FST Kawasaki V-Force
It's been a frequent occurrence throughout the years. I'll find myself hanging out along the tight, technical and green-canopied sections of the Grand National Cross Country series racecourse in order to capture all the action on my camera. All of a sudden, an orange streak of lightning blazes past before my camera has the chance to lock in and focus. This streak of orange light hits and vanishes so quickly that I'm often left with nothing more than an orange blur captured by my camera. By no means do I believe this to be some spooky orb or strange phenomenon (OK, maybe a little); this occurrence is nothing less than the passing of the blistering fast and talented GNCC racer Mike Benson.
At 45 years young, Benson has the ability to gracefully dance his quad in and out of the trees with such precision, speed and accuracy. And considering that much of his competition in the U2 GNCC class is half his age, I find it somewhat inspirational that he seems not only to win his class habitually but is a likely contender for an overall podium position week after week. After a recent interview with Benson, I asked him how he does this and continues to win at the age of 45. With a smirk on his face and the (I've got a secret) look in his eyes, he answered, "It's all in the quad setup." Just in case you didn't know, Mike pilots an FST-powered Kawasaki V-Force, which in stock trim weighs in at just over 550 pounds. That's a lot of girth to muscle around a two-hour GNCC racecourse. I suspect Mike is being a little modest by giving all of the credit to his precisely built four-wheeled rocket, as certainly talent and personal drive must play into his recipe for success. But either way, this sparked our interest, and we wanted to know more about how Mike sets up his 800cc FST V-Force and, if we were lucky, maybe get a ride on it, too.
Starting off, when Mike first obtains his new stock Kawasaki V-Force 700, he tears it down to bare bones and ships off his motor to Mickey Dunlap, owner of Four Stroke Tech. The motor then begins to go through a metamorphosis, transforming from a mild powerplant to a ferocious GNCC race beast. Dunlap sets him up with the FST Stage 3 Web cams and FST valve springs as well as the FST/Wiseco 800cc kit, which includes pistons, sleeves and head gaskets. Also, Dunlap performs his signature Cross Country port and flow work along with a three-angle valve job. By adding on a Muzzys Pro pipe with a stepped header and FST's tuned CDI with a 2500-higher rpm rev-limiter, the motor is near completion and almost ready to tackle the new season. After adding on AMR high-output coils for quick starts and a Dalton clutch kit with the overdrive plate built to FST specifications, the motor is ready to be sent back to Benson for installation.
As Benson awaits his new finely tuned engine, he begins working on things such as suspension and protection and dialing in a trick professional look. Mike begins with a set of Elka's Elite race shocks which are fully adjustable via tunable high- and low-speed compression and tunable rebound. Over the years, Benson has worked in conjunction with Elka in dialing in his spring rates and special valving to best suit his weight, riding style and needs while on the track. Suspension setup is one of the key elements that helps Benson on his road to victory. Mike spends countless hours in the off-season refining and dialing in his shocks to perfection before he ever arrives at the track. And to bump up the machine's overall stability and strength, Mike adds on a DuraBlue axle.
Muzzys' Pro pipe paired with...
Muzzys' Pro pipe paired with FST's tuned CDI really helps to wake this V up.
For added strength, durability and visual appeal, this V rolls on an always bright and shiny set of DWT Shamrock beadlock wheels. To get the power to the ground with the least chance of puncture, a set of Maxxis 21x8-10 Razr 2 tires are mounted to the front and 20x11-9 Maxxis Razr tires on the rear. While this machine makes use of two differing styles of meat on the front and back, the Razr 2 tires up front give the extra grip that allows this machine to steer with perfection. On the rear of the machine, the Razrs give great straight-line traction but are easy to break loose around sweeping turns. With a machine tipping the scales at a little over 550 pounds, it's necessary to find ways to help keep that rear end from hooking up too much and allowing the machine to be more flickable through technical obstacles and corners.
To add a good bit of extra strength to some of the machine's weak spots, Mike trades out his stock steering stem for a much stronger one from Houser racing. This stem gives the handlebar a 1- to 2-inch lift depending on what you prefer. Also mounted into position is a Renthal handlebar, which is stronger than stock and offers a much more comfortable bend. And to protect those brake lines from rugged off-road debris, a set of steel-braided Streamline brake lines were installed.
Protecting frame and body from damage is absolutely a priority when it comes to racing GNCC. Mike turns to AC Racing to help fight against any harm that could be encountered out on the trail. First off, protecting the underbelly of the machine is vital for finishing the race so on went AC's full belly and swingarm skid plates. In case he tags a tree or needs to bump a lapper out of the way, AC also supplies a protective front bumper, which gives his machine a beefier look. For protection from other riders and maybe even a tree or two, a set of AC nerf bars keep invading wheels and other possible protruding obstacles out of the vicinity of his feet and legs. And protection of his hands cannot be overlooked, as Mike chooses a set of IMS hand guards to protect from roost and flying debris.
Once the new motor arrives and is secured back into the frame, Mike begins working on the final stages of his V-Force racer. First, he mounts up an IMS fuel tank, which gives the rider 0.8 gallon more of fuel so that he can stay on the track longer without pitting, plus he knows when he does pit refueling can be accomplished in a matter of seconds thanks to the IMS Quick Fill system installed on top of his tank. For the final touches, Mike mounts up a bright, shiny set of Maier Zesty Orange (hence, orange blur) plastics which no doubt make him extremely noticeable during the races. On top of that, dialing in that unforgettable look, Mike applies an Adapt Racing graphics kit and gripper seat cover, which helps him to have a little traction on the seat when it gets slippery.
One of the important things that I've noticed about Mike over the years is that he has a lot of pride in his ride. Not only can you show up to a race and know that this quad is going to work well, but it's visually appealing to the eye. Mike spends countless hours perfecting this machine, even to the point of polishing up his wheels and various parts before each race.
Is It Really All That?
At the end of our shoot, whether it was the right call or not, Benson handed over the V to both Associate Editor Mike Newsom and myself for a quick taste of its performance and race abilities. Grabbing a handful of 800cc FST power is like nothing most of us have ever experienced previously. When you stab the throttle, this beast powers forward with extreme ferocity. Forget details on bottom, mid to top-end power, this baby pulls with force through it all. So much so that I often found myself clenching the brake levers tightly so that I didn't accidentally become one with a tree. Additionally, I was excited to discover the suspension's performance abilities. I've spent plenty of time on stock V's in the past, and suspension has to be its least likable feature. After only a few minutes aboard this Elka-suspended V, the fact that Benson really did spend several years and countless hours of dialing on the things began to show through their phenomenal handling characteristics. The harder you pushed, the more you could feel those shocks working under your feet. They were plush, yet offered tremendous stability while cornering and tackling rough and challenging terrains at speed. To sum it all up, I believe that Mike Benson's race setup has a lot to do with how he finishes in the top ranks, but that only complements the already extreme talent that Benson brings to the track with an addiction for winning.
Elka's fully adjustable suspension...
Elka's fully adjustable suspension paired with FST's finely tuned motor and IMS's Pro series pegs are only a few items that make Mike's quad a finely tuned machine.
Getting To Know Mike Benson
ATVR: What was your first ATV race, and how long have you been racing ATVs?MB: My first race was in 1985 on a Suzuki QuadSport 230 at a local event. I've been racing regularly ever since on quads. I actually grew up riding and racing dirt bikes, and eventually made the switch. I've raced everything from TT, MX and cross-country.
ATVR: In your racing career, can you remember how many championships you've earned?
MB: I've won multiple MX and TT championships over the years on the local level. As for National events, I've won the U2 class championship in 2007 and am gunning for another in 09.
ATVR: At 45 years young, how do you keep the drive and continue winning after all these years?
MB: It's kind of a family thing for us. My nephew is just as involved as my brothers; it's a whole family deal to go racing. And even at 45, I'm not only competitive for my class, but for the overall morning win as well. It's hard to give up when you're still winning and loving what you do.
ATVR: How is it that you can continually win against racers half your age?
MB: I'd say a lot of it is bike setup. I've learned over the years how to set up my bike to help me not only go fast, but to run fast for a long period of time without wearing out. I also have a refuse-to-lose mentality. That really helps me to finish a race. I've learned over the years to push through the pain and keep hammering.
ATVR: Aside from yourself, who is yourfavorite ATV racer?
MB: I have a lot of favorites, but Shane Hitt is probably at the top of my list. Years ago, he was really the guy to beat when I was coming up. I grew up racing with Shane.
ATVR: From your perspective, what does it take to go out and win a GNCC?
MB: Cross-country racing is less about age and more about riding smart and riding fast for long periods of time. Experience can go a long way in this sport.
ATVR: Speaking of experience, what advice do you have for up-and-coming racers?
MB: First off, have fun! You have to have fun doing this stuff. Keep it a family sport, that's how it all began. Do the best you can, you'll improve every race. Also, pay a lot of attention to bike setup. Hang in there no matter what happens. Learn from your mistakes, and never feel as if you can't learn new tricks to go faster. I am continuously learning.
ATVR: Of all the people you've come across in the racing scene over the years, who has influenced you most?MB: That one is easy for me; Mickey Dunlap of Four Stroke Tech has been the best thing that ever happened to my race career.
ATVR: Out of curiosity, how long do you think you'll continue to compete in the GNCC series?
MB: As long as I'm having fun and I can afford to do it, I'll keep on keeping on. But who knows, we'll just have to see how things go. I feel as if I have a few more championships in me still.
ATVR: When you're not racing or riding ATVs, what are you doing?
MB: I started riding and racing ATVs in the first place because I enjoy the outdoors. My friends and family all love hanging out at the lake, water-skiing. I enjoy riding my Harley and even riding my quad. I'm always outside doing something.
ATVR: Any parting words?
MB: Absolutely, I do have a few things on my mind. To the young guys, work hard and hang in there if you really want to win. I think it's important for all of us to keep this sport a family sport. And to those who do manage to pick up sponsorship, it's absolutely important that you take care of your sponsors in a responsible manner. Make sure your sponsors know that you appreciate them, and please do not ever feel as if you deserve the help or that it's owed to you.
|PARTS:Mike Benson’s FST Kawasaki V-Force |
|Four Stroke Tech: 814/842-6159; |
|FST/Wiseco 800cc Kit, including pistons, sleeves and head gaskets: $670; |
Cross Country port and flow work: $600; three-angle valve job: $200;
Stage 3 FST/Web cams: $400; FST valve springs: $190; FST CDI: $135
|Muzzys: 541/385-0706; |
|Pro pipe with header: $750 |
|Dalton Industries: 902/897-3333; |
|Clutch kit with overdrive plate built to FST specs: $355 |
|Maier Plastics: 800/33-MAIER; |
|Zesty Orange front fender: $263.02; Zesty Orange rear fender: $292.22; |
Zesty Orange scooped hood: $66.45
|DWT: 760/758-5560; |
|Shamrock beadlock front and rear wheels: No longer available, |
check DWT for new options
|Maxxis: Contact your local dealer; |
|Six-ply Razr 2 21x8-10 front tires: $105 ea.; six-ply Razr 20x11-9 rear |
tires: $95 ea.
|Elka Suspension: 800/557-0552; |
|Elite front race shocks, fully adjustable: $1570 per pair; Elite rear race shock, |
fully adjustable: $1045
|DuraBlue: 949/770-5533; |
|Axle: $482 |
|Renthal: 877/736-8425; |
|Fatbar: $89.95 |
|IMS Products: 800/237-9906, |
|4-gal. fuel tank: $274.95; Quick Fill dry-break receiver: $220.56; Quick |
Fill dry-break probe: $308.92; IMS/Roll hand guards: $39.99
|AC Racing: 714/808-8330; |
|Underside belly skid plate: $87; swingarm skid plate: $99; nerf bars: $153; |
front bumper: $131; rear grab bar: $72
|Houser Racing: 877/646-3278; |
|Steering stem: $299; handlebar clamp: $85 |
|Streamline: 800/310-5519; |
|Braided-steel brake lines: $87 |
|Adapt Racing: www.adaptracing.com ||Adapt Tribal Flame Kit for KFX700 with gripper seat cover: $145 |