What I Did Last Summer - Racing

Lowered Expectations: Honda CRF450R goes dirt track racing.

" width=

" src=

Let's see... what would be the most cost-effective way for an economically constrained wannabe racer to exercise throttle control and keep skills sharpened for testing the next crop of superbikes? Race some dirt-track! Here in sunny SoCal, we're blessed with a nearly year-round roundy-round schedule. As for the bike to use, we chose the new all-rounder, our 2010 Honda 450cc motocross testbike, and turned it into the official CW CRF450DT'R project dirt-track racer.

First things first: With no triples to tackle, we no longer need 12 inches of wheel travel, but we do need to lower our center of gravity and to reduce chassis pitching. Jim Wood at Southland Racing Products (who knows his way around the roundy round, 936-1766 or dt47racer@yahoo), reduced travel in our 48mm inverted KYB fork and shock to 7 inches. He also came up with separate low-speed and high-speed compression damping settings to work with that, along with new rebound settings to suit the resultant swingarm leverage-ratio changes; a little careful shim stacking gets things back into a proper range of adjustability. Not just fast and knowledgeable, Jim Wood and JW Jr. are there with trackside support at almost every west coast race—quite the deal at $600.

Honda CRF450R Dirt Tracker

“We chose the new all-rounder, our 2010 Honda 450cc motocross testbike, and turned it into the official CW CRF450DT’R project dirt-track racer.”

The stock triple clamp is excellent because; 1) I already had it, and 2) the Honda Progressive Steering Damper is a great thing to have for high-speed work. Instead of paying $800 (at least) for a new set of wheels and since motocrossers come with a 19-inch rear, I set out to get a deal on a front only. The "deal" I got wound up being over $400 for a front wheel with spokes sticking up inside the rim where the tube goes. This had to be remedied with a grinder and two layers of duct tape. Another option is to move the wider rear rim to the front, then lace up a new wider-still rear wheel. Handlebars are a personal thing. I went with Renthal 1989 CR250 bars ($74.95), a slightly more pulled-back bend than the stocker. Also grooved sprockets, also from Renthal, ($25.95) front and ($64.95) rear, do a good job shedding all that moist, tacky dirt.

New tires were not in the budget, especially not when the Ron Wood Racing dumpster is right down the street from out Newport Beach offices: With a fresh-ish set of Maxxis take-offs wrapped around my 19-inch wheels, I was ready to roll. First race for the _CW_CRF450DT'R was local event at Ventura Raceway. I learned a lot in one day/night about the need to charge into corners with no brake; the track is heavily banked so just shut off and let compression be your guide to that rear wheel slide...

You do use the rear brake though, and I came away knowing the rear pedal was too high even at its lowest setting. I lowered the pedal with a bandsaw at Ron Wood’s shop by cutting the teeth off the top of the pedal, and then removing the jam-nut to get a couple more millimeters of lowering. Another benefit of no teeth on the pedal is that you can slide your toe off gently without having to lift it; in flat-track, smoother is better. And I won the no-purpose-build-framers DTX 450 class.

With those important changes and a little more experience, confidence was building. Next time out at Southern California Flat Track Association race at Perris Raceway, I got the holeshot in one heat race and led for a few laps until I left a 2.4mm gap on the inside, got bumped wide and watched two bikes squirt right through. That time I learned this: The other guys want to win real bad. You just you can't leave the door open unless you want it shut in your face. So stick your steel shoe, and your neck, out farther next time...

I cut new grooves in my (same old) tires with a tire-groover tool from Motostrano.com ($99.95) before my next race. I wanted more bite and more steering lock, so I took the right side steering stop off the lower triple clamp, and raised the fork tubes in the clamps by 5mm for quicker steering. At the rear, I cut the chain and moved the wheel as far forward as possible for more (I hoped) traction.

Cycle World

I spent most of the summer racing the 10 rounds of the SCFTA series at Perris Raceway. The dirt oval there was just recently completely rejuvenated and lengthened. The next time out, I was really starting to enjoy racing on the dirt oval. I'd never heard a front tire howl on the dirt before; it was amazing, but the hopping I could have done without. Airing the tire up from 16 to 19 psi cured that problem. Was I too relaxed in the heat race? I won't let that happen in the Main. What did happen was I got rammed and spun out, should have crashed five times but luckily did so but once... and, my Fluidyne radiators ($249.95, only $10 more than stock per side) were completely unharmed... Maybe three Red Bulls were too many?

After Round 7 of the SCFTA championship, I was looking good in overall pro points; I was excited enough to buy a new set of Goodyear medium compound CD5s for $320, at the track—and promptly won my heat race next time out. Note to self: Fresh tires help, even on slippery dirt.

When Cycle World was invited to go to Yavapai Downs in Arizona to test the GNC Twins ("Oval Offices," in the May, 2011, issue of CW), it also gave me the perfect excuse to go ahead and race my very first Pro Singles Mile as a nice way to warm up for my gig on the faster, heavier Twins. The coolest change was my shiny new national Pro Single #50E DeCal Works decals ($42.45), mounted up just in time along with another Ron Wood take-off CD8 rear Goodyear, mandated on the Mile per AMA rules. My gearing change, from 13/47 to 14/46, worked out perfectly, keeping the Honda wide-open in fifth almost all the way around the Yavapai Downs track. A beautiful new D&D low pipe ($589), donated and installed by Kenny Tolbert and seven-time Grand National Champion Chris Carr, really helped the CW_CRF's top-end performance. For once, I could hear my own bike snarling along with the rest of the pack (and the almost 6-hp gain it later registered on the _CW dyno didn't hurt). After stalling on the start line of the third restart, I finished 13th.

Back on my home track (We'll always have Perris...), it came down to the double-header SCFTA Finale, and I was ready, with a new MotionPro Revolver throttle ($154.99). I snagged the heat-race victory and would start on pole for the 20-lap main—in which I finished third, which seems not all that impressive until I casually drop the names of riders who finished behind me; AMA Superbike Champion Josh Hayes and ex-MotoGP star John Hopkins, just to name a couple...all in a night's work, ladies. Jimmy Wood won that round, while Robert Bush won the Open-Pro championship and me and the Honda _CW_CRF450DT'R, ended up number two in SCFTA Open-Pro points for 2010.

In short, what I did last summer was whip a Honda CRF450R into race-winning shape without spending a fortune, found a place to get involved in some hard-fought racing close to home, sharpened my skills and added a few to my repertoire and had a blast in the process. If we don’t see you out there racing around somewhere next year, here’s mud in your eye.

024 Mark Cernicky SCFTA awards.

023 Mark Cernicky awarded.

022 Fluidyne radiators are tuff, increase coolant capacity, cost little more than an OE replacement.

021 Goodyear medium compound CD5s.

020 MotionPro Revolver throttle.

019 Mark Cernicky.

018 Mark Cernicky.

017 Mark Cernicky (#50e) and Damon Coca (#56).

016 John Hopkins.

015 Josh Hayes.

014 Start of Pro Heat - John Hopkins (#21) leads.

013 Start of Pro Main.

012 Mark Cernicky.

011 Riders meeting.

010 Josh Hayes at sign-in.

009 SCFTA sign-in line.

008 Yavapai Downs in Arizona.

007 Yavapai Downs in Arizona.

006 Yavapai Downs in Arizona.

005 Yavapai Downs in Arizona.

004 Yavapai Downs in Arizona.

003 The official CW CRF450DT?R project dirt-track racer.

002 The official CW CRF450DT?R project dirt-track racer.

001 Cycle World Associate Editor Mark Cernicky.