From Factory Rider To Tire Expert: Frank Stacy
Frank Stacy (r) hanging with former Euro-Bike compatriot & national champ Chuck Sun.
For 54 year old Frank Stacy, motorcycles have been a part of his life for over 40 years. What many people don't know that as a tire engineer/R&D specialist, Frank's role in the sport and industry has made him a part of many riders' lives as they've depended on their tires to get the needed traction which makes riding possible.
Frank is one of the nicest guys in the industry and his roots go back to up state New York in the 60's when he and his younger brother Andy started riding off-road. By the next decade the Stacy brothers had become well-known on the national circuit. We recently caught up with Frank to chase down his history as well as to find out the back-story to the world of motorcycle tire design and production.
MXA: When did you turn Pro & what were your career highlights?
Frank: Turned Pro in 1972 at age 18 (you had to be 18 back then). My brother Andy is 7 years older than me so he would have first got his pro license in 1979. The highlights include: 10 year pro career & five-time top 100 national number - 18, 39, 40, 67 & 81; Best 250 National finish was Southwick 1979...on the podiumÃƒÃ‚ 3rd place riding a KTM; sixth at the 1977 125cc USGP Mid-Ohio USGP aboard a Moto-X Fox RM 125; seventh at the 1978 500cc USGP at Carlsbad on a KTM; seventh at the '79 250cc USGP at Unadilla on a KTM. I also had a few support class wins at Trans AMA & USGP's... most notable Copetown Canada in 1974 on a factory CZ. In 1981 I was the top American finisher in 4th at the ISDE in Italy on a factory Suzuki.
MXA: What teams did you ride for & when?
Frank: In motocross I rode for Ossa on and off in the early 70's, CZ thru the mid-70's and Penton/KTM in the late 70's-early 80's. In ISDE I rode for KTM in 1980, Suzuki in 1981, Maico in 1982, and Husky in 1983.
MXA: Ancient history I know, but you could go over the Sachs deal again where you rode a seven-speed factory bike in the Trans-Am?
About mid-way through 1977 I was hired by Sachs-Hercules to help them develop a new bike for the USA market. The current bike needed a ton of work, but I was up for the challenge and they seemed to have pretty good funding for those days. We went to work and basically built a new bike from the ground up. We had swing arms made, numerous frame geometry changes to make the bike handle better, different suspension, different wheels/brakes, made the gas tank & seat combo, modified the engine through and through, basically it was a one-off prototype.
Frank manhandling the coffin tank, seven speed Sachs outfitted with Fox air shox and Preston Petty fenders.
The bike came with a seven speed tranny but first gear was so low you could climb a wall. We blocked first gear out and made it a six speed but really I could only use 2nd thru 6th... 7th was so tall it was geared for the Interstate!! We made some good progress and the bike actually started working pretty good so they said lets go racing. We picked the 1977 Trans Am series, which as it turns out was about 2 weeks from starting. We busted everything out, everyone worked hard and man we spent some cash but we made the first race at Mid-Ohio. I finished 5th in the opener and things kinda went downhill from there but I still salvaged a 9th overall in the series. After the series was over they pulled the plug on the development of the bike. I think they sold some units in Europe but were basically done in the USA.
MXA: When did you quit racing Pro?
Frank: My last year racing pro was 1980... I was at the burn out point and needed to focus on a more consistent pay check. Plus, I had a job offer to move into the tire industry as a test rider for Dunlop tire that was too good to pass up. Testing tires and getting paid to do it... nice.
MXA: Your profession went from racer to what?
Frank: I finally took the job at Dunlop Feb 1981 and my position was in the motorcycle technical division where my primary job was off road tire test rider but I would also be gaining experience in the design/development of off road tires world wide.
From here a lot of things happened very quickly so I'll try to explain each briefly:
Suzuki's Off-Road team came calling late in Frank's career.
One week after starting at Dunlop I had a phone call from John Morgan who managed the Suzuki Off Road program and they wanted to hire me to race the 2-Day Qualifier series in the USA and if I did good race the ISDE event in Italy later that year. Dunlop allowed me the time as it was a good opportunity for them as well to get more exposure to there brand of off road tires which were just getting started in the USA. So I was back racing again but on a limited schedule... it was awesome because I was winning! I won every race but one in the USA series, finished top American, 4th in my class and got a gold medal. About 3 weeks after I was hired by Dunlop there street test rider (Jim Allen) fell off a Gold Wing at high speed while testing some new tires... he was going to be off the bike for awhile so they asked me if I was interested in learning the tricks of street tire testing... most definitely! They sent me to their proving grounds in England and Japan to work with experienced test riders and engineers. After that I went to the American Honda test facility to become certified as one of their test riders for tires and the same with Harley Davidson in Talladega, Alabama to become certified with them. I was able to learn so much so fast and along the way learn how the casing and rubber compounds can effect the performance of the tire it was amazing. I truly owe Dunlop for where I am today and helping me learn the art of tire design, tire development, tire testing, tire to vehicle relationship, etc...
MXA: Didn't you tell me about high speed testing for Dunlop and crashing once?
Frank: Yes, I did high speed tire testing but never any crashes. The crash I was referring to was the Jim Allen crash. Once I had the experience for testing street tires I was the lead test rider for Dunlop's street tire development. So basically the guinea pig. In street tire testing it's very different than off-road tire testing. In off road tires you are basically looking for a predictable slide for cornering and least amount of cornering sidewall roll= under high loads. The rest is pretty basic in terms of does it hook up in a straight line, brake good, etc...
But on street tires it is so much more critical. The speed is an issue, the tire heat factor is an issue, the high and low speed stability is an issue, the traction is an issue, the load carrying is an issue all of which have to work together to make the product perform at an acceptable level. Plus the tire must be run at worst case conditions which means wide open throttle. Can you picture doing high speed weave on a Gold Wing that will go 125-130 mph and evaluating the tires stability and if the tires are stable up to max speed, then you need to apply extra input to the handlebars or gas tank trying to make the bike become unstable? You really need to pay attention doing this type of tire testing but it's been a great learning experience for me the past 25 years.
MXA: What is your current deal?
Frank: I moved on from Dunlop in 1995 and my wife and I started our own company; Stacy Testing & Tire Specialist Inc. We both work as independent consultants in the motorcycle industry and I also have involvement in the bicycle industry. We both have been in the MC industry our whole life so it has been a fairly easy transition setting up our own business.
A few years after I moved on from Dunlop, Pirelli contracted me for three years to work in the design/development of their MX/Enduro tire line for the world market. I worked directly with the engineers in Germany & Brazil and really liked the people. We were really making some good progress with new tread patterns, casings & rubber compounds which also was improving theire racing image. My focus was in tire design, development and testing but they kept pushing me to do more and more with racing and I was basically tired of going to the races each week. If I wanted to continue doing that I would have stayed with Dunlop. There are some Pirelli MX tires still on the market today that I played a roll in designing & developing.
I've also had a consulting agreement with Specialized Bicycles since 1995. I'm involved in their mountain bike, road bike, BMX and commuter bike tire design, tire development and tire testing programs for their world market OEM & aftermarket. It's a big program and what people do not realize is that Specialized sells more mountain bike tires in one model then Dunlop does in their complete line of MX/off road tires!
I also have a consulting agreement with Kenda Tire & rubber since 2000. I'm involved in their Motorcycle On Road, Motorcycle Off Road, ATV, UTV and Scooter tire design, tire development and tire testing programs for there world market OEM & Aftermarket. The tire stuff is where I spend most of my time plus I'm involved in Expert Witness Litigation. We also run a tire testing facility where we basically run accelerated mileage accumulation programs on street and off road MC & ATV-UTV vehicles. We can accumulate more miles in one month than most people put on there vehicles in two years. Click Here
for more info.