Rickey Gadson is the most accomplished professional drag racer in AMA Prostar Drag Racing history and nine times World Champion. Cycle Gear was able to talk with the Speed and Strength sponsored rider and owner of the Rickey Gadson Sportbike Drag Racing School recently about his career, gear, and going fast.
(CG) How did you get started in drag racing?
(RG) I got started in drag racing basically when I was four or five years old. My Mom and Dad would always go to different dirt bike events, and motorcycle clubs used to put on what they called field meets. At the field meets they’d have some type of dirt racing, normally it was at a circle track so there would be a lot of scrambles, and then they started dirt drag racing. When I was five years old, my dad got me a three horsepower mini bike and let me start drag racing in the mini bike class. Then I went from a three horsepower mini bike to a five horsepower mini bike and I jumped from a five horsepower mini bike when I was about seven or eight all the way to YZ 125 Yamaha and I was dirt drag racing that. It was so tall that we had to put a tie strap on the front, slide the forks all the way up, and we used to put a tie strap on the back to compress the rear suspension so I could get my feet on the ground, that’s how little I was. That’s basically how I got into racing period, going to these field meets. It wasn’t until a little bit later, after my father passed away, that I followed my friends to a Friday night test and tune at Atco Raceway and they went out racing, riding their bikes out on the track. I said, you know, what do I got to do to get out on the track? They said just go sign up! Go sign up and come on out. And I did, and I was hooked from that day forward. That was like in 1982 or 3. I wasn’t even of age to race. I went down south to get my drivers license at 15, because up my way, you couldn’t get your permit until you were 16, so you didn’t get your drivers license until you were 17. So I went down south and got it the day I turned 15, so I was driving a lot earlier than everybody else. My dad taught me to drive when I was like 10. When I was on the racetrack originally, I wasn’t even old enough to be on the track, but they didn’t know it though.
(CG) So it sounds like you have always had a pretty supportive family about you getting out there and racing.
(RG) I really did, you know. My dad was riding motorcycles, and he was a legend in motorcycles, stunt riding and stuff like that. He didn’t drag race per se, like on a race track, but he used to street race back in the 50’s and 60’s on his Harley. My mom was always with him so she was into bikes and all three of us would ride three abreast on his Harley, you know, when I was really little.
(CG) Do you currently ride on the street?
(RG) I do. I have a little bit of everything. I have a Vaquero, I have a Mean Streak, I have a Ninja 1000, and a Z1000, so I alternate between all of them. And I have a couple custom bikes I ride as well.
(CG) Very cool! What’s your favorite bike to ride?
(RG) My favorite bike that I own now would probably be my custom Ninja 1000. Although I feel really bad because I built one of the baddest turbocharged ZX14’s that’s a tribute to my racing career. It has all these different articles of different things that I have achieved over the years, so all of that is painted on the motorcycle, from when I first started up until now, so that’s my favorite bike, but the favorite one to ride is my Ninja 1000.
(CG) What do you like most about your Ninja 1000?
(RG) Wow, how versatile it is. It’s got power, it handles like crazy, and it looks awesome. We customized it. We took those big grab rails off the back and we shaved the tail. It’s the baddest tail on any sportbike there is.
(CG) Do you have a pre-race routine or any superstitious habits?
(RG) No, I don’t really have a pre-race routine. That’s funny because every interview I do they ask me that and I guess dirtbike riders and road racers, they have a superstition or a pre-race routine. I don’t, I just go out there and go with the feeling… like racing at this point, I’ve been doing it for so long nothing nerves me about it so I just take every round one at a time.
(CG) Sounds like a good plan. Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
(RG) The biggest influence on my career, I would have to say would be my brother, my late brother. As far as professionally, John Hoover, who was the director at the motorcycle division at Kawasaki. He’s the one that basically discovered me, liked me and went against the grain and hired me. They weren’t looking for any drag racers; they weren’t even interested in drag racing. It was something personal. It was his personal interest, I was his personal interest, and he just put it all together.
(CG) What’s the fastest quarter mile time you have run, and what bike was it on?
(RG) Fastest quarter mile time I have done was a 6.81.
(RG) And that was on believe it or not a ZX11 Pro comp race bike that Terry Keizer, Mr. Turbo built.
(CG) I am having a hard time picturing that! That is so quick!
(RG) That might be on my facebook page too, that thing was just crazy. Big, big bike, big custom bodywork, 11 inch tire on the back, wheelie bars, it was crazy.
(CG) I know that you run the Rickey Gadson Drag Racing School. What is the fastest one of your students has done a quarter mile, and what were they on?
(RG) The fastest quarter mile…Actually there’s two. I had a kid named Joey Gladstone who rode one of my school bikes, he’s really really tiny and he had been to my school three times and he went 8.79 on one of my school bikes. That was the quickest, but this weekend I had a Japanese student that had been to my school last year and came back to ride my 2012 bikes this year, the (ZX)14R’s. He went 8.80 flat on pump gas. Joey had race gas, but this guy went 8.80 flat on pump gas at 159 miles per hour. That’s incredible.
(CG) Have you had people that have come through your drag racing school that have gone on to a career in drag racing?
(RG) Yeah, Joey Gladstone, Tony Ferland, they have taken it to the next level. Joey now races with the NHRA Pro Stock. He is racing on a turbocharged Hayabusa, Pro Street. A couple guys have gotten serious, most people believe it or not do it just to get the experience of racing, to hang out and learn from me. Some of them never have any intention on racing professionally, you know?
(CG) That makes sense, it is like the people that do track days with no intention on racing, they just like getting out there and talk to the people that know what they are doing.
(RG) Like Kevin Schwantz.
(CG) Exactly. Have you participated in other forms of racing?
(RG) Yeah, the interesting thing is I road race. I started playing with road racing a couple years ago just because I was going to some Kawasaki track days. Then I started to go to some club racing days. Somehow they discovered that I was really good and really fast, and I was invited to ride in the 8 hour Suzuka race by one of the magazines. I was also invited by Gary Nixon to be a part of the Pair-A-Nines road racing team about two years ago, and they just couldn’t get the budget together to build another bike.
(CG) It shows a lot of versatility to go from a ¼ mile drag race to endurance road racing. What kind of training did you do?
(RG) In road racing, I don’t train. Road racing just came naturally. I am sure that I have a lot to learn, and if Kevin Schwantz saw me I am sure he would have a lot to show me. In Drag racing, I ride all the time. I tell people that you can’t just come to my drag racing school and be good. I am going the tools that it takes to be fast, now you have to go out and practice, because if you don’t it will go away. You have to go out there and utilize those tools. I continuously ride. I videotape myself and watch to see what I can do to make myself better.
(CG) What is your favorite piece of gear?
(RG) What I take the most pride in is my helmet. My helmets always stand out, they always have really mean paint jobs on them. I have a new one that Speed and Strength designed for me that will hopefully be a production helmet in the King of the Streets line shortly. It looks totally awesome.
(CG) I like the pinstripe suit that I have seen on your pages. You don’t see anyone else doing that.
(RG) That’s the other thing. I definitely like to be an innovator and change the game in whatever I do. The pinstripe suit is something nobody has, everybody loves the idea, and I get asked “What made you think of that? Pin stripes? Who would have done that but you?” People are saying that it is totally my style to come out with something totally different like that.
(CG) Have you had any major crashes?
(RG) Oh yeah, I’ve had that. (laughs) I’ve had that. I crashed last year at about 160 miles per hour when the motor let go. The rod broke and got jammed between the crank basket and the crank and locked the motor up at 160 miles per hour. On YouTube, I have a video of it called Rickey Gadson’s terrifying crash. You can see how things were going great, then all the sudden a puff of smoke, so much smoke that you couldn’t tell that I hit the ground. The announcer didn’t know that I hit the ground, they just thought it was a pile of smoke.
(CG) When you are not at the track, what do you enjoy doing?
(RG) I enjoy spending time with my family, and working on my bikes with my kid’s helping me. My daughter likes to help no matter what I do, and both my son and daughter like hanging out, handing me tools. I try to show them how to be versatile, not just how to be a rider, but how to build these things. Building bikes is my second favorite.