Mohegan Sun Team on the Rise Although he's been drag racing Harley-Davidsons since '93, and even raced AHDRA (All Harley Drag Racing Association) Pro Stock last year, it was a monumental leap for Fresno, California's...
Mohegan Sun Team on the Rise
Although he's been drag racing Harley-Davidsons since '93, and even raced AHDRA (All Harley Drag Racing Association) Pro Stock last year, it was a monumental leap for Fresno, California's Chris Rivas to put a leg over a George Bryce-built, G-Squared Buell and stage it up at an NHRA Powerade event. But in the critical glare of the national spotlight, Rivas and the fledgling Mohegan Sun team are showing they have the combination to be successful at the most intensely competitive level of motorcycle drag racing.
With the Buell, Rivas has a state-of-the-art piece at his disposal--far different from the comparatively low-budget bike he ran at AHDRA events. "That bike had a 45 degree crate motor from S&S that on its best day probably made about 225 horsepower," figured Rivas. "The motors that George builds probably put out about 100 horsepower more than that."
But under Bryce's tutelage at the Frank Hawley drag racing school, Rivas didn't need any additional horsepower to run quicker than he'd ever imagined with his old bike. "Because of the information we learned from George, I was able to go 10 mph faster and 2/10ths quicker than ever on the old bike, even with last year's tire," laughed Rivas.
Given his lack of high-speed experience, more than a few eyebrows were raised when Rivas's deal with the Mohegan Sun team was announced. After all, Mohegan Sun was the primary sponsor for the second half of the last of Angelle Sampey's three national championships with Bryce's Star Racing. So why would an East Coast (Connecticut) casino/resort with a successful racing heritage at the top level of the sport enlist a West Coast racer with only one marginal year of professional experience?
It all started at the Seattle AHDRA race last season. "Brian Bozsum (a marketing director and tribal member of the Mohegan Tribe of Fresno) came up to me and told me who he was and asked me if I'd ever be interested in riding a Pro Stock Bike," remembered Rivas. "I said 'Yeah, that's why I'm here.' And he said 'No, I mean in the NHRA.'"
Needless to say Rivas, who had qualified with an 8.59 at that Seattle race, was floored by this dream opportunity to ride a clone of the U.S. Nationals #1 qualifying bike. "The more we talked about it, the more everybody's personalities just clicked," said Chris. "They said 'The reason we're interested in you is not the way your bike is running, it's your good reaction times, your good self-composure at the racetrack, and that you're a regular, no-ego kind of guy.' To me, racing is not about me--I'm just out there having fun."
Not that Rivas hasn't been working hard to fit the Pro Stock mold. Since winning Super Gas at the AHDRA finals in Las Vegas in 2003, Chris dropped 35 pounds down to 145. "I ate a lot of salads, chicken and broccoli," groaned Rivas. And then there was the cost of building and maintaining his bike, for even a mid-8 second, gasoline and carburetors Harley can set a fellow back a bit. "I spent a lot of money on the Pro Stock bike, but I don't regret it for a minute because I'd never be doing what I'm doing right now."
Chris's first laps ever on the new Buell came at the AHDRA opener in Gainesville, Florida this past March. That was a frustrating weekend for Rivas, as he, the bike and the team struggled to get comfortable with each other. It was supposed to be a weekend of testing and tuning for the Gatornationals two weeks later, but the team left with more doubts and questions about their expensive new investment than answers. The Gators didn't go much better, as Rivas and the bike made only one decent pass down the track and failed to qualify.
So it was no surprise that Rivas was visibly thrilled after dashing off a 7.111 at 186.72 mph in the second round of qualifying at the next NHRA race in Houston (with G.T. Tonglet on the Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle V-Rod in the other lane). That run held up for the #5 qualifying spot and rookie Rivas was right there in the midst of champions, record holders and legends in one of the most competitive classes in all of motorsport.
"To be able to not just squeak into the field but get into the field in fifth place was phenomenal," said Rivas, who ran his next two passes alongside Antron Brown of the U.S. Army team. It was definitely a different experience. On that first pass out we still didn't have a good baseline for the fuel management or the clutch because we hadn't even been down the track yet. So we just put a conservative tune into it and ran the 7.55. Then we did some stuff with the fuel management and the clutch, pretty much the tune-up that the bike had in it when it was delivered. That's when we ran the 7.11, and it was not actually a very good pass for me. It was the one pass of the weekend where I did not ride the bike very well.
Rivas's old bike ran 1.18 60 foot times, while the new Buell ran a 1.09 on the 7.11 pass. "Oh yeah, you can feel that," Chris said about the difference in the launch of the two bikes. "It feels like it's doubled in speed.
"After that pass, I get back to the trailer and there's the tech official and he says 'OK, take the body off and let's see if this thing's OK.' After that pass they made us use their fuel for every run. For me, it was impressive to see them go to that extent to try and make a level playing field."
In round 1 of eliminations of his first ever NHRA race, Rivas busted out of the gate first and lead Kurt Matte steadily through the eighth mile. But the Buell stopped accelerating like it should between the eighth and the 1000 foot mark. "About the time I hit fifth gear, I could feel that the bike was not pulling like it had," said Chris. "In my peripheral vision I could see Kurt pulling up to me. It seemed like an eternity and I just made myself as small as I could to get inside the bike. I shifted into sixth and he pulled ahead of me." Matte won the round and went on to his first final, losing to 15th qualifier Karen Stoffer.
"I don't think that we really know yet what really happened to our bike," Rivas said a few days later. "The path was there to get into the final. One of the frustrating things was when I got the time sheet and saw the other numbers the guys were winning with, we were right there. But Karen's been a good friend of mine for a long time so it's good to see her win."
Still, Rivas is itching to be competitive at the end of the day himself, and he feels his team of owners Bozsum and Jessey Fenton, and crew chief Mike Ruggiero have what it takes to get there. "George Bryce is still a resource, but we're starting to jell as a team and make our decisions," said Rivas. "I feel real confident about Mike and some of the decisions he made this weekend. He made some really good calls."
For their help in getting him and the team this far, Rivas thanked Mohegan Sun, Santori Development, Broken Arrow Enterprises, his dad Ruben, Ron Mero, George Bryce and Chip Ellis. "Chip really worked with me one on one to show me the best way to ride that motorcycle," said Chris. "He's such a neat person and to open that up to me is amazing."
The next race for Chris Rivas and Mohegan Sun Racing is the NHRA Southern Nationals, May 12-15th at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Georgia.
Prior to the NHRA SuperNationals at Englishtown, New Jersey, the Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino will be holding a special event honoring all of its race teams on June 15th from 3-6pm. In addition to Rivas and the Buell, Paul Athey and his IHRA/NHRA Top Fuel car and Matt Kobyluck and his NASCAR Northeast Busch series car will be at the entrance to the arena's casino. Drivers will be signing autographs and giving away prizes to casino visitors that day, so make a trip to Mohegan Sun part of your race week plans.