Written By: Steven Summers
You might think that this sounds like a trick question: Is there really any kind of parity in Pro Stock Motorcycle? Come on, does anybody really think that parity exists in this class?
While I am sure that certain teams riding a certain manufactured represented motorcycle are completely positive that there is, I’m am also sure that others in the class and fans of the sport would completely disagree.
Now for those who don’t know what “parity” is, here it is in a nutshell. To achieve parity in a class, one must have a level playing field, or an equal advantage across each and every manufacturer represented brand motorcycle competing in the class. So in other words: no one manufactured motorcycle should have an unfair advantage over any other manufactured motorcycle competing in the class. For example, no competing brand/manufacture should have a gained advantage from weight, horsepower, mechanical/engine design, aerodynamics, etc… Simply put, there needs to be a level and equal playing field.
The goal with achieving parity is to have a competition that relies more on the skill of the rider, and his or her’s team, who tunes and maintains the bike.
So where should we begin? I think the best place to begin would be with the manufacturer that has been competing in Pro Stock Motorcycle (PSM) the longest. Suzuki has been there from the beginning, and to this day, is a powerful force in the class. One just has to look at the 2010 season of rookie racer L.E. Tonglet to really see just how competitive the Suzuki’s can be. In 2010 L.E. rode his Suzuki Pro Stock motorcycle into the history books by becoming the youngest class world champion ever, as well as the NHRA Rookie of the Year, making him only the 3rd ever person in NHRA history to achieve both.
So what makes Suzuki still competitive to this day? Well, like in any sport within any class, there needs to be room to grow. To do so, you need to have the benefit of rule changes; changes that would allow modifications to a bike that the sanctioning body should make, to guide it towards parity. For the Suzuki’s, the most significant rule change was the introduction of the stroker crank shaft in 2009. The fact is, if it wasn’t for that rule change, the Suzuki’s would have been far behind the other 2 brands in the class.
The next manufacturer is the newest and most recent addition to enter the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle arena. The S&S / Buell is a 160 cubic inch, V-Twin, fuel injected, pushrod, two-valve-per-cylinder motor. It produces monster torque and horsepower from just those two cylinders. While it’s commonly referred to as a Buell, it is in fact anything but. What it really is, is an S&S Pro Stock engine in a Kosman competition chassis.
Also, we should point out that Buell no longer manufactures motorcycles. This is why it is more S&S than anything else. Without their continued and constant support, the bike would not be able to compete, or even exist to begin with.
The S&S Buell has essentially remained unchanged since its introduction in 2004, with the biggest rule changes having to do with weight. We should also mention that it currently fields half the riders and teams competing in the class.
Our third and final manufacturer competing in NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle is, and has been, the most controversial. The Harley-Davidson V-Rod started competing in PSM in 2002. It is a custom V-Twin motor that is manufactured by Vance & Hines Racing. While this bike may be called a Harley-Davidson V-Rod, it shares only a slight cosmetic resemblance. There is nothing typical about this race bike. Everything about it is unique onto itself. From its custom made four-valve, dual overhead cam 160ci V-Twin engine, to the custom made chassis, there is nothing else like it in its class.
So what makes it controversial? Well, the first thing would be the fact that no one can purchase one to compete with. Vance and Hines fields the only two bikes with riders in the class. Second would be the 2009 rule change allowing it to go from a two-valve pushrod engine, to a four-valve dual overhead cam engine. That 2009 rule change was the biggest and most recent controversy that had many in the class crying foul.
So here we are, days before the opening race of the 2012 PSM season in Gainesville, FL, and some of the teams have already tested in Valdosta, GA. Teams running Suzuki’s, Buell’s, and the V&H Racing S.E. Harley’s.
Now, while it may have been the same old, same old for the Suzuki’s and Buell’s, it seems the Vance & Hines Harley team have three new things that set them apart from the rest.
1) They have new bodywork.
2) They ran in the mid 6.70’s
3) Eddie Krawiec broke the 200mph mark.
So what’s the big deal? Firstly, for the other two brands in the class, any kind of rule changes do not come easy–if at all–but for the V&H team, it seems they never have a problem in doing so. Proof of that, is that they have already had the body work approved by the NHRA before anyone else even knew. Secondly, while the Harley’s were running Mid 6.70’s, everyone else’s were 2-tenths slower at best. Finally, crossing the 200mph mark is just another, very clear, indication of just how much power the Harley’s have, or have been possibly holding back.
If you look at these three things individually they may not look very significant. But if you look at them as a whole, it screams that, once again, one brand has the ability to unfairly differentiate itself from the rest of the bikes in the class, and Parity within the class is no more than a false hope and an unattainable reality.
Why? Simple. The mechanism and/or process in which the NHRA functions under to achieve parity does not work.
There is no equal representation between the three bike brands competing in the class. What I am saying is this:
The V&H Harley-Davidson team is the only brand competing in the class that has constant representation and a working relationship with the NHRA. Suzuki has no consistent representation or a working relationship with the NHRA, and Buell, as a company, does not even exist anymore.
So what’s the big deal? Because the NHRA will not discuss any rule changes unless the request comes directly from the brand manufacturer for the motorcycle requesting the change.
Case-in-point number one: the Suzuki teams tried on their own just a few years ago, to get the NHRA to change the rules and allow for the use of the stroker crankshaft. As hard as they tried, the NHRA would not at allow the change to take place. The fact was that, until the teams were able to get Suzuki themselves to submit a request in writing, did the NHRA change the rules an allow them to use the stroker crankshaft.
Case-in-point number two: the Buell’s, who have zero representation, turned towards George Smith of S&S to represent the Brand in 2010, to fill the vacuum left by Buell. As the bike really is more an S&S than it ever was a Buell, S&S was the most logical choice to represent the brand, and fulfill the needs of the teams running an S&S Buell by giving them the representation they so desperately needed. They took their request along with George Smith to the NHRA Vice President of Technical Operations, Glen Gray at Las Vegas, in 2010. They provided it to him in written form as requested. He ran it up the flag pole, and the NHRA Senior Vice President of Racing Operations, Graham Light shot it down cold, continuing to leave the brand with zero representation.
So tell me how can you have parity when you do not even have equal, if any for some, representation for each brand running in the class.
What there needs to be here is an open process; one that is both equal and fair. Not one that is flown so far below everyone’s radar, that the rest of the class never even knows about the rule change until it is approved by the NHRA.
Fair and equal representation for all brands competing in PSM. Representation that will speak for the teams, and the needs of the riders competing with that brand’s motorcycle. Representatives that can work closely with the NHRA technical department to very easily achieve parity within the class by doing so.
Unfortunately, in this editors opinion, what you have now is the same old status quo of: one brand that has the sole representation and the ability to easily have rule changes made in their favor, over two other brands that have none.