Top Ten Moments of the 2002 AMA ProStar Season
Top Ten Moments of the 2002 AMA ProStar Season
Words by Jack Korpela
Photos by Matt Polito
This year’s AMA/Prostar drag racing season proved to be nothing short of spectacular with all of its “first-time happenings” and record setting performances occurring seemingly at every event. After the conclusion of the World Finals in November, I came up with a very perplexing question; what was the greatest moment of the 2002 season? With so many sensational performances this year I soon found that question is very difficult to answer, let alone name the top ten moments of 2002. Over the next month I will count down the greatest, most memorable moments of the season, unveiling two moments at a time and starting with #10.
Since compiling a top ten list is a rather subjective process, I attempted to define in my own words what marks a truly sensational moment in motor sports. After looking over the AMA/Prostar record sheet, it seemed as if there were dozens of records broke this season, which brought me to the conclusion that great, standout moments are not always determined solely on performance. Other factors such as overcoming adversity, accomplishing what has never been done before, the element of surprise, and flat out making people’s jaws drop with astonishment also play a big role in the selection process. Defining the unknown in terms of the known seemed to help me assemble my list, but still made it very difficult to rank the moments in order of importance or impact. Thanks to Brian Johnson’s films and the home movies my father recorded, I was able to look back at some of these particular instances and observe aspects such as the reaction of the spectators, to aid me in my endeavor.
To my surprise, selecting the 10th greatest moment was actually the most difficult, as the ones not selected would be left off the list entirely. I came up with over a dozen moments that deserve at least an honorable mention and someone could more than likely make a case for them not being on the list. However, to keep this from turning into a top 20 list, I strictly enforced the criteria above to make my selections, as I present to you the top 10 moments of the AMA/Prostar 2002 season.
I was once told by Scooter Kizer, AMA/Prostar president, that, “timing is everything.” My selection as the 10th greatest moment of the season epitomizes that phrase, as it is more about the time at which the event occurred than anything else.
#10 Fred Collis comes out of retirement to win Atco while setting a new elapsed time and speed record.
Do to an illness sustained earlier in the season, Paul Gast elected not to compete at this year’s Orient Express U.S. Nationals held at Atco Raceway in New Jersey. However, in the best interest of the team Gast decided to offer former two-time Lectron Pro Stock champion “Fast” Fred Collis an opportunity to race the FBG bike at the event, to which Collis graciously excepted.
After hearing the news I must admit that I was a bit skeptical of just how well the team would perform. I recognized that the newly formed team definitely had the right personnel with much experience to their credit, but certainly Collis would be a little rusty after not competing for nearly two years. I also presumed that setting up the motorcycle designed for Gast, to a shorter more compact Collis would be lengthy process.
As Team FBG took to the track for their first qualifying run Saturday morning, they immediately began discouraging my doubts by not missing a beat. It was clear that Collis planned to pick up right were he left off two seasons ago. It was also clear that Earl DeGlopper, in my opinion one of the greatest Pro Stock crew chiefs of all time, was on his game as well. By the end of the weekend Collis had defeated Geno Scali in the final, collected his 9th career victory and set a new Pro Stock elapsed time and speed record in the eighth mile with an impressive 4.524 at 156.48 mph.
In a post-race interview I asked Collis how he managed to stay in mid-season form without making a lap in such a long time. Collis replied, “This is one of the things we try to teach at the George Bryce drag racing school; you don’t have to physically make runs to be good. Mental preparation is much more important. I stay sharp by visualizing my runs over and over. When I found out that I would be racing at Atco two weeks prior to the event, I began making laps in my mind. I wasn’t concerned about being rusty, I just wanted to go out there and do what I know how to do.”
Fred’s comments reminded me of a story told to my wrestling team by our well-respected coach, that at the time my teammates and I regarded as nonsense. He told us of a man who was an averagely skilled golfer and was drafted into World War II. While in battle the gentleman was captured by the enemy and sentenced to a POW camp for over 8 years. To keep his spirits up in the harsh conditions of the camp, the man would sit in the dark and play round after round of golf in his mind everyday. When he was finally released from the camp, he was good enough to be a golf pro. Interpret the story as you choose to, but after listening to the testimony of guys like Fred Collis, I wonder just how unbelievable my coach’s tale was.
I pointed out to Fred that I thought he adapted to team FBG very quickly for never working with them before and asked him to elaborate on what it was like functioning with Paul, Earl, and Kevin. Collis stated, “It was great. Paul called me before the event to let me know that they had a “gazillion” rear wheel horsepower. He wouldn’t give me exact numbers but I knew they had a lot of steam. I found that Paul and I think a lot alike. We like to goof around in the pits but we know when we crank up the bike it’s time to get serious. My philosophy is that you have to go to the racetrack to have fun. It’s not always about winning and losing. I have fun at the races and if I win I have more fun. I go to every race I enter to win, but my intention is to have fun in the process. The success was a total team effort. Earl is our “wrench.” He is awesome, he can handle anything. Kevin took the role of brains of the operation, constantly studying the data from each run, always looking for unobvious. Paul added his experience in between playing salesman, pushing his T-shirts and other FBG products.”
The collective effort of the FBG boys landed the bike in the winner’s circle for the third time of the season. To add, team FBG’s success did not stop at Atco. Due to Gast’s lingering illness, Collis raced with the team throughout the remainder of the season, qualifying #1 at every event and winning the prestigious World Finals in Gainesville, Florida.
Collis declared, “It was really nice to return to Prostar as a former champion and pick up right where I left off.”
Fred’s plans for the 2003 season are still unclear but as of now he admits that he will race Top Gas at some of the SEMDRA events. Talking to Fred one can sense his passion for motorcycle drag racing and can also tell that he is eager to get back to the drag strip.
While Fred’s plans for next season are uncertain, one thing is for sure; due to the help of team FBG and some priceless mental preparation, Fred Collis was able to capture both ends of the 1/8th mile Pro Stock record at his first race back from a near two season hiatus.
Racers are always looking to get the maximum possible performance out of what they have to work with. I found my 9th selection particularly impressive because of the results the team yielded, given what they were working with, especially in terms of displacement.
# 9 Ryan Schnitz takes a virtually stock 600cc motorcycle into the mid 9-sixty zone.
Motorcycle drag racers were eager to get to Georgia for this year’s running of the Star Nationals after the postponement of the season-opening MRE Sunshine Nationals one-month prior. Kawasaki/Muzzy backed rising star and Zero Gravity 600 SuperSport class champion Ryan Schnitz was not an exception.
With the help of his family and crew chief Richie Brotherton, Schnitz clicked off an unbelievable lap time of 9.656 at 140.63 mph, which proved to be the quickest and fastest run of all time in the category.
“I knew it was a good pass when I crossed the finish line”, exclaimed Schnitz. “I looked down and the tach was at 14-grand. I usually go through the traps at anywhere from 13.7 to 13.8 (thousand RPMs).”
Although Schnitz continued to dominate the class for the 6 remaining races afterward, he could not seem to surpass his performance in Georgia.
I asked Ryan what made the run in Atlanta so hard to reproduce throughout the rest of the year.
Schnitz stated, “I wish I knew. We spent all year trying to duplicate it. We knew that the conditions in Atlanta played a big part. We had great air all weekend, the track was smooth, and I even noticed a slight tailwind on that particular run.”
While weather and track conditions played a role in Schnitz’s success, it was also the way they had the motorcycle set up to fully utilize the ideal environment, that contributed to their accomplishment. Because the 600 SuperSport class features “stock”, street-able motorcycles compared to the “race only” machines in the pro classes, many people think that there is little to no maintenance and tuning work to be done on the 600s between rounds. Ryan filled me in on how this is simply not the case.
“We have tons of work and tuning decisions back at the pits, maybe even more so than Pro Stock because we have suspension to be tuned,” stated Schnitz. “We also spend a lot of time on jetting and gearing as well. We have gone back and forth between using a stock clutch set-up and aftermarket aluminum plates, which also require constant tuning and maintenance.”
While we use the word “stock” when referring to this class, it is understood that Schnitz’s bike is much more quicker and faster than one right off the showroom floor because of the slight alterations that the rules permit them to make. For instance, aftermarket exhaust systems are legal in the category and Ryan told me that he believes his Muzzy pipe is the main reason for the bikes outstanding performance compared to stock exhaust. Ryan also utilizes a K&N air filter to improve airflow along with aftermarket wheel bearings, chain, and sprockets to make the bike roll smooth.
Although Ryan holds the record and is the defending champion of the class, it appears as if he will not compete in the 600cc. category next year, as he focuses on his NHRA Pro Stock project with Rob Muzzy and Steve Johnson.
“We are hoping to have the bike done and be ready for the NHRA Gatornationals,” said Schnitz.
Ryan stated that he still plans to attend Prostar events whenever the NHRA schedule permits. And for all of you “Schnitz-aholics” out there that enjoy the luxury having an established dealer loaded with parts on-site at the races, don’t worry. Ryan told me that as of now his mom and dad plan to attend every Prostar race as they did last year.
After only losing one race the entire season, Ryan leaves the category on the top of his game. In fact Ryan was just one event win away from completing a perfect season, which has never been done prior to this year. However, Ryan was very upbeat about not winning the final race and accomplishing perfection.
“I’m just glad we had a performance advantage on the field all year. Winning the last race would have been a great way to end the season but we are still very excited about running so well and winning the championship.”
Ryan Schnitz may have missed out on a perfect season by just a couple of round wins, but that did not stop him from winning his second straight championship, and becoming the quickest man ever down “the 1320” on a 600 SuperSport.
# 8 After a year of uncertainty, Scooter Kizer makes the announcement that Funnybike is here to stay.
The 8th greatest moment of the season is uncharacteristic of this list thus far because it did not actually take place on the drag strip. Although the event was not an “on track” spectacle, I knew that it would be one of the biggest stories of the year immediately after hearing the announcement.
Shortly after the 2001 World Finals, AMA/Prostar CEO, Keith “Scooter” Kizer, informed the motorcycle drag racing community that due to rising track rental fees, one of the pro classes had to go. With Top Fuel being utilized as the “headliner” for many Prostar events, and with Pro Mod and Pro Stock alive and well, Kizer concluded that Funnybike was the only reasonable choice because of its drastic decline in number of participants over the years. Initially Kizer stated that, after a bad year financially, Funnybike would no longer be part of Prostar in 2002. Kizer also proposed some rule changes, which would enable Funnybike racers to compete in Top Fuel.
As anyone that regularly keeps up with dragbike.com already knows, the news did not go over well, especially with the clique of Funnybike regulars. Detractors and critics of Kizer’s decision immediately began to surface on the dragbike.com discussion forms. Statements such as “I will never race Prostar again!” became almost cliché as the angry mass expressed their fury.
This was certainly not the reaction Kizer hoped for as he was now faced with an imminent problem. In an attempt to be fair to the Funnybike competitors Kizer revised his earlier statement with one that permitted Funnybike to compete in 2002 under special provisions. One such stipulation was that due to the decreasing number of entries, Funnybike would now be run and paid as an 8-bike field as opposed to the standard 16-bike field of the past. Also, Kizer turned the tables on the Funnybike racers as he changed his tone from “Funnybike is gone”, to “Funnybike is gone if the racers can not find a solution to the dilemma.”
Upon hearing the news that Funnybike would compete in 2002, I was elated but could not help thinking that despite what happens, Funnybike’s days were numbered. As the 2002 Funnybike season began to unfold, we witnessed some pretty awesome performances from guys like; defending champion, Rob Giard, first-time winner, Jerry Lownsberry, eventual class champion, Chip Ellis, and of course the winningest Funnybike racer of all time, Gary Clark. By the last four races Marc Oliver and Tom Perry had become top-notch contenders as well, making the 8-bike field very elite and aggressive. However, while the racing was exceptionally competitive and entertaining the turnout of racers was still relatively low in comparison with other years.
Spirits were low among Funnybike racers, as it appeared that the existence of their class was a forgone conclusion and I do mean gone. I remember seeing Gary Clark after the Spring Nationals/Norris Cyclefest race held at Norwalk Raceway Park, collecting his check and claiming his contingencies, after going to two finals that weekend. Although the winner’s circle is nowhere new to Clark, it is for the most part a place where riders are often euphoric after a solid weekend. This was not the case with Clark on this particular instance. I did not have a chance to talk with him, but to me he appeared dejected. As I passed by I could hear him talking about not being sure what the future holds for his class and how he hoped someone overseas would be interested in buying his bike. I felt bad knowing that at a time when Gary Clark and his established crew chief, Rick Stetson, should be jubilant for a successful weekend, they were disgusted. I recognized this situation to be the equivalent of getting a promotion at work while finding out you will be laid off shortly.
At the end of the summer, after remaining quiet on the topic for several months, Kizer issued what appeared to be the final statement regarding Funnybike. The proclamation declared that due to lack of involvement and overall increasing expense, Funnybike would no longer be an AMA/Prostar class as of 2004.
Once again the discussion forums exploded with rage, but this time something was different. People were just as angry as before but now began to sense that Funnybike was definitely on its way out and little could be done to change that. After watching Steve Rice and Chip Ellis lay down some stout passes at Montgomery, I envisioned Prostar without Funnybike and felt as if an integral part of motorcycle drag racing was dying. A class in which the foundation was laid by greats such as Jim McClure, Neal “fast” Lane, and Scooter’s own brother, Terry Kizer.
I knew that terminating a class in which his brother was so influential, both as a racer and a manufacturer, would not be an easy task for Kizer. However I also recognized that Scooter Kizer’s position with Prostar is one that forces him to make decisions in the best interest of the organization and not to worry about pleasing individuals.
Kizer stated, “Funnybike was always one of my favorite classes but because of the tracks getting outrageously expensive, and the nagging economy, I was forced to put my personal feelings aside.”
The final race of the season in Gainesville held many “surprises” in the Funnybike category and proved to be rather bizarre. First, Chip Ellis would not be riding the motorcycle he won the championship on just one-month prior, and Steve Rice would not even be present at the event. Next, Gary Clark would post the lowest et of the class in over a year with an outstanding 6.53, while strangely red lighting with a .397. The third surprise proved to be the most significant and elaborate of them all.
At about 7:30 on Sunday evening during the Funnybike final, Scooter Kizer shocked the entire motorcycle drag racing community as he announced that due to the contributions of a small coalition headed by Tom Perry, Funnybike is here to stay; not just in 2003, but for good. Kizer went on to mention how the rules will be changed to make Funny bike “more affordable” with a “run what ya brung” type philosophy.
“I think we will be right back to where we were a few years ago, with over 20 Funnybikes at this year’s first race”, stated Kizer. The new rules, which put an extra emphasis on “stepping stone to Top Fuel”, welcome back injected nitro Harleys, given they run a 13 inch tire.
Some are not so sure this will be a warm welcome to the Harleys. Dragbike.com editor Matt Polito stated, “Harleys running in Funnybike would be the best thing to happen to the class. I think we will see a few Harleys pop up but most of those bikes are built to run on 14 inch tires, and many of the teams may not be willing to go through the effort required to run on a 13 inch tire.” While Polito brings up an interesting point concerning the nitro Harleys, only time will tell who’s prophecy becomes reality.
Although expected participation in 2003 is obscure, it is clear that with the sponsorship money that Perry and company bring to the table along with possibly more support from long time sponsor of the class, Orient Express, Funnybike’s financial future now looks more promising than ever.
“We are real happy we could get this worked out”, said Kizer. “We could not have done it without Tom Ward, who worked as the facilitator of the case for the last several months. Also a big thanks goes out to Tom Perry. We asked competitors all year, What is the future of the class? Perry is the only one that came up with an answer. Perry brought enough sponsors to the table to have a season. We have changed the rules and are still looking at them, to make this class more affordable and a stepping-stone to Top Fuel. I think what you will see is an immediate turnaround next year with several bikes at the first race”.
After making the save, I admire Tom Perry and the way he took charge in finding a solution. He is a great example of how racers can truly make a difference in the sport they love, instead of just complaining about what they dislike.
As of now Funnybike will go back to a 16-bike field format and final rule changes will be posted on amaprostar.com. There will also be a website dedicated to the new Funnybike alliance right here on Dragbike.com In conclusion, after a long heated debate for nearly a year, Funnybike racers, crews, and fans can finally breathe a sigh of relief thanks to the proposal of some determined racers and an open-minded Prostar administration.
Because of its “1 on 1” nature, motorcycle drag racing can be classified as a sport with very extreme emotional highs and lows. For the most part, two motorcycles come to the starting line, with only one of them advancing to the next round. This system time and again produces several long, unhappy faces after each round. Because drag racers do not have hundreds of miles and laps to make up for mistakes like Winston Cup drivers, it is necessary to seize an opportunity when it is presented to you. This next rider did just that, by overcoming adversity and turning an awfully dismal weekend into a tremendously successful one.
#7 Charlie Farrar wins Indy after failing to qualify for the 16-bike field.
Selection #7 is indeed a paradox because it seems so contradictory. However, it is quite true because by qualifying in the #18 spot, Charlie Farrar became second alternate. This means that if two motorcycles qualified in the top 16, would not be able to make it to the starting line for first round, Farrar would be permitted to race as a provisional. Obviously Farrar had little chance of even making it into the show, let alone winning the event.
After the final round of qualifying on Saturday night, Farrar’s best effort after three passes was an off pace 7.257 at 179.74 mph. In terms of performance, Farrar and his C&W Kawasaki were more than three-tenths of a second behind pole-sitter, John Sachs.
Farrar stated, “Much like Gary Clark we struggled the first half of the season trying to figure out the right combination for our Rick Ward Vortex cylinder head. We had several problems and we had no idea how to find the right tune-up. We were lost. The bike would leave the starting line and then just die.”
Although Farrar was out of the race with little chance of making it into the program, his crew chief, Russ Nyberge, showed up early Sunday morning to work on the bike. It seemed as if Nyberge might have had an epiphany overnight, as the problem suddenly became clear to him and he began making changes on the bike. Shortly afterwards Farrar walked up to the starting line as the first session of pros were being paired in the lanes. “I went up to the staging lanes in my blue jeans and saw that some of the guys that I qualified ahead of were waiting to make it in as alternates. At this time I knew I better go get the bike and get suited up”.
Due to mechanical problems on Nathaniel Wright’s machine, first alternate Pat Watson Jr., was allowed to take his place. This now upgraded Farrar from second alternate to first alternate. As the Funnybikes took to the track, #14 qualifier Ricky Lang was not yet in the lanes for pairing. Farrar was able to take Lang’s spot just moments before first round of eliminations. As Farrar wheeled his machine up to the starting to face off against Mike Caputo, a frantic Ricky Lang scurried to the starting line attempting to claim back his position on the ladder. All Farrar could do at this point was to wait for the official call from the AMA/Prostar staff.
Farrar stated, “When I saw Ricky I backed off. I did not think we were going to be able to run. Then Nettie [Damron, Prostar lane coordinator] instructed me to back out”.
Although it appeared as if Ricky Lang would get approval, the final decision would come from AMA/Prostar Event Director Scott Barger. However, although Lang was not aware of it at the time, he was already too late due to sequence that AMA/Prostar inserted the alternates into the ladder. Lang was scheduled to take on Toby Troyer in round number one, not Mike Caputo, who was lined up next to Farrar. Lang presumed that the second alternate, Farrar, would be his replacement since Lang was the slower of the two qualified bikes being replaced. However this was not the way the bikes were paired and Toby Troyer had already taken on Pat Watson Jr. Understanding the situation, Barger made the correct call by backing Lang out of the water box while allowing Farrar to make the pass.
The confusion at the starting line did not seem to hurt Farrar’s concentration as he posted a career best 6.95 to a stunned Mike Caputo’s 7.08. It was clear that the early morning maintenance and tuning changes by Russ Nyberge had paid off a great deal. Farrar’s success continued throughout the rest of the day, as he swept through the quarter and semi-finals, defeating Toby Troyer and Steve Drake. Team C&W improved with each pass as they ran a 6.91 followed by a sizzling 6.86.
Eventual 2002 Pro Mod champion, John Sachs was the only man left standing between Farrar and his first ever AMA/Prostar national event victory. To add to the stress, Farrar was also up against the Pro Mod tuning expertise of Joe Franco, who along with fulfilling his duties as crew chief for Sachs, helped Farrar with his troubles finding the right set-up throughout the course of the season. Farrar and his C&W teammates responded to the pressure by posting the quickest Pro Mod Kawasaki run of all time with a superb 6.82 to Sachs’ 6.87.
Farrar stated, “To win Indy was unbelievable to me. It was great doing it in front of my entire family and friends. We were all amazed. I wasn’t even expecting to race on Sunday. Getting my first win after not qualifying was unbelievable. It wouldn’t have been possible without the help of C&W cycle shop. Russ Nyberge did a great job tuning the bike. Carl Nyberge, who handles the transmission and chassis, helped out a lot too. I also appreciated all the help from Joe Franco, Rick Ward, and Tony Lang as well”. Farrar continued to lay down impressive numbers throughout the remainder of the season that significantly raised the market value of his motorcycle, making it very easy to sell.
“Yeah, I sold the bike, but I’m not giving it up yet. Not until we can prove that our new bike is just as quick”, stated Farrar. “We will have both bikes at Gainesville and will test the new one on Wednesday or Thursday”. Although Farrar is not so quick to give up his record-setting bike from last year, he is very optimistic about the new one. “We’ve got one of those new Trac Dynamics aluminum race chassis. We feel good about the new bike and hope to be racing it by the middle of the season”.
Farrar, who has been racing since 1992, recognizes that the transition from bike to bike may take some time, and is making a very veteran-like decision. With year-end points battles sometimes being decided by less than a round win, there is no reason to get off a proven motorcycle until the new one is just as competitive. And yes, Farrar’s new motor will of course be a Kawasaki power plant. After posting the quickest Pro Mod run of all time on a Kawasaki, Farrar hopes to attract attention from the factory and possibly join Team Green.
Along with racing Prostar, Farrar would like to campaign his Pro Stock Kawasaki at various NHRA events. “Pro Stock is also a lot of fun for me. I bought my first bike from C&W, off of Russ and Carl’s dad,” stated Farrar.
After not qualifying and going on to win the event, Farrar and his team exemplify how quickly steadfast individuals can change their luck in the sport of motorcycle drag racing. After struggling through both days of qualifying, the easy thing to do would have been to load up the bike on Saturday and start heading home. Instead Team C&W did the opposite, by showing up early Sunday morning, attempting to correct the problem. Much like in Robert Frost’s classic poem, Team C&W took the road less traveled by, and after turning their season around, found that it had made all the difference.
It is amazing how far technology has come in the last twenty-five years, and in many ways particularly the motorcycle industry. Benefiting most from the technological advances of two-wheel manufacturers is perhaps the growing mass of street bike drag racers. Much like today, back in the year 1977, many casual motorcycle drag racers preferred to compete on the same machine that they rode to work everyday. They would head to the drag strip, unscrew the mirrors, let some air out of the tire, and depending on how much performance work and aftermarket parts were on the bike, would attempt to get their Kawasaki KZ or Suzuki GS into the 11-second zone. That same street racer mentality still exists today with only one major difference. The street bikes of the twenty-first century boast performance that racers of the 70’s could only have dreamed of. Today, the no wheelie bar rowdies, or “a few good men”, as they like to call themselves, are easily taking stock ZX-12s, and Hayabusa’s into the 9-second zone. Thanks to all of the fresh, new factory involvement in the sport of motorcycle drag racing, riders laid down some pretty stout performances on street-able, road-worthy bikes this season. My next two selections as 6th and 5th greatest moments of the AMA/Prostar season are impressive not just for their remarkable elapsed times, but because both men race in classes in which the use of slicks and wheelie bars are prohibited.
So far every selection on the top ten list has been a clear-cut, conclusive event. The 6th greatest moment of the season does not follow the same pattern because the actual instance went unrecognized due to all of the controversy and gray area that plagued the class.
#6 Hot Rod Cruiser Motorcycles break into the nines for the first time ever
The front-runners in the Yamaha Hot Rod Cruiser category have become tremendously quicker over the last two seasons. Since the inception of the class, the elapsed time record has been shattered by more than a full second. By the end of the 2001 season, top-notch competitors like Jon Cornell and Leonard Mellgren, raised the bar on the competition by consistently posting elapsed times in the ten second range and by year’s end, the 10.70s. After what must have been a very busy off-season in terms of research and development, Mark Underwood and his Nigel Patrick-motored Yamaha, picked up four tenths on last year’s field during their very first pass of the 2002 season.
At the second race of the year in Atlanta, Georgia, it appeared as if Rick McWaters and the Terry Reed-motored Harley Davidson (pictured right) had made history by becoming the first Hot Rod Cruiser team into the 9-second zone. However, that run would prove to be illegitimate later in the season, after Prostar deemed the bike illegal due to valve angle alterations within the cylinder head.
Although the rider did not receive the proper accolades at the time, the first true Hot Rod Cruiser 9-second pass occurred at the third race of the AMA/Prostar tour in Richmond, Virginia, as Mark Underwood posted a 9.97 in qualifying on a brand new motorcycle.
“That bike came straight out of the crate,” stated Underwood. “The bike arrived at the track on Friday night, after being shipped overnight from California. That bike had never seen anything but the dyno, and it went right into the nines.”
Since a rider cannot see his elapsed time, speed, and down-track incremental data until he collects his time slip, real-time cues from the motorcycle such as tire spin, wheelies, or the harmony of the engine, often tell a rider the quality of the run. Some of the riders talk about how they can literally feel a good run. Because Underwood and his massive Yamaha Road Star Warrior weigh over 800 lbs, it is harder for him to differentiate the good runs from the bad ones when he crosses the finish line. This was the case with his first ever 9 second blast.
“Typically the fast runs don’t feel so fast,” affirmed Underwood. “That particular run really didn’t feel like a nine. Because the bike was so new, we didn’t have a lock-up clutch yet, so I had to play with the clutch a lot because of the different power band.”
Underwood continued to have solid outings the rest of the year, making it to the semis at every race. Although Underwood went on to win the championship after McWaters forfeited all his points for the season, Underwood retains a certain amount of frustration that comes with knowing he had had the quickest legal bike in the category all year, yet did not collect his first win until the final race.
Underwood declared, “I am very happy to have won the championship, it makes all the hard work worth it. Coming into the race in Alabama we were stuck in second place, so it was very nice to have a turn around. However, I do have some mixed emotions and can’t help but thinking that we were cheated out of a dream season. The only two bikes I lost to all year were illegal; we could have won every race. It was a lot of hard work and stress for Nigel Patrick and I, but it all paid off in the end.”
Despite McWaters and Reed stealing some of team Yamaha’s thunder, Underwood and Patrick remain upbeat. Underwood is more concerned with the competitiveness of the class for next year, and how the window of opportunity may have been slammed shut for average privateers that want to participate in the class.
“This season really hurt the rest of the field,” stated Underwood. “We were forced to raise the bar on the rest of the competition so quickly, it will be very tough for the other guys to catch up. This category was designed to be sportsman class and the average guy should be able to go buy a bike, make a few modifications, and become competitive. That whole philosophy is now ruined since we had to raise the bar so quickly trying to catch the illegal bikes. Looking back, the bike we had in Gainesville was probably good enough to win the championship on. It was great and very street-able. You could ride it around town. Then we were forced to start building bikes that ran on the edge.”
Next year’s performances should be even more impressive than last with the new rules allowing the bikes to be 50 lbs lighter.
Underwood stated, “Right now both of our bikes are going on a diet over in California. We should be able to pick up a couple of tenths without doing anything but taking the weight off.”
Underwood is very excited about the upcoming season and as a 16-year veteran genuinely values his current position with Yamaha and Nigel Patrick.
“This is an opportunity of a lifetime for me,” said Underwood. “Yamaha’s big markets are in motocross and roadracing, we are very happy to have them in drag racing. It was nice to work with Nigel Patrick too. He is a great guy to work with; I like to call him a mad scientist, in a good way of course. He is truly an innovator. Also, my family has sacrificed a great deal for me. They have put up with me spending money on things I shouldn’t have for the last 16 years. They never quit believing in me.”
Underwood and Patrick may have been cheated out of a dream season, but the second best alternative was still quite respectable. The end result is Underwood possessing both ends of the record with a 9.86 at Richmond, and a top speed of 133.51 in Gainesville, at the World Finals. Regardless of controversy, the dynamic duo of Underwood and Patrick achieved the primary goal they set for the season by winning Yamaha their first ever AMA/Prostar championship.
With constant battles of bragging rights, over who has the quickest and fastest street bike occurring at bike shops, street corners, and taverns all over the country, only time slip-possessing drag racers can justly support their “trash talking” by proving their machine’s true capabilities. If actions speak louder than words, the most deafening instance concerning the street bike performance boasters took place this year in Atlanta.
#5 Kent Stotz runs the quickest and fastest street bike pass of all-time
A total of seven AMA/Prostar records were set this year at the Star Nationals in Atlanta, due to the ideal weather and track conditions. Honda-backed Streetbike Shootout pilot, Kent Stotz was among the group of racers benefiting from these superb conditions, as he clicked off a total of three passes in the 7.60s. Stotz’ outstanding performances led him to the final round, where he met up with his Kawasaki-sponsored nemesis, Rickey Gadson. Stotz and his CBRXX crossed the finishing line first, collecting his second win of the season and posting the record for the quickest and fastest street bike with a remarkable 7.645 at 192.33 mph. Although the conditions were near perfect in Atlanta, Stotz attributes his success to finding the right tuning combination.
“Basically a lot of things came together,” stated Stotz. “It started at the World Finals the year before. After performing well there, I looked at everything over the winter to see why. When we arrived at Atlanta I just applied what I thought would work.” Judging by his extraordinary performance, Stotz’ combination must have been dead-on, as he was less than eight mph away from making a two hundred mph pass on a DOT street tire.
Despite posting such a dazzling speed and lap time, Stotz became sidetracked by the controversy and debate circling the class which came to a head in Atlanta. According to the AMA/Prostar rulebook, Streetbike Shootout competitors are required to make mandatory stops at the tech trailer after each run to check the wheelbase, weight, and ground clearance of the motorcycle. Due to what appeared to be an uneven concrete surface in the Atlanta tech area, some of the bikes such as Gadson’s factory-backed ZX-12, were not passing the ground clearance test. After noticing the rough surface of the clearance-test bay, Prostar become conscious that their findings may have been inaccurate. In an attempt to be fair, Prostar gave the potentially disqualified bikes another chance on a predetermined level surface. This decision angered many of the privateers, claiming that Prostar was catering to the factory-backed riders. Stotz, who serves as rules committee advisor for the category, became center of the controversy, as fellow racers congregated around his trailer demanding him to use his authority.
“People came to me and wanted Rickey Gadson thrown out. Now surely I would have loved to see Rickey out of the race, because he is one of my toughest competitors,” proclaimed Stotz. “However, I wasn’t going to make an unfair decision. We were being checked on a cement scale. Anyone that has ever poured cement knows how hard it is to get it flat. Rickey did not pass the clearance test the first time, but the cement was touching the bike in places that it would normally clear. It wasn’t a level surface.”
Stotz’ display of sportsmanship confirmed that he is an excellent representative for the rules committee. After analyzing the situation, Stotz is more disturbed with the overall tech procedure. He wants to see Prostar improving the system and making sure the rules are enforced properly.
“Prostar did not check ground clearance on Saturday. When you do not do something in qualifying, you should not do it in eliminations. I set my bike up so I am over the minimum ground clearance to make sure that I am legal, but I would still prefer being checked on Saturday as well. Anything that is going to be checked on Sunday should be checked on Saturday too,” said Stotz.
Adding to the disagreement, people began to accuse Stotz of cheating for using a two-step rev limiter. Although these devices are not typically used by street bikes, the rules of the class do not prohibited the use of them. With all the commotion and debates back in the pits, Stotz’ success on the track was somewhat tainted.
Stotz proclaimed, “The controversy made it hard to enjoy going rounds, but by the final when I ran the 7.64 most of the people that were giving me a hard time had went home, so I was able to enjoy the win.”
Stotz has been around racing for quite some time and has even experimented with wheelie-bared, drag bikes. After riding each, Stotz prefers the unique and exhilarating feeling that only the world’s fastest street bike could produce.
“It’s awesome,” stated Stotz. “The biggest thrill is that you can feel the power through the handle bars and the entire bike. I feel more g-force exerted upon me on this bike than any other. The feeling of hard acceleration without a wheelie or tire spin is awesome.”
Stotz is one of the few riders that has taken the sport of motorcycle drag racing to the next level by alluring valuable sponsorship from one of the major manufactures. He has a genuine enthusiasm for the sport and thanks Honda for giving him the opportunity to represent the “Red Riders.”
Stotz stated, “The first two years of factory support was basically just a test to see if Honda would like to get into drag racing. They accepted what we have done for them and recognize that motorcycle drag racing is a great form of exposure. I want to thank Charlie Keller and the Honda Riders Club of America, for believing in me. They will be with us next year, and would really like to see the VTX become competitive in the Hot Rod Cruiser class.”
After winning the Streetbike Shootout title two years in a row, giving Honda their first pair of AMA/Prostar championships, Stotz will pass the Streetbike Shootout torch to his new teammate, Barry Henson. In turn Stotz will concentrate on his VTX thumper that he will race in Hot Rod Cruiser next year.
“I will be focusing on the Cruisers for next year,” declared Stotz. “In order for me to be competitive, it will take quite a bit of my time, energy, and focus. I don’t want to short-change Honda or myself. So regarding Streetbike Shootout, the class is still very exciting for me, but Honda really wants the V-twin championship and if I can’t give one hundred percent of my attention to Shootout, let me help someone that can. Barry Henson is very hungry, he wants his first number-one plate as bad as I did.”
Like any great champion, Stotz has an exceptionally formidable staff on his side. “My crew chief, Mark Harrell, was there for me all year long,” stated Stotz. “He is one of those guys that gets me whatever I need, whenever I need it; he is always there. Also, Bill Hahn Jr. did a great job building and designing my bike. A lot of people criticize Bill for not keeping up and regularly attending races, but they can’t deny that his bike has won the championship the last two seasons.”
Stotz is very optimistic about the 2003 season. The newly formed team of Stotz and Henson hope to have the bikes ready to go by mid-February for testing in Florida. With the combination of the support from the factory, two exceptional riders, and the quickest and fastest street bike on the planet, look for team Honda to be quite a force in 2003.
We are now down to just four moments left to be revealed in the top 10 countdown. Although all of the moments on the list had a substantial amount of impact on the season, I consider the final four to be the moments that truly defined this year of AMA/Prostar drag racing.
In my opinion, there are not too many significant barriers left to break in the sport of motorcycle drag racing – at least not in the next twenty-five years. Over the last few decades, riders have dedicated their lives to becoming the first to eclipse momentous speed and time barriers. For example, after building his first Top Fuel motorcycle in the mid-1960s, the late Elmer Trett’s innovation and dedication to the sport of motorcycle drag racing paid off on September 5, 1983. Aboard his nitro-burning Kawasaki, Trett became the first motorcycle drag racer to eclipse 200 mph with a blast of 7.16 at 201.30 mph. Likewise, with the tuning expertise of Byron Hines and the premier riding abilities of Terry Vance, the Vance & Hines duo became the first team to post a six-second motorcycle pass with a 6.98, on August 2, 1984, at Orange County Raceway in Southern California. The most recent monumental barrier was broke, when Larry “Spiderman” McBride made his mentor proud and conquered Elmer Trett’s second life long quest, by recording the first five-second motorcycle run at the 1999 Matco Tools SuperNationals at Houston Raceway Park.
One particular historic barricade that remains unaccomplished in two-wheeled drag racing is the first six-second Pro Stock run. Due to its involvement with the NHRA, the Pro Stock motorcycle class has become a representation of, and the center of media attention for, motorcycle drag racing, by reaching hundreds of thousands of race fans each year. This nationally-anticipated performance mark was almost achieved this season, with many riders posting elapsed times in the 7.0s. With Prostar competitors being allowed larger engine configurations than NHRA riders, the race is on not just between the riders but also between the two organizations to claim the fist six-second Pro Stock Motorcycle pass.
This season at the Prostar race in Richmond, Virginia, one particular Pro Stock rider was less than three-hundredths of a second away from making eminent drag racing history with an stunning 7.029 elapsed time.
#4 – “7-0” Joe Koenig nearly misses the first ever Pro Stock six-second pass with a remarkable lap time of 7.029.
Not often am I forced to look down at the announcer’s computer to double check an elapsed time on the scoreboard that seems unbelievable. When Joe Koenig of Glenview, IL piloted his Team-Trim Tex Pro Stocker to an astounding 7.029 on Saturday afternoon at Richmond, I was forced to look twice. The run was the quickest ever in the category and the only lap better than 7.05 since Antron Brown set the record at the 2000 World Finals with a 7.04. Koenig proved that the run was not a fluke as he backed up the record within one percent in round one of eliminations the very next day, thus acquiring the alias “7-0” Joe.
Koenig stated, “We worked hard to put a new clutch in the bike on Friday night. We took it straight off the trailer on Saturday and left the starting line with a 1.10 sixty-foot time. The bike felt nice and straight the whole way down the track. We reached the eight mile mark in only 4.49 seconds, with a 2.53 back-half!”
Koenig, who was fresh off a 7.12 performance one-month prior at The AMA/Prostar Star Nationals in Atlanta, opted to swap his Fast by Gast “Crusher” motor, with a spare bullet purchased from Vance and Hines for the Richmond race.
“I ran Paul’s motors for two and a half years and they treated me very well,” declared Koenig. “Paul proved that his motors are capable of 7.0s. We switched to the Vance and Hines motor because it was making two more horsepower than Crusher and it seemed a little easier to tune. We rented a track and tested the Monday before the race in Chicago. My first pass with the Vance and Hines motor was a 7.08. We put Geno Scali on the bike and he also ran a 7.08, but did it with a 1.16 short time. The bike was all back-half so we knew we had some serious power. We made a few adjustments to accompany Geno’s light body weight and riding style and he ran a 7.021.”
After the very promising test session, Team Trim-Tex optimistically began their journey to Richmond, VA for the Spring Nationals. Although the weekend had held its share of success for Koenig, it also had its downfalls. One such downfall was the unsuitable riding conditions of the track on Friday’s test session. Koenig said, “The track was horrible on Friday. There was absolutely no traction past 550 feet. It was actually unsafe. In fact Paul almost crashed. He was in and out of the gas and got sideways. I completely blew the tire away on my first pass due to lack of traction. I give Tony Williams and the entire track crew a lot of credit for transforming an un-rideable track into one that could hold a 7.02.”
Koenig’s other low point occurred at the end of the weekend, as he was scheduled take on his teammate Paul Gast in the final. Due to a rain delay that pushed the race back several hours, the track conditions were becoming questionable because of late-night moisture on the track. Prostar President, Scooter Kizer, made the decision that all competitors remaining in a category would have to unanimously agree to run in order for there to be a next round. Gast decided not to race, which forced the final to Norwalk, OH one month later. Koenig stated, “Paul not running me at Virginia was the low point of my season. Especially after he had told me stories of how he used to run with flashlights and with deer on the track. I think it would have been the best drag race the class had ever seen, maybe a 7.03 to a 7.05. Paul was ready because after he hurt a motor but we put Crusher in his bike for his race against Todd Doege. He still wouldn’t run. Nothing against Paul, he knows what is best, he is a very smart competitor and it paid off for him. It’s just that it happened to me before and I couldn’t deal with finishing the race in a different state and a different month. It killed all of our momentum.” The incident, along with Koenig’s new Vance & Hines motor program, created friction between the once tightly knitted teams and they began to go their separate ways.
Only a handful of elite individuals have ever won an AMA/Prostar Pro Stock championship. They include John Myers, Dave Schultz, Paul Gast, Fred Collis, and Todd Doege. After recording his second career win at this year’s Pingel Thunder Nationals in Indianapolis, IN, “7-0” Joe Koenig and his multi-talented crew chief Jeff Wudi, found themselves on top of the Pro Stock points list for the first time ever. In a controversial final round at Indy, Koenig defeated his teammate, Geno Scali. Koenig stated, “I know a lot of people think Geno laid down for me, but that is simply not true. We are both competitors and we were racing out there.”
With only three races remaining on the tour it appeared as if Team Trim Tex was on their way to joining the prestigious Prostar Pro Stock #1 plate club, as long as they could fend off Murphy’s Law. “We went to Atco and just couldn’t get a handle on the track,” stated Koenig. “We lost our tune-up and couldn’t adapt. I messed up my two chances in qualifying, and in my opinion pros need more than two qualifying passes. I pretty much lost the championship when I went out in the first round of eliminations against Craig Greaves. I “double clutched” on the starting line and lost a tenth from my usual reaction times.”
Although Koenig came up short in his quest for the championship, he enjoyed the experience in retrospect. “We had a great time with all of our Prostar friends all year long,” he said. “I tip my hat to Todd Doege, they did a great job all year. My crew was awesome. Jeff “Superwrench” Wudi, Kenny “The Cooking Pro” Osberg, Kevin “Heel-Clicker” Fardoux, Noe “Mudder” Perez, Geno “The Assassin” Scali, and Mike “The Man” Gleason, were wonderful and a real pleasure to work with.”
Koenig now looks forward to his current endeavor with Geno Scali and his newly-formed NHRA Pro Stock team. It was recently announced that former long-time FBG crew chief, Earl DeGlopper will be the head wrench of the operation. Many riders and teams have crossed over from Prostar to NHRA and enjoyed moderate success, however this bunch has me wondering. The team seems to have all of the components necessary to make a run toward the NHRA Powerade championship; perhaps the most steadfast and determined rider in the sport, one of the most established crew chiefs of all time, who worked with champions like Paul Gast and Fred Collis, a savvy and successful business man in Joe Koenig to oversee the team financially, and the quickest Pro Stock bike in the world. Koenig stated, “We are excited. Geno is leaving is current job at the end of the year and will work full time with Earl on the team. Geno will be riding my TL-1000 with a few changes.”
Along with his quest for an NHRA number one plate, Koenig plans to race again in the future. “I will race again someday,” said Koenig. “Just not Pro Stock, I want to build something I can take to the local track and go to a few Prostar races with.”
Many reap the benefits of Koenig’s love and dedication to the sport of motorcycle drag racing, as he generously sponsors various events, classes, and Top Fuel teams. After a long-standing motorcycle drag racing career that started in 1978, and included NMRA Jr. Pro Stock, Koenig can now undisputedly claim himself to be the quickest Pro Stock rider ever, with the time-slip to prove it.
On a personal note, Team Trim-Tex was the first group of guys I met when I started working for Prostar. I have been around the race track long enough to know that with all of the hard work to be done and mental stress that comes with a weekend of racing, no one is expected to be hospitable toward strangers. Koenig and his crew took me into the trailer and made me feel right at home as they took time to show me the bike and explain some of the intricacies of the class to me. I’ll never forget what Joe Koenig and Jeff Wudi said to me the very first time I met them; “We may not always be the most successful team, but we will always have the most fun.” Even when the hunt for the championship began to unravel down the stretch, not once did they contradict this quote. In my opinion the sport of motorcycle drag racing could use a few more teams like the Trim-Tex squad.
Never before this season in AMA/Prostar drag racing history has a rider been so flawless that he or she has remained undefeated for a full season while qualifying number one at every event on the schedule. Some have came close, such as Gary Clark who won six of the eight Funny Bike races in 1997 and 2000, but never has a rider completed a “perfect season” until this year’s World Finals.
#3 Jim Carroll completes Prostar’s first perfect season by remaining undefeated and qualifying #1 at all 8 events.
It was a storybook season this year for Jim Carroll of Mechanicsville, VA, who captured his first AMA/Prostar Formula Superbike championship aboard the Adams Performance ZX-12 Kawasaki. Coming into the final event of the season, Carroll and his Team Kawasaki teammate Ryan Schnitz, were both in the running for a flawless season after wrapping up the championships in Montgomery.
Unfortunately for Team Kawasaki, Schnitz was upset in the semi-finals, leaving Carroll as the last man eligible for the prestigious feat. Carroll went on to win the event, finishing the season with an unprecedented 30-0 record, with a total of 8 pole positions. Carroll expressed how he remained focused during the Gainesville final, with the title on the line; pun intended.
Carroll stated, “I wasn’t any more nervous than usual in the final. Being a sportsman racer, I know that you have to go up there and run your own race. I approached that round like any other. 90% of drag racing is mental.”
Carroll, who also competes in the extremely competitive Schnitz Top Gas category and RC Components Super Gas series, was actually able to “take it easy” on the tree in the Suzuki Formula Superbike series, due to his machine often being more than two-tenths of a second ahead of the rest of the field. Carroll said, “I didn’t have to push the tree as much in Superbike. It was really nice to have a performance advantage nine out of ten times this season. I have been bracket racing for years and that is where my heart is. I truly believe that sportsman racing is the toughest out there. You have to cut good lights in the sportsman categories because everybody has the equipment to run the index.”
En route to winning the championship that he wrapped up before the final race, Carroll posted the quickest and fastest run in the category with an outstanding 7.913 at 168.03 mph in Norwalk, OH. Carroll expressed, “Coby Adams and Chip Ellis made it easy for me. All I had to do was ride. I really didn’t know anything about this class coming into the season. Having the e.t. and mph records along with the championship is just an overall good feeling due to good people and good machinery. Without Adams Performance, Dave Schnitz, Tony Lang, and all of my other sponsors, it would have been a lot tougher.”
As Carroll continued to dominate the class throughout the season, not once did he take his competition for granted. A perfect season is surely something Carroll wished for all year, yet did not accept the notion until it became reality. Carroll stated, “It was nice to win so many races but I wasn’t sure we would get the perfect season. We just kept working hard and hoped for the best. As the year went on the rest of the field was really stepping up. Ryan Schnitz was running 8.0s by the final race. I hope that the class keeps growing over the winter.”
Carroll’s plans for next year are still somewhat up in the air. He is currently in the process of freshening up his Super Gas ZX-11, and his Top Gas ZRX-1200 at Sonny Fishpaw’s R&S motorcycle shop. Whether he will defend his number one plate in Formula Superbike is undetermined. Despite Carroll’s uncertain plans, his love of racing will not let him astray from Prostar next season. “I really enjoyed all of the events last year,” stated Carroll. “I met a lot of nice people and had fun doing what I love. As of right now, I will definitely be back next year. I will run Pro ET, Super Gas, and Top Gas. I’m not sure about the other classes right now.”
In conclusion, Jim Carroll’s feat this year is sincerely remarkable. The only circumstance keeping this instance from being #1 or #2 on the top 10 list, is that, as with any new class, the bike count was down all year. Although that does not undermine the hard work necessary for the achievement. I believe Jim Carroll, Coby Adams and Chip Ellis may have yielded the same results if there were a 16-bike field at every event. Talking to Jim Carroll on the phone, I discovered that he was a very humble man. I found this to be surprising, considering that after doing something that no motorcycle drag racer has ever done before, he has every right to be cocky. In a day and age where “trash talking” and arrogance are commonplace at motorcycle drag racing events, Carroll appears to live by the words of Teddy Roosevelt, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Following a sensational season Carroll remains to speak softly of himself and the rest of the field, and 30-0 is a pretty big stick.
When I called Jim Carroll to interview him about his perfect season, we began discussing the very high level of competition in the sportsman categories. Carroll, who races in both professional and sportsman classes, expressed how he believes sportsman racing is as tough as it gets. Although the pro categories are the ultimate in competition, Carroll brings up a strong argument. At any given Prostar event there could be up to 64 bikes in the indexed categories, and well over 100 entries in Pro ET. Everybody has got the proper equipment to run the number and it shows on the track. Typically by the end of three rounds of qualifying in any of the indexed categories of Top Gas, Super Comp, and Super Gas, there is at times less than a tenth of a second separating the #1 and #32 qualifier. This makes for exceptionally tight racing that often comes down to the difference in the two rider’s reaction times. Due to the mentally and mechanically demanding nature of these classes, sportsman competitors put countless hours of practice, machine tuning, and mental preparation into their dream of someday winning a national event. To visit the winner’s circle at the end of the race day, a rider must have been completely flawless, or at least achieve a higher level of performance than his other 63 or more adversaries.
With so much to be said about the difficulty of winning an event, surely winning two classes in one day is impossible, right? Amazingly, it has been accomplished before and multi-time champion Bruce Sauer has done it on more than one occasion. Ok, so two wins in one day has been achieved, but three wins in one day at a national event is unthinkable, right? Wrong again because at Norwalk, Ohio last season, one rider was so dead-on that he achieved what had never been done before.
#2 Mike Konopacki becomes the first man in Prostar history to “triple” by winning three classes at one event.
Mike Konopacki of Oshawa, Ontario Canada, is one of the few “Ironman” competitors in Prostar – one of the guys that competes in three or more classes at one event, making for a very busy race day. Over the last decade Konopacki has established himself as one of the most talented and machine-like bracket racers in the world. Konopacki’s reputation has risen to such a high status that, fellow racers are more startled to see Konopacki not appear in a final round then they are to see him win an event.
Konopacki is to Prostar sportsman drag racing what the New York Yankees are to Major League Baseball – an icon and a dominator. Konopacki’s dominance has gained him the current record for most season championships by a sportsman, with ten Prostar #1 plates since the inception of the organization back in 1989. Perhaps Konopacki’s greatest achievement to date occurred last season, on June 30th, at the Norris Motorsports Cyclefest, at Norwalk Raceway Park, as he won an unprecedented three classes in one day. Recently I called Mike to get his reaction on this extraordinary feat. My conversation with “The Pack” was entirely different from what I expected, and actually had me baffled. I once heard from a track coach, “true champions are never really content with their performances.” I began to conclude that Konopacki must fall into this category, as he explained how winning three classes in one day felt.
“To tell you the truth, I think the crew was more excited than I was,” Konopacki said. “I was happy but I don’t get real excited and pumped up like some of the other guys. I try to stay in the same state of mind from the first round to the final round.”
Konopacki’s consistent soft-spoken behavior reflects his racing style on the track. Konopacki quietly went about his business on that sunny afternoon in Ohio, chopping through each ladder round by round. Konopacki stated, “I wasn’t thinking about anything. I just stayed focused. I had a crappy Friday, so I really wanted to perform well. I just got on my bikes and I was in a zone. I wish I could get in that good of a zone every race.”
At the beginning of the day Konopacki was entered in four classes, and by the conclusion of the event had came away with wins in Dynatek Pro ET, RC Components Super Gas, and Schnitz Top Gas. Konopacki’s success in multiple classes can be attributed to his ability to flawlessly adapt to the different classes, which vary in dial-ins, speeds, and christmas tree configurations. “It wasn’t that hard,” stated Konopacki. “All three bikes are basically the same, they are just set up differently. The delay box helps by turning the full tree into a four tenths pro tree. The speeds get a little faster in Top Gas, but it’s all basically the same. I like going fast, Top Gas is my favorite class.”
Now for all of you aspiring sportsman event winners that want to know how the 10-time champion prepares for race day, here is where the interview gets really bizarre and puzzling. “I don’t practice,” said Konopacki. “I haven’t picked up a practice tree in over five years. It’s all about making laps, but I really haven’t done much of that either. Other than Prostar, I only raced at my local track three times all year, and once was on my street bike.”
Although Konopacki only raced in three events at his local track, he was able to qualify for the Division Finals in Indy, due to lack of participation at his home track. Konopacki also made a cameo appearance at the 10K Pay Day, where he uncharacteristically went out first round to Jerry Ferguson, from the hot-bed of motorcycle drag racing. Waldorf, Maryland.
Winning one AMA/Prostar season championship entitles a racer to a place in motorcycle drag racing history. Konopacki has won #1 plates seven different seasons, winning two in the same year in 1995, 2000, and 2001. After compiling a resume such as this, Konopacki, who was in the hunt for four different championships at midseason, explained to me how only coming away with one championship is actually a let down. “Oh yeah, it’s worse than a let down,” Konopacki said. “It’s very bad. I just couldn’t cut a light the last half of the season. Cutting 450s is what I call not cutting a light. I just couldn’t get it done, it faded away the last half of the season and I’m not sure why. I let two championships get away.”
Although Konopacki came away with the Pro ET title for a third straight year, he began to sound more and more disgusted as I asked him about his plans for next year. Konopacki said, “I don’t know. I really have no idea at this moment. I came back from Florida very disappointed. I let two championships slip away. I am happy for Kenny Dermanelian and Chris MacLaurin, but I am very disappointed in myself. To be honest, at this point I would be surprised if I’m in Florida for the first race. I’ve been too disgusted to touch the bikes since the final race. If I’m in Florida, I have two motors to freshen up first.”
As of now, Konopacki’s only immediate plans involving racing are to attend the NHRA opener in Pomona, CA. “I’m excited about going to Pomona, I love the nitro,” said Konopacki. “I enjoy NHRA and would possibly like to get involved someday, maybe in a Super Comp Dragster. That’s where the money is. When I won three Prostar classes at Norwalk, my winnings with contingencies only totaled $5,000. That’s not a great pay day for winning three classes.”
Konopacki went on to thank his crew for all of their hard work and dedication this season. Konopacki stated, “I want to thank Theresa Lockhart, Art Coker, Gerry Vendepol, and my son, Adam Konopacki.”
Often times in the late stages of a race Konopacki would have to rely on his crew for critical help, such as getting his other bikes to the lanes and picking him up at the far end of the track. The crew was up for the challenge and came through for him when it mattered the most. As for next season, it appears as if the 18-year veteran, who has been in over 60 Prostar finals, has some soul searching to do. If Konopacki chooses not to return to Prostar next season, he leaves a legacy that may never be surpassed. If he chooses to follow the circuit once again in 2003, I am confident that he will continue to dominate and accomplish that which is deemed unfeasible. If Konopacki returns, what’s next, possibly quadruple? I wouldn’t count it out.
As I stated in the very beginning of this countdown, composing a top ten list is a subjective process and the placement of events on that list is open to debate. Ironically, I consider the greatest moment of the 2002 AMA/Prostar season to be the least controversial of them all. In my opinion, no one can argue that the #1 moment was less significant or important than any of the others. When a team breaks the record for the quickest and fastest accelerating motorcycle of all-time, it is worthy of not only the AMA/Prostar record book, but the Guinness Book of World Records as well.
#1 Larry “Spiderman” McBride and crew, post the quickest and fastest runs in motorcycle drag racing history, covering the quarter mile from a dead stop in just 5.895 seconds at 243.59 mph.
After a strong showing at last season’s Star Nationals in Atlanta, Larry “Spiderman” McBride and his talented crew anxiously anticipated the forthcoming race, held at McBride’s home track near Richmond, Virginia. In front of a hometown crowd, along with friends and family watching the race from McBride’s all-expenses-paid catered suite, Spiderman recorded his third straight pole position of the year with a dazzling 6.004 at 237.25 mph. The stunning lap time gave McBride a bye in round one of eliminations in the heavily stacked field. After a long rain delay Sunday morning, McBride decided to use his “tune-up” pass, to post the quickest elapsed-time of all-time for any drag bike, with an outstanding 5.895 at 238.22 mph. Everybody in attendance rose to their feet in astonishment and began to cheer, all feeling as if they were a part of motorcycle drag racing history. When I saw the numbers up on the scoreboard I had to glance at the announcer’s computer with amazement to make sure nothing had blown through the lights that may have affected the time. Sure enough the run was legit and I was in utter shock, I rose to my feet with the rest of the crowd and almost dropped the microphone in the process. I apologize for anyone’s eardrums that I may have blew out afterwards, for I uncontrollably started shouting with excitement. I’ve been taught that showing emotion on the mic is not always professional, but I knew that this was something truly sensational, and couldn’t help myself.
McBride stated, “I knew when I crossed the finish line that it was awful good, but I didn’t know that it would be a record. Anytime you get above 230 mph you know it, but I didn’t know this pass was going to be a new national record. I remember sitting up in the tower during the rain delay, looking at the track, and thinking to myself, I have to race on this? There was absolutely no rubber past the eighth mile. I give Tony Williams and the Virginia Motorsports crew a heck of a lot of credit for doing such a good job prepping the track. That was a really great weekend for me all around. The greatest part was coming back up the return road, and everybody in the stands was jumping around and going crazy. My family was there. My wife’s family was there too along with all of our friends. It was so incredible pulling back into the pits. Everyone was there waiting for us. It was just an incredible feeling. I was in shock. It’s hard to explain how that felt to do it in front of the home crowd.”
McBride met up with “Ziggy” Stewart in a late evening round two surrounded by complete darkness. The sight of flames rearing from each of the competitors nitro burning, two wheeled “rocket ships”, was something worthy of an art gallery and was caught on film by Matt Polito in one of Dragbike.com’s most famous Photo of the Week selections. Once again McBride took the win and set the record. However this time it was the speed mark that the team surpassed with a rapid 5.92 at 243.59 mph.
“The 5.92 was the most exciting run of the weekend for me,” stated McBride. The overall sensation felt much faster because it was at night. It added to such a great weekend. To go out there and run 6.00, 5.89, and 5.92 on a “green” racetrack that had been rained on was amazing to me. It turned out to be a great track. I felt good and I was riding good. It was turning out to be a storybook weekend.”
Like most great rider’s Larry has got an exceptional group of teammates on his side. Larry’s crew chief and brother, Steve McBride, is one of the greatest tuners this sport has ever seen. There are some pretty great mechanics in the sport but no other crew chief in the world can claim to have tuned a drag bike to a 5-second pass. Steve can regularly be seen at any time during the race, on the starting line inspecting the track to figure out the right combination for the bike. Larry stated, “My brother’s actions speak for themselves, he is the greatest.” Along with Steve’s ingenious mechanically ability, Larry also enjoys the luxury of having an extremely knowledgeable and skilled Top Fuel veteran on his side in Roland Stewart. Larry said, “How many teams have crewman that raced Top Fuel for 30 years? I remember when Roland won Indy back in the eighties with his double engine Harley. With that much experience, “Ro” can do anything on the bike.”
Larry is currently training Roland Stewart’s 16-year old son to be a crewman as well. In addition, Daine Harris helps out a great deal when his busy work schedule permits. Larry was quick to thank his wife, Kathie, who also serves an integral part on the team. “Without Kathie none of us would be out here,” said McBride. “She feeds us. She is very involved and in my opinion I have the easy job. Cooking and selling T-shirts is not my forte.”
Larry “Spiderman” McBride is another one of those guys that has every reason to be arrogant; he is a giant and a leader in the sport of motorcycle drag racing. Despite McBride’s tremendous success he remains humble and down to earth. “The bottom line is that no one man can do what we have done this season,” said McBride. “It’s a total team effort and anyone that thinks they can do it alone needs a reality check. I feel so fortunate to have the crew people that I have. They take care of everything and I don’t have to worry at all. This gives me time to spend with the fans, which I feel is necessary. It’s great to give back to the fans. This isn’t car racing, as motorcycle drag racers we are like a small family, and we need to take care of the fans.” When I talked to Larry he was on his way to a Wish Upon a Star convention in Chicago, to benefit kids with cancer. Larry goes above and beyond what is expected of him in terms of giving back to the community and is a great representative for the sport.
McBride continued breaking records and turning heads throughout the rest of the season by going on a six race winning streak and posting Indianapolis Raceway Park’s first ever 5-second motorcycle pass at the Pingel Thunder Nationals. At the Orient Express U.S. Nationals in Atco, New Jersey, McBride surpassed his mentor Elmer Trett’s eight-mile speed record, yet refused to accept it. “I wouldn’t take the record because that would have taken Elmer Trett’s name out of the record books,” said McBride. “I don’t want to see that happen and I like seeing my name next to his.” By the end of the season McBride had collected his forth AMA/Prostar Top Fuel championship and moved up to third on the all-time win list behind Rickey Gadson and Gary Clark.
“Spiderman” believes that his team has the capability to better the records yet again next season. McBride stated, “Oh yeah, there is some left in her. We are making a few changes, particularly in the clutch area. We want to focus on lowering the ET mark without the big speed. I think we can run 5.80s and 5.90s at 225 mph, and Norwalk was a good indication of that. I ran a 6.08 at only 211 mph, on a track that everybody complained about. We have heard a lot of people whining about the tracks this year, but what guys don’t realize is that your opponent has to run on that track too. You have to take the cards you are dealt and run with it. It’s equal turf. I wish people would just pull together and help us fix the problems. One person not coming back to Prostar isn’t going to shut down the organization. Prostar needs changes but we are working on that, until then let’s take the hand we’ve been dealt.”
McBride is now looking forward to the 2003 season and expects a high level of competition from himself as well as the rest of the field. “Our bike showed a lot of promise this year,” he said. “We gave 110% last year and we are going to have to give 120% this year. You better keep an eye on Chris Hand, Tommy Smith, and Norbert Kutzera. They are all going to step up. We have got a lot of new blood coming in too. Look at the rookie season Jim Brantley had last year. I think the scoreboard speaks for him. I just don’t want to see him try to go too quick, too fast. We want him around for a long time. I want to see Barry Van Hook come back as soon as he can. I’ve talked to Bill Furr and Chad Cox, and they plan on being at least four events with their nitro Harleys. Geoff Pollard is building a bike too, so I am very excited with all of this new interest. I think you will see the class continue to grow.”
In conclusion, it takes a rare breed of individual to succeed in the Top Fuel motorcycle class. Larry and his team have proved that they are more than qualified for the challenge with their exceptional performances. Not just the numbers, but the overall show and presentation. Seeing Larry carry the front wheel 1320 feet, with a slight puff of smoke at the end, when the front wheel hits the ground, could make a motorcycle drag racing fan out of almost anyone. When McBride leaves the line on a good pass it’s like poetry in motion, and in my opinion the best thing motorcycle drag racing has going for it today.
That concludes my top ten moments of the 2002 AMA/Prostar season. It was my pleasure to share them and I want to say thanks to all the people that have given me words of encouragement and support. Thanks again to you all and I will see you at the track in 2003!
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