. But, I have no doubt in my mind that we are going to see 200mph in Outlaw bike this year. We’ve got the bikes to it. Will we see six seconds? That’s a tough one. Those guys leave pretty hard now. MPH is one thing and ET is another. I think those guys are ET’ing pretty good right now. I think it’s going to be pretty hard to knock a 7.16 to a six. Matt Smith’s really flying on that bike and so is Chris Moore. Those guys are hauling butt up there. Do they have enough to knock another tenth and half off? I don’t know. That’s a tall order. But we’ll see. I think its going to be exciting. that’s for sure. There are going to be a lot of bikes out there.
DBC: As far as the Outlaw bikes go, do you like the suspension chassis or the solid chassis?
BH: I like the suspension chassis, even though the two fastest bikes out there right now are solid chassis. I like suspension. This is going to be kind of unbelievable to people but the Outlaw bikes we are building are basically going to be like street bikes. They are going to have suspension. They are going to be hand clutch. They are going to be full cooling system on them and a starter. We are going to ride ‘em back when we are through with them at the other end.
DBC: What do you have to do to the Hayabusa engine to prepare it for an Outlaw Application?
BH: We have our own cams made and designed by Web Cam that we have been working on for quiet a while. We do a little bit of head work for it. We have Mark at R&D Motorsports do our trannies. We have a heavy duty output shaft on the transmission. The Outlaw bikes we are going to have a third baring support on it. We are going to support that sucker because we are going to be leaving real hard on these things. We don’t want to be yanking our trannies out of our bike. Other than that we do the clutch and a multi-stage lock-up and the basket, typical stuff. Nothing crazy, but with a Velocity Racing turbo system we don’t need all that extra stuff.
DBC: Now that you have come very, very close to a AMA/Prostar Shootout championship, what do you predict for yourself this coming year?
BH: I think I am in the driver seat. I think I have it to lose right now. I think I proved in that last weekend of the season that I can run consistent 7.50’s. I don’t know anybody else that can do that right now. I know that they are going to do it. I know they are going to be after me hard and I know that they are working hard. I know they are going to be there. Will they? I feel like I am in the same shoes that Rickey was in last year, where he had the consistent bike, and we had to chase Rickey because he was running very consistent and running very good. He very deservingly won a championship this year because of his consistency and his skills and his lights. He did an awesome job and he deserved everything he got. I feel like I am somewhat in that same situation that Rickey was in last year, where they are going to have to come after me right now. They all know that I can run 7.50 consistently. I think it is mine to lose. I think if I can go out there this year and I can continue doing it and don’t have any major failures, if I don’t blow engines up or anything like that and do what I did that last three races Prostar races and the last Rockingham event. I think I can continue that streak right on through the season. That is my goal anyway. My goal is to sweep it and I know their goal is to break me down that first race. I will be ready.
Barry would like to thank the sponsors that supported him in the 2003 season:
Honda Riders Club of America, Star Racing, Joe Rocket, Garrett, Pingel, Air-tech, JE Pistons, Falicon, Trac Dynamics, Hyperpro, and Pro Honda Oils.
And introduce his sponsors for the 2004 season:
Garrett Engine Boosting Systems, Adam’s Performance, A.P.E., J.E. Pistons, Trac Dynamics, Vanson Leathers, Web Cams, Falicon, Total Kaos Performance, Psychobike.com. With more to be announced soon!