Pro Motorcycle Racer for a Day

Riding Attack Kawasaki’s ZX-6R AMA Racebike

By Ari Henning, Photography by Erich Stiegler,

A year ago I spent two days lapping Infineon Raceway aboard the latest 1000cc sportbikes for our “Class of 2010” comparison test, yet none of them—not even the 170-horsepower BMW S1000RR—felt as ferocious as the Kawasaki ZX-6R I’m riding here now. That’s because this Kawi is a bona fide racebike, built by Attack Performance to AMA Daytona Sportbike specs. In fact, this is the same machine J.D. Beach piloted to fourth place at Daytona at the start of the 2011 season. Weighing in at 370 lbs. with a full tank of gas and churning out nearly 140 rear-wheel horsepower, the ZX-6R does everything quicker and more violently than the big production bikes.

The original plan was to go to Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California, and race one of the Feel Like a Pro Kawasaki Ninja 250R rental bikes with the American Federation of Motorcyclists (AFM) for a Track Time story. The 250 was eligible for a couple classes, but two races wasn’t going to make the 800-mile trip worthwhile so I started sniffing around for an additional bike. A call to Kawasaki put me in touch with Richard Stanboli, owner of Attack Performance and manager of the factory-supported AMA race team. With rider J.D. Beach now contending the premier Superbike class on a ZX-10R, his ZX-6R was sitting idle at the shop. Would that bike work? Uh, yeah! I’d expected a track-prepped stocker used for testing, not a legitimate support-team racebike.

Like everything Kawasaki USA and Attack Performance get involved in, the commitment level was all-out. Richard set me up with the racebike, a parts bike and a mechanic. Team technician Jorge Artola would accompany me on the trip, probably as much to keep me from messing up their machine as to make sure I got the most out of it!

When I showed up at Attack’s shop in Huntington Beach, the bike was up on the lift. Mechanic Dan Schwartz was in the process of prepping it, setting the suspension and gearing according to the team’s Infineon race notes. He had me throw a leg over the machine to verify lever position, rearset height and other ergonomic details. The partially disassembled bike and Dan’s questions about setup preferences took me by surprise: It was clear I’d stepped into something the Attack guys took very seriously, and the intensity level was a little frightening. At the same time it was exhilarating, and intriguing to see how meticulously things are done at the professional level.

During Saturday’s practice I split my time between the Ninja 250R and the ZX-6R. Buttoned up in Attack’s own bodywork and bristling with billet race parts, the 600 looked menacing. The bike had been stripped of everything unnecessary and then reassembled with select performance components. Wide, flat clip-ons framed the Attack Performance adjustable triple clamps. The fork tubes were original-equipment Showas, but the internals and caps were Öhlins and an Öhlins TTX shock supported the back end. Rearsets were from Attack, with a quick-shifter in place for clutchless, full-throttle upshifts. A custom textured-foam seat, full Leo Vince exhaust and Kawasaki-green chain finished it off. Jorge had our garage set up as soon as we unloaded, so the only thing for me to do was take the wheels over to Chris Maguire at CT Racing to have him lever on some Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa tires.

Running a factory support bike in a club race might sound like shooting fish in a barrel, but the AFM attracts big grids and a lot of talent. Racers Joey Pascarella, Lenny Hale, Jason Lauritzen and Isle of Man veteran Tom Montano were all present on their 600s, with lap times on par with the top AMA finishers. The Attack ZX-6R was a rocket, did everything I asked of it, and thanks to the team’s notes there wasn’t much additional setup required. The suspension felt perfect, and if I nailed my line through Turn 6 the gearing had me kissing redline in top gear just before grabbing the brakes for Turn 7. The engine had been blueprinted and the head decked to increase compression, and there was a lot of midrange power to show for it. The biggest difference I noticed was the way the slipper clutch had been tuned. After downshifting, the clutch let the engine rev up with very little engine braking, which kept the chassis stable and helped promote higher corner-entry speeds.

Garage 34 was our headquarters for the weekend and Jorge was clearly in his element. I tried to assist with the bike, but he had his routine down pat and I just got in the way. Jorge knew the bike inside and out—he’d built it, after all—and tended to it diligently.

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