Saturday, November 1st, 2014

The Harsh Reality of the Vance and Hines V-Rod Monopoly

Published on September 22, 2011 by   ·   13 Comments

Ever since the inception of the Vance and Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod in the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle class, the unique marvel of engineering has been a major topic of conversation and controversy.

Ed Krawiec on an ingenuitive and dominant Vance and Hines V-Rod

In the V-Rod’s infancy in the early 2000s, the big question was, could such a machine even qualify in a Suzuki-dominated class?  After several years of hard work by Vance and Hines and rule alterations by the NHRA, the V-Rod has become one of the most dominant and popular motorcycles in the category, amassing multiple event wins, the first sub-seven second run and four championship titles.

Detractors are outraged that the V-Rod is the only vehicle in NHRA competition that is not available to the public.  Only Vance and Hines can own, build and race a NHRA-legal Harley-Davidson V-Rod.  Adding to the controversy is the fact that Vance and Hines supplies engines for the overwhelming majority of PSM racers who compete on Suzukis and V&H has also entered the PSM Buell market.

Perhaps the most outspoken critic of the situation is Star Racing owner and six-time NHRA champion, George Bryce.  Make sure to read Bryce’s Cycledrag.com interview on this situation and listen to his RPM tonight interview (Sep. 21, 2011) to better understand the 78-time event winner’s argument.

This issue has come to the forefront once again with the recent war of words between Vance and Hines rider Eddie Krawiec and Suzuki racer Jerry Savoie, who has asked how Krawiec can be proud of winning a race on a motorcycle no one else is allowed to compete on?

Who is right? Who is wrong?

Those questions are moot compared to the harsh reality of why this unique situation exists in NHRA PSM; the class simply isn’t popular enough.

That statement may not sit well with most visitors of Cycledrag.com, a site dedicated to drag bike racing.

I love PSM and, most likely, you love it too. Bryce loves it.  Vance and Hines loves it.  Unfortunately the masses do not love it.

Don’t believe me?  For the next NHRA national event, let’s make an announcement that the only class competing throughout the weekend will be PSM.  How many spectators will show up? What will the ratings be for the NHRA television show? There is no question the event would fail miserably.

Now let’s pretend NHRA makes the announcement that PSM will not compete at the next event.  I bet NHRA doesn’t see more than a 3-5% drop in attendance, if that.  In fact, Top Fuel alone would probably bring out at least 80% of the fans who planned on attending. The harsh reality is PSM is not a huge money maker, it’s not a draw.  It never has been and likely never will be.  Major corporate sponsors are not lining up to get involved in PSM. The class is there to serve as a side dish to NHRA’s main event, Top Fuel and Funny Car.

V&H rider, Andrew Hines has been to over 40 final rounds in PSM

So how does that play into the NHRA PSM Vance and Hines V-Rod controversy?

Is NHRA aware that V&H being the sole owner of the V-Rod is a bit unfair?  Sure.  It doesn’t matter though. NHRA exists to make money.  NHRA is only concerned about the big picture and having America’s most popular and marketable motorcycle manufacturer, Harley-Davidson, associated with the class is a wonderful thing.  The class may not even exist otherwise.  Can you blame NHRA? No.

Harley-Davidson is an enormous, billion-dollar company that is only involved with NHRA as a small marketing and advertising project. Harley’s NHRA involvement is a minuscule blip on the company’s radar compared to all of the business it does on a daily basis.  Clearly to Harley-Davidson, letting anyone but Vance and Hines own, race or build a V-Rod in PSM isn’t worth the risk.  We all know George Bryce, who has represented successful companies like Winston and S&S, would make Harley proud. But what about the wealthy, less-than-skilled rookie racer who could buy a V-Rod and possibly do damage to the Harley brand by breaking or not qualifying, tarnishing  Harley’s NHRA involvement? The marketing project wouldn’t make much sense for Harley at that point.  In reality, damage to the Harley brand by poor PSM performance may not be plausible,  but clearly it’s not worth the risk to Harley. Can you blame Harley for wanting to get the most out of its investment?  No.

Star Racing's George Bryce thinks the current rules in NHRA PSM are unfair and wants to buy a V&H V-Rod

Vance and Hines is a company that has been involved in PSM since the beginning.  Byron Hines and Terry Vance have ensured the PSM class has remained part of NHRA over the years. NHRA has shown they are not afraid to cut a non-nitro class that doesn’t greatly contribute to the gate or bottom line of the company (See Pro Stock Truck).  Vance and Hines established a connection and a high level of trust with Harley-Davidson to convince it to race in the NHRA.  The battle in PSM is as much about making business deals and obtaining sponsorship as it is about cutting lights and tuning engines. Is Vance and Hines supposed to turn its back on Harley because Harley only wants to do business with V&H? No. The Harley-Davidson deal has elevated the popularity of Pro Stock Motorcycle and has been financially successful for V&H.  Can you blame V&H for taking the deal?  No.

The NHRA V-Rod may be the dominant machine and many believe Vance and Hines controls the entire class, but let’s not forget the parity could be a lot worse.  The V-Rod didn’t win eight championships in a row. Last year L.E. Tonglet won the season crown on a Suzuki and Matt Smith and Hector Arana have won the title on Buells.

And finally, does George Bryce has a valid point about the rules not being fair and the injustice that exists with only one team being able to race a particular type of vehicle?  Yes.  Bryce has dedicated his life to the sport.  He is not used to losing.  He has won championships with the great John Myers and Angelle Savoie.  Can you blame Bryce for wanting to own the equipment he feels gives him the best chance of winning? No.

Anyone who investigates the rules should be able to conclude that the situation in PSM is not 100-percent fair.  It is not an ideal competitive environment. Such a situation would never exist in a highly-successful, large spectator attraction like the NFL.  The Pittsburgh Steelers wouldn’t be allowed to use one-of-a-kind spikes, helmets or shoulder pads to its advantage.  But then again, people pay billions of dollars to watch NFL players compete on an even playing field.  PSM is lucky to exist at all.  It’s a niche within a niche. What’s fair and what makes money can differ greatly.

The harsh reality is, as motorcycle drag racing fans, we are fortunate to have PSM as part of the NHRA lineup. We are fortunate drag bike racing can be seen on ESPN. We are fortunate Vance and Hines has dedicated over 20 years to the class.  We are fortunate George Bryce and Star Racing have greatly contributed to PSM and are passionate enough about winning to cry foul.  We are fortunate a juggernaut like Harley-Davidson is involved in the sport and continues to pour money into the class.

This might be the one thing NHRA, Bryce, Vance and Hines, Savoie and Krawiec can all agree on.

The buzz and controversy surrounding the issue is also good for the class.

The situation is not perfect, but it could be a lot worse.  Motorcycle drag racing fans, it’s the best we have and it’s a lot better than nothing.


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Readers Comments (13)

  1. Brian says:

    I agree with everything you say in this article and sadly this means that the sport of PSM is nothing more than a hollow “show” and is no longer a competition. No self respecting Harley supporter can come to the office on Monday morning and pridefully rub the weekend win in the face of the Kawasaki and Suzuki faithfuls. Tell me one other Motorsport that allows head to head competition while giving one side a 60% displacement advantage? Even other motorcycle motorsports don’t go “that” far outside the box.

  2. Mark Johnson says:

    What would happen at the start of the 2012 season if Suzuki and Kawasaki(why aren’t there any Kaws in PSM?)racers didn’t show up to race in protest? Suppose the refuse to play by the lopsided rules anymore? How long would PSM last??? If you think Harley Davidson is responsible for keeping PSM alive..you better think again. It’s not cheap to race in that class!At some point racers and sponsors will realize what a waste of money it is to try to compete in a lopsided war every season. Why are the puppet masters(V&H) allowed to dictate who wins and loses championships? They decide which of thier motors is going to win the championship. They pull back the HD’s and let the Suzuki’s win to shut them up and make the fans think that the playing field is even. NHRA PSM is a farce. It’s really the Vance and Hines PSM racing show. Starring Vance and Hines!

    • Jack Korpela says:

      Good take. Kawasakis have never really been competitive in modern era PSM. Geno Scali was able to win some rounds on Pete Briggs’ KZ-based bike ten years ago but they were always at a disadvantage. Rob Muzzy sunk a fortune into developing a ZX-14 for the class but Muzzy eventually put the project on hold because he felt the rules were not giving him a fair chance.

      As far as people not showing up goes, it could happen. Not necessarily due to the unfair rules either. There isn’t much money available in the class and it costs a fortune to compete. Even if you already have the equipment how do you justify the $150,000 you will spend in fuel traveling all over the country if you dont have a sponsor? George Bryce and Paul Gast live for the sport and both have plenty of money, but neither one of them feel it’s worth it to race PSM. How much longer will Matt Smith be able to continue without a sponsor? Craig Treble is one of the most talented racers in the world and he can’t afford it anymore. With a horrible economy and controversial rules, the class is in real trouble. I could see them have to go to an eight bike field someday when only 12 show up, or cut the class altogether.

  3. Barry Taylor says:

    I only have a few comments but the Australian way is called Give Everyone a Fair Go’
    It should be a level playing field.
    Let the Buel’s have 4 V cyl heads.
    And let the Suzukis have Billet crankcases
    the Harley & Buel are Billet engines
    Billet cases would help with realibility
    & save money & that is paramount in the US economy in these tough times.
    Common Sence should Prevail.
    Dont suck up to Harley or any one else
    Give the racers a Fair Deal.
    That is what the sport is all about
    Fair Competition & a chance To Win.
    Baz.

    • X Racer says:

      That may well have been the Australian way years ago, but ANDRA in Oz hasn’t adhered to that principle either. The mighty dollar talks, and the less popular classes don’t seem to evoke much care factor. I used to be a Chief Steward and successful racer, but gave it away in disgust in the end.

  4. FRANK DELIA says:

    It’s hard to think that the almighty dollar is the bottom line for hd, vhr, and the nhra, even though I know that to be true. What bothers me most is the fact that more Sponsors like NITROFISH will pull out for the same reasons!! If you don’t have a snowball’s chance of winning a championship, why throw away your money…on the remote chance that vhr MIGHT…MIGHT make a MISTAKE??? I know that even a blind dog will find a bone sooner or later, but how many of the sponsors will risk the odds? You’d be better off just disolving the PSM class and go back to brackets! At least the good teams would still have a chance at an event win! I’d hate to see it, but it may just be the only way to eliminate hd!

  5. steve rice says:

    Great read, kinda told it the way it is, a non-sugar coated emotionless evaluation on the current condition has been needed for a while.

  6. shag says:

    Funny how my recollection of the v rod story goes more like this.. Hines gets tired of beign beat by a girl and finds another way to win by introducing a new bike with a huge displacement advantage that only he could have, alowing him to sandbag his way onto multiple championships. You undersell everyone elses achivements by continuing this spun up a story about saving the class with the v rod. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    • Jack Korpela says:

      Nothing could be further from the truth? Hey Shag I don’t think you realize how close NHRA was to cutting this class out altogether. They don’t need it. PSM is not a big money make. NHRA needs the Harley Davidson funding to make it worth it.

  7. Ralph says:

    Dump the class and get Top Fuel HD in there.Plenty of teams out there. PSB’s look like scooters compared to Top Fuel Bikes. I will go and spectate for the sheer noise and power but boring same passes with bogus rules forget it. As it is most fans go for thier bathroom breaks when PSB comes up.Suzukis’s are totally spent. Class ain’t going anywhere . Too much BS in this class polluted it few years ago. Sorry but show is getting old and boring. zzzzzzzz

    • Jack Korpela says:

      Ralph,

      I agree 100%. PSM is not even close to the most exciting class in motorcycle drag racing. I’d love to see Top Fuel. Imagine if they could find a way to work in the import bikes too? If they slowed McBride down to 6.20-6.30s, it would be one heck of a show.

      • Sam Cotterman says:

        I agree that PSM is not even close. You want to see the most exciting classes in motorcycle Drag racing? Go to the NHDRO event at Muncie Dragway in IN Sept 14-17 and watch some of the most competitive Motorcycle drag racing or you should have been in Indy in August to see 760+ motorcycles compete. Wake up NHRA and look @ TF, PST, Real Street, Crazy 8s, PM, PET, SET, SC, TG and more. I know I missed a class or 2. This is true Motorcycle Drag racing

  8. Paul says:

    PSM was my favorite class until the HD’s came along. Now I refuse to watch unless a Suzuki is running. I hope NHRA reep what they sow..




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