Charlotte: Junior Pippin preview

Pippin Building Towards Strong Charlotte Showing Fifty Six year-old NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Junior Pippin's sophomore year on the tour took a dramatic turn for the better back in August at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, ...

Pippin Building Towards Strong Charlotte Showing

Fifty Six year-old NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Junior Pippin's sophomore year on the tour took a dramatic turn for the better back in August at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minnesota. "We were having problems this year," admitted Pippin. "Then right before we went to Brainerd, we found our glitch and Rick (veteran crew chief Rick Maney) kept tuning it. We finally made a round--thank God!"

Pippin is a legendary racer with a long resume of All Harley Drag Racing Association championships and "unsanctioned speed contests" at Daytona's infamous Cabbage Patch. But his '08 rookie season on the NHRA Full Throttle tour showed that the leap to the ultra-competitive Pro Stock Motorcycle class would be a steep one, and up to Brainerd, '09 was more of the same. Pippin qualified 14th there and faced three time NHRA champion Andrew Hines on the mega-funded, ultra-powerful Screamin' Eagle/Vance&Hines V-Rod team in round 1--a tough draw for sure. But old man Pippin nailed young Hines on the tree and took the round win. "I couldn't think of a nicer bunch to put out than the V-Rods," laughed Pippin, a die-hard Harley enthusiast but outspoken critic of the Screamin' Eagle/Vance&Hines team and their political achievements. "I know Andrew was kind of surprised. I was, pretty much, too. We hadn't run but a .20 all weekend, and I suspect he wasn't expecting an .05. And he may have sat there and intentionally cut a slow light, but it bit him. It was a good run for us."

Pippin beat Shawn Gann in round 2 and Craig Treble in the semi to parlay his first round win into a final round appearance. Junior, who had a .002 light against Treble, pushed it too far against Hector Arana in the final and redlit. But the team gained important confidence and momentum for the final third of '09.

Pippin and the team brought a brand new S&S Pro Stock engine to Indianapolis for the NHRA's biggest event--the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. "We've been working really hard this year developing new horsepower," said Maney. "We've done a lot of cylinder head development and piston design, a lot of work building motors for other teams--Douglas Horne, Steve Horne. It's been a great year for us.

"We came out here with a brand new bullet with some help from our engine shop and we have some remarkable gains. Unfortunately, we're a little late on the set-up, getting the horsepower developed, and getting it to the ground. We've been trying to find what this engine wants as far as ignition timing and fuel, gear ratio and such. We haven't found it's happy spot yet, but we're getting' there. We think it's a better combination, but we don't know yet. The track's the real dyno, and not the dyno."

They were behind the curve understanding the new combination in Indianapolis and it showed, as the team remained unqualified going into the final round. A 6/100ths jump in ET nudged Pippin into the field by .002 over friend and fellow S&S Buell campaigner Bailey Whitaker.

"We're dead last, but dead last is better than not being in," reasoned Pippin.

"We only had one hit to make it right today and we barely did it," Maney said with a sigh of relief. "We pretty much got lucky in the fourth round and got a little closer to the tune-up and snuck into the field, so we're fortunate for that. We're not exactly pleased. That's not where we wanted to be, but we'll take it. If you're in you can win, we've proved that."

The final qualifying sheet and ladder for Monday's eliminations were delivered to Pippin's trailer and Maney poured over the page with intense interest. "We run Matt Smith first round--wow, that's a tough round," said Maney. "He didn't go slow all weekend. That's OK, we're gonna do the same thing we're gonna do against anybody--put a little tune-up in it and see if we can sneak a little more out of it. We've picked up substantially every round this weekend, so I think if we can come back and find another 5 or 6/100ths we'll have a shot. We have to find it in the back half. We ran what we thought was considerably good to the eighth mile today--4.46 at 155. The tune-up was off and it just slowed really bad in the back. We only ran 184 mph. As the fuel guys would say, it's trying to mix up holes out back. So we've gotta get that sorted out and find out how to make her happy in fifth and sixth gear. Once we do that I think we've got a motorcycle that's competitive. Whether we find it this weekend or not, I don't know but, trust me, we'll find it."

"Hopefully Matt slows down, we speed up, and we meet in the middle somewhere," said Pippin. "Hopefully. We'll just give it our best shot and see what happens tomorrow."

Pippin again took the tree by a wide margin against his younger opponent, and Smith was in trouble. "I had him 'til probably about 7 or 800 feet, then the transmission wouldn't go to fifth gear," said Pippin. "I don't know that I'd have beat him, but when it wouldn't shift to fifth, I had to punch the button twice and 'bout that time he caught me and that was the end of it."

"Not really sure why the bike didn't shift," said Maney. "Unfortunately, we missed the tune-up so it was really irrelevant at that point. The bike spun the tire low and we didn't get a hold of the track like we did in Q4. Fortunately for us, Junior had an .012 light and gave us 8/100ths in the bank. We just couldn't pull it off, which is not what we were looking for today."

Both V-Rods were out after round 1. "Isn't that terrible," laughed Pippin. "I can't believe Andrew redlit. Well, I can, I just can't believe I didn't have him first round instead of ol' Matt Smith. But Doug Horne, at least he put one of the mighty V-Rods out running one of our engines." Horne went to the semis.

"We've been chasing our tail with this thing all weekend and we didn't get but probably a couple of clean hits on it," said Pippin. "But it ain't because of a lack of work. Rick Maney and my son Trent have been working their tails off on this thing and I wanna thank them and Lisa Holtzclaw."

"I've gotta thank Trent Pippin, Junior's youngest son and my new mechanic for this season," said Maney. "He came from no mechanical background to a fulltime Pro Stock bike mechanic in six months. He's got the Pippin attitude, comes from the right gene pool, and is doing a really good job. We're building mechanics, we're building horsepower, we're building a team."

"We'll load up, test at Commerce, go to North Carolina and try it again," said Pippin, who owns and runs a fleet of 28 dump trucks in Conyers, Georgia. "That's all we can do. A bad day at the racetrack is better than a good day at home, or in the dump truck . . . but I do love driving my dump trucks, though."

"Charlotte's a big race for us," said Maney. "Pretty much it's our home race. It's close to our engine shop in Advance, North Carolina, and we'll get all our engine guys out there. We've got a lot of great guys up there that support us, always working on our stuff, great people. I'm very blessed to be involved with the people that are doing our horsepower for us, helping us make this motorcycle go faster. Pretty much the rest of '09 is gonna be a test 'n tune for us so we can come out and be more competitive next year."

"I especially have to thank Greg and Lorrie Becker at Stone Mountain and Granite Mountain Harley-Davidson in the great state of Georgia," finished Pippin. "They have helped us for the last three or four years, along with PiranaZ. I can't say enough about these people."

-credit: jp/pr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Shawn Gann , Craig Treble , Andrew Hines , Steve Horne , Matt Smith , Bailey Whitaker