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As American As It Gets

Shortly after the first power stroke was achieved with an internal combustion engine, car drivers and motorcycle riders alike got the idea in their heads that their motor was strongest, and could outperform all others. Lots of smack talking about your King Kong motor will only take you so far, and there comes a point when you have to “walk the walk”. . .

The solution to all the escalating exaggerations in the garages and local hangouts took form in the pairing of vehicles in straight, level, parallel lanes started from a dead stop to a finish point in the distance. The first one across the line would be the winner. For those of us who don’t do baseball, this is our favorite, and most American pastime. We call it drag racing, and we love doing it. Nothing settles an argument about who’s bike is faster (it’s really not that simple though, as I found out) like a quick trip down a 1/8th or ¼ mile strip of (preferably) non-public pavement.

Yamaha has enjoyed huge success with their Road Star Warrior, tested earlier here on this site. With a strong motor, brakes from the R1, an aluminum chassis that allows the rider to enjoy more than just the straight line stuff, well, you can pretty much call it a home run. What more could the Tuning Fork manufacturer want from one of their models? Plenty, it seems, and plenty, they have gotten.

About six weeks ago a California-based racing team called Patrick Racing, run by Nigel Patrick took delivery of a couple of the Warriors to campaign them in the AMA Pro Star series, a class that is kind of like the roadrace Supersport class of drag racing. Limited (relatively speaking) modifications are permitted. Because the bike is new on the drag racing scene, and no parts had been developed for it, save for Yamaha’s race kit, Nigel Patrick found himself in the unenviable position of having to make this bike quick in a very short time.

Many of the engine parts are developed and manufactured by Patrick Racing. Stock cylinder heads are ported and fitted with oversize stainless steel valves. Tapered aluminum pushrods, lifters, collapsible pushrod tubes connect to JE Pistons co-developed with Patrick Racing, and cams are ground by Web Cams to Patrick Racing’s specification. Displacement can be changed, with bore only, up to 1800cc (Nigel’s Warrior is 1775cc) but the stroke must remain stock. Stock crankshafts can be lightened. Nigel has been cautious in lightening the crank. Crankshafts that are too light make the motor prone to bogging off the line, and if the motor revs too quickly, it makes finding traction even more difficult. Steel Carillo rods connect the pistons and crankshaft. The Warrior’s stock fuel injection system has been temporarily shelved in favor of a pair of extensively modified flat-slide carburetors. When asked about the brand, size, and types of modifications to these carbs, a friendly, smiling decline to comment was the reply. Nigel also said that the fuel injection is being developed and that it would be on the bike at a later time, perhaps before the end of the season. Ignition is controlled by the stock black box, and a dynojet ignition module allows the motor to rev to 6000 rpm, rather than the stocker’s 5100, and the race kit’s 5400 rpm limiter. The exhaust system is hand made by Patrick Racing.

Mated to the motor is a stock transmission – as in “no modifications”. Stock. Wow! Stock clutch plates work with an MTC lock up clutch. Shifting is achieved by pressing the horn button, which cuts the ignition for a split second and the air shifter that uses the swingarm as the air tank hooks the next gear. The final belt drive has been changed in favor of chain and sprockets, but not because of strength concerns, as Nigel is confident that the belt would handle the prodigious power, but to facilitate inexpensive, easy, and quick gearing changes at the track. A maximum 68-inch wheelbase was achieved by adding length to the swingarm with Patrick Racing billet aluminum blocks welded onto the swingarm by Kosman, and the front forks were lowered 4.5″ to get near the minimum 2 ½ ” ride height. The bike also rolls on stock wheels. Nigel felt that the roughly $2000 spent on the wheels would yield less in gains at the track than if it were spent on the motor. The motor has proven reliable as the sunrise, and cursory maintenance checks on the condition of parts have revealed that little in the way of a need for actual maintenance or teardowns. That is a testament to both Yamaha’s sound engineering and of Patrick Racing’s race development.

What is the result of all this engine work? Over 150 h.p., and over 150 ft.lbs. of torque. This from what is considered to be a lightly modified motor that runs a lot of stock parts.

Per AMA Pro Star rules, lights (sans turn signals) and the electric starter must be functional and the bike has to be ridden back to the pits after a run – no towing back with a tow strap for these bikes. Pro Star also has a minimum rider and machine weight limit of 800 lbs. Because Yamaha engineered the bike to be light to enhance its performance, Patrick Racing is obliged to bolt on an 80 lb, steel plate just behind the front wheel under the engine.

What is it like to ride? More on that later.

Yamaha also brought to the party several stock Road Star Warriors for all us journalist hacks to practice on so we had an idea how to ride the Patrick Racing beast. Let the grudge matches begin! Being a newby to this racing discipline, I paid close attention to Patrick Racing’s star rider and current record holder, Mark Underwood. From the burnout prep, to the dry hops, body position and staging, I was all ears. We got a practice run, a qualifying run and then the eliminations would begin for the quest of the quick, and the also-rans. . .

Having cut my teeth on sportbikes, I started off by having trouble figuring out where the footpegs went. I realized that placing my foot waaayyy forward was what I needed to do. That sorted, I was able to get on with the business of climbing the ladder. My times were okay, starting off with a 13.18 on my first run, which was on par with the others, but I knew I had to get better, since a couple big guns showed their hand early. My qualifying run was my best of the day and positioned me well for knocking off the others one by one, until the last round before the final, when I became an also-ran. Not a bad showing for my first time out to “the strip”. But that was on stock bikes, with much less power.

I was last on the list to ride Nigel’s creation, which I saw as an advantage as I could learn from others’ mistakes. Finding traction today proved nearly impossible with so much power. This was immediately apparent, even for Mark, who made initial passes in the mid 10s while spinning the rear wheel all the way down the strip to check track conditions and bike setup. The bike was fine, but track conditions weren’t very good as it turned out. It was hot out there, damned hot. Excess heat is the enemy – of engines, tires, and journalists, too. A mandatory cool down time of 15 minutes between runs on the Patrick Racing Warrior kept it from melting down. One by one, we all lined up and got a short tutoring from Mark. Then we’d thumb the starter button and the bike would roar into life, snickering evilly at us, and we’d then do our burnout and stage. All of us had a hard time with traction. Even launching only slightly above idle had the tire spinning wildly. The throttle has a long travel, which aids the rider in fine-tuning power application to stay at the edge of the traction envelope, but we were not worthy. Some of us couldn’t get the throttle WFO because we didn’t realize the throttle had a long ways to go, others didn’t find the horn button for the shifter, pressing the turn signal cancel button instead and therefore testing the rev limiter.

“You’re up.”, came the words that suddenly gave me the urge to go to the bathroom. Nerves. Turns out the power and wanting to avoid spinning the tire saw me leaving the line way too soft, and then not getting the throttle fully open (WFO) didn’t help, either. On my way down the strip, the bike tracked straight and true. But I liked the air shifter. What was my time on the Patrick Racing bike? All that power was wasted on me, because I ran a quicker time on the stock Warrior (12.96 vs 13.4), but much lower trap speed (100.4 mph vs. 120.9 mph). Power is nothing if you don’t know how to use it.

I have lot of respect for Mark Underwood for being able to wring the most out of this potent package, and to Nigel Patrick and his crew for developing this bike into record setting form (9.86/133 mph at Richmond, Va.) in a six-week period. What an eye-opener that bike is! Currently, the team lies well within reach of first place in the championship, with only half of the season gone. I wish them luck in catching first place soon and taking home the gold. Also, a big thanks to Yamaha for putting this together and making it a fun day at the drag strip!