Attempting to crack the 10-second barrier, MotoUSA’s own Ken Hutchison participated in some drag racing action at The Strip following the ’10 Kawasaki Dealer Show in Vegas.
I’ve ridden a lot of bikes and been down more than a few drag strips in my days as an editor here at MotorcycleUSA and despite all the fun and all the decent quarter mile times, I’ve yet to do a 9-second run. I’ve been teased with some close calls and been ridiculed for not breaking through on some of the world’s fastest motorcycles, but I never gave up. I knew it was going to happen one of these days.
After two press intros and other various comparison tests over the years, the best quarter-mile time I’ve ever been able to post on a ZX-14 (or any bike for that matter) has been a 10.001 at California Speedway. Yes, one-thousandth of a second away from breaking into the nines. Being that close to a 9-second quarter mile run was painful, to say the least. So, when the opportunity to try again at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on a ZX-14 with my old sensei Rickey Gadson – I just knew this was going to be my chance to get over the hump.
I will tell you that it’s not because of a lack of effort or training that I haven’t been able to pull this off. I’ve worked alongside two of the fastest editors in the industry and Kawasaki has had AMA Pro Star drag racer Rickey Gadson on hand as coach for every one of the press intros, so I have the knowledge, but haven’t been able to make it happen. This
was Rickey’s third attempt at helping me break into the nines and there’s not a better coach for such an endeavor. For those unfamiliar, Gadson’s only the most winning rider in AMA Pro Star history and founder of the Rickey Gadson Drag Racing School, so he knows a thing or two about cutting lights, launching bikes and teaching folks to go fast.
After a short refresher course in the nuances of launching these projectiles it was time to suit up and ride. Our time at the drag strip was part of the media experience during the 2010 Kawasaki Dealer Show in Las Vegas, so it was all about having a good time and getting reacquainted with a few friends. A bunch of magazine editors, television personalities, friends and family were on hand at The Strip for a night of drag racing. There were 250 Ninjas for the beginners, ZX-14s for the rest of us and a pair of Rickey’s track-prepped ZX-14 drag racing school bikes for those who showed promise.
My first two runs were on the stock bikes. There was a stiff 10-15 mph headwind blowing right at us so Rickey let me know from the start that it would be tough to crack the 9-second mark under these conditions, but to go ahead and make my pass and see how it goes. Between you and me,
AMA Pro Star drag racer Rickey Gadson was on hand to offer advice to our editor as he edged closer to his 9-second goal.
that about took the wind out of my sails. He said he could barely do it, so if he couldn’t – how would I?
Man, what a downer. But if anything will cheer a guy up, it’s a few 140-mph blasts down a drag strip. The first try was solid at 10.4. I came back around and coach said that could’ve been a nine without the wind. Of course, that’s no consolation. I waited as a few of the 250 riders made passes and was determined to rip off a good one. I backed into the burn out pit, stood on my tip-toes while mashing the front brake so I could light up the rear tire. It spun and spun and spun as Rick prompted me to keep heating it up. Smoke and the scent of burnt Bridgestone filled the air as I crept forward into the lights. He reminded me to launch at six grand. I held the tach steady as the lights went green.
The launch was aggressive, as I held the throttle pinned and grabbed a few gears. I crossed the line with the wind ripping in my ears and some tears streaming out of the corner of my eyes. The wind was blowing hard and cold out of the North so it was really working against us. Still, I knew it was a good run. When I got the time slip though, it was only a 10.3. There was still work to be done…
I’m not going to lie, I was bummed. All week long I had anticipated that this would be night to get this monkey off my back. While cursing my luck from the inside of my Bell, off in the distance, I heard a deep throaty rumble as a ZX-14 with straight pipes was fired up – Gadson was warming-up a school bike. He said he couldn’t take it anymore and that I was going to get it done on this bad boy right here, right now. His bike is sick. It’s long, low and stripped of all blinkers, mirrors and useless crap. It’s a dragbike that anyone can put together for not a lot of money. While the engine is stock the rest of the bike has received a few treatments designed to transform a stock ZX-14 into a real drag bike.
To help Hutch reach his goal Rickey Gadson loaned one of his drag racing school bikes, which was a stock ZX-14 with an extended swingarm, lowered with quick-shifter and a pipe.
A Roaring Toyz swingarm extension kit and fork ties combine to stretch out the wheelbase and drop the front end so you can launch the bike hard. A megaphone exhaust and Power Commander uncork the engine a bit and bring some drag bike acoustics into the equation. The final piece of the school bike is the air shifter. Simply dab what was originally the horn button on the left bar and the bike bangs through the gears quick. The raspy bark of the big Ninja gave me goose bumps as we moved it towards the burnout pit and backed into the puddle of H2o and uncorked the silver beast. All the pieces were in place. I knew if I couldn’t do it on this bike that I might as well go home.
It all starts with the burnout. Since the fork is cinched down its easy to unweight the back end and initiate the burnout. The exhaust note is bad-ass and I can barely hear the rear tire as it starts to howl and liquefy. Gadson holds me in place while signaling to dial in some throttle and really get the tire warmed up. The engine is growling, wailing as the smell of burnt rubber fills my nostrils. A little bit of snot trickles onto my lip. It’s cold outside. My heart is beating faster.
As I roll into the staging lights, my boots stick to the ground from the VHT. Rickey has a cheesy grin on his face because he knows the deal. We charge up the quick shifter while he explains how much fun this is going to be. The launch is critical to success at the strip: Elbows up, legs extended back and on my toes so my weight is forward on the tank. I’ve been instructed to hold the revs at 8-grand. Remember to ease out the clutch, not dump it and don’t forget to dial in full throttle right away. It has an extended swingarm – it shouldn’t loop out. Remember that you have a quick shifter too – that is going to make a huge difference…
With all this instruction running through my head, it’s a wonder you can keep it all straight! I roll into pre-stage, pushing the bike forward until I’m in the launch position. Lights are staged. The engine is loud and sounds gnarly. It should be easy to hold the tach at 8-grand but it’s not and I know that a 160-horsepower engine is just waiting to be unleashed.
With the throttle pinned and wind lashing at his face, Kenny put in a run of 9.76 seconds to conquer his quarter mile goal.
My heart is really pounding now. My mind says don’t do it. The revs are fluctuating a bit. I can’t hold it perfectly steady. The tach is at about 8500 as the tree lights up. Yellow, yellow, yellow, go.
The bike launches with authority, engine howling and the tach and speedo climbing quick as my legs dangle off the sides. The bike burns out and starts to wheelie for the first 60 feet – its accelerating hard. Everything is so loud and happens so fast. It’s awesome to simply dab the button and the shifts are quick and spot on. Once I get my feet on the pegs and really tuck in tight I streak past the eighth mile mark. Two more shifts and I cross the finish in a blur. When I pop out of my tucked-in position the wind dang near rips me off the bike. Drag racing, although it’s simple when you talk about it, is so much damn fun. My heart is still pounding as I finally get a chance to flip up my visor and wipe the snot off my face. The speedo was indicating 150 mph and I knew that had to be a strong run. It felt about perfect.
When I got close to the launch area I could see Gadson clapping his hands and shaking his head in agreement. That was a good run – 9.76 to be exact. Finally, I had broken into the nines. Hallelujah brother! I’m used to being able to accomplish targets quicker than this over the course of my life. It may sound trivial to some people but to those of you who have dabbled in drag racing you know it’s no small task. It’s real easy to talk about, but much more difficult to actually pull it off. Looking over the time slip it shows a recipe for a really good run. Reaction time was .379 so it could’ve been a bit better. The bike hit the 60-foot mark in 1.6 seconds, crossed the 330-foot mark in 4.2 and the eighth mile by 6.3 at 116 mph. That is hauling ass from my perspective. Gadson preaches that the launch and what happens by 330-feet is usually the difference between a successful or failed run. I crossed the 1000 foot mark at 8.1 seconds and finished the quarter mile wrapped around that bike like
Our night at The Strip also included some serious fun aboard an unlikely candidate: The Ninja 250. The little beginner sportbike was a blast with a sub-16 the best run of the night.
a monkey humping a football with a top speed of 142 mph: Oh yeah, into a strong headwind.
For the next two hours I was riding that buzz for all it was worth. I made so many more passes my head felt like it was going to explode. I tried not to Bogart turns on the drag bikes but they were so much fun that I couldn’t help myself. I would just pass the lines of editors waiting patiently for their turn and not even look at them. By the time they tried to stop me I would start my burnout so they wouldn’t want to get too close. It’s my bike now, and they didn’t need to have a turn until I was done. Of course I only did that a couple times. You know how it is when you are feeling it, right? You don’t want to stop. It’s too much fun.
After a few more passes things got even more interesting when Superbikes! front man Jason Britton showed up. Coincidentally, we had convinced the folks from Kawasaki and the dudes running LVMS to open the left lane too so we could get more runs in. It also meant we could race head to head. Of course, Britton and Gadson are pals and Jason has spent quite a bit of time at the drag racing school so he is right at home on the strip. Now, Jason and I have crossed paths at the drag strip a few times before so this was just another opportunity for us to rekindle the rivalry. We managed to get lined up a dozen times during the final hour. Between the two of us we battled stock versus stock, stock versus drag bikes and drag bikes versus drag bikes and Gadson got us fired up before every run. We exchanged good starts and blew a few too. Britton can ride a long wheelie and turn a good ET by the way…the weasel. Between the two of us we alternated wins in the early going but as the night went on, Jason got the better of me with more regularity. He can really ride a motorcycle, if you didn’t notice. Back and forth we battled – we were in the zone. I don’t even know how those tires held up after what we did to them, let alone the other ten riders that were punishing them as well.
Looking back at it all, the evening turned into a fun night of drag racing the Ninja 250 and ZX-14s as Jason Britton and others competed against each other until we were literally begged to get off the track.
When the smoke settled the LVMS staff had to threaten to unleash the Tasers on us if we didn’t quit riding. It was officially time to put this night of drag racing fun in the books. I had finally checked that drag strip accomplishment off the Bucket List so it was time to move on. Not only was it a great time learning how to go fast but it was also a chance to be immersed deeper into the sport. It’s a battle between both man and machine. The bike doesn’t do the same thing every time you launch it and only the good riders have a knack for being consistent. Watch the tach – keep the revs in the right spot, don’t stage too early, don’t red light, make sure not to botch the start, be careful not to loop out and try like hell to keep the bike going in a straight line. Just stand at the back side of a drag strip and watch people’s lines: It is all but impossible to go perfectly straight down the track.
Drag racing, it’s simple to describe but complex to execute and that’s what is technically challenging about it. Factor in the mental aspect and our inherent desire to beat our fellow man in competition and what you have is a motorsport that appeals to the masses. All you need is a good bike and the need for speed.