Pro Stock Motorcycle Racing is Cooler Than I Could Have Imagined...posted Dec 10, 2007
Tags: General News All Article Tags
Editors Note: This article was written by Matt Buck, a Motion Pro sponsored amateur road racer, riding instructor, and general bike nut.
I was just settling in for the night when my phone rang late on Friday in August. It was my buddy Chris Van Andel from Motion Pro on the other end of the line. He was all excited and full of energy. "Hey! Want go up to Sears Poi...errr... Infineon and watch the Drag races? The NHRA POWERade series is in town and I have been invited to hang out with the Karl Klement Team that we sponsor. We are going to watch the Pro Stock Motorcycles!" I told Chris I would call him right back.
Drag races? I knew little or nothing about the sport other than what I had been dished out on the television. Interviews with John Force and the loud smoke filled arena of speed was something I found uninspiring. I ran the mental picture through my head of me standing by the concrete wall along the pit row under the scorching Sonoma sun. I had an image that settled somewhere between a stock car race and a tractor pull with a smattering of pro-wrestling thrown in for added flair. I was hesitant to commit to such a spectacle.
My coming weekend was supposed to be filled with household projects. I had been out of town for most of the summer. The multitude of track days, road races and a once in a lifetime trip to the Isle of Man had left me with a long list of things to do. I had promised my brother that we would attack our neglected agenda first thing on Saturday morning. I was relying on this to keep me out and give me a reason to say no to Chris. It was a perfect excuse, or so I thought.
"You should go!" my brother shot back at me when I told him of the offer. I also had been thinking about the challenge that had been brought up by the AMA to find different things to do in motorcycling in 2007. This sure was different to me. I have always told my riding students that different does not mean that it sucks...it is just different.
"This better not suck," I thought to myself.
I reluctantly called Chris back and let him know I was in. Chris is the competition support director for Motion Pro. They have been supporting Peggy Llewellyn and Klement Racing for their inaugural season in the series. He let me know that we were guests of the team and would be able to hang out in the pits with them. We would also be there representing Motion Pro. From my experiences in the road racing paddock, this was welcome news.
The roar of the Top Fuel motors greeted us as we arrived at the gates. Making our way through the crowd we ended up along side of the wall for one of the qualifying runs. The sound of the machine leaving the launch pad left me standing in utter awe. My hair was on end, my hands tingling, and my eyes fought to focus on the world around me as the juggernaut was already leaving my sight. Under five seconds from start to finish! I later learned the engine consume more than 5 gallons of fuel in the 1/4 mile trip and hit 330 miles per hour.
Ok...I quickly became inspired.
We walked around the back of turn 11 of the road course and into the Klement Racing pit area. I was introduced to Karl Klement and his wife Kim, the owners and organizers of the team. They were all in a buzz around the exciting pass that that Peggy had posted during the morning qualifying round. She was fourth fastest of the days with a time of 6.963 second in the quarter mile. The big Texan's twanging voice went on to let me know that this was the fastest she had ever gone.
Peggy came into the pits with a huge smile on her face. She offered up a hand as she met me. Her potent hand shake did not equate to the lady like image that preceded our introduction. Accompanying her was her mentor and co-crew chief, George Bryce. He chattered away about the coming run and what needed to occur in the next moments to make it happen. There was an air of enthusiasm that filled the enclave. I quickly summed up that this was going to be a weekend to remember from their end as well.
Chris and I retreated to the far end of the pit to watch the process from an out of the way corner. The other co-crew chief, Shane Maloney, had the bike torn down as was busy preparing it for the next qualifying run. Eventually he called me over and showed me the internals of the machine. This was classified as a Buell XB9R. My eyes darted all over the exotic machine. The valves are bigger than silver dollars, the valve springs look like you could stand on them without causing them to move more than a millimeter or two, and the cylinders were gleaming with impressive prototype machining. I finally asked, "So, what on this bike came off of a Buell?" The answer that came from Karl did not surprise me. "Nothing...well, just the sicker on the tank."
A mechanic from competitor's crew came into the encampment and the engine was quickly covered to keep his eyes away from the internal workings. I felt privileged to have been given the tour of the inner sanctum of the team. That, or they knew just how little I would be able to relate to the rest of the world through my inferior knowledge of the internal combustion engine. The bike was buttoned back up, rolled out of the shade and aimed towards the awaiting start line.
George lingered a moment and began changing his shoes. A joking quip about the Mister Rodgers routine gave us the reasoning why; the slip on shoes he was wearing would simply get pulled off of your feet as you walk on to the starting grid. The starting pad is covered with a traction enhancing chemical that makes it very sticky. The more I spent in the presence of the team members, the more I learned about the sport. They were more than happy to tell me about anything my untrained mind wanted to know.
Peggy's second run of the day yielded a 6.976 second pass at 189.95 mph. George explained that the cooler morning had given the motorcycle more power due to the density of the air and better traction on the start. The results were still good enough to qualify 5th. The point structure is set up to award points in each qualifying run in addition to the top finishes for the weekend. So, you still want to go out and throw down a good run even if you had a better one in one of the earlier rounds.
Sunday brought forth a whole new feeling in the pits. It was a "go hard or go home" attitude that prevailed. I felt like we were standing on the edge of a Las Vegas craps table with all of our chips on the pass line. There were to be 4 rounds of elimination for the top 16 riders.
Peggy suited up in her leathers and headed out for the first elimination round against
Matt Guidera. He was clearly off of the line a fraction of a second earlier than Peggy. We were hollering words of encouragement as the duo powered by us. We were elated to see Peggy begin to pull away near the end. Our elation became ecstatic when the timing lights showed a 6.936 at 189.50 mph. Peggy had bettered her best!
If that were not enough, the three riders that turned in faster times than her in qualifying had failed to transfer to the next round of eliminations. Peggy was now on the fastest bike in the remaining field.
The process stared all over again. The crew tore down the bike, checked the major components and had it all back up to speed and ready to run for the next round.
The second round of competition brought Craig Ellis up against Peggy. Peggy had a monster of a holeshot in the next start and carried her lead all the way down the strip to the finish line. She beat her competition hands down on that run. The points began to add up fast. Klement Racing was now in the 3rd round of eliminations for the second time in the season. There are only four riders left at this point in the competition.
During the course of the weekend I picked George Bryce's brain as much as I could. He runs the ProStock Motorcycle portion at Frank Hawley's Drag Racing school in Gainesville, Florida. He puts all the students on a 7 second bike right off the bat. No sense teaching them bad habits. He has also been working in the drag bike industry for a quarter of a century. This guy knows how to launch a bike. You can find out more at the school website at www.frankhawley.com . I wanted to know what I could do on my road race bike to get off of the line just a bit quicker.
The way the machines like the ones Peggy pilot are controlled are very much like the average motorcycle in that they have the same controls. The similarities separate in the actual operation of the levers. The clutch is engaged with a two-stage rev limiter attached to it. When the clutch is pulled in, a much lower limit is set on the ignition to keep it right at the sweet spot in the power band. The second stage limiter is to prevent the motor from over revving to the point of damage. This is active when the clutch lever is let all the way out. The shifter has an air actuated system that is connected to a button on the handle bars.
The actual launch and ride to the finish is pretty simple. As you roll up to the staging area you pull the clutch lever all the way in and engage first gear. The rider then opens the throttle all the way to the stops. The first stage rev limiter keeps the engine at the proper revs. When the timing light comes on, the rider dumps the clutch. The clutch is adjustable for slip, so that the rider does not have to control that part. When the motor revs up to the point where you need to shift, all you do is push the button. Push it 4 more time and you're done. The hard part is doing it consistently and having enough brass to do it all under 7 seconds at 190 miles per hour.
Peggy has the brass.
The semi final round of the day brought Peggy up against Matt Smith, the current points leader of the series. The timing lights came on, the machines left the line and Peggy was half a second behind right off the bat. The bike shifted to second and Peggy leapt back up and closed the gap! She was only leading by a fraction and it looked like she was going to pull the trigger on another win. Then it came time to shift into third and the wind went out of her sails. The other bike pulled away. He finished several bike lengths ahead of Peggy. Matt Smith went on to win the final round as well.
The team was disappointed in the unexpected finish for Peggy. George came back into the pits and stated to the group, "We had the fastest bike in the field after the first round. We would have won if we did it all on paper. That is why you have to run to the end."
After some discussion on what happened, it boiled down to the shifting system on the bike. The transmission resisted the first attempt to go from second to third.
"About one out of every fifty runs, those dogs just collide, and you can take it out and look at it and there won't be anything wrong with it, and you can put it back in and make fifty more runs on it," said George.
The spirits of the crew came back after a bit of sadness. They had a fantastic weekend. I was hoping to see her parlay the early efforts on to victory. However, the points earned in the day moved the team up into eighth over all in the standings. This is a crucial position in the rankings to have. The POWERade series only transfers the top eight to the final championship round.
Since I have been home, I have been checking out Peggy's website at www.peggyllewellyn.com. Peggy has gone on to pick off one more spot in the next two rounds since Sonoma. She also made the Semi finals again in very next round in Brainerd. With a pivotal race in Maple Grove Raceway, Mohnton, Pennsylvania just behind them, the team has locked in a spot in the championships as well as moved up into seventh overall. In only their first full season of racing, Peggy Llewellyn and the Karl Klement NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle team have made the cut for the Countdown to the Championship.
"We were also really proud that we had the Motion Pro guys here for the whole weekend," said George. "They're hooked on NHRA drag racing now. Every one of them came by and hugged us and told us they had the best time and they had no idea it was this cool, so that was great to get those guys excited about it."
Peggy gave us a personal ride back to our van in the crew's golf cart as we left the track in Sonoma. There is nothing quite like being driven around by one of the stars of the show. She passed me one of the photos she had been autographing for her fans. She signed it: To Bad Matt, Give me a call some time, Peggy.
She even included her digits!
And yes...Chris and I have been talking about going to George's school.