George McConnel's 1999 Drag Strip Adventures

Back in 1999, When I bought my Katana, it was only a matter of time until I wanted to see how I could do at the drag strip. I'd like to do it again some day. Maybe I'll get myself another sport bike some time soon.

Here I am nearest the camera, ready to race. In the other lane is Rich Simmons, Junior.

During the summer of 1999 I did a lot of drag strip riding with Rich and "Little Rich" Simmons. We'd ride out to Music City Raceway just about every Tuesday night and see what we could do. I've kept a lot of the results as souvenirs of the fun we had doing this, and I also managed to take home a couple of trophies in the process.

I can still well remember the first night that I raced on the drag strip. My first trip down the track was an adrenaline rush I guess I'll always remember. It just felt so strange riding my motorcycle for all it was worth down the track, seeing just how fast I could make it go in the 1/8 mile track.

It was Tuesday, June 29, 1999. We pulled into the raceway and for the first time I ponied up the extra $5 to register my bike for racing. I stopped off at the booth and was assigned the number 356. The guy painted the number on my bike's windscreen with shoe polish.

The track at Music City Raceway travels almost directly towards the sunset, which makes it difficult on everyone during the first hour or so of eliminations. When they finally called "Bikers to the lanes" I began to feel a nervous feeling in my stomach.

I rode my Kat over to the biker entry lane and dismounted. I tried to look cool but inside I was really nervous about this. It was a good mixture of emotions that essentially boiled down to "excited". When the announcer said, "Bikers Buckle Up" we all started putting on our helmets and getting ready to race.

During my first time trial I was in the rightmost lane. I don't know if I still have that original "results" paper, but I remember that my "reaction time" was in the high .7's, (.500 is perfect) and my time was 8.3+. Over the course of the evening I got better (both at reaction and run time). By the time we began the eliminations I decided to dial in at 8.23. During my first elimination I can't remember if the other guy red-lighted or if we both broke out, but I remember lowering my dial-in down to 8.21, where it remained the rest of the night. Eventually I broke out. Which was fine, it meant I was getting better.

My Katana had been performance enhanced by its previous owner. It had a Dynajet kit as well as a Yoshimura exhaust on it. It was considerably more powerful than it had been as a stock bike, and I discovered that while drag racing I had slightly bent the swingarm backplates and skewed the wheel slightly. I tried re-torquing the rear axle bolt to no avail, and I tried several other things. Eventually I discovered that I could fix the problem by adding a couple of large steel washers to each side in order to distribute the force over a larger area and keep the wheel from skewing.

I went to the drag strip lots of times over the next several weeks, sometimes doing pretty well, sometimes losing in the first elimination, but I enjoyed it every time I went. On August 10th, 1999 I got to the strip a little late so I only got to do two time trials, and I got bumped during the first elimination. But here are the results:

Race Dial In Reaction 60 ft 330 ft ET @ 594 ft 1/8 mile ET
Time Trial 1 --- .562 2.001 5.358 7.642 8.155 @ 87.70 MPH
Time Trial 2 --- .601 2.036 5.386 7.674 8.191 @ 87.04 MPH
Elimination 1 8.12 .520 1.966 5.316 7.597 8.111 @ 87.54 MPH

For what it's worth I beat the other guy all to heck in that first elimination, but I broke out. And I don't whine about it, a break out's a break out. Just for what it's worth, here is a comparison of our numbers for the same race. Mine are in the top row and his are in the bottom:

Racer Dial In Reaction 60 ft 330 ft ET @ 594 ft 1/8 mile ET
George 8.12 .520 1.966 5.316 7.597 8.111 @ 87.54 MPH
Bad Guy 6.95 .699 1.911 4.980 6.947 7.384 @ 102.97 MPH

The results were much better on August 27th. It was a Friday night and the contests on Friday include standard "Street Class" as well as "King of the Hill" (allows outlaw racers). Unless you have the wheelie bar, stutter box and air shifter it's almost useless to try competing in King of the Hill, so I stuck to my "Street Class" racing.

They only allow you to do two time trials before beginning the eliminations on Friday, so here are the results of my time trials:

Race Reaction 60 ft 330 ft ET @ 594 ft 1/8 mile ET
Time Trial 1 .626 2.042 5.457 7.795 8.321 @ 85.56 MPH
Time Trial 2 .577 1.973 5.292 7.562 8.076 @ 87.57 MPH

My first elimination that night was against an ordinarily pretty good rider with a Hayabusa. He made a couple of mistakes and I managed to make less mistakes. As I could see I was well ahead of him at the finish line I did something I rarely do and let up. As it turned out my margin of victory was only .041, so it was a much closer race than I realized.

Racer Dial In Reaction 60 ft 330 ft ET @ 594 ft 1/8 mile ET
George 8.00 .531 2.080 5.410 7.695 8.237 @ 83.01 MPH
Anthony 6.30 .696 1.614 4.261 6.414 6.414 @ 114.84 MPH

During the second elimination I was running against a Harley Sportster 883. It's not often that I get to be the one doing the "catching up" in bracket racing since I can only do an 8.0 in the 1/8th. Here are the results:

Racer Dial In Reaction 60 ft 330 ft ET @ 594 ft 1/8 mile ET
George 8.00 .592 1.978 5.277 7.535 8.044 @ 88.41 MPH
Harley 9.30 .582 2.198 6.127 8.802 9.402 @ 74.99 MPH

During the third elimination I drew a "bye" run. We were down to only 3 bikes and one of them had already drawn a bye, so I lucked out. Here are my numbers for the bye run.

Racer Dial In Reaction 60 ft 330 ft ET @ 594 ft 1/8 mile ET
George 8.00 .649 1.975 5.291 7.519 8.023 @ 89.27 MPH

During the final elimination I was pitted against a guy who had been spoiling everybody's fun all night. He was riding a pesky little "Fat Cat". If you've never seen one of these (I hadn't) it's just a dirt/street bike that has really wide knobby tires. The tires look like ATV tires, and I've been told that it has two wheel drive. Anyway the bike was incapable of going over 50 MPH. It would reach its top speed about half way down the track and he would just ride it out. He was dialing in about 12.70 and usually running very close to it each time. The problem was that with him getting such a long lead, nobody seemed to be able to be patient enough to wait for the light. Everyone was red lighting because they just couldn't stand watching him ride down the track. He had not had to run a real race all night. Everyone he had faced had redlighted. But this time it was going to be different. Here are the results.

Racer Dial In Reaction 60 ft 330 ft ET @ 594 ft 1/8 mile ET
George 8.00 .608 1.969 5.371 7.624 8.122 @ 90.51 MPH
Fat Cat 12.70 .748 2.599 8.007 11.916 12.820 @ 49.77 MPH

I won the race by a margin of .137. It was my largest margin of victory of the night. It was a really good feeling seeing that green light come on and knowing I was going to take the first place trophy home. I also had a fairly respectable fan club of folks waiting around to see that pesky little Fat Cat get beat. It was lots of fun, as usual, trophy or not.

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