Switch to motorcycles pays off for driver interested in speed


January 28, 1996|By Stanley Dillon | Stanley Dillon,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Robert McCraw, 31, has been racing motorcycles for just a few years but the Sykesville resident already ranks near the top 10 in the country on the American Motorcyclist Association Pro-Star circuit.

Like several other Carroll County riders, McCraw switched from cars to motorcycle racing for the speed.

"I went to the drag races a lot with my father," said McCraw. "My father raced cars in the '70s and '80s. I wanted to go fast and instead of pouring my money in cars, I got a motorcycle instead where it is cheaper to go faster."

McCraw started racing with a 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle. His desire to go faster meant that he would have to spend a lot of money on his car to achieve his goal.

In 1988 he decided to switch to motorcycles. He started with a Honda CVR 600, a plain street bike that wasn't much faster than his car.

A year later he purchased a 1977 Kawasaki. But before he had the opportunity to race his new bike, he was seriously injured when he was on his motorcycle waiting at a intersection and was struck by an automobile.

The rehabilitation period for McCraw was a long one, but he was determined to race again and pick up where he left off. While he was recuperating, he began to modify his bike for racing.

McCraw didn't have any previous experience with motorcycles except riding dirt bikes when he was young. He was basically starting from scratch.

He started changing his bike over to a racing bike with valuable assistance from Mike Shultz and Shreve, racing fabricators in Frederick, CPE Performance and John Magmus and crew of Clinton. Locally, the Ford brothers of Hampstead and Westminster were very helpful to the new rider.

By 1992, McCraw had recovered enough from his accident to begin racing again. He qualified for his National Hot Rod Association competition license in 1992 and raced as often as he could at area tracks. By 1993, he had his bike near the speed he wanted, lowering his time from 12 to nine seconds.

The next year, McCraw was ready to do some serious racing. His first full season he finished third in the point series at Mason-Dixon Dragway in Hagerstown. At the Sears Craftsman Bracket Finals at Maple Grove Raceway, he finished in the top six out of 160 bikes.

During the season, McCraw began competing in the Pro-Star Series, a Super Comp circuit for drag bikes sanctioned by the AMA. The series consists of nine races from Gainesville, Fla. to Indianapolis, Ind., with more than 90 competitors. Similar to the super comp division for cars, the bikes run a 8.90-second standard. Heads-up pro starts are used with no break-out (below 8.90 seconds) allowed.

Last year, McCraw competed in six of the Pro-Star Nationals. He qualified in the top 25 in all nationals. Going into the world finals at Gainesville in November, McCraw had a chance to finish as high as seventh in the final point standings. But he went out on the first round, yet finished 12th in the country.

While the pro circuit kept him from competing every week at Mason-Dixon, he still finished fifth in points. At Maple Grove in the bracket finals, he finished in the top six out of 192 bikes.

Switching from a full-bodied car to a motorcycle and cutting three seconds off the elapsed time in the quarter-mile in the process is a big change for anyone.

But McCraw adapted without any problems. The biggest difference for him was the way the bike came off the starting grid in the first 60 feet.

"You never know what the bike is going to do," said McCraw. "You have to control it as much as you can. You just hope that it comes out straight, but it doesn't always happen that way."

While it is cheaper to go faster on a bike, there is still cost involved. The Kawazaki, powered by a 1200-cc engine, cost a couple thousand dollars to convert to a racing bike.

Traveling on the pro series is also more expensive than racing close to home. With the closest event at least three hours away, a weekend on the pro series costs about $1,000.

Reaching speeds of 150 mph at the end of the quarter-mile has satisfied McCraw's quest for speed. Now he wants to move to the top on the national Pro-Star Series.

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