Eddie Krawiec is probably getting a little tired of people asking the question, but the personable rider of the Vance & Hines/Mission Suzuki still takes it in stride as he remains one victory shy of reaching the 50-win milestone in NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle competition.
The four-time world champion is hoping that the two-wheelers’ first trip to Pacific Raceways might be just the ticket to finally crashing through the barrier that has eluded him for almost two seasons since cracking off No. 49 at the 2021 U.S. Nationals.
Although he famously won his first championship in 2008 without winning a race (four runner-ups helped), after his breakthrough win in Atlanta in 2009 he won at least one race every year (and nine in 2012) through 2018, then has won just two races over the last four and a half seasons, in direct contrast to his new teammate, Gaige Herrera, who has won four races in six starts this season.
“I've just been struggling with my setup and bike and it's like … I’ve just been struggling,” he said with the knowing shrug of an experienced veteran who's seen the highs and lows of the sport over more than 260 starts in a near-20-year career. “People see Gaige out here kicking ass and wonder why I’m not doing the same thing, but our setups are just different based on our riding styles ad weight. The way I run my clutch is not great for hitting the Tree, so I've been working on changing all that because you’re making a tradeoff. Do you want to 60-foot and get an e.t., or do you want to hit the Tree? But I think I'm over the hump."
Crew chief Andrew Hines, still the class leader with 56 career victories, is planning to put a version of Herrera’s clutch into Krawiec’s Suzuki for Saturday qualifying and is mindful of the differences between his two riders.
“Gaige does a [body] lunge off the line – Hector [Arana Jr.] and Chase [Van Sant] do it, too – where they’re moving forward as they're letting go of the clutch. As soon as the G forces in the bike hits the other guys stop but Gaige keeps going. All that weight on the front tires means that I can run the [wheelie] bar higher. and he keeps front tire down.”
While Herrera has been able to consistently cut reaction times in the teens, Krawiec’s setup limits him to the .040 range. It hurt him in Bristol, where he lost on a 6.899 to 6.870 second-round holeshot to Steve Johnson and again in Norwalk to Johnson in the same round, 6.848 to 6.793.
“The extra weight that NHRA put on us has helped Eddie at 60 feet,” said Hines. “We changed the chassis around a little bit. We've changed his weight plate. With this new body, it kind of wraps around the front tires and forms a scoop behind the front tire, so it gave us like four more inches in front of our weight bar. We did that at Norwalk and his window got even bigger than what we can do with the chassis. It started looking like a normal motorcycle. We just got to get his bike to be able to hit the Tree.
“Gaige, I have dialed in at a [.010] that I can back him up from there. Right away in Gainesville he was 39, 40, 45, and 42 and he went 25. In Charlotte, we started sneaking it down, but it gave him no wiggle room to make a mistake and that's what got us in Bristol [where Herrera red-lighted in the final to Steve Johnson]. I should have backed it up to be [.030-.040] because we had four- or five-hundredths on [Johnson], but that was just me saying ‘Let's cut their heads off at the starting line and beat them at the finish line.’ “
Although this is the class’ first time at Pacific Raceways, Krawiec expects no issues getting acclimated.
“I think we should go mid-6.70s at 200 [mph] here, even if it gets hot,” he predicted. ”I think Gaige will probably [6.]74 to .75 and I'm set up to go 77.
“I think it's really cool for the bikes to finally be here. We were supposed to run here in 2020 then COVID happened. I like going to different areas, and, to me, COVID kind of proved that when you skip a market for a year and you go back the next it could be better. You want people to want to go to a race and we’re going to put on a show for this year.”