Even before the season started I knew it was going to be different. Dean Hubble, my Arch-Rival and the Defending Series Champion, was not racing this season. You can blame the recent move to their own house, a young son, and a demanding job. Not only that, Paul Gaudio, Chris Page and Jon Munns have all switched to Honda 160s for the newly created "Formula 160" class. My former competition had all left the 500 Vintage class! My chances of winning had certainly improved, but that was not how I had wanted it.
It was supposed to rain all weekend, but didn't. Saturday was windy with a lot of cloud cover, and it would have been a good day to practice, had the neighbours not negotiated a "quiet day". Don't people buying a house next to a racetrack realize where they live, and expect noise? I had no idea a "quiet day" at a racetrack could be negotiated.
I had been at Mission Racetrack the previous Monday for a "Test-n-Tune" day. I did three short sessions, each with a different analog PVL, before each caused the motor to backfire, quit, or maybe only idle. Twice I was left stranded out on turn 4 and had to sit there and watch everyone else go round. I was planning to break in my new motor, which didn't happen, and I never did get myself up to speed either. I had lost faith in the PVL system, and decided to refit my Lucas Rita CDI unit. It had never let me down.
Sunday, Raceday. It was windy, raining, and cold. The forecast was hail, snow at higher elevations, and I could see my breath. There was a lot to talk at the riders' meeting, and it was a long one. The track was under new management, and that new management was quite unhappy with us motorcyclists. At the previous race, someone had lit a bonfire overlooking turns 5, 6,and 7, and left a pile of empties too. We, the motorcyclists, were blamed for this. NEW RULE> there was to be no more track crossing and spectating on the infield. Really Too Bad; that was one of the best places to watch. The track has also had changes to the straightaway and turn 5, and some nasty emails were sent to the management. This really pissed them off more, so they were prepared to cut the club a cheque for all remaining 2002 race dates, and just have us all "go away". Our relationship with track management really is at an all time low.
My bike didn't want to start for practice. It finally got warmed up, and seemed to run a bit better, but not in the low rpms. We rode around slowly in the wet and cold. We all wanted warmer weather. Some riders (myself included) had long-johns under our leathers, and I also had a rain jacket over my leathers, and winter gloves. Add a back protector and it's getting hard to move around on the bike. A fogged visor makes it hard to see, and cold hands aren't great on controls. Conditions really were pretty abysmal.... Most riders got into a heated car at some point, myself included.
Race 1. We all took off in a cloud of spray. A young guy with a (mostly stock) CB350 took off like a demon, and I was in no mood to be a hero. My engine was not running well under 5 grand, and wouldn't pull out of the corners well. I got a couple of slides here and there; most everyone was doing some sliding. Five laps and it was over. I came back to the pits and discovered gas pouring out of the carbs' overflow tubes. Jason (CB350) was first, a CB400/4 (that should have been in the 750 class) was second, and I was third. That's it, just three of us in 500 Vintage.
Race 2. A partially plugged pilot jet was now very open, and my engine sounded crisp. The wind was still strong, but the track had mostly dried, and even the sun came out! The red starting lights went green, and we were racing! I never saw those middle-weight Hondas again. I raced with a couple of Nortons and a Nourish, getting by one of the Nortons on the last lap. The track was still cold, so it was good to exercise some caution. Officially I got a third and a first, for second overall, but un-officially I got a second and a first, for first overall.
Jason Omar is the new kid on the (basically stock) Honda CB350. This is his first season at Seattle, and it didn't take me long to figure out that with his aggressive riding style he'll be a real threat when he figures out how to get some more HP from his engine. The first race at Seattle was in the rain and he was gone. Yes, my pilot jet was plugged, but it wouldn't have made any difference, he was GONE! The second race was on a dry track, and now I was gone, racing with the Nortons again.
In Portland, Mike Daniels' Suzuki 500 simply motored away from me with superior HP. His bike doesn't handle very well, but HP is a great equalizer and he doesn't fall down. I had to settle for second in both races. I was really looking forward to racing against Chris Kerber on his Aermacchi, but his points crapped out in practice. Chris had done some very fast laps at the previous race weekend, and I think we could have had a lot of fun.
This was destined to be a different sort of season, with all the fast CB350s staying away. Dean Hubble, my arch-rival and nemesis, was busy buying a house, handling a career, and helping raise his baby boy. Chris Page, Jon Munns, and Paul Gaudio (Aermacchi), all excellent racers, had migrated to the burgeoning "killer bee" Formula 160 class on their little Hondas. It was a different sort of season, because I had virtually no competition, winning every 500 race except for the (3) mentioned above. I would choose between hanging back with the 350/500s for a few laps, or chasing the 750s, usually a few Nortons. Sometimes I would get a bad start on purpose, so I could move up in the pack, finally taking the lead. This backfired on me once...
At Mission raceway, after a "bad-start", I had worked my way up to second behind Sasha on his Triumph 750. He was trying quite hard; smoke was coming off his rear tire from braking into some corners. I could have passed earlier, but there were quite a lot of spectators, and I figured it would be more exciting if I waited until the last lap. I made my move going into turn 4's fast left but, in my exuberance, promptly overshot turn 7 and Sasha was back in the lead. Even though I tried very hard, there were only two corners and a short straight to the checkered flag, and I lost by half a wheel. Lesson learned. Don't screw up turn 7!
Up here in the Great Northwest, we can compete for two Championships: SOTP (Sounds of the Past), and the WMRRA (Washington State) Championship. The 500 SOTP Championship is mine this year, mostly because I went to all the races, and no one else did. In the WMRRA Championship, Jason has gone to all the races, and I have missed a couple. In August I was 60 points behind him, and that's when I decided to take a run at the title. I'd started the year thinking only of the SOTP, but now this was a challenge...
The next race was Spokane: I took a win, and Jason's exhaust pipe fell off in the last race, affecting his points a bit more. We went away with only a 40 point difference, but only had three races remaining in the season. The following two races were the weekend of Sept 28/29, complete with the return of Dean Hubble on his CB350. Dean practiced on Friday, and I did not. Everyone told me how he was turning 1:50s in the afternoon. My best was a 1:53, so it wasn't the best news...
Saturday was Vintage day, and in the 500 class it was basically Dean, Jason, and myself. Jason rode the wheels off his bike, but didn't have the HP. Dean was fastest, but graciously slowed at race end and "allowed" me to take the win to get the points. The point spread between 1st and 3rd is much greater than 2nd and 3rd. In the second race, I chased Dean much harder on lap 1, but sliding the front end going into turn 7 made me back off. He slowly pulled away; his bike is just a little faster, and he's just a little faster in the corners, and it all adds up. After the race he told me that he hadn't done 1:50s in practice; he'd just asked everyone to tell me that he had!
All the smaller Vintage bikes are encouraged to "bump up" into the 750 class for Vintage day. And so we did. The 750 race was red-flagged before we'd completed one lap. My friend, Craig Echols, on his Ducati 750 had crashed in turn 7, the worst corner to fall down on. He'd missed the air fence and hit the 4-foot- high dirt wall at about 70mph. We re-gridded while he was loaded into the ambulance. We re-started but only went a few more laps before someone else went down and another red flag came out, so that was the end of that race. The second 750 race proceeded without incident, with Dean taking 4th and me 5th. I really don't think some of those 750 guys like being beaten by our little 350s.
There was a lot of concern for Craig. He was leading the 750 SOTP Championship points barely, with fast Mick Hart on his Honda 600 coming on strong. We found out he had smashed his right elbow and would need surgery. It turned out to be a 12-hour operation the following Monday, which also included a cast on his broken wrist. When I spoke to him on Tuesday, I could tell the morphine level was still high. He was finally released on Thursday, to begin what is estimated to be a six-month recovery. The amount of support he has received from the Vintage racers and others is tremendous.
Dean helped me out again in the 500 Vintage races on Sunday, giving me the overall win, and separating me from Jason to give the maximum point spread. I really screwed up one of the starts: the flag went up and I let out the clutch to find I was in neutral! Never done that before. I really don't know if it jumped out of gear or if I forgot to put it in gear -- see what I mean about my memory???
The WMRRA website hasn't updated the results yet, but we (Dean and I) calculated that now I am only six points behind Jason going into the last round in Seattle on Oct. 13. A win pays 40 points and second gives only 32. It all comes down to the weather. If it's dry I'll probably win the Championship, and if it rains Jason will take it. Nothing like a little drama to end the season!
The final race for me was Oct 13, 2002 at Pacific Raceway in Seattle. The Championship had come down to this race, between myself and Jason. The WMRRA website showed Jason was 20 points ahead of me, but we both knew that was wrong, due to a scoring mixup at the previous race. I calculated he was six
points ahead, and a win today would give me eight additional points. Jason had practiced on Saturday; I had not...
Sunday. Race Day. It was cold and quite foggy. As soon as practice started, it was put on hold. No one could see turn five from turn seven, making it dangerous. We waited in the cold fog. I did Jumping Jacks and ran up and down the pits trying to keep warm. When that didn't work, I got into Les Cooks' heated Oldsmobile and talked bikes while he smoked another cigar.
Finally, at 10:40 am they announced that practice was cancelled completely, racing would start in 5 minutes, and we would get two warm-up laps for our races. The sun was out, but it was still cold. With cold tires, I decided to take it easy at first. The fog was gone, but it was now inside my helmet! We were racing; Jason was ahead of me, and I could hardly see where I was going! My faceshield would not stop fogging up, and I was riding with my left hand holding it open slightly so it would unfog. When I got to a corner, I'd have to reach for the left handlebar, and the shield would fog up all over again. This had never happened before, and the race was not the time to figure it out.
Now it was last lap, and I was leading going into turn 9 with Jason only inches behind. The "bus-stop" (turn 10) was coming up fast, and I could hardly see it. I overshot it, and got into the dirt. I turned right and gassed it, doing a big slide before shooting back onto the track, just missing Jason by inches as he passed me. I chased him up to the finish line, but he beat me by a bike length, and he was pretty pumped about that.
Back in the pits, I discovered that my helmet's front vent had somehow become closed, probably at gear tech. That accounted for all the fogging. Now the Championship was all down to the last race.
The Last Race. My vents were open. The track was warm from the sun, and I didn't make eye contact with Jason on the starting line. I was determined to win. I found out later that Jason was riding like a madman, and had three off-track excursions in only five laps from trying too hard.
Now it was over, and we still didn't know for sure who was the season winner. I made a phone call right before the annual WMRRA awards on November 2nd, and STILL didn't know who was the winner! Suspense or what? I couldn't make the awards, but I phoned our Vintage Rep, Duncan Craig, the next day. He reported that Jason and I were tied at 272 points each, but I was the Champion because I had the most wins. Now, where's my cigar?