The ABCs of the CMDRA

Story by Allan Nelson// Photos by Allan Nelson
March 1 2011

Canadian Motorcycle Drag Racing at its finest

Drag racing is one of the oldest forms of motorsport competition, and motorcycle enthusiasts have always appreciated pushing the limits of their machines. Its popularity has grown of late due to the rise of shows such as “PINKS” and “Pass Time,” both of which are featured on SPEEDtv. Therefore, racetracks around the country have seen tremendous participation in their “Street Legal” race nights.

The premise seems simple. A drag race is an acceleration contest, from a standing start, between two vehicles over a measured distance, either an eighth or a quarter mile (0.2 or 0.4 km). It provides the spectator with a unique perspective, as the entire race is visible from start to finish and the winner is determined in mere fractions of a second.

Back in the early 1990s, high-speed racing compelled a group of west-coast motorcycle drag racers and enthusiasts to develop an environment where they could feed their need for speed. Racing for bragging rights on weekends was a start, but they felt the need to create an organization with proper rules, multiple classes, a points system and, hopefully, some prize money at the end of the day. In 1993, this group of dedicated enthusiasts created an organization that is now known as the Canadian Motorcycle Drag Racing Association (CMDRA). Developed as a non-profit society operated by an elected board of directors, it is unique because it promotes “all brands” motorcycle racing and is Canada’s only motorcycle drag racing association fully sanctioned by the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). Since its inception, membership has steadily grown to nearly 500 members, including more than 125 regular racers from across Canada and the United States.

As with most Canadian motorsport activities, CMDRA activities are scheduled during the summer. The series is mainly focused in the western provinces, but over the past few years it has rapidly expanded in the east. Assistance from premier sponsors such as Drag Specialties/Parts Canada and Screamin’ Eagle Performance Parts has been instrumental in this expansion. The six-race series begins in May and winds up with the season finale in September. Competition is tight, and those vying for a national championship know how crucial it is to attend as many races as possible, earning every possible point toward the coveted No. 1 plate.

Over the years, several key people have helped in the development of the CMDRA organization and motorcycle drag racing in Canada. These individuals include Ron Houniet, George Welch, Pete Nichols, Ethan Barkley and Clint Rabb.

Ron Houniet, Top Fuel Champion for an unprecedented eleven years from 1995 to 2006, is still involved in the sport and continues to lead the way in the development of top fuel motorcycles. George Welch, another Canadian record holder, has been a pioneer in the Top Fuel class and essential to the development of the CMDRA. Pete Nichols was a director with the CMDRA in its formative years, helped the CMDRA grow into a highly respected entity on both sides of the border, and continues to provide his experience to the organization. Another longstanding CMDRA director, Ethan Barkley represents the next generation of motorcycle drag racers. Ethan races street-based machines and has been instrumental in creating the Pro Street class and pushing the limits of a motorcycle without wheelie bars. Clint Rabb, current CMDRA Executive Director, has been working on the CMDRA expansion in the east as well as continuous overall promotion of the organization, and does it all with a positive outlook and a commitment to the growth of the sport.

First and foremost, the CMDRA has been, and always will be, committed to safety and rider accountability. One of the organization’s top priorities is to help eliminate street racing and to put it on the track where it belongs.

In 2004, the CMDRA took it one step further by partnering with the Trev Deeley Foundation to create a free “race school” at each of their events. Prior to Saturday’s regular race program, anyone can come down to the starting line with his or her motorcycle. Some of the CMDRA’s most experienced and decorated racers instruct students in the fundamentals of drag racing, including how to navigate their way safely down the drag strip. This tremendously successful program has resulted in many first-timers coming back to race in the series regularly.

The CMDRA drag racing series hosts numerous classes including all brands, styles and configurations of motorcycle. These options have allowed the series to remain one of North America’s last “motorcycle only” drag racing events. There are, however, a handful of fast cars there to help prepare the race surface for motorcycles. The cars lay down rubber and put some heat onto the track, which the motorcycles can’t do on their own.

Fourteen classes are broken down into two categories referred to as “Heads-up” and “Bracket.” Heads-up (head-to-head) classes are what most people will recognize as traditional drag racing – the winner being the first to cross the finish line. In Bracket racing, each competitor identifies an elapsed time that they will attempt to match without going under that time. Running too fast, which results in a time much different from their “target” time, actually results in a loss, as will jumping from the start. What is critical to getting the win is being consistent as well as having great reaction time (the time differential from when the starting lights turn green and when the motorcycle moves). Racers who regularly have great reaction times have a sizeable advantage, and perfect reaction times (measured to a thousandth of a second) often occur more than once during a CMDRA event.

Throughout a race weekend, there are numerous racing sessions. After Saturday morning’s race school, there is a test session when racers will try out their machines to get a feel for the racing surface and overall conditions. Next are three rounds of qualifying sessions that determine match-ups going into Sunday’s elimination rounds. Sunday begins with another test session and licensing passes, which are solo passes for racers looking to a higher class with the requirement that they meet safety criteria and control standards. Shortly after, the eliminations begin and, round by round, the fields are reduced until the final pairings are determined. Classes are run in ascending order from the slowest to quickest classes with the Top Fuel class as the headliner event. With over 100 of Canada’s fastest motorcycles competing for prize money, championship points and bragging rights, there’s no shortage of entertainment.

Every class is interestingly different in its rules and setup. For example, a fully dressed Harley-Davidson Ultra Glide may cruise to a comfortable 15-second run at 90 mph (145 km/h ) and, a short time later, there’s a Top Fuel motorcycle ripping a quarter mile in six seconds at over 200 mph (320 km/h). Top Fuel is the premier class of the CMDRA, with these nitro-burning V-Twin monsters literally shaking the ground during their runs. To have a chance to win, elapsed times need to be in the six-second range and speeds generally exceed 200 mph. This class is definitely not for the faint of heart, as these machines are generating in excess of 800 horsepower.

In 2006, while racing at Mission Raceway Park in British Columbia, veteran Top Fuel rider Mike Scott crossed the centre line and hit the concrete barrier wall shortly after passing the finish line. “One second I was going over 200 mph, then 30 seconds later I had oxygen on my face,” Mike stated, and he also commended the outstanding safety crews that are present at all CMDRA events. After a lengthy recovery, Mike returned to racing and won the 2008 Top Fuel Championship. Accidents can happen when racing on two wheels and are especially prevalent in the Top Fuel class, since racers are covering an average of approximately 220 feet (67 metres) every second.

Right behind the Top Fuel class is the Pro Modified class. These purpose-built, highly modified, production-based dragsters are propelled by turbocharged, inline, four-cylinder engines that make in excess of 400 horsepower. With wide tires, wheelie bars and sophisticated electronics, these motorcycles now generate times very close to the Top Fuel class. Gary Christopher of Hope, B.C., is the current record holder, and his best pass to date has been 6.78 seconds at a speed of 203 mph (327 km/h). During powerful runs down the track, a motorcycle could have its front wheel off the ground for the entire length of the track.

The Pro Street class is a real crowd favourite, as these machines are based on street bikes with an overdose of steroids. Challenges include trying to apply over 500 horsepower to the racetrack on a motorcycle using a DOT-approved tire but without a wheelie bar. Riding one of these bikes is like riding a rodeo bull. There are monster wheelies and tire hazing, a term used when tires break loose from the race surface at very high speed. Pro Street bikes regularly spin the tire at speeds above 180 mph (290 km/h), and race results are usually around 7.5 seconds in excess of 190 mph (305 km/h). Ten- time CMDRA Champion and Pro Street founder Ethan Barkley says, “Pro Street is a true rider’s class, so many things can go wrong on a given pass and you need to bring your A-game every time.”

The V-Rod Destroyer class doesn’t quite match the speeds in the classes mentioned above, but the competition is just as fierce. It features a purpose-built Harley-Davidson V-Rod Destroyer, which runs in the nine-second range at nearly 150 mph (240 km/h). This class has a tight set of rules that limit modifications, keeping the competition extremely close. Destroyers are raced in both western and eastern Canada – a first for a CMDRA class. The best from the east takes on the best in the west for a good, old-fashioned, winner-take-all showdown at the CMDRA’s Championship finale.

Finally, there are several bracket-style classes. This style of racing helps keep costs down for competitors, as being the quickest on the track is no advantage – this class depends on consistency and reaction times to get to the winner’s circle. For metric motorcycles, there is the Super Bike class. It’s been around since the beginning of the CMDRA and allows a host of different motorcycle variations. Expect to see everything from long and low bikes using purpose-built tubular frames to street bikes with a slick tire, rigid rear-end and bolt-on wheelie bars. There are always plenty of entries in this class, which often features many veteran club racers.

For entry-level racers, there’s the Street Class, which is geared to get people out of the stands and onto the track. It has been the breeding ground for many racers who have moved up into the more challenging classes. At times, this class has had in excess of thirty competitors on every make and model of bike you can imagine.

In 2011, a new class will be introduced, aptly named Super Street. This will be a heads-up class that bridges the gap between the bracket-based Street class and the incredibly fast Pro Street division. The goal is to attract owners of modified sport bikes to the track, where they can safely crank the throttle wide open against some healthy competition in a heads-up format.

Streets are getting busier and insurance rates are constantly on the rise, even with a decent driving record. Organizations like the CMDRA are becoming increasingly important as a means whereby motorcyclists can “test their metal” in a safe, fun and controlled environment. They can learn the potential of their motorcycle without the unpredictable nature of riding on the street. The only ticket you’ll ever get at a CMDRA event is your time slip.

For motorcycle manufacturers, drag racing is an important venue, as it’s an ideal place to represent themselves in a competitive environment. What sets CMDRA racing apart from many other types of racing is that all brands can be represented. This appeals to both the fans and the racers and gives them a safe and exciting venue… the drag strip.

CMDRA events also offer a unique opportunity to spectators, who have total access to the pits at all times during an event. Fans can see these motorcycles up close and talk to the builders, tuners and pilots who ride these bikes. Canada is home to some of the best racers in all of North America, and you owe it to yourself to see these events in person to fully appreciate the spectacle that is the CMDRA.

Please visit for more information regarding the race school, schedule, rules and sponsorship opportunities.

“In Memory of Ross O’Connor. Ross was a former CMDRA Director, Drag Racing School Instructor, Crew Chief for Ron Houniet (multiple Top Fuel Champion) and a dear friend to those in the motorcycle community. He will truly be missed.”


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