NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle
Junior Pippin/PiranaZ Racing team report
event: Ninth Annual NHRA Carolina Nationals
when: September 16-18, 2016
where: zMAX Dragway, Concord, NC, USA
Competition or Cancer, Ellis and Pippin
Winning Against “The Big C”
story, video and photos by Tim Hailey except Cooper Hancock photo by Jerry Towns
Chip Ellis, his family, and the Junior Pippin Trucking team celebrate in the zMAX winners circle
Chip Ellis’ dramatic Pro Stock Motorcycle (PSM) win on Junior Pippin’s Buell at Sunday’s NHRA Carolina Nationals was only the latest chapter in Pippin’s long history of racing and the recent resurgence of his PSM team.
The victory legitimized an eight-year engine program that has only fully showed it’s potential since Ellis joined the team last year and put his vast Buell clutch tuning experience to work. With number one qualifiers and final round appearances, the Pippin powered Buell was suddenly an object of great interest from the competition every time it rolled into the staging lanes.
But as a win eluded the team, the 64 year old Pippin joined his wife Lisa as a cancer patient, and winning NOW seemed that much more important. With rare, inoperable nasal cancer, Junior was pelted with 35 radiation treatments and 8 chemo treatments.
“What’s amazing is the amount of people that’s come up to me and said things like ‘I remember 1985, Junior let me borrow his bike,’ or ‘He let me use his truck,’ or whatever,” said Ellis. “He’s just a generous guy and I’d appreciate if everyone keeps praying for him, not just from a racing point of view but from an all-around good guy point of view.”
That “good guy point of view” showed in spades when, immediately following this landmark first win for his team, Junior had something else he wanted to talk about. “Hey, I’ve got a boy I sponsor in Junior Dragster down here at Atlanta Dragway,” said Pippin, and he wanted to make sure that 6 year-old Cooper Hancock was congratulated on his win and track championship in the 6-9 year old class.
“Good guy” is also used to describe Ellis, whose seventh PSM win (but first since 2008) was warmly celebrated by even those who’d lost—including the Screamin’ Eagle/Vance&Hines Harley-Davidson team of final round runner-up Andrew Hines.
“Chip is a fine man, I wanna tell you that right now,” said Pippin. “Anybody that knows Chip Ellis knows what he’s about. This day and time, it’s hard to find people that work like Chip Ellis. He gives it all he’s got and it shows.”
“I was so confident today”
Chip Ellis in the staging lanes
After leading the opening round of Charlotte qualifying, Ellis settled into fourth in the qualifying order despite running strong—including second quickest of the final session. “I usually bet Ken Johnson (Star Racing crew chief) a 6-pack before every race, but I was so confident today that I said ‘Let’s race for a case.’”
As eliminations got underway, it looked like Ellis’ confidence might have been misplaced. A .007 reaction time by first round opponent Shawn Gann put Chip in an .055 hole, but a 6.87 low ET of the round drove him around Gann for the winlight.
Round 2 started off similarly, but L.E. Tonglet’s Suzuki didn’t shift up top and Ellis breezed past to the semifinals where Chip met good friend and long-time rival Angelle Sampey. This time both bikes left within .001 of each other and were fairing-to-fairing at the 60-foot block before Sampey, too, had shifting problems.
But the final was a full-on race against Hines and the well-funded Harley team. Keep in mind that Pippin raced nothing but Harleys his whole life until he went Pro Stock racing. H-D does not sell its PSM bikes or motors to other teams to compete against its own—the only manufacturer that races the class with that special provision. So long time H-D fanatic Pippin became a swashbuckling privateer, seeking to raid the Motor Company’s orange and black ship and steal some wins for the little guy.
The Pippin Power Trio, left to right—Lon Moyer, Chip Ellis and Brad Moore
Pippin’s search for the necessary horsepower crossed his path with that of Lon Moyer and Brad Moore, now of Competition Engine Services but at the time developing for NASCAR’s Richard Childress Racing.
“We’ve been working on this engine program for about eight years and we’ve had the same people,” said Junior. “They’ve all been very loyal, good people. They’re like family to me.”
“We all work really, really hard and put a lot of hours in,” said Ellis. “The time away from home is tough sometimes.”
And all that hard work wasn’t putting Wallys on the shelf. “We had some reliability issues early on last year and we’ve really been working on getting the engine more reliable,” said Ellis. “So at this point now, we’ve been able to focus on making more horsepower.
“After Indy I felt really, really good because we had a god shot at (winning) Indy, we just missed the clutch in the second round. Our bike is running amazing and our guys are doing an amazing job back at the shop on the dyno and making more power, and that really showed this weekend. I’m just ecstatic with our performance today.”
Performance enough to overcome Hines’ .005 light in the final and out-drag his V-Rod down the track for the win. “Anytime you can qualify at one of these events any more is a major accomplishment, so to straight out-run the Harleys is an amazing day for us and for Mr. Pippin especially,” said Ellis.
“I’ve been saying all year long we need to stay in the middle of the pack, but when we get to Charlotte, we need to come out swinging—and we did,” said Pippin.
“I did get a couple breaks,” added Ellis. “Angelle broke and we would have had a really good race if her bike would have shifted. LE had an issue too, and he would have beat me if his bike had gone down the track ‘cause I was a little late.
“But as a racer, some days you just have a feeling where ‘Today’s the day,”—at this point Ellis choked up—“And today was the day.”
A Wally for Junior
Junior Pippin in the pits at Englishtown in June
Pippin, who’s made a remarkable recovery from his treatments but also faces having a portion of a lung removed, was unable to attend the Charlotte race.
“I knew that as soon as I’d left to go to the track, the hospital would call for me to come in for my surgery,” said Pippin. “So I thought it was better to stay home just in case.
“I wanted to be there so bad. We were watching it live on NHRA All Access. When Chip crossed that finishline, there were some tears shed around here, I’ll tell ya. I might not have been there in body, but I was there in spirit.”
“This is the most important win of my career, just for Mr. Pippin,” said Ellis, who won Wallys with the old G2 team of George Smith and George Bryce and raced with Vance & Hines on the Harry Lartigue-owned, Kuryakyn Buell. “Junior’s such an awesome individual and I’m really proud to be a part of his team. It’s an amazing deal for our team and our families.
“We’re all just praying that Junior comes through this. He wants to get back out here. He’s really excited and this deal right here just gives him more momentum.”
“I tell you what I want—I want to ride my motorcycle,” said Junior, who last donned helmet and leathers in 2013. “But today we’ve won and got the Wally—I don’t want to figure out how much money we’ve got in it—but it was worth every dime, you hear me?”
Trying out 4 wheels
For the first time ever, Ellis also qualified in Super Stock in a Junior Pippin Trucking-sponsored Roy Hills Mustang with a motor built by Moore, Moyer and their staff.
“I had an amazing time driving that car,” said Ellis. “It was a real challenge for me because everything we do on the motorcycle, we do with our hands. You let go of the clutch with your left hand and turn the throttle with your right hand, and we don’t use out feet for anything other than putting on the pegs and steering the bike a little bit.
“But being in the car and having to let go of the trans-brake with your right hand, pushing the gas pedal with your foot, and the staging procedure and not being able to see because you sit so low in the car—it was a big challenge for me and I really enjoyed it.”
“But we are a small team and we don’t have a big crew, so if anything, it was a lot on me and my guys to pick up my slack from not working on the bike (when he was driving the car).”
Picking up some of that slack was Chip’s 14 year-old daughter McKenzie. “She serviced the clutch every round, and every time she does that, we go rounds,” noted Chip. “So McKenzie, you’re not going to school anymore.”
On to Gateway
Ellis at speed on the Pippin Buell
The NHRA Countdown moves on to Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis this weekend, with Ellis having made a huge jump up to second in NHRA’s Countdown to One championship battle behind defending champion Hines.
“Junior’s fired up,” said Ellis. “He asked ‘How many engines do we have left?’ and he wants to know what’s the next step. We’ve got three engines in the trailer so we’re ready to go for this next race.”
“We’ve got one, we’ve got five to go,” Pippin said about wins and the Countdown. “As tight as the field is right now, it’s tough drag racing. This is the kind of racing we enjoy, and we’ll see what the good Lord has to offer me. And I’m smart enough to know, we might not be there a week from now, but right now we are.
“We’ve been workin’ and strugglin’ all year, but I give all the glory to God, because that’s who’s been pulling the strings in my life. Chip fights the Big C, which is competition, and I fight the Big C, which is cancer.
“I’m getting stronger. I’m up to doing 17 push-ups, I feel better, I’m extremely light—which is what I want to be. Actually, I feel fine. They just tell me I have a spot (about the size of a pea on top of his left lung), we’re gonna go in there and take it out and see what we’ve got. The way the lung doctors talk, they think it’s cancer. But they also thought my two lymph nodes had cancer, and they didn’t. So they say I’ll be out of work for six weeks, but I think I can trim that down to about three.
“But that’s the way it goes. We’re gonna get the handle on this little problem, and hopefully I’ll be riding in Gainesville (to start the 2017 season) with at least two bikes.”
But back to Cooper
6 year old Cooper Hancock and family in the Atlanta Dragway winners' circle
“Junior’s sponsored me since I was 8 years old, and now he sponsors my boy Cooper,” said Atlanta Dragway racer Jeremy Hancock. “He and my dad Mark are very good friends and they always raced motorcycles together. He’s helped me for 22 years now and I really appreciate all he’s done for us.”
“Me and his daddy used to hang out at Yellow River Dragstrip,” Pippin said about Jeremy, and Junior clearly relishes sponsoring this family’s racing into a third generation.
“I race Top Dragster, my wife has a Super Comp dragster, and my dad has a little Vega,” said Jeremy. “And then there’s Cooper. He’s driving the same car I’ve had since ’92. It’s his first year racing. He has three wins in four finals and won the track championship. My boy’s just wearin’ them out!”
Pippin’s association with the Hancock family is indicative of the way he establishes relationships for the long haul. “I’m just truly blessed to have the people that the good Lord has surrounded me with,” said Junior. “I know I have an immediate family, but in my life, some things have happened here of late, and I did not realize how big of a family I actually had but Lord it is huge. And the thing of it is, I had no idea. So many of the racers have prayed for me and it’s just been a humbling experience.”
And now Junior, Chip and the whole Junior Pippin Trucking team hope to deliver a humbling experience to the competition through the remainder of the Countdown.
EARLIER: Chip Ellis and the Pippin Buell Qualify 4th at zMAX
Riding Junior Pippin’s Buell, Chip Ellis qualified fourth for Sunday’s NHRA Carolina Nationals. He and crew Brad Moore and Lon Moyer of Competition Engine Services tuned the bike to some very quick passes in the heat of the day on Saturday—including second quickest in Q4—and are feeling very confident for raceday.
For the first time ever, Ellis also qualified in Super Stock in a Roy Hills/Junior Pippin Mustang with a motor built by Moore and Moyer.
Ellis talks about it all in this video:
EARLIER: Chip Ellis Leads Q1 at zMAX
Riding Junior Pippin’s Buell, Chip Ellis led round 1 of qualifying for Sunday’s NHRA Carolina Nationals before falling to third in the second round.
Ellis led the opening round in the heat of the day with a 6.864 at 194.94 mph before slowing to a 6.882 at 195.03 in Q2.
For the first time ever, Ellis is also qualified in Super Stock in a Roy Hills/Junior Pippin Mustang with a motor built by Brad Moore and Lon Moyer of Competition Engine Services—the same duo that builds the V-Twins powering Pippin’s Pro Stock Motorcycles.
Ellis talks about it all in this video:
Junior Pippin and Chip Ellis would like to thank PiranaZ , Junior Pippin Trucking, Paul Bost Trucking, B&R Automotive, Adams Performance, Lisa Pippin, Lon Moyer, and Brad Moore.