Mohegan Sun Buell Team Gets Revenge on Gainesville "I'm very happy that we got to qualify for Gainesville for the first time, made our first 6 second pass, and went a round," said Chris Rivas, rider of the Mohegan Sun Buell in the NHRA Pro Stock...
Mohegan Sun Buell Team Gets Revenge on Gainesville
"I'm very happy that we got to qualify for Gainesville for the first time, made our first 6 second pass, and went a round," said Chris Rivas, rider of the Mohegan Sun Buell in the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle class. "It was sweet revenge to get my first 6 at Gainesville after it busted my chops for two years. The first year we blew up both of our engines and last year we missed the tune-up completely, so this was very satisfying."
"We got the Gainesville monkey off our back," agreed team co-owner Brian Bozsum. "Our hard work in the off-season and testing in Valdosta has really helped us."
Indeed, it was a great start for the Mohegan Sun team. Gainesville's Gatornationals had been particularly unkind to the fledgling team in their first two appearances there. Now the opening round of the Pro Stock Motorcycle season has served as a positive launch for the rest of 2007, with the team leaving the famed track 6th in points.
The weekend started with solid runs in the first two rounds of qualifying that left Rivas eleventh on the charts for what would become the quickest Pro Stock Motorcycle field ever.
But it was in the noon round on Saturday, in perfectly crisp, cool air, that Rivas, crew chief Rick Maney, and the rest of the Mohegan Sun team really showed their hand. In a beautiful side-by-side run with veteran Paul Gast, Rivas drove the Buell deep into the 6s (and straight up the charts) for the first time.
"I guess I should say that my first 6 didn't feel that much different from all the rest," said Rivas. "It was smooth, and I knew I was running with Paul Gast and that he would be quick and fast (Gast ran 6.97). He said to me at the end of the track 'Man, you were really flyin' out there.' Gary Gerould (ESPN reporter) said 'You went a .94' and I didn't know what he meant. The numbers didn't make sense to me. I asked him what he said and he said 'A .94,". I had to ask him again and he took his headphones off and said 'Chris, you went a 6.94.'"
Now the team was comfortably in the field and could experiment in the final round, a warmer round that saw most of the field slow down overall.
Opening round on raceday was slightly warmer than the day before, but with tricky air that was somehow better. Rivas slowed to a 7.09, but advanced past Peggy Llewellyn, also on a Buell.
"All of the Buells slowed down 10 mph that round," noted Rivas. "They're all so similar, that what's affecting one is affecting them all. So we're making a change to try and address that." And though he did go slightly quicker and faster in the warmer-still round 2, Rivas didn't quite have enough for Steve Johnson.
"In the second round we made a tuning call that turned out to be the wrong thing, but the bike responded to exactly what we told it to do," said Rivas. "We'd never been in air that was that ridiculously good before, and we just missed it. Now everything I stumbled through last year, I've learned some things and applied it to this year. We learned from what happened against Steve Johnson in round 2 and now we can move forward."
"Obviously I'd be happier if we went another round or two, but I'm really pleased to have helped the Mohegan Sun team qualify for Gainesville," said Maney, a first year NHRA crew chief. Maney moved over from G2/Star Racing shortly after winning the U.S. Nationals last year as Matt Smith's chief mechanic. "I guess the biggest thing for me this weekend was going up against my ex-boss (George Bryce), one of the best tuners in the business, in the first round. That'll keep you up at night."
"I've had a lot of different teams over the years," said Jessey Fenton, co-owner of the team with Bozsum. "And last year I knew we were missing a bona-fide V-Twin crew chief. I offered Rick this job two years ago, but at that time he told me he had a lot to learn and wanted to go work for G2. Then he became available.
"Brian and I are partners because he works harder on the PR end of things and looks for money and puts it all together. But I purchased the bike and always worry about who I turn that bike over to. Rick is consumed by this bike. He works at it 24/7, and that's what I want. That's what it takes to win. And he comes at it with lots of experience and inside knowledge. When he presses a button, he knows what the result is gonna be and we didn't have that last year."
"Rick and Chris work so well together, and they've really put our program back on its feet like it's never been before," said Bozsum.
"Chris does all the fuel injection tuning and I focus on the clutch," said Maney. "We talk about the decisions, but he says 'This is what I think we should do,' and 9 times out of 10, I say 'Yeah, do it.'"
"Besides being a terrific rider, great at taking care of motors, and dedicated to winning, Chris is also a terrific human being," said Fenton. "And between him and Rick, it's a real team deal. These two young men will accomplish a lot because they work well together without any egos. All the good things that happened this weekend were the result of those two guys putting their heads together."
"Rick's such an accomplished rider as well as a crew chief, and we're able to discuss things," Rivas said about Maney, a former AHDRA Pro Stock champion. "He speaks the same language that I do. I'm still handling the fuel injection tuning, and he basically handles everything else. This was our first event with Rick, and everything was fresh and new. New trailer and everything. The two of us were able to work out how we wanted everything laid out so that we could gel together. All weekend was comfortable.
"This was also the first test for our in-house engine building program, and everything seemed to work out well. All of our test sessions have gone real good and everything has gone real positive since we brought everything in house. Now we know why it does the things it does and we know how to fix it."
"The .94 was a big morale booster for the team," said Maney. "But our tuning decisions have been real conservative. The air was night and day and required a lot of tuning changes. Friday was a different animal from testing on Tuesday, and we're starting off from scratch as far as a tuning notebook. Fuel injection can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It does exactly what you tell it to do. It worked really well and did exactly what we told it to. In E1 the bike was so lean, I'm surprised we got the winlight. We may have done some engine damage then, I don't know yet. But I'm really pleased with the reliability of this motor. We put it in for our first test session 21 runs ago and we haven't taken it out yet. It's still running good, but we'll put our other one in for Houston. That's a testament to the reliability of S&S horsepower.
"We're also using the 16" tire for the first time. It's a lot more consistent and user friendly than the 15 ever was. There's still a lot we don't know about it, even though we've burned through three of them already. We had some good 60 foot numbers. Nothing really stellar, but I think we were no worse than sixth on the chart all weekend long."
Good Times in the Mohegan Sun Pit
If you're sponsored by a casino, you might as well be fun, and few teams are as laid back, welcoming, and fun to be around as the Mohegan Sun team. "We are still there to have a good time," said Rivas. "If it becomes a high stress situation, then I don't want to be a part of it. I am blessed to be able to do the things that I'm doing. I have no right to come off with an attitude when I get to race amongst the top racers in the world and have Mohegan Sun paying me. Rick and I feel the same way, otherwise, why would we take the time away from our families to go out and be miserable?"
"To this day there has not been a single negative thing said about each other, and we think we have a real good team for years to come," said Fenton. "I remember a year when I couldn't wait for the season to end just so I could get away from the ream that was supposedly my team. Even as disappointing as last year was, we still had a good time. It's a privilege to be in the NHRA and competing against the best in the world on these pieces of equipment, and it's important to me that my people feel the same way. We're so happy for Karen (Gainesville winner Stoffer) because we really care about her and some of the other teams.
"We have Rick fulltime. We have him under contract for three years and we have a shop right next to Chris's shop. Now the only thing is major funding. We've got quite a few sponsors, which is a tribute to Brian. But we need more money for parts and testing, and then we'll be able to compete with any team out there. Everything else, I think, we already have. I think the Buell is the best bike out there. We're still using all the old stuff that was available when we bought the bike two years ago. We bought the first Buell that G2 sold, right after Chip Ellis qualified #1 at Indy. So it would be nice to get caught up with some of the stuff the other teams have. We're probably one year away from competing in the top 5, and I say that in all honesty."
"This weekend far exceeded our expectations," added Bozsum. "It was a golden opportunity for a team like us that is still under-funded to show what we can do. Our pass was the eighth quickest in history, and we're really looking forward to going to Houston where our sponsor Royal Purple is located. And after that, the new point system can help under-funded teams like ours."
"This is the most exciting this class has ever been," noted Fenton. "In addition to the S&S Buells, we've got Kawasaki with Muzzy coming in, Suzuki stepping up and Harley-Davidson, these people are spending money. There are four different classes of bikes competing together and it's exciting. Even the crowds do not leave like they used to. Now they're sticking around, and Harley-Davidson has had a lot to do with that. This is what I've always dreamed this class could be."
"We're real excited for the sponsors that we've brought on," said Bozsum. "Mohegan Sun's commitment to us has been very supportive, as well as bringing Royal Purple, Mac Tools, NGK Spark Plugs, and CBMI Cal Building Maintenance in. I want to thank all of them for they're support and believing in us."
"None of this level of performance could have happened without Mohegan Sun and Royal Purple stepping up and supporting us," agreed Rivas.
"We've still got a lot to learn in this business, but I think we're gonna go some rounds this year," finished Maney.