This was the first race of the year for me, and many others, and was also the first round of the SOTP championship series. Lots of Vintage racers, and a certain excitement in the air. The weather was fine, and I was on edge.
The biggest news was the Honda 160s. Twenty-six of them showed up, for which they got their own race. Nicknamed the "Killer Bees", there was definitely a swarm of them. Chuck Kreuters' 160 was the trickest, and impressed me the most. He made his own frame over the winter, which included a 2" wide aluminum monocoque gas tank, glued and pop-riveted together, that served as a stressed frame member. With other weight saving features, over 30 lbs. was saved!
Jeff Pierce also made a new cro-moly frame for his TD1 Yamaha, moving the engine forward and steepening the head angle. Too bad he couldn't get it running properly all weekend. Maybe it was because he made the ports even BIGGER? Not to be out done, Mike Daniels cut his Suzuki 500 frame in half, cut a Yamaha 250 roadracer frame in half too, and welded them together. Drastic measures for an evil handling motorcycle! He'd only finished it the night before. In practice, his rear brake backing plate broke, sending the torque arm smartly up into the seat, almost getting him in the arse. Racing can be dangerous indeed!
The Honda 160 race was great to watch, and the sound was wonderful. They came through turn 9 sometimes three abreast, and the lead changed often. It was a photo finish, and I couldn't tell who won. Great stuff!
Race 1. I chased Mike Daniels hard, but the extra horsepower gave him the advantage, even though I closed the gap in the turns. He took the win, I was second.
Race 2. On the warm-up lap, Jesse had a problem almost immediately on his Norton, held up his hand, and pulled off to the right of the track, not looking. I was behind and watched the whole event. Duncan, on his Nourish, was accelarating hard up the inside when Jesse pulled off, and the two collided, both going down. Duncan seperated his shoulder, and Jesse said he was OK, but was in pain when he got home hours later. X-rays showed a broken bone in his foot and wrist. You've got to be careful out there....
Race two. I screwed up the start; somehow I ended up taking off in second, which wasn't great for my start or my clutch. I couldn't see Mike, so I chased John Martin on his Norton. Same old story; he'd hold me up in the corners, and blast away on the straights. After the race, Mike told me his clutch cable broke before the start, so he rode sans clutch. Meaning, he was second, giving me the overall win, and thirty points.
For the second round of the SOTP series, I teamed up with my friend Craig Echols for the drive down I-5 to Willows, slightly north of Sacramento. We loaded his Ducati 750 and my Aermacchi into his pickup and trailer. We arrived at Thunderhill twelve hours after leaving his home in Seattle. I was just getting over a flu bug at this time.
California had just ended a month of rain two days before we arrived. Now it was a heat wave. On Friday we did a full day of practice. Not only was it very humid, the temperature was 108 in the shade, with a 145 degree track temperature! After 20 minutes on the track, we came in virtually exhausted, spent the next 40 minutes recovering, then went out again. In all, I did six 20 minute sessions, meaning a full two hours out there, trying to learn a very challenging track. The Vintage class was to race with the 250 Kawasaki Ninjas. I screwed up and went off the track at one point, chasing a woman (a very fast woman...) on a pink 250 Ninja.
Thunderhill was built in 1993, has 15 corners, and is over 3 miles long. The toughest corner to learn is Turn 5, nick-named the Cyclone. Turn 4 is a third gear left, followed by a little right kink, not enough to call a corner. Then, you shoot up a steepish hill, apex left hard at the crest, roll on the gas and crank it right for the down hill, off-camber right hander. If you can get it right, Turn 5 does feel good.
About 14 of us made the trek down from the Northwest. About 6 local Vintage riders showed up, which is about all they get at a race in California. Vintage racing is almost on the verge of extinction in California, which is sad. Our mission, which we gladly accepted, was to help generate some excitement in the Vintage class! It made me realize how fortunate we are in the Northwest to actually have an increase in the number of Vintage riders, mostly due to the "Killer Bee" class of Honda 160s.
Craig and I helped local rider Tim Silva on his Rickman 750 Honda. First he had leaking carbs, then an ignition problem. No belly pan meant a trip to Wal Mart for a baking tray which was fashioned to the underside. Followed by a leaking bleeder valve on the front brake, then further electrical problems! It was a wonder he made it onto the track at all. The two local Norton riders suffered from blown head gaskets, smoking (and being black-flagged) on the track, and broken primary belts. Neither made it to the start of the race. Robert Aergerther showed up on his freshly-built Aermacchi, sporting the number 666. He went to race school classes in the morning, but his front brake torque arm came apart as he was entering the track after lunch. He is a very lucky man, to which he attributes to having the number 666. Mechanical assistance was supplied to get him back on the track so he could complete race school, which he did.
I was looking forward to having Charlie Sexton show up on his Bultaco 250. Mostly because he beat me at Sears point a couple of years ago. We practiced half a day on Saturday, but no signs of Charlie. Now it was Sunday morning, and practice was due to begin at 8 am, and still no sign until 7:30 am, when he finally showed up. Talk about last minute! Then, his bike wouldn't start, so he missed practice. His ignition had a short, it was discovered later.
The Race. At Thunderhill, we only get one race per class, because there are so many classes, and so many entries. Typically, there can be 85 bikes on the grid for the start of the race, which is pretty wild. Watching them come over Turn 5 three abreast is also pretty exciting! I pre-entered pretty late, so I lined up on the last row of the grid, only Robert was behind me. Charlie Sexton was two rows ahead. Green flag up, and off we roared. I got a great start, and got to turn one behind four 750s. I passed Les Cook on his Norton going into Turn 3, then out-braked Tim Silva on the Rickman Honda for Turn 10. Next lap I passed my buddy Craig on the outside in Turn 3 -- I was up to 2nd overall in Vintage!
Only local rider David Crussell was ahead now, on his ex-factory Kawasaki H-1 750 with 110 rear wheel HP and 6 years of chassis development. He was GONE! I concentrated on passing bunches of the slower Ninja riders. Craig caught up and passed me on the second last lap; it was only right that he should beat me on his Ducati 750. He took a quite a bit of flack for "allowing" a little Aermacchi to pass him.
So, another 30 points towards the SOTP championship. Whatever happened to Charlie Sexton? He seized his motor during the race, and became a spectator at turn 9. David Stark, the other 250 Bultaco rider, seized his transmission shaft on the last corner of the last lap, so pushed his bike all the way up the straightaway, into a head wind, to make the finish, while (probably) every Honda 160 roared past.
This was to be the biggest Vintage race of the year at Seattle, complete with Vintage BBQ afterwards and trophy presentation. The weather, however, was not looking promising. By Friday, it had been upgraded to showers in the morning, and "brightening" in the afternoon. It was also the first day of summer, and the longest day of the year.
Dean Hubble was coming out of retirement on his fast CB350, and would be a threat. Jason Omar was also on a CB350, but with a basically stock motor, lacked top end. He's fast in the corners, a demon in the rain, and would have to be watched. In all, 8 riders in the 500 class; lots more in the 250 and 750 classes.
Paul and Dean talking bikes in the pits next to Dean's Honda CB350. Photo courtesy of Fiona Raven.
The "Killer Bee" Honda 160 class was well attended as usual. They have 14 HP and a top speed of 82 mph. We know how fast they go because Michael Bateman took his transponder out of the pouch, and put a GPS in there, ripped around the track, and downloaded the data to realize the 82 mph top speed. On race day, Michael Bateman and Jon Munns both got down into the 2:03s on their 160s, which is truly riding the wheels off those bikes, and a new track record for this rapidly expanding class.
The morning weather was looking much better than anticipated. Sunshine, some clouds, more sun! We had two practice sessions, and both Jason and Dean came roaring past me, displaying their abilities. That was OK, it always takes me a little while to get up to speed.
Race 1. We were gridded with the 250 Vintage class, and they were flagged off shortly before us. Dean was on the front row, I was on the second row. We got the green, and raced for Turn 1. Dean had his customary great start, and I was second. By Turn 3 we had caught the tail end of the Honda 160s, and had to work our way through groups of them. Dean wasn't getting away, and at the start of lap 2 I was still close behind. He got 3 or 4 of them between us going into Turn 5, and it took me too long to get by them, and he slowly pulled away. Jason was a distant third.
Race 2. I "bumped" up into the 750 class for some more track time, and spent the race chasing Les Cook and John Martin on their Nortons. No success getting by, despite getting close at times.
Race 3 was scheduled for 1:15 pm, and the track was still dry. However, our race was held up 15 minutes, and it started to rain as we sat on pre-grid, waiting for our warm-up lap. Dean elected not to race in the wet.
Waiting on pre-grid for the warm-up for Race 3 as the rain starts (Paul+Aermacchi =358). Photo courtesy of Fiona Raven.
Race 3. The rest of us gridded for the start. When the green flag was waved, I got the holeshot, and arrived at Turn 2 first. I knew that Jason was close behind, and sure enough, he was soon passing me aggressively on the outside of Turn 2. Jason is young and probably a little too anxious to beat me. He was barely past when he went down, a shower of sparks coming from his bike as it slid down and off the track. A few corners later red flags went out, and we were sent back to restart. Another holeshot, but soon a Honda came past, then another Honda, then a Matchless. I don't have a lot of experience racing in the rain, and just tried to be smooth. I saw one Honda off to the side of the track, and figured then I was in third. The rain had almost stopped, but the track was still wet.
Race 4. The rain really started in earnest as we lined up for this 750 race. A lot of 160s had also bumped up, and there's a lot of talent in that class, so I decided to start last and follow. This wasn't part of the championship for me and there was nothing to prove. I just tried to be smooth, and after a few laps really started enjoying the wet track, and starting going faster. I passed a couple 160s and soon could see my friend Craig Echols on his Ducati 750. I didn't know it was down to running on one cylinder. I passed him, but the rain and moisture content of the air was such that my faceshield wouldn't stop fogging up, and he soon repassed. I kept opening my faceshield, and the wind kept closing it.
After the race, the rain intensified, and groups of riders huddled under easy-ups while the puddles grew in depth. By the time the thunder and lightning presented themselves, we could see our breath. It was not a nice day at all. We packed up in the rain, and headed for Craig's place. Other Vintage riders did stay and BBQ in the pits, the rain and the cold. By the time we arrived at Craig's, the sun was out and the beer was cold. I still don't know my exact position for Race 3, but it was good enough for the overall 500 win and another 30 points.
First, I'd like to take you back to Craig's place, where a bunch of soggy racers had gathered after race #3 in Seattle. We were in the back yard sitting around the BBQ, having a few beer, maybe more, and the group included my sister, Fiona, and my out-spoken step-daughter, Pilar. I must explain that Pilar had often taken phone messages from Tom Mellor (for me...), but had never met him. She ended up sitting beside him, and when she found out who he was, exclaimed, "So you're THE Tom Mellor!!!" Tom's a bit of a modest, shy guy, and we all roared with laughter. And so, in one instant, a beautiful young woman had forever changed the life of aging Tom Mellor, Vintage racer.
The day after, while most of us were recovering from the night before, there was another club race at Seattle. It did not rain, but almost every race had a crash, with constant red flags. The schedule got way behind, and many of the afternoon's races were only three laps! Then, some races were cancelled altogether, to be added to the next race day in Spokane.
My friend, Gary Ryder, had the steering damper stolen off his Yamaha R6 race-bike while he wandered around in the pits. It's one of those gold-anodized rotary dampers that sits right on top of the steering tube. At $400, they're not cheap either.
There weren't a lot of Vintage racers, but in the 750 class Les Cook fell off his beautiful Norton exiting Turn 7, and Duncan Craick ended up running over Les's foot on his Nourish 750. A Nourish is basically an 8-valve Norton... Les was OK, but his bike broke BOTH triple clamps! And dented that lovely alloy tank... When asked what happened, 62-year-old Les kept saying, "I was on the gas, Man, I was on the gas!"
In the next race, which could have been the restart, Duncan was behind John Lacy on his Rocket 3, and newcomer Bill Woods on his CB750 four. It was last lap; they'd come out of the "Bustop", and were now heading up the pit -- straight toward the chequered flag. John was on the left, and Bill was slightly ahead on the right. Bill suddenly decided he needed to be on the left, and veered over, taking out John's front wheel with his rear. Duncan witnessed it all, as John and his bike went tumbling down the track. John was "OK", meaning not having to go to hospital. His bike went end over end, and was quite wrecked. Not a good day at the track.
Craig Echols sitting with his Ducati, while Nikola and "THE" Tom Mellor look on. Photo courtesy of Fiona Raven.
We used to have Westwood Race track, until it was taken away for housing development and a golf course in about 1990. Westwood was a classic race track, in the sense it was a rider's track. You would go up the back straight, wheelie over "Deer's Leap" at more than 100 mph if you had the horsepower and the guts, then blast on down the rest of the straight to brake for the hairpin. Built on the side of a mountain, elevation changes included the downhill, off-camber Turn 3. The Westwood Race Club continued without a track until a couple of years ago, when the Mission track (primarily a car track), was modified to make it safer for bikes.
I want you to know that we are thankful to have a track, after NOT having a track. Mission raceway is small and flat, and will never be a Westwood. To give a little more perspective, I'd like to share what the Honda 160 riders discovered, when they camped at the track for the first time last year...
"We arrived just as the daylight was fading, and set up camp. We wanted to see the track and started walking along what we thought was an access road. The asphalt was broken up and starting to crumble in some parts. When we got to a corner we found rubber, and realized we'd been walking on the track!"
The weather forecast for race day was a "mixed bag", which turned out to be 100% correct. The track was wet, but the rain held off as we signed up and went through tech. My friend, Phil Esworthy, was on the Rent-a-Racer. It started raining for the riders' meeting. We were told a car had blown its motor the day before, oiling the outside of Turn 3 all the way to Turn 4. When car racing resumed, their wheels "tracked" the oil through Turn 4. Also, the 95 dB limit would be strictly enforced. We put on our rain gear and went out for practice. It was the slickest track I'd ever been on. Coming around a few corners in second gear just above idle was OK, but just the slightest bit of gas would get the rear wheel going sideways. Phil was definitely faster than me in practice, but almost high-sided towards the end. I think his years of riding trials bikes really helped with the traction issue.
Race 1. The rain had stopped for about fifteen minutes, and it was quite warm. Phil and I took off our rain gear. Six vintage riders waited on pre-grid, and then the rain began again. And it came down hard. "THE" Tom Mellor and Mick Hart got the holeshot on their 750s, and I was in 3rd overall. Mick passed Tom, and I remained in 3rd. My rear wheel would break loose on three of the corners every lap. They just seemed to have more slick to them. No one fell down.
Turn 2 at Mission Raceway in the pouring rain. Photo courtesy of Fiona Raven.
At lunch, the sun came out, and it got hot. Steam was coming off the track almost everywhere. Young girls were walking around with almost nothing on... I could even dry my wet leathers! People looking at each other, saying, "Can you believe this???" Our next race was at 3:30 pm, and we were all feeling good. John Martin pulled his Norton 750 off the trailer, so now there were seven of us. At 3 pm a few clouds showed up, but it was still dry and warm. I went and had a word with the race announcer, informing him that Tom Mellor had now become "THE" Tom Mellor. He knew what I was talking about immediately, and promised to do his part.
Race 2. We were called to pre-grid, then waved to the track for our warm-up lap. Literally, half-way around our warm-up lap it started to rain. And then we were on the grid, waiting for the green. I reasoned that the track was still dry and hot; it had only just started to rain, so I should be able to do a couple of laps a little faster than on a fully wet track.
We got the green, and raced for Turn 1. Once again, "THE" Tom Mellor and Mick Hart were away, and I got to Turn 1 in 3rd. Half way around the turn, I was suddenly on my ass, down on the pavement. John Martin, right behind me, also went down as he crossed the same patch of asphalt. His windshield shattered; pieces everywhere, but we didn't hit each other.
Five Vintage bikes were called back for the restart. This time, Mick led the race, Tom second. But after the second lap, Mick didn't come around -- he'd lost the front end on the back section. A few laps later, Tom didn't come around -- he'd been black-flagged for 98.5 dB when he started shifting at 9500 rpm instead of 8000. We were now down to only three Vintage bikes! Nikki won on his 650 Triumph, in only his second race. Conrad was second on his Honda 450 twin, and Phil took the Rent-a-Racer to the podium for his road-racing debut! Needless to say, he was pumped!
When I first started racing, it was exciting to be on the track, and it was also exciting to see my lap times coming down. After a few years, though, my lap times have levelled off, like many other racers. A race bike only puts out so much horsepower, and I'm only willing to lean the bike over so far. I could take a race school for a few hundred bucks, but decided to use practice day as a classroom of sorts by following some of the faster 160 riders around. It soon became apparent that Michael Bateman was The Man. He wins virtually every 160 race. No problem keeping up on the straights of course, but total concentration to stay with him in the corners. He's also very good at getting through traffic ... Honda 160 traffic, that is!
My competition would include fast Mike Daniels on his Suzuki Titan 500, and Doug Brown on his Ducati 350 single, which was now a 500 single! Doug has worked on this bigger motor for about four years, and the whole bike is immaculately prepared. I wondered if the motor would stay together.
Raceday was another scorcher with the temperature in the 90's. My friend, Craig Echols had rebuilt his 750 Ducati with a new crank, short stroke with longer rods. In practice, it was down on power, and the front cylinder was running hot. He decided to race it anyway.
Race 1. Mike took off right away on his Suzuki, but I did a wheelie off the line ... never did that before! I was second to the first corner, but a few more turns and there was Doug passing me, then leaving me on the back straight. There was quite a gap for a while, but then Doug had gearbox problems and I closed a bit, but not enough. Basically, a lonely race.
Race 2. Doug had figured out that because the motor had taken so long to build, he'd forgotten to lubricate the shifter mechanism, but that was all fixed and now he was ready. Race 2 did not include a wheelie from the start, but at least I was in the correct gear. Mike took off again, and Doug was soon past me. My engine was only pulling 7 grand down the straight, not the usual 7500 rpm. On the fourth lap Oliver Brown passed me on his Honda 450 at the end of the straight, and that just wasn't right! I outbraked him for the corner, and put my head down. His head was down too, and he tried it again a couple of laps later, but my head was still down, and I finished third. Even Doug's strong running Ducati 500 single wasn't enough to beat Fast Mike Daniels on his evil handling Titan 500. Doug ... spend more money!
The first 750 race was won by Ron Glaspey on his Honda 750/4, followed by Mick Hart (Rob North Triumph), and Craig Echols a distant third. The Tom Mellor had been in third, but then his Trident began misbehaving and he dropped steadily backwards.
The second 750 race had Ron leading again, until Craig passed him. Then Mick passed Ron too. This was Ron's wakeup call, and he wicked it up and got by them both. Craig and Mick were having a great battle, but a few laps later Craig's Ducati engine seized at the end of the straight and he was thrown off as he tried to ride it out in the grass outside turn one. Result: a broken collarbone, and two weeks later a new x-ray revealed his broken elbow from last year had been re-broken, but not as badly. Ouch! Sadly, his new alloy tank was also crunched along with a pipe or two, plus the usual fairing, screen, tach, bars, etc...
Back in the garage, it was found the jetting was too lean, and the piston clearance too tight. Now that was a tough lesson, eh?
Racing this year has either been in the blazing heat of the sun, or the wet spray of a soaked track. This weekend was the former, with nary a cloud in the sky. Saturday was the club race, and Sunday was the SOTP event, so we'd have riders up from Washington and other far away places.
There were only three riders in the 500 class: myself, Conrad Krytenburg on his Honda 450 twin, and Alan Dye on a Yankee 500. Remember those? Basically two Ossa 250 cylinders side by side on a bigger crankcase. I think it takes four riders to make up a class, but the racing was divided up into "Lightweight" and "Heavyweight" Vintage, so we got shoved up into Heavyweight, like it or not.
The 95dB limit was going to be strictly enforced, and we all knew it. I ran about 14 discs in my Supertrapp, and put a big hoseclamp over half of them, which is easier than taking out half the discs. Then I ran a bent tube from the Supertrapp to a silencer that came up to the top of my seat! It looked a bit strange, not at all Vintage, but this wasn't a contest about being pretty. I could redline my engine, get decent power, and run past the dB meter at 93 to94dB.
Race 1 was a four-lap event to determine grid position for the afternoon's event. I was gridded on the third row, probably because I sent in my entry at the last minute, as usual. I got a pretty good start, and ended up fourth in a pack of 750s. However, the three 750s ahead of me were all over the 95dB limit, and had their tech stickers removed from their fairings immediately following the race. They would have to prove to Tech that they had done something to get the noise level down. There was some frantic activity between races. "The" Tom Mellor was having bike problems, and so were John and Nikola with their British twins. We figured racing engines with big cams and huge carbs didn't like to run with their megaphones all bunged up.
Race 2. I'm now on the front row. Surprise of surprises: I get the holeshot and beat all the 750s to the first turn! The dB limit has worked in my favor. Now we're in turn 2, and Mick Hart is passing me on the outside. Yes, he really is a great rider. In this longer race, brake fade is setting in. Mission is very hard on brakes, and any weakness in this area definitely shows. On the back straight, I lost the brakes and missed the apex for turn 7, and two more riders got by. It felt like the lever hit something as I squeezed even harder, but that didn't make a lot of sense.... I finished in 4th again.
Back home, #358 went up on the workstand right away. I took the brake apart; it was dirty, glazed, and needed some TLC. I also discovered my brake lever had moved up the bar 1" when I crashed in the rain, so the dogleg of the lever had been hitting the throttle when I squeezed hard enough. My headset bearings were loose too... what a heap! As I worked on these things, my confidence for the following day increased.
Sunday, Race 1. I'm on the outside of the front row. I'm the only 350/500 that showed up, so I'm racing with the heavyweights again. The flag is released, and we're off. Today the 750s beat me to turn 1. Mick leads, followed by Sasha Petkovic on a Triumph 750, and John Martin on his John Player Special. I give chase, but have to brake early because I can never tell when brake fade will set in. The front brake is better than yesterday, but still not great for this track. All the 750s are under "Formula 750" rules and run disc brakes; 500s are under "Classic 500" rules, and must run drum brakes. John passed Sasha for second, which didn't sit well with Sasha. He saw red! He tried to run into turn 1 even hotter; his front brake worked so well the rear wheel lifted, putting so much stress on the Norton forks that they bent. By this time he was out of control and crashing, putting me into third position, which is how the race ended. "The" Tom Mellor's bike still wasn't running well, and more serious wrenching was going on in the British pits. Sasha had an icepack on his arm, and was fixing his crash damage.
Race 2, the main event. We all race for turn 1, and I get there last, but not far behind.... Mick's leading again, but John and Sasha have gone wide. I take the inside, run John to the outside and then squeeze him as I go to the very edge of the track. Now I'm in second! I follow Mick around turn 2, got on the gas too soon, did a big slide, but recovered and got back on the gas. What I didn't know was that John was very close behind, and my rear wheel almost took out his front wheel. He was thinking, "What the bloody hell is this guy doing?" A few corners later his throttle cable broke and John was out of the race and in a dark mood. This was an eight-lap race, and I could see Sasha getting closer. My brakes weren't helping too much, but a gap soon developed. People later told me it was great how I opened up such a big gap on Sasha, but the reality was he faded with gearbox trouble -- it simply wasn't a result of my fantastic riding.
Poor Tom Mellor finally finished the race on his Triumph 750 Triple, but not before being passed simultaneously by two Honda 160s in turn 2, one on the inside and one on the outside. However, he ended up second overall for the 750 SOTP results, mostly because everyone else aside from Mick had such bad luck. I was a 500, and didn't count for the 750 SOTP results, and being the only 500, didn't get any points for that class either. I did get 2nd in Heavyweight Vintage, though. Tom later found out that his ignition timing had slipped and was 20 degrees retarded.
How silly of us to think his muffler was all bunged up!
It was raining as Craig and I drove to the track on Saturday for practice. Craig's right elbow was back in a cast, so he wouldn't be riding. An x-ray had showed last year's injury to be re-broken, but not as badly. He was also dealing with his still- broken collarbone. He had taken apart his beaten and seized Ducati racebike after breaking his collarbone, not realizing his elbow was broken....
We arrived at the track, and the rain stopped as we signed up. Practice was only $20 and we went out three times, which is a great deal. Dean was out on the track again, and number 95 passed me going into turn 2 very fast, obviously very late on the brakes. It took me a while to figure out it was Jason. He always was aggressive in the corners, but never had the HP on the straights. Now I couldn't make up any time at all. Back in the pits, I saw that Jason's bike had undergone a transformation. Water Buffalo front brake, alloy rims, new pipes, a hotter cam and bigger, high compression pistons. I certainly had some competition for Sunday.
Seattle has no noise restrictions, so I fitted my big megaphone with no silencer, and put in a slightly bigger main jet. It seemed to pull well, reaching 7500 rpm on the front straight with a small headwind. I probably had one of the noisiest bikes on the track, and that was fine with me. I just wanted maximum HP on the straights. Mustn't forget my earplugs!
It was raining as Craig and I drove back to the track on Sunday for the race. However, it kept on raining, unlike the previous day. Dean went home as I was going out for practice. I had changed my megaphone back to the smaller ERS style, for a bit more mid-range. On the track, Jason passed me; he really is good in the rain.
Race 1. The rain had eased, but the track was still wet. I was being cautious; it's taking me a while to build up confidence in the rain. I don't know my result; probably 3rd or 4th. Jason won the 500 class, barely, due to an ignition system that was draining his battery. He was up to 4th overall, but then started going "backwards". The rain had started again halfway through the race. The 750 race was won by Bill Woods on his Honda 750. At one point he did a big slide in turn 6. Gary Ryder crashed his Suzuki 750 Water Buffalo on the first lap in turn 7. He was unhurt. Mick Hart was second and closing, but lost the front going through 7. He saved it with his knee slider and got the Triumph back up -- showing again his great riding skills. Not too many Vintage riders can pull that one off. "The" Tom Mellor finished fourth, his bike now running better with proper ignition setting.
Race 2. The rain had stopped an hour or so ago, and the sun came out just as we were heading out to pregrid. Amazingly, the whole track was dry -- just a wet spot on either side of the line going into turn 5. Gary Ryder had repaired the Big Suzuki; there's no substitute for "100 mph tape" (ie: duct tape). I never saw Jason after the start; I was up there with a couple of 750s, and I felt I might have done some good lap times. Jason's spare battery had also died, giving me the win. "The" Tom Mellor won the second 750 round, but a 4th and a 1st wasn't good enough for the overall win ... that went to Mick Hart with his two 2nd places. Back in the 80s, Mick was a factory Laverda rider, and one of the hottest riders in England. If you've got some Classic Racer mags from the 80s, take a glance through them; you'll probably see Mick!
I don't know about you, but this has got to be one of the best summers in a long time. Yes, it has rained a few times, but the long stretch of glorious sunny days has been magnificent. This weekend was no exception, with highs in the upper 80's and low 90's. This time I was travelling with my dog, Amber, and we set off on Friday to spend the night with friends Mike and Sherry Budschat in Ellensberg. Mike is a long time racer. A little roadracing (with success) and a lot of flat-tracking, with a wall full of trophies to prove it.
When I left on Saturday morning, I put Amber's bowl in the back of the van, and set off. A mile later, the back of the van had filled with smoke, as her stainless bowl had shorted out the terminals of my spare gelcell battery for the racer. That was the end of that battery, but at least it didn't start a fire. I did have four gallons of race gas a couple of feet away.
We reached Spokane Raceway at 11 am--that wonderful track next to the Casino, State Penitentiary, and cement factory. I found the other Vintage racers, settled in, and got signed up for practice. Half day practice was $40, but there were six practice groups including sidecars, so I only got out twice. Last time at Seattle, we got out three times for $20, which was a much better deal. We try not to dwell on the inconsistencies of this system. We must think about lap times and improving instead.
One of the big challenges of the track is learning just how fast you can go through Turn 1. It's at the very end of the long straight; just a little right-hand kink. However, just after the kink is a pavement transition and the braking markers for Turn 2; a 180 left sweeper. It's a test of concentration and testosterone ... how long can you hold it wide open at top speed before you shut it down, coast and brake? I found I could keep it open up to the apex of Turn 1. My best lap time was slightly over two minutes. My previous best was written down safely at home, and of course, I couldn't remember what it was.
In some ways I'm a good, serious hobby racer. I go to most races, my bike is reliable, and I'm generally well prepared. In other ways I'm far too lazy. I don't use my transponder in practice, and don't get lap times. To be truthful, the only reason I got a practice lap time was because an official came around and told us we HAD to use transponders in practice; that's how they were checking on who paid and who had not. Also, I'm not like Dean, who constantly makes notes on tire pressures, jetting, gearing, and who knows what else. Dean is faster, I am slower. I suppose taking notes reminds me of school; something I'd rather forget.
Race day. Even though this was a SOTP points race, turnout was below average. In the 500 class, there were only three of us; just enough to constitute a class. There would have been four, but Jim West's 350 Honda seized a cam, or something like that. I would be racing the Honda 450s of Conrad and Oliver. Oliver's bike is faster than before, and there were rumors of Megacycle cams and high compression pistons. True to form, Oliver denied all this.
Race 1. The red light went out and the pack accelerated to Turn 1. Oliver was behind me, and I was chasing 750s again. Gary Ryder lost it in Turn 6 on his Suzuki Water Buffalo again; two crashes in two race weekends. I said to him later, "If you want a new set of leathers you can just say so, you don't have to keep on crashing like this!" Anyway, I was basically on my own most of the time for the race. There was a huge tailwind on the front straight, so I could reach redline, 120 mph. I decided to see how low my lap times could go and got my head down. I did get a couple of mid 1:59s, which felt good. The time between races dragged on. The sidecars kicked a lot of gravel on the track and that all had to be swept off by hand. Then a sportbike broke its chain, which broke the engine case and the belly pan which was supposed to hold the oil. The oil all found its way onto the track. This all put the schedule an hour behind. Waiting, waiting, waiting ...
Race 2. I decided to follow Oliver for this race, and make a last lap pass. This is dangerous in that, if the race gets red-flagged and doesn't get re-started, I would have just handed him the overall win for the day. I decided to go for it. Oliver was braking quite early for Turn 1, so that would be my move. I think his bike was a little faster than mine, but I could draft him nicely on both straights. By lap four we'd caught up with Les Cook on his Norton, and Oliver passed him going into Turn 5, so I responded by passing Les in Turn 6. Now it was last lap, and I drafted him down the straight. At the end of the straight Les came flying by on his Norton. In Turn 1 there wasn't much time to think at 120 mph, but I passed them both going into Turn 2. Oliver was upset that Les had come between us, but that's racing!
At home I checked my lap times from the previous year, only to find I'd gone three seconds faster ... mid 1:56s. I'm now firmly in the same predicament many other riders are: is it me or the bike? I feel like I'm riding well, so why are my lap times slower? I know I have less competition, but I also know I've used the same head for four seasons, and each time the valve seats are ground the valves get a little more pocketed, and the compression goes down ever so slightly. Yes, it's probably the bike.
"The" Tom Mellor won 750 Vintage, followed by Mick Hart, who just wrapped up the Championship. Craig Echols, rebounding from his collarbone/elbow breakage, rebounded to third with a stock motor. Duncan Craick was in third, but got black-flagged for a smoking motor. His Seeley Nourish always smokes; he even told them so before the race. Having raced for 12 years and being the Vintage rep didn't help; he was out, and he was pissed! There's only one race left in the SOTP series, so a lot of racers are eyeing the results and making calculations. Michael Bateman won the 250 class on his Honda 160, as usual.
It really was the perfect weekend. We packed up, had a beer or two, and drove west into a perfect sunset.