The Canadian Motorcycle Drag Racing Nationals have begun, and Chris Klassen, the 2011 Super Street Champion, is looking to regain his title. RidersWest caught up with Klassen just before the season opener to get some insight into the high-octane world of motorcycle drag racing.
How did you get into the sport?
I actually started in Manitoba when they had the fastest streetbike shootout and stuff like that. I went to my first event for the Winnipeg Fastest Street Bike Shootout and won, so that kind of got me hooked ever since.
Now you race the Super Street or “mildly modified street legal motorcycle” class, so what kind of mods does your bike have?
Mine has quite a bit. It’s got some motor modifications, an extended swing arm, aftermarket suspension, an air shifter and nitrous oxide.
How much does it cost to bring a bike up to this level?
To build one like mine, it’s about 30 grand after you take a $18,000 bike and put another $12,000 or so into it. Please don't let that number scare you away from racing. There are lots of good pre-owned bikes out there that you can get into Super Street with for a lot less money.
Chris Klassen is one-half of the EBSpeed team, which is led by multi-champion Canadian motorcycle drag racer Ethan Barkley. — photo courtesy Patrick Lambie/Seven62 Media
What kind of speeds can you reach in a quarter mile?
The quickest I’ve gone on my current bike is 8.84 seconds at 162 miles per hour.
What’s going through your head at that speed?
You’re thinking shift at the right time. Get the bike off the line fast and shift it when you’re supposed to because that’s how you are going to run your best times.
What does it take to be a top competitor?
Focus, because the biggest thing when you’re running bikes that are so competitive is you need to have a good reaction time to get the bike off the line hard and quick. The way it works is when you stage, you’ll roll your bike into the first beam and your top light will light up, and then you roll it forward about six inches and it will light the second beam. So now your tires are in two laser beams on the starting line. Once both bikes have staged, there are three yellow lights that come on, and then the green. You have four tenths of a second from the time the yellow turns on to the time the green turns on. If you wait to see green, you’re far too slow because it takes so much time for your brain to react and then let go of the clutch. Literally, when you see the three lights turn yellow, you launch. If you wait too long after seeing that yellow, you’ll cut a bad reaction time, and then you can run into a situation where a guy will actually run a slower elapsed time and still beat you because he was quicker off the line.
Chris Klassen won the Super Street class at last year’s Canadian Motorcycle Drag Racing Association Badlands Nationals in Medicine Hat, Alberta. — photo courtesy Patrick Lambie/Seven62 Media
Do you have any goals this season?
Yeah, to win every race I go to. My goal is to win the National Championship this year. I feel it’s very obtainable. I got the bike pretty much dialed in and ready to go, I just have to make some slight tweaks to this new clutch setup. Another goal is I’d like to get my best elapsed time from 8.84 down to 8.40 or 8.50.
Is there much of a payout for winning the championship?
No, not really big. But there are payouts that are provided for the racers, and bragging rights of course. I’m actually on the executive for the Canadian Motorcycle Drag Racing Association as well, and we’re a non-profit organization, so we pay out as much as we can to our racers. It’s definitely a hobby. You are never going to make a living drag racing motorcycles in Canada. Just the elite few pilots down in the States, hired guns so to speak, the guys that are hired to ride, but for the most part, motorcycle drag racing as a whole, you’re not really in it to make money. You’re in it for the love of the game!
Chris Klassen is also a director on the CMDRA executive. — photo courtesy Patrick Lambie/Seven62 Media
What does your family think of your high-octane hobby?
They seem to like it. (My kids) are starting to follow in dad's footsteps. They both have TTR50s in the garage at home. One of the benefits of their dad being a sales manager at Pro-AM Motorsports is they tend to get spoiled a little bit when it comes to the toys.
What drives you the most?
Love of the sport is what drives me the most. But when I’m there, I want to win. I am doing it strictly for fun, but I am competitive-minded enough that when I’m at the track, I want to win. And any good drag racer has to have that mentality.