Ralph Staropoli Is Living The GP Life In America

Ralph Staropoli Is Living The GP Life In America

© 2023, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc. By Nick Ienatsch.

By Nick Ienatsch

Two-stroke 250 GP bikes are alive and well at AHRMA (American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association) events but those hoping to reach the top step of the box will have to go through Ralph Staropoli.

The 59-year-old’s dominance is reminiscent of Rich Oliver in the AMA’s last few years of AMA Pro two-stroke racing.  Staropoli was a new 250cc GP racer back then with a best AMA Pro national finish of seventh, but 20 years later the Coloradoan has risen to Oliver levels and that’s the highest compliment you can give in American two-stroke road racing. And it’s not just a two-stroke 250 that this guy dominates…read on.

Why This Guy?

My interest in writing about Staropoli is two-fold: First is the ultra-professional approach he has taken in his return to road racing. Staropoli, like many AHRMA racers, quit racing due to the pressures of time, money, and lack of joy…that was 1998 for Ralph…but he kept his 250 and started dabbling again a few years later.

We’ve all learned that “dabbling” in a risky endeavor isn’t a great approach and this guy rekindled the joy of motorbike racing with a methodology that rivals factory efforts, even though it’s basically a one-man show (more on that later). Certainly an inspiration for us all. In a nutshell, Staropoli’s message is, “If you’re gonna do it, do it right.” The results of this all-in approach speak for themselves.

Second is Staropoli’s motivation, the only true reason to go amateur racing: Joy. We have all felt the “garage therapy” happiness of fettling our own bikes and Ralph dove headfirst into this world, establishing international ties with two-stroke gurus and taking advantage of the ongoing evolution of two-stroke racing happening in Italy, Portugal, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

But he did more than establish ties; he educated himself on everything necessary to consistently run GP bikes at the front of the field. He’s won on his Honda RS250 and Yamaha TZ250, both built and extensively modified in his shop.

Ralph says, “I wish I knew then what I know now. Bikes have come light years since my AMA days; kit parts are available and I’ve learned how to set these bikes up. I just didn’t know back then. Now I don’t have seizures due to better knowledge and technology like exhaust-gas-temperature readings, detonation counters, and data loggers.” Staropoli does every facet of bike building for his two-strokes, including crankshaft set-up.

 

Crain Aviation, seen here on Staropoli’s Honda RS250, has taken over painting duties on his fleet of bikes so the outside beauty matches the inside trickness. Staropoli’s dominant AHRMA campaign is also backed by Suomy helmets, 4SR leathers, Regina chains, VHM pistons, and Motul lubricants, with special parts and pieces coming from Barnett clutches.
Crain Aviation, seen here on Staropoli’s Honda RS250, has taken over painting duties on his fleet of bikes so the outside beauty matches the inside trickness. Staropoli’s dominant AHRMA campaign is also backed by Bridgestone, Suomy helmets, 4SR leathers, Regina chains, VHM pistons, and Motul lubricants, with special parts and pieces coming from Barnett clutches.

 

It would be easy for those in America to believe that two-stroke road racing development ended when World Championship 250cc Grand Prix racing switched to Moto2 with four-stroke Honda 600s in 2010. From that belief you would guess that American 250 racers were eking by with decades-old equipment. Attend an AHRMA round to see how wrong this belief is!

Staropoli also enjoys the social aspects of racing, especially with close friends like Dave Frick and Adrian Jasso, two racers who share pit areas with Staropoli and field a similar set of bikes. “When racing isn’t fun, I’ll quit,” Ralph says, but like so many of us he realizes that road racing motorcycles brings challenge and satisfaction that is difficult to find elsewhere.

Ralph went to college on a soccer sponsorship and played competitively for years. He’s a certified sky diver. As a high-level defense-industry expert he has the money to buy any fast car, boat, motorcoach… but what else combines the risk, skill, competition, amazing technology, and social aspect of two-wheeled racing?

 

There’s a special beauty in racing a bike you also built. While Staropoli has educated himself on bike prep, he has also worked hard on fitness and advancing his on-board riding techniques. Photo by Etechphoto.com.
There’s a special beauty in racing a bike you also built. While Staropoli has educated himself on bike prep, he has also worked hard on fitness and advancing his on-board riding techniques. Photo by Etechphoto.com.

 

While true challenges are getting harder to find here in America, Staropoli is looking to international racing waters again after being prevented from going across the pond by COVID. Europe’s lure is pure two-stoke events. This is noteworthy because when Staropoli races in American club events with CCS/ASRA he is often pitted against four-stroke machines that “make a lap time” much differently than a 250cc two-stroke.

 

Wait a second, that’s not a two-stroke! No, it’s a 250 four-Stroke single, but it’s the best bike Ralph Staropoli has ridden and that’s saying a lot. Honda NSF250Rs are busy embarrassing larger bikes here in America. Photo by Joshua Mages.
Wait a second, that’s not a two-stroke! No, it’s a 250 four-Stroke single, but it’s the best bike Ralph Staropoli has ridden and that’s saying a lot. Honda NSF250Rs are busy embarrassing larger bikes here in America. Photo by Joshua Mages.

 

More Than Two Strokes

Tucked into Staropoli’s ultra-clean pit area is a four-stroke NSF250R Honda that looks just right next to his TZ250 and RS250 because it is a Moto3 bike for the masses. This little Single has been produced since 2012; bikes and support are available through Rising Sun Cycles (rscycles.com) here in America.

 

Isn’t it cute? Yes, cute like a shark. There have been grids of a dozen or so NSF250Rs here in America, and for about $14,000 you can join them. If you listen closely when the field goes by you can the laughter of riding fun.
Isn’t it cute? Yes, cute like a shark. There have been grids of a dozen or so NSF250Rs here in America, and for about $14,000 you can join them. If you listen closely when the field goes by you can the laughter of riding fun.

 

“These NSFs took a while to catch on,” Staropoli tells us, “but they’re getting more and more popular. It’s a great bike right out of the box: 42 horsepower and 180 pounds, around $14,000. Most fun bike, best bike, I’ve ever been on.” High praise from a guy with one each of the best TZ250s and RS250s in the country–and some would argue in the world.

“When we got the NSFs, Stewart Aitken-Cade, Dave (Frick), Adrian (Jasso), and I agreed to keep them stock and that lasted for about a year. A really fun year. When Stewart modified his bike’s brakes I told him, ‘The dam has broken’…and now these things have gotten even better.”

 

Look familiar? Fans of the 2014 Moto3 season will recognize the profile, (this is a real FTR250 Team Gresini bike) while Marco Simoncelli fans will love the paint on Staropoli’s latest acquisition. “It’s shocking to see how far Moto3 bikes have come,” Ralph says. “This thing has dual front discs, launch control, data…way beyond my NSF…so imagine how great a 2023 Moto3 bike must be!” Photo by Ralph Staropoli.
Look familiar? Fans of the 2014 Moto3 season will recognize the profile, (this is a real FTR250 Team Gresini bike) while Marco Simoncelli fans will love the paint on Staropoli’s latest acquisition. “It’s shocking to see how far Moto3 bikes have come,” Ralph says. “This thing has dual front discs, launch control, data…way beyond my NSF…so imagine how great a 2023 Moto3 bike must be!” Photo by Ralph Staropoli.

 

From Moto3 in 2014 to AHRMA in 2023: FTR250.
From Moto3 in 2014 to AHRMA in 2023: FTR250.

 

If you enter the three or four AHRMA classes that the NSF fits into, bring your A-Game because in 2022 the name Staropoli was at the top of every finishing chart. That was 28 starts and 28 wins…and the streak continues in 2023.

 

What says Fun better than a 500cc GP bike?

Let’s just start with this: 185 horsepower and 270 pounds. Smiling yet? Those are the essential specifications of the ROC YZR500 that just entered Staropoli’s racing world in a very roundabout way.

Ralph takes over the story. “I was talking with Andy Sawford, a friend of mine in the UK, about Honda kit parts. Andy told me to contact a guy in Germany name Jorg Schollhorn.  Jorg is the last 500cc National Champion. We became friends and talk four or five times a week. He mentions that an acquaintance of ours might have a 1992 ROC 500 for sale (ROC built chassis for four-cylinder Yamaha YZR500 engines).

“This acquaintance is a master craftsman, a former National Champion in several classes, has huge factory connections…a real mover in world road racing venues, building two-stroke bikes for very famous racers. He was building this ROC for himself, but came across something even better and Jorg thought that perhaps the ROC was for sale.”

It was a dream most of us share and a perfect bike for AHRMA’s Open Two-Stroke class where anything goes as long as it does the ring-ding thing.

 

Welcome to 1993 500 GP racing: Renzo Colleoni on pace in one of the 14 GP races he contested on the ROC Yamaha YZR500, soon to be campaigned in America. Photo courtesy Ralph Staropoli Collection.
Welcome to 1993 500 GP racing: Renzo Colleoni on pace in one of the 14 GP races he contested on the ROC Yamaha YZR500, soon to be campaigned in America. Photo courtesy Ralph Staropoli Collection.

 

Staropoli has the 500 on his bench, but the professional “acquaintance” who started the project gave him a tremendous head start: This ROC has forks used by Noriyuki Abe, carbs modified by tuning legend Harald Bartol, a kit carbon-fiber tail, an SJK exhaust…the bike is all-new except for the frame, swingarm, and wheels. Photo by Ralph Staropoli.
Staropoli has the 500 on his bench, but the professional “acquaintance” who started the project gave him a tremendous head start: This ROC has forks used by Noriyuki Abe, carbs modified by tuning legend Harald Bartol, a kit carbon-fiber tail, an SJK exhaust…the bike is all-new except for the frame, swingarm, and wheels. Photo by Ralph Staropoli.

 

The bike traveled from Germany to America and should be debuted at the Laguna Seca AHRMA round this coming weekend. For those of us lucky enough to be at Laguna when 500cc GP bikes shook Monterey, this ROC 500 will be another of the tremendous throw-back moments that AHRMA provides.

Sure, we’d all like to buy a former 500 GP bike but probably don’t have the available budget. But that’s not the point. The AHRMA paddock is full of this exact story, at all levels of budget. Many of us are returning to a bike we always loved, many of us are finally on a bike we always lusted for.

 

A genuine four-cylinder 500cc Grand Prix racebike. Photo by Ralph Staropoli.
A genuine four-cylinder 500cc Grand Prix racebike. Photo by Ralph Staropoli.

In my case, at about 0.0002% of Ralph’s budget, I’m rolling around on a Speedwerks FZR600, returning to a bike model that not just brings me current joy, but brought me joy 30 years ago. For Staropoli, the ROC will introduce a new challenge in preparation and riding…and that anticipated challenge is a big component of the word “happiness.” Happiness abounds in the AHRMA paddock.

The Partner

Anyone who has gone racing knows the slogging work involved. The long prep nights, the even longer drives through Texas, the unexpected problems challenges that trucks, trailers, wheel bearings, master links, bad fuel (how much time have you got?) present. Alone, these challenges can become overwhelming. Ralph recently married Sheri Mursick, a cross-fit star and true right-hand man (person?) of the Staropoli racing program.

 

At the end of a winning two days at Heartland Park, rider and crew chief take a few minutes to list needed parts, check component hour logs, and get ready to be ready for the next round.
At the end of a winning two days at Heartland Park, rider and crew chief take a few minutes to list needed parts, check component hour logs, and get ready to be ready for the next round.

 

This addition to the team brings us to a significant subject, something that Roadracing World Founder & Editor John Ulrich discussed with me. He said, “No matter what it is, there’s usually somebody in some paddock somewhere who knows all about anything you need, and will tell you what you need to know. Doctors, lawyers, great mechanics, musicians, whatever. And usually are ready to help. Motorcyclists are great.” The Hall of Famer recognizes what pulls so many back to racing and riding: The people. Mr. and Mrs. Staropoli working together to solve the puzzle of winning races will be another reason that Ralph Staropoli will continue to be a tough racer to beat.

 

Staropoli Racing’s crew chief Sheri Staropli the 500 GP bike we can’t wait to see roll around American tracks. Photo by Ralph Staropoli.
Staropoli Racing’s crew chief Sheri Staropoli the 500 GP bike we can’t wait to see roll around American tracks. Photo by Ralph Staropoli.

 

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