Star Racing owner and NHRA legend George Bryce, 56, is calling for change in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Bryce has started a movement asking NHRA and its fans why he can’t purchase the same equipment Vance and Hines have won four championship titles with, a Harley-Davidson V-Rod PSM?
As one the most successful men in drag bike racing, Bryce had been a mainstay in NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle since the beginning. As a rider, he appeared in the category’s very first final alongside Terry Vance, and in total, Bryce and his teams have amassed six NHRA national titles and an astounding 77 event victories.
After nearly winning another championship in 2008, Bryce vanished from the NHRA scene. After more than 20 years with the organization, what really caused the successful rider/crew chief/team owner to take his ball and go home? In this interview Bryce describes why he felt he had no choice but to sit-out.
Cycledrag.com - Since missing the championship by just eight points in 2008, Star Racing hasn’t attended a single NHRA race. How exactly did this come about?
George Bryce – That season Chris Rivas was riding our Drag Specialties Buell and we were very competitive. We set the track record and won at the last two races (Vegas and Pomona). After missing the championship by eight points to Ed Krawiec (Vance and Hines V-Rod racer), I felt like we gave it our best effort and went out on top.
We had every intention of coming back and during the off-season we were making big plans for 2009. We were re-upping sponsorship deals and doing research and development to make our motorcycle go quicker. We had a lot of things in the works so we could more than pick up those eight points we missed the championship by.
Around Christmas time the rules came out for the 2009 season. I went to the computer, looked at the changes and my jaw dropped. I was convinced it was a misprint. The new rules stated the Harleys could have dual overhead cams with no pushrods and four valves per cylinder. (An increase from the two-valve motors the Harley team was required to run in 2008)
I thought it just couldn’t be right because it left the S&S Buells with pushrods and only two valves per cylinder at the same cubic inches as the Harley V-Rods. Anybody who understands racing knows if you are going to have a four-valve run a two-valve, you would have to reduce the cubic inches of the four-valve to fairly run heads-up. AMA Superbike, FIM and every other racing organization recognize that a four-valve has an advantage over a two-valve.
I immediately called Don Taylor, who was the tech director at NHRA. I had known him for a while and thought he was very knowledgeable and did a great job. I told him what I saw in the rules and he said, “It can’t be right.” He looked at the website and said there was a huge mistake. Two weeks later, he didn’t work for NHRA anymore.
Cycledrag.com -What was your mindset at this point?
George Bryce - We lost by eight points and the championship-winning team gets an advantage? We were beyond surprised.
Cycledrag.com – It sounds like you believe there may be a conspiracy in the NHRA? Please elaborate.
George Bryce – I’ll put it to you this way, we won the last race, had a big party, and when we pulled the plug and quit, not one person from NHRA or National Dragster called to see what’s going on. After 20-plus straight seasons in the class, nobody called to see why we weren’t coming back or what happened to us. They knew why. They just didn’t want to hear it.
In 2008 we applied for revisions to update the camchest on our S&S/Buell engines and NHRA said no. Then that winter, they threw the rule book off the top floor of the NHRA building in Glendora, Calif. and let the Harley team have whatever they wanted.
Based on that and where the economy was going, we decided the smartest thing for us to do would be to stay home and see where the rules go. We hoped we could lobby for change. All we wanted was a chance to fight a fair fight.
And by “fair fight” Bryce believes he should have the ability to purchase the same motorcycles Vance and Hines have won championships on.
Recently on Facebook, a group was created supporting Bryce’s cause. One of Bryce’s latest status updates reads, “Why can the public not purchase a Pro Stock V&H V-Rod? How many championships will NHRA let them win till they make them offer them to others like we had to?”
Bryce also publicly posted a message to Vance and Hines’ Terry Vance.
“Terry, we want to buy one of those engines like Eddie and them run.
We want to put one of them in our bike and see how fast it goes
How much are they?
We can trade one of our S&S 160 pushrod engines that we ran 6.87 with in 2007.
It is fresh and makes 360 HP…new pushrods too.
How much boot do we need to add to get one of them puppies?
Also we want to buy one of those V-Rod bodies and scoop kits too.
We won’t paint it like yours…we are thinking, like yellow and red
How much do they cost?
P.S. we want to buy one of them motors with no pushrods and all them buckets too.
Please call me anytime at 1 800 841 STAR, thanks GB3”
Cycledrag.com – Have you made any progress in your request to purchase a PSM V-Rod?
George Bryce - Anytime I corner an NHRA official and ask why Vance and Hines is not required to make their V-Rods available to the public they say something like, “That was grandfathered in before my time” or “I have no response to that.”
It’s a unique situation in all of motorsports. Vance and Hines is the only team in racing that can have these proprietary motorcycles that no one else can buy, race or even look at.
Cycledrag.com – What do you believe is the reason or reasons behind the seemingly unfair rules?
George Bryce – I always say follow the money and you’ll find your answer.
Harley spends a ton of money to bring their rolling dealership display to the NHRA races. They rent a piece of pavement that really doesn’t cost NHRA anything, but brings a ton of money in, nearly a million a year if I had to guess.
I could see Harley wanting a set of rules that showcased their brand of motorcycle as the dominant brand. If the NHRA tells Harley the rules they want are ridiculous and Harley comes back and says, “OK, we can’t afford to come to NHRA this year,” the NHRA marketing department would find a way to make Harley happy. Instead of the tech department making the rules and dictating to the marketing department, it’s the other way around.
I believe if you were a fly on the wall in Glendora when this deal got signed, someone from Harley said something like, “We will come back if you let us win a championship. That’s how we can afford our sponsorship.”
NHRA can’t guarantee a championship but they can give Harley an unfair advantage in the rules, and make it appear like actual racing and competition is taking place.
I’m on the rules committee and it was a slap in our face to go to all of those rules meetings, when in reality, all you have to do is make a deal upstairs, and it will trickle down to tech.
Cycledrag.com - Who do you blame for this situation?
George Bryce – I’m not mad at Harley one bit. They are putting their company in a position to sell motorcycles. It is smart marketing. I just wish there were other companies that could compete on an even playing field.
Cycledrag.com – Given your strong views, what do you believe is the future of NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle?
George Bryce – Mark this down, when Harley stops paying the marketing dollars for the class, and they will, the end is near; the class will be in trouble. If the “next” marketing dollar, group, team or company does not show up and fill the void, the class will end just like Pro Stock Truck did.
Cycledrag.com – Do you believe NHRA faced you with a greater struggle bringing the S&S/Buell platform to the class than Vance and Hines had to deal with bringing the Harley V-Rod to the category?
George Bryce – Absolutely. NHRA told us if we wanted to sell 160-inch billet engines, we had to make them available to everyone, so we went out and serviced the entire industry. S&S and Star Racing built 16 turn-key motorcycles to build our category into a bigger and better class. We brought in about 15 new teams and ended up selling 60 of those Pro Stock engines worldwide.
The Vance and Hines V-Rod engine was never sold to anyone, nor are they required to sell to anyone. They have been racing them for almost ten years, but nobody else can have one.
What really makes it unfair is that Vance and Hines controls the Suzuki market too. Right now we have a situation where Andrew Hines (Harley V-Rod rider) is battling L.E. Tonglet (Vance and Hines-powered Suzuki rider) for a championship. Andrew brings L.E. the motors and says, “Here, see if you can beat me with these.”
To me, L.E. Tonglet is the blue-collar, working man’s 2010 NHRA PSM champion because he is racing at a totally different level than Andrew, and on occasion, still whipping his butt.
It looks like L.E. is close, but the reality of the situation is Andrew’s bonus for winning the championship from Harley will be far more than what L.E. would get from his sponsors. That will play a factor.
Terry Vance is a smart business man and Byron Hines is an equally smart engine man. When you put the two together it’s tough to beat. I’ve been fighting that battle for my entire career. We have been fighting for second place our entire career. Everyone here is proud to have 77 wins against those odds.
The only thing Vance and Hines doesn’t control is the S&S powered Buell market. Since we stopped racing NHRA, we’ve backed off our research and development and the weight of advancing the Buells in the class has rested on the other teams. Competitors like Matt Smith and Hector Arana have done an awesome job advancing their program. I applaud them.
Cycledrag.com – So if all of this is true, how did Hector Arana win the championship on an S&S-powered Buell in 2009?
George Bryce – Hector was advancing his performance and at the same time, Vance and Hines were unveiling their new dual overhead cam, four-valve motors. While Hector was improving his program, Vance and Hines were in the “teething” stages of their new program. If you look at the stats, Andrew did a poor job of driving in 2009, while Hector did an excellent job of driving. Hector was able to sneak up on Vance and Hines. This year it’s Andrew who has done a great job of driving. He’s been near-perfect this season with seven finals in a row prior to Vegas. There will be no sneaking up on Vance and Hines ever again.
This is not just about George Bryce or Star Racing. This is about motorcycle drag racing, NHRA PSM racing and the spirit of the NHRA rules. It seems only fair that in order to race and win with a particular configuration, it should be available to all, just like the Suzuki GS and S&S-powered programs are required to be. The intent and spirit of the rules are to make them available to all.
Cycledrag.com – With all that you have said here, is there any chance you could end up back in the NHRA PSM class one day?
George Bryce – Yes, if we could get the right team together and the rules were fair, we would come back. We’ve finished in the top three about 15 times. I’m not interested in going back just to go back. If we come back we would have to feel like we have a chance to win, pushrod for pushrod.
In the meantime, Bryce along with his wife Jackie, have continued focusing on building their company into one of the most prominent and well-respected drag bike businesses, as they have done for the last 31 years. Also, Bryce says he potentially has some big projects in the works, but nothing he can talk about right now.
Despite feeling forced out of the NHRA, Bryce maintains a positive attitude.
George Bryce – I’m blessed that my passion has turned into my vocation. We have a great shop and a great group of guys we work with. I wake up in the morning and go to bed at night and in between I do what I love. To me that is success.