Having not made it to all the races listed on this year’s schedule due to life’s realities kicking in at inopportune times, I was happy to make the much needed therapy session at Lil Tally on August 19, 2017. The continually rainy summer in Atlanta had the humidity levels up around 70 percent plus all summer long. Just a day before the races at Talladega Gran Prix Raceway, the high pressure system brought in much drier air to significantly reduce the humidity levels. If it hadn’t… the weekend would not have been near as therapeutic.
After a restless night’s sleeplessness, as almost all are the night before a race, I got up early and drove west gaining an hour on the trip to Alabama. I ended up arriving with plenty of time to spare. However, I did appear to end up as the last one in the crowd standing in line for registration having forgotten to pre-register in the comfort of home. Although loud with unforgiving acoustics, the upper floor of the “silo” at Lil Tally does offer a great view of the track and surrounding areas. There was also the camaraderie of the others who had not pre-registered. John Cook was filling us in on his remaining details of his up coming wedding in September. Jerry Duke was explaining his experiences in vintage racing. D.C. was adding joviality to the early morning while standing in line. All in all, we were reorienting ourselves on our alter-life of club racing with the best guys we could hope to be meeting us at the track.
Working my way to the “usual suspect’s” location where we normally pit at Tally I found Doug in his almost always reserved location. John Cook had assumed a location where I could park next to him. Together, we were playing the “roller skates & key” team work with my generator and his super heavy duty industrial strength fan that kept us cool all day long… so long as we kept refilling my newly acquired generator with gasoline. I must admit that little genny behaved with pride as I applied both 6 week old premium and 98 octane race fuel from the same era from Barber Motorsports Park. The only thing the Sportsman Inverter Generator would not tolerate was an empty fuel tank. John and I also shared my 10′ x 20′ canopy as it was going to take up all the space we had on the pavement anyway.
The Gran Prix vintage group and our entourage was a small set of racers. In attendance was our big frog in our little pond, Mr. Doug Bowie (the king of 35oGP), John Cook, myself, Jerry Duke, David Clark (A.K.A. “D. C.”), David Hurst, Charles Galt and his only competitor in Vintage 3 class, Mr. Dick Gruhn, as well as David Rutherford (the king of 5ooGP)
We did not see attendance from Jeremy Backer (my closest neck & neck competitor) and one of buddies he showed up with at his last race set, Mr. Ryan Uebelhor, and Barry Hasenkopf, the newbie that I have been providing as much assistance and advice to as a veteran vintage rider could and he has still yet to make it to a track with his ever refining 350 Honda twin. James Walker did not make the Tally run. Mr. Mike Wells was definitely missed and will hopefully be able to join us at Road Atlanta in September. The “yankee team” of Bill Johnson and Bucky Sexton were missed and will be seen by the Grand National Finals, if not before. Special note of Kurt Kesler’s absence as he is one of the true “Mr. Congeniality” racers in the mix.
In the two smoke (2 stroke) world, honorable mention goes out to attendees like Dick Gruhn, Jim Hinshaw, Mark Morrow, Mark Williams, and includes names from the regulars like Charles Galt, Dick Clark, David Hurst, Jeremy Sharer. I wish to thank all of these gentlemen for the mosquito control they exhibited with the clouds of blue that sent all the insect life running for other states within the union;)
The forgiving line up for practice has us vintage bike guys practicing last in the line up, giving us the time necessary to get those old bikes patched up and ready for the race track. As such, by the time we made it out for our first practice session, the track was hot and dry. On this particular race day, our race line up was similar as we (in the 350GP/500GP classes and the Vintage 1/Vintage 2 classes) racing in the 8th and 11th (final) race of the day. For me, this was a blessing. I had not yet re-geared for the Tally shorter track, even though I practiced with the taller gearing for Road Atlanta & Barber Motorsports Park.
Practice went smooth and uneventfully. This left us with plenty of time to clean bikes, change gearing, all but overhaul engines while waiting to race. We got to see plenty of action in the other race classes and it was encouraging to see so many “orange t-shirts” indicative of new novice racers joining the fold. Welcome aboard all.
500GP Tally August 19th, 2017
As race 8, Vintage 2 & 500GP classes, time grew near, we began to suit up and experience the sweat that was caused simply from wearing leather suits, gloves, boots, and full face helmets, once doned. Standing still in this outfit was relieved by sitting in front of John’s monster fan, except for the times when the natural wind blocked the effects of the fan. Eventually, we relocated the fan to work with the wind, rather than against it. Hearing 2nd call for the V2 & 500GP race, we snapped up, mounted the bikes, kicked them to life and headed to pit out. However… we waited for a long time while the automobile traffic crossed the track to exit while traffic from outside came in. Scott Hayes also had at least one crashed/broken down race bike to pick up and I was grateful for the trailer awning that offered the only shade I could find to pull under.
The whistle blew and rounded us up for the warmup lap and we took off. Leaving the visor lifted I felt the drenching sweat begin to cool my face, upper lip, and eyelids, which had collected the salty stinging coolant my body had created. Pulling into my grid position as one of the first in the pack, I started and verified the camera was running.
The start of the race included Jerry Duke popping a wheelie at the start in my peripheral vision as we headed for turn 1. David Rutherford followed in Jerry’s wake as the two of them cut through the Vintage 2 class of riders that started in front of us. Uprighting from the first turn, I saw a nice set of targets to chase and they were pulling away from me. By turn 3, I was on Jeremy Sharer’s tail looking at David and eyeing Jerry who had just made an impressive pass of John Cook. This was impressive as John was in the V2 class of faster bikes. With a few bikes in my class behind me, it was the two ahead of me that had my attention.
By turn 5, I was drafting in David’s wake and trying to look around him to see where Jerry was advancing in the pack. John still had not regained his position in front of Jerry. My loss of the “big picture” led me to be surprised when Jeremy squeezed between me and what little room I left at the edge of the track. For the first lap, Jeremy had positioned himself strategically between me and where I wanted to be. Turn 1 of lap 2 had me staying on the throttle as Jeremy backed off. By the time I reached turn 3, David was closing on Jerry and the 500GP leaders were all grouped together. The tight right hander had me trailing David then all of a sudden, there was Jeremy again. Just a quick show of a wheel to keep me on my toes and minding my P’s and Q’s.
While straightening up for the back straight, I closed any space that Jeremy might find inviting as I closed on David and Jerry. Pushing hard in turn 1, I got closer. Braking late in turn 3 had me back on David’s tail. The right hand sweeper had me side by side with David and left Jerry in my target sights. Uprighting from the only real right hand turn at Tally I was on Jerry’s 6 and receiving some draft effect.
Jerry left me some space on the inside and my later braking had me passing him through the left hand sweeper before the back straight. I had made it to the front of the 500GP pack, took away all space between me and the outside of the track, tucked in and down behind the GoPro camera as if it was a fairing and I headed toward the last turn set. Both Jerry and David humbled me before I reached the end of the long straight as I followed them through the last turn.
Jerry gave up his lead taking the turn too sharp left him scrubbing off some speed. While I headed toward David, Jerry took me again on the inside of turn 1 and again that left him scrubbing off speed through the turn. Late braking into 3 left Jerry behind me and David became a little closer. David took the right hander a little wide leaving me the ability to creep underneath him and trailing him as we both uprighted. I was able to draft David enough to ride along side him for a short stint.
By this time, David was not being bothered by anyone and began to slide into his groove. I trailed as closely as I could, but noticed the unencumbered 500cc BSA was now in charge and the best I could do was keep up within a few hundred feet. By the 4th or 5th lap, David was looking back to see what was behind him. This is very evident in the video. His favorite place to look back was right after the right hander. I too looked back and noticed that I had at least one turn span between me and the traffic behind me. That was it. Seeing David’s pull away power I knew I’d not be able to sustain overtaking him and I had another race to think about.
I paced myself, maintained my lead on the rest of the racers and kept my head down. The only other traffic I encountered was David Hurst whom I lapped on the outside of the right hander, just before the race ended.
Back at the pits it was time for some water, some more water, and a splash of water on the t-shirt to keep hydrated. Free from my heat insulators (leathers) and having drank to feel safe, I walked over to David’s pit and asked him if he thought he had to work for that trophy. We had a quick chat about the Continental vintage radials I was running and then it was time for me to suit up again. Time to chase Doug in the 350GP class next.
350GP Tally August 19th, 2017
Again, Jerry had a great start and jumped out in front of me. No sign of Doug yet as we all leaned into turn 1. As we uprighted, Jerry was right in front of me and the two of us were chasing John. Again, Jeremy was bursting onto the scene and surged ahead of me going into turn 3. This is when things got a little hairy. John had a good inside line and proceeded to pass Mark Williams. They “tagged” each other as John miss shifted into a false neutral and Mark turned into John while making the turn unnecessarily tight. It was only a slight bump and nobody got hurt or went down. However, Marks reaction was less than focused as he seemed to forget that he was in the middle of a race. This left him almost stalled right in front of me and I have the footage to show it.
John recovered quickly and Jerry took advantage of the situation with me blocked behind Mark and passed me. The three of us continued down the track until Jerry decided to play dirt bike rider and go off the track in the last turn set. The opportunist in me decided to tuck down, speed up, and wait for Doug. It took him a few laps but he took me on the inside and the production just became the “Doug Bowie Show”.
It’s always a great learning experience to chase Doug especially on tight tracks like Tally. Each turn became a little lesson in motorcycle racing. I trailed Doug for a few laps until I noticed that Doug was gaining on Dick Gruhn who is one of the fastest riders in vintage racing. Dick was obviously having issue with this pack barrelling down on him. Seems he had technical difficulties that caused him to drift back into the GP pack. I took advantage of Dick’s draft to gain on Doug wherever possible.
This pretty much covered the remainder of the race. The tail end of the race had John, Doug, Dick, at about a hundred yards ahead of me until the very end of the race where David Hurst became part of the pack as he was lapped, one at a time, by the group of riders in front of the camera.
A very honorable mention goes out to Mr. Mark Morrow who first proved that he could lap me (something that is very rare) in the last turn set only to wave me by to join the pack I was chasing. This meant he did not lap me by the time the two of us crossed the start finish line for my 9th lap which would have ended my racing a lap early. What a true gentleman and skillful racer.
It’s been said, and proven true, many times over and over, that you meet the nicest people on a Honda. This was the slogan that Honda had when the 350 twins were on the showroom floor. It holds true even today for all Japanese vintage motorcycle owners. If you’d ever like to experience this phenomenon with the volume turned up, spend a weekend at the Barber Vintage Festival in October. You’ll find it to be great therapy like no other.
Check out the WERA GP350 race on YouTube