On the eve of its national dealer meeting this past October, Kawasaki bused a load of moto-journalists to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for a night of drag racing with nine-time world champion Rickey Gadson.
Here at Cycle World, Road Test Editor Don Canet has for years handled streetbike performance testing. Other members of the editorial staff are straight-line proficient, too. Me? Not a clue. And, no, a couple of tentative passes made nearly two decades ago at long-gone Carlsbad Raceway on a home-built electric dragbike don’t count.
Thankfully, Gadson isn’t put off by novices. His Rickey Gadson Drag Racing School (www.rickeygadsondragracingschool.com) offers both beginner and advanced curriculums, and students can either bring their own motorcycles or use Gadson’s lowered and lightly hot-rodded ZX-14s. For the event in Las Vegas, Kawasaki trucked in several Ninja 250Rs and ZX-14s, as well as two of Gadson’s school machines.
In addition to possessing incredible bike skills, Gadson is friendly and outgoing. A few years ago, I convinced him to take part in a CW middleweight sportbike comparison (“Bored and Stoked,” May, 2005). At Los Angeles Country Raceway, he became the first person in the history of the magazine to run a nine-second quarter-mile on a showroom-stock (though admittedly lowered) Japanese 600.
I’ve ridden thousands of miles on ZX-14s, but Gadson had me make my first few passes on a Ninja 250. “My job is to build your confidence slowly,” he said. “The faster bike will be easier to ride.” At 6-foot-2, I looked silly on the little Ninja, but I took Gadson’s instruction seriously, concentrating on familiarizing myself with the staging lights and using correct body position. He also showed me how to properly perform a burnout.
I eventually moved up to a stock ZX-14 and, later, one of the lightly muffled, air-shifter-equipped school bikes. What a rush! While I had to rev the 250R’s parallel-Twin for all it was worth, the torque produced by the 14’s inline-Four pretty much did the work for me. Still, I struggled to “throw” the clutch as quickly as Gadson directed. “Your right and left hands work in conjunction with each—not one without the other,” he emphasized.
Despite making a multitude of on-bike mistakes, by the end of the evening, I got tantalizingly close to my goal of a 10-second quarter-mile. Hey, Rickey, when is your next school?
Video by Rich Van Avery/Kawasaki