Fans and racers alike flock to drag strips annually to see and hear the spectacle known as motorcycle drag racing. But what is it really this so called sport devoted to motorcycles locked into side-by-side acceleration contests, what’s it actually all about?
From the outside looking in, drag racing at it’s essence, is a two-lane competition between two racers with two high speed machines locked into a high speed contest to see who’s the quickest and or fastest of the moment. Add two wheeled action to this equation and you have a dry as unbuttered toast description of motorcycle drag racing. Yes, motorcycle drag racing could be described as two bikes, with two drivers, traveling at ludicrous speeds on a race track to see who can accelerate to the finish line first. The statement is accurate but woefully lacking in describing what motorcycle drag racing really is: an obsessive passion to push the limits of speed and performance of motorcycles to new levels. The creativity and violence is often breathtaking.
More importantly, the passions within the sport drive it’s participants far beyond normal life – whatever that is.
Motorcycle drag racing is a two wheeled adventure of extremes. It’s about heart, about a serious sometimes death-defying obsessive passion to see just how far a motorcycle can be pushed in performance. It’s also about the racers themselves challenging themselves as much as they do their motorcycles, just to see how far they can go. And no, the racers don’t always come back after a pass down the drag strip. Yes it’s dangerous and no, the racers don’t worry a lot about that, because motorcycle drag racing is living on the edge as a way of life.
Motorcycle drag racing is not for the faint of heart. And that’s just one more reason why we do what we do. Because in life, sometimes you just have to turn it up loud to feel that vibe, that special something that reminds you: you’re alive.
Let me share with you a prime example of motorcycle drag racing that typifies what this sport is all about.
At a race in Rockingham, N.C. many years ago I watched a notable Harley Davidson Top Fuel bike pilot make a scary pass that caught my attention as much as it did his. This my friends, is what the heart and soul of motorcycle drag racing is comprised from.
The racer’s name was Steve Stordeur, a T/F pilot from Ohio, and we were all gathered at an AHDRA race at The Rock, sometime in the late 1990’s or early 2000’ish time frame. The exact date is not important, what happened and why is.
I was behind Steve, who I know rather well, standing to his left rear as he lined up and made a pass in the right lane at Rockingham. This was either the first or second round of eliminations and I’m sure if you ask Steve today, he’ll remember this pass.
At the green light, Steve snapped the throttle open on his Top Fuel bike and started thundering down the right lane till suddenly all hell went south fast. One of Steve’s wheelie bar mounts came detached on one side of his bike and he suddenly darted to the right while thundering down the track in the right lane. Sometimes in motorcycle drag racing – shit happens.
Steve leaned HARD on the bike to the left and using body English, prevented the bike from crashing. He not only saved his own skin, but the bike too, this is what good fuel bike pilots do, they drive the damn bike and make it do what they tell it to do….when they can.
When Steve got back into the pit area I asked him about the run and he replied with a big grin, “Yeah that didn’t quite go the way I wanted it to. But at least we got in the show and made it out there. If we didn’t, then we didn’t have enough gas money to get back home.”
Think about this for a minute, let it sink in. This man drove from Ohio, all the way to Rockingham North Carolina, KNOWING he didn’t have enough gasoline money to fund his return trip home. He knew damn well if he didn’t qualify deep and go rounds in Top Fuel bike, he couldn’t afford the gasoline to drive home with. This is heart, this is motorcycle drag racing.
At this race, after hours on Saturday night, I remember the feast Bill Furr put on in the Orangeburg Cycles pit area that night. Mr. Duck, Bill’s OTR driver and all around handy man, had the deep fryer going and the chicken wings were just off the hook. Cold beer, bench racing and war stories of “Too much power and track couldn’t handle it” rambled on past Midnight after qualifying that day. A good life is not made up of moments in time, but timeless moments like these.
The extended family, the camaraderie that binds all drag racers together is yet another facet of the gem that is motorcycle drag racing. No one cares what color someone’s skin is or what religion they practice. For racers it’s how fast did you go? Did you qualify in your class? If a racer needs a part or a tool to get ready for racing the next day, there is no time of day nor time clock – a racer in need will likely find a friend indeed.
There are as many war stories of daring do as there are nuts and bolts on a drag bike. After qualifying on a Friday or Saturday night, any racer or fan seeking and autograph can walk up to any star in the sport, shake hands and ask one-on-one how’s the race bike behaving. Unlike other motorsports, in motorcycle drag racing, the driver of any bike will fold arms and stand there and tell you just how the day went and why.
There are no layers of security, no PR people standing around making sure photographers only shoot the “Good side” of the racer and don’t ask personal questions; people can still be people, just folks, at a motorcycle drag race. This interpersonal, non formal format is another element that makes the sport great. Yes there will be formalities and complications come race time but after hours and during the calm before the storm, the racers are as accessible as you and me.
And that’s how it should be, one more element that makes the sport great. Any one with a street bike can walk right up to Rickey Gadson and ask him, “How the hell did you make it go that fast and quick?” Ricky will be delighted to answer that fans question. Another fan can walk right up to Skip Galdstone and ask, “Hey is that thing street legal, can you make my bike that fast?” I assure you, Skip will be glad to discuss Pro Street bike eccentricities with anyone who has the time and the dime. As Jim McClure was so fond of saying, “How fast you wanna go and how much money do you have?”
In motorcycle drag racing, all you have to do is show up, there’s a show going on everywhere you look. On the track, in the pit areas, traveling to and from the races, the action never stops really. What is motorcycle drag racing? It’s life in the fast lane – surely make you lose your mind. But in the end, you’ll find yourself and others just like you. It’s a fine madness really.
Column by: Tom McCarthy. Click here to read McCarthy’s biography.