Chris Matheson set the world of Top Bike alight with a stunning debut where he claimed the championship and reset the national ET record to an astonishing 6.05.
It’s now a case of continuing the learning process and preparing for stage two of their racing attack.
Matheson won three out of the season’s six rounds, with two runner ups besides.
“It’s been a big year, we’ve been fortunate to have a little luck on the way and we’ve got a good bunch of guys on the team, that’s been the big difference,” he said.
Matheson bought the bike almost two years ago and spent a lot of time with US motorcycle exponent Larry McBride to come to grips with riding a 1500 horsepower missile.
He was also fortunate to link up with Roger Bloor, the man who helped guide Athol Williams to last year’s championship. Matheson was full of praise for Bloor, saying it was just like having Larry McBride in the pits.
The Nitro Voodoo team approached the season cautiously and ran only as hard as they needed to in the start as Matheson got used to riding.
“It was a big part of our pre-season program to do quite a bit of testing and try and get familiar with the bike so when we started the season we hit the ground running,” he said.
“It was a matter of me getting more used to the bike throughout the season and trying to run a bit further down the track with each pass, while trying to be consistent and get the thing turned around between passes and get it reliable.”
Much of the work in winning the championship went on away from the track. The Matheson team was able to benefit from exchanging data with Larry McBride as both their bikes run similar combos.
“There is good dialogue every week and their season is similar in the weekends they run, so we’re talking at the track and away from the track,” Matheson said.
McBride was also helpful in getting the parts Matheson needed over to Australia quickly.
“In the beginning we had enough gear to run the full season and if we tore up something it was replaced and back in the truck,” he said.
“There is lot of attention to detail to these things, it’s stripped down after every meet, the front and back of the bike is pulled apart and looked at.
“We run a program with all our parts and they have a use by date, there is no room to risk parts on these things because a failure can be pretty catastrophic.
“We had a crash in Sydney due to a failure and we were lucky we did not have enormous damage physically.
“Then in Perth we had a distributor part fail and that destroyed a motor, that could have been a lot uglier, it literally sheared the motor in half when it let go, it changed the timing while we were going down the track and it threw the rods out of the front and back of the motor. It could have been a lot uglier under power at the fast end of the track.”
Matheson was able to swap a new motor in though the tune up was a bit of a guessing game. He made it through to the final where he lost a memorable race against Geoff Redgrave.
“In the final we were trying to tone down the bike, but it ended up smoking the tyre off the launch, I got off it and I saw Geoff whistle by,” he said.
“In our set up we should not get off it and back on but the temptation was too much so I grabbed another fistful and it hooked up and we almost caught him but he was too quick.
“It delaminated the rear tyre and cut the body in half and we were lucky it didn’t explode but it held together and we pulled up safely.
“People say you make your luck but sometimes you can’t control your luck so we have had some Houdinis along the way.”
People may be wondering what else there is left to do for the team. But there is a stage two.
“We’ve still got a number of goals to achieve around the country,” Matheson said.
“Myself and Roger are heading over to the States to spend some time with Larry and Steve and do some testing with them to go that next step in getting the low down on dealing with big speeds.”
Matheson has found that he needs to keep riding to keep up his skills and will be doing some pre-season testing as well as racing at non-championship events again like he did in Perth last season to keep on track.
“We learned to try and be on it at least once a month to stay in the groove, we’ve put a lot of time in with Roger and Bruce and Graham on our staging and our burnouts to make sure we are as straight as we can be. We are pretty meticulous about getting off the line straight,” he said.
“If you are a little bit skewiff you don’t get much chance to correct. Some of our half tracks at the Winters were over 200mph so they get going pretty quickly, you don’t have a lot of time to fool around.”
With a motorcycle that could probably get to anything from 240 to 250mph on a perfect run, Matheson is making sure he is fully aware of what to do at speed.
“A lot of things change the faster you go, the back tyre grows and the front wheel gets higher off the ground, you lose peripheral vision and there seems to be some steps you go through; then you have to stop at the other end,” he said.
“I want to do it as safely as we can at that end, we have been in the low 230s which is fast in itself but there is a step up to do it safely beyond that without looking like a ragdoll on the bike.
“Every pass Larry does is in the big numbers, mph and incrementals. It’s difficult to explain what happens at the big speeds on the bikes. Not every sort of bloke has the opportunity to be on these things at big speeds, you can’t just buy a book and rad about stopping steering and braking at 230+mph, hence the value of having some updated schooling.”
Matheson feels there could be a calm before the storm in Top Bike, with a number of riders ready to better their performances.
“All the other guys are going to step up, you could sense it in the pits at the Winters,” he said.
“Troy is back on deck, the Attitude guys have got some stuff together, Wayne Barrett has one of the Jack Daniel’s bikes. There is some fast bits going into those bikes. Those Harleys will run low sixes, they are doing that in the states and consistently.
“It is not going to be a walk in the park. This season will see some unbelievable racing. It will be the fastest series outside the States ever seen with what everyone is doing.
“The Harley guys are fired up, we’re fired up, Jay is no doubt fired up. Chad (Neylon) and Dean (Neal) have really made a show out of the whole Pro Series and it is really promoting the sport to a huge public.”
While he analyses the potential performances of his opposition, Matheson still gets a lot of enjoyment not just from the races themselves but the social experience around them.
“It’s been extremely enjoyable with the other guys in the bracket, everyone is there with the same passion and we all love the bikes and love to try and go fast,” he said.
“All the baggage gets left at the gate and everyone has a good time. From the Junior Dragsters to the people at the track and the volunteers they all make it a good experience,” he said.
“The fans are a big part of it, they are interested in what we are doing and always keen for a chat, we love the looks on the kids’ faces, they get a big buzz out of it and so do we,” he said.