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October 06, 2020

From the Vault: Drag Racing is Cool

I got my private pilot’s license when I was 25. After two years, I quit because it wasn’t very exciting. Sure, it was kind of cool to putt up to 5000 feet, do a full stall and fall nose first to the earth for 2000 feet, but that got boring after the fifth time; it just wasn’t very exhilarating. I thought operating a plane in a three-dimensional grid would be more exciting than the two-dimensional grid of motorcycles, but it wasn’t; weird. I’m sure I would have a different opinion about flying if I could have rented a McDonnell Douglas F-15 instead of the lowly Cessna 172 but the U.S. Air Force wouldn’t rent me one.

Drag racing and motorcycle drag racing has never really appealed to me because it looks boring on TV. How hard could it be to snap the throttle wide open and drive straight for a quarter-mile? My opinion of motorcycle drag racing seemed to be validated the few times I went to Test and Tune Night at the local drag strip with an 11-second street bike, which was lots of fun but it never really scared the crap out of me. I want to be scared because that’s fun—because
when you’re scared, your on-board pharmacy pumps adrenaline, dopamine, and other groovy drugs through your veins and that’s some serious Hunter S. Thompson stuff. It’s legal, too. I like to play ding-dong-ditch on the front door of the Grim Reaper’s house and have him open the door just as I make my way off his front porch; that’s scary and gets the adrenaline pumping. Then I went to Pro
Stock motorcycle drag racing school and got the home address of the Grim Reaper so I could leave a burning paper sack of turds on his front porch, ring the doorbell, and split before he caught me.

For my 50th birthday Lisa signed me up for George Bryce’s Pro Stock motorcycle drag racing school in Gainesville, Florida. It came highly recommended from James Simonelli and other speed savants. The school is limited to eight people. You do some classroom work the morning of the first day and get some saddle time later in the morning. You start off by warming up the rear tire with a healthy burnout in third gear. With the tire warm and gummy, you do a “dry hop,” which is a full launch simulation of a start; hold the throttle wide open, pop the clutch lever, and “ram” or “surge” your torso forward. If you don’t ram forward you fly off the back of the bike from the extreme G-force. The throttle is a two-step interrupted deal meaning you hold the throttle wide open, and the engine runs at 8000rpm until the clutch is released, upon which the
engine goes straight up to 12000rpm and the full 250 horses are released to the 10” slick with great vengeance and furious anger. It is very violent and words cannot describe the flooded overload of your neurotransmitters. Bert Effin Baker approved.

When you prove your dry hop skills and are able to hang on, you get to do a full 60’ launch in first gear with the light tree. You pull the front wheel up to the first stage light then carefully ease forward to engage the second stage light. At this point, you snap the throttle wide open and George drops the lights on the tree for you to go. The 250 horses propel you from a dead stop to the 60’ point in a little over a second. After you prove yourself you get to do the 330’ run and shift through a couple gears, after which you move on to the eighth-mile. The eighth-mile is the most impressive part to me because of the numbers. In my best pass I did 4.98 seconds at 136 mph. Think about that. Most cars that go from 0-60 in less than 5 seconds are generally considered healthy. But to go from 0-135 in less than 5 seconds is absolutely insane. It is also scary and quite frankly the
best drug I’ve ever taken. Also Bert Effin Baker approved.

So, I ended up doing two full quarter-mile passes in the afternoon of the second day. I improved my skills on each run but did not make it under 8 seconds and that made me mad. Fortunately, George had the track up in Valdosta rented the following week for some Europeans that were coming in for some George Bryce tutoring. Hey, I had to repeat the first three calculus courses in college because I have a thick skull; I’ll admit it. So I got in on that action and made two runs under 8 seconds; my best pass was 7.94 seconds at 159 mph. Once again, I cannot describe with words how “beyond this world” this whole experience was.

So I’ve changed my opinion about drag racing. I still contend it’s boring on TV but when you are the pilot of the machine it is anything but. For $2500, I consider this one of the cheapest thrills I’ve ever invested in; Bert Effin Baker highly recommended. George Bryce is a drag racing god and a highly capable teacher. He’s also a funny guy and makes the whole experience memorable. People go back to his class many times and I am already making plans to go back this year.

Baker Drivetrain Team Illustration