In the eighth of our series on the people who race at PGP Motorsports Park, meet Brian Noji, a motor scooter racer who knows there is more than one way to go fast on two wheels
KENT, Wash. — (Nov. 29, 2010) Brian Noji has a pretty good idea when the first motor scooter race was held.
“I don’t know where it started, but when they built the first scooter, that’s when someone started racing them,” said the 38-year-old Tacoma resident, who added with a laugh: “Anything with wheels, they race.”
Riding a converted 1987 Honda Elite 50 motor scooter, Noji has become a regular sight during SuperMoto events at PGP Motorsports Park, flying down the front straight at 55 mph and winning his class or giving riders on full-sized bikes a run for their money.
“PGP is by far the best place right now in the Pacific Northwest to race at,” said Noji, who has also found success in PGP’s B-Spec rental karts. “The track is wide, there is lots of runoff and the pavement is very grippy even in the wet. It’s the longest right now in the Northwest and it has elevation changes.”
Noji knows quite a bit about competing on two wheels, having raced scooters and then motorcycles for more than five years in his native Hawaii. He quit racing bikes in 1996 and — needing, said Noji, “to get out of the lifestyle in Hawaii that wasn’t getting me anywhere” — moved to Washington state in 2000.
He had a brother living in Vancouver, Wash., and considered getting into the aviation industry. Although that didn’t pan out, Noji now works at the Hotel Murano in Tacoma as a maintenance engineer, and he is engaged to marry Jennifer Dominguez.
While some may question the wisdom of his decision to move from a tropical paradise to the Pacific Northwest, especially on a cool, gray day shortly after the first snowflakes had fallen in Western Washington, Noji has few regrets.
“I lived on the eastern side of the big island and it’s rainy and cold there, too, so that’s something I got used to,” he said. “I don’t get homesick too much. The winters here are definitely colder, but Hawaii is green just like here.”
Ask him about scooter racing and Noji is just as eager to shift any preconceived notions you may have. He’s raced several times at Stars of PGP SuperMoto events, winning the scooter class on Aug. 29, 2010 and finishing third in two heat races while competing against SuperMoto bikes.
“A lot of people that don’t know, they see the scooter and say ‘Really? That scooter is going to race against a motorcycle?’ They laugh — at first,” said Noji. “After they see me take a lap, especially during qualifying, they come up and say ‘Whoa, that thing is pretty fast.’”
After moving the Western Washington, Noji took part in some autocross events but said he “always had the itch” to get back into racing scooters or small bikes. In the summer of 2010 he found the Pacific Northwest Scooter Racing Association, a Portland, Ore., based group, learned the rules and bought a scooter, and secured NOS Energy Drink as a sponsor.
Scooter racing can be traced back at least to the early 1960s when Vespas and Lambrettas competed against each other in “reliability trials.” Noji’s stock 1987 Honda Elite has been converted to a Japanese Spec Honda Dio — the first race-body style scooter. Additionally, he’s added of a 72cc Italian race kit, aftermarket exhaust and a larger carburetor.
Noji first learned of PGP when a friend invited him to race in a B-Spec rental kart event. Noji won that event and turned the second fastest lap of the day, coming in behind a seasoned kart racer. That first visit made an impression on him, and Noji was pleased to have the chance to race his scooter at PGP.
“I like racing at PGP because the facility is top notch and the staff is top notch,” he said. “This is a track that has to be experienced and not passed up.”
The Pacific NW Scooter Racing Association ran a seven-race Gold Cup series this past season in Oregon, at PGP and in Canada. Next year the group plans to scale back to save on traveling expenses, with a four-race series with stops at Pat’s Acres and McMinnville in Oregon, PGP and a track in Canada.
The scooter association piggy-backs it’s events with other bike or kart races, so Noji was often gridded with different sized bikes as well as scooters. Regardless of the field, Noji said keeping his scooter’s momentum up is key to going fast — especially on PGP’s long straights.
And going fast on his scooter around PGP’s state-of-the art track is something Noji has proved he knows how to do. With each fast lap he’s earned the respect of his racing peers — and maybe a few potential converts to motor scooter racing.
“Once at PGP I had an off, got back up on the scooter and was still ahead of the field,” Noji said with a laugh. “Even the big-bike guys, the guys who race SuperMoto, they were amazed.”