Barber Motorsports Park
The most beautiful racing campus in my world
This was the third racing weekend in a row for me. Ribs still sore and bike neglected due to the arduous demands of work, Scouts, family and household projects. Add the pollen in the air, lawn to mow, and then bike maintenance. Also, this was the first race with Keith since Jennings a month and a half ago. That also meant we had to accomplish our traditional “sardine squeeze” of three bikes and race gear into his large and roomy ¾ ton truck.
Loaded and on the highway by 7:30 Atlanta time, we headed for the central time zone. Our goal was to get a room and to our favorite restaurant in Oxford in time for a comfortable Mexican meal and maybe a Margarita. Traffic was great. Keith maintained his pace. Before we knew it, we were registered and drooling on the way to La Frontera. It’s always worth the trip.
Staying in Oxford when racing in Birmingham requires a half hour earlier start the next morning. So as the sun was rising above the dark clouds, we could see that the weatherman was on the money with his forecast. We were in for rain showers.
Our positive thoughts included the fact that Barber has paved pit areas, unlike CMP in Kershaw, SC. We considered the downhill ride to the pits, if push starting became difficult. And of course there is always my favorite rationalization for rain on a race trace, cleanliness After a good hard rain, race tracks are as clean as can be.
Optimistically determined, we proceeded to the front gate and signed in. Driving to the area Charlie described, we found Brad “Little Red School Bus” and parked. Unloading led to registering. Canopy assembly led to bikes in out of the rain. Eventually we were at home in out pit.
Interest was immediately shifted to Dean Middleton’s FT500, sport looking and comfortable. Story has it that Dean watched this bike sit outside for an extended period of time before he did the minimum required to make it track worthy. Now here it was about to get its track debut.
Charlie spent the night in his tent in the pit area. Seems the guys had a “tent Flipping” storm to deal with the night before. Russell was asleep in his tent when the winds gave him a flip over. Canopies that were not tied down, were relocated or destroyed. Yes folks, it was going to be one really clean track to race on.
Early announcements let us know that practice was going to be delayed. It was still raining and the second major wave had not come through yet. There were no complaints about the delay. We were all routing for the guy driving the track cleaning tractor. Wave of water were being scooped up off the track with each pass. Later I found out he was running since 6:30 AM non-stop to remove the standing water.
The only practice session was covered with falling rain. Slippery spots were available all over the track. Running stream across the path of travel were accompanied with standing puddles in strategic spots. Sections of the track that were recently sealed were hazardous areas. Without any injuries or damage to his bike, Dean managed to get in a quick slip and slide ride near the museum. He said it was kind of fun and friction free. As the second wave of storm clouds emptied out on us, we were treated with a sudden reprieve from the rain. We were going to have a clean dry track to race on.
With a fully charged battery and a decent last run at Nashville, I had some cause to believe the bike was ready for action. As such, I joined the rest of the gang for a spectator’s view of Dean’s V4 race on the FT500. As fate would have it, we stood next to a couple of guys that were rooting for their buddy, Roy Chapman on his Triumph 750 twin in the same race. Then as chance would have it, Dean and Roy were the most exciting part of the race.
Dean had a lead on Roy that would tighten as they approached the horse shoe turn in front of us. Then Dean would pull away through the turn and eventually Roy would close as he would straiten up. This went on consistently until Dean experienced technical difficulties. We watched as he pulled the bike over to the rail on the furthest side of the track. It took a while, but we found out later that there were no grenade issues, just more troubleshooting required.
Next up was Keith’s V5 race on the reliable EX500 (punched out with the 540cc kit). Before the race, we spent some time under the canopy adjusting his clip-ons and triple tree to afford him more clearance under his lower cowling. Just another half inch is all he got.
Since my first race wasn’t till race number 6, I had more time to watch Keith and his V5 skills.
It’s really nice to take advantage of all the amenities at Barber’s track. He really did it in style. Keith enjoys the way the track refused to scrape his lowers, no matter how much he leaned into the turns. Keith has impressed me with his gradually and consistently progressive improvement over the years of racing. The chart below shows his ever decreasing lap times that he ran during this race at Barber. It is also indicative of his ever improving racing skills.
Keith came back from that race reporting that he was not dragging his lowers anymore and was happy with the way it handled. More time in the saddle to come.
Shortly after he was settled in, it was time to suit up for our “bump up” class, the GP500. Little did we know that we were going to have such a close race with so many. The start went as usual with an extra number of riders in the classes. The grid was comfortably full of WERA and AHRMA vintage riders.
As the first lap progressed, riders got into their respective comparable race groups. The track was as clean as it ever would be. Then decided to keep what edge I could from the beginning of the race by maxing out my turn speeds early, rather than making up time later.
As such, I went too hot and too wide through the second set of left-rights before pit in. I went wide, up righted as quickly as possible, hit both brakes and released them just before going off the track. Remember, we received 2 to 3 inches of rain in the past 6 hours.
I had dropped my speed down to probably 45 MPH, headed toward the distant guard rail, and down shifted each time the bike recovered from the previous down shifting. Once I knew I avoided dumping the bike, I turned it toward the track and hit the gas.
This maneuver took be from the front of the pack of four to a distant point behind them in need of catching up. How embarrassing. It wasn’t until one lap later that I had gained enough speed to have enough gap between us in order to “sling shot” out of the last turn with enough acceleration in time to pass Keith by the setup for turn 1. With a recovery like that, I figured I could leave the “pack of three” behind me to fight it out.
As my bike was not properly jetted for Barber, nor did I think to change my front sprocket down a tooth, I was still in Keith’s league. (I know it sounds like sour grapes, but really folks, when it works, I can make it fly) Also, I did have the best lap time of the four of us. My motor problems were inconsistent which really made reading the bike difficult. All that said, I was comparable to all the other members of the pack of four.
Keith Bennett, Chuck Sharsaune, Mike Wells, and yours truly made up what must have been a spectator thrill. We changed position many times, we passed in turns, showed many a wheel to each other. It was racing with a closely matched set of machines and riders.
There was no real difference in “pull away power”. We were so closely matched that for anyone to have an advantage on the front strait, meant that they set up better out of the previous turn. We traded places, weaving to get into position, late braking to gain position. We were doing all that and then some. It was a great way to have some good fun amongst friends. By the end of that race, I was shaking my head each time I started to lose power. I tried to give some indication that the bike was not behaving when someone was behind me. I did not want any over-drafting when I was slowing due to difficulties.
During this race, I had no spare CPU time. I had no spare moments for troubleshooting my still disabled motor. I was trying to figure out how to get in front and stay in front of this pack. By the end, my bike was behaving like it had at Nashville. It wanted to be fed gradually, rather than a wide open throttle. I expected to see the green sparkly weld on my plug after racing, so I rode accordingly.
As the “Pack” approached the finish line, my partner Keith raced across the line followed closely by Chuck only 1/10 of a second behind Keith. Mike Wells was almost one second behind Keith and I sputtered in more than five seconds behind Keith. That made me “Back of the Pack, Jack”.
Waving to the Corner Workers was difficult again as keeping the motor going was a bear. Back to the pits for a quick park and walk to the bathrooms. Although they are quite nice, they are a bit of a walk from the end of row pit areas. Nothing like a nearby port-a-John.
The bike had cooled some during my hike. But with gloves on, I proceeded to remove the plugs for inspection. No sign of green sparkles. As a matter of fact, my traditionally richer side was indicating lean burning. The richened 120 jet side seemed adequately jetted. With only one solo race between my first and second race, I had to decide and make my move quick. I had a 125 (to be safe) jet installed in the lean carburetor and reassembled in time for first call. There was no time to swap the sprockets out.
So, I was running with a 125 (left) and a 120 (right) and have the richest jetting of any CB350 stocker racer that I know of. We headed to the track and warmed our tires. When allowed in, we took the track and proceeded to our grids.
Keith was Raped, (GP350 take one)
During my approach to grids, I noticed that we had a lot of racers on the track. The AHRMA racers filled out our grids quite nicely. I hope they join us more often.
With a nicely packed grid and revving engines running, Chuck started his famous “stare down”. We were focused and waiting for the green flag … and we were racing. A natural separating occurs as different bikes have different acceleration rates. A few bikes passed me as I was passing a couple of bikes myself. Then it was time to commit to turn one. Throughout turns one and two, nobody changed position. But as we dipped into Barbers “gravity cavity” some racers made their next move. It’s a great chance to take advantage of a gravity boost before a gravity loss kicks in. Cresting the peak, in front of the grand stands, we began to take our aim at the horse shoe turn with spectators in view.
Our pack had begun to form again. The same racers, minus Chuck, were bunching and vying for position. Mike had a good running Superhawk and it was behaving well. Keith was proudly pushing his recently rebuilt motor to its limits. And, my bike was running, but not performing. Seems the 120/125 jet combination was not quite right.
As we entered the second lap, we were all still tightly together. We were trading places at different points on the track. Each of us was optimizing the best our machines and skills had to offer. We proceeded through the second lap as if it was to be a “race to the finish”.
As turn one approached, I had taken Mike and was between him and Keith. I did not have a very prominent lead into turn one, so I knew he was close behind. Rounding turn two, Mike shot past me in a bold move to take the maximum advantage of the gravity cavity. As Mike was climbing out to the cavity, I was entering it. As I began to climb, Keith and Mike were my main focus.
Mike had developed enough momentum to pass Keith. When he pass me, he passed on the outside (on my left). But to pass Keith, he crossed in front of me and to the inside of Keith (Keith’s right). Keith had no idea Mike was approaching, but that did not matter as he had left enough space for two bike to pass on his right.
Then as the two of them were cresting the hill, Mike stayed on the throttle hard which threw him outside of the turn, due to the centrifugal force the turning motorcycle created. This is where trouble began. The other issue was timing. Mike was about to pass Keith, but had not completed his pass yet. This left Mike on a collision course with the unsuspecting Mr. Bennett.
As I was about two bike lengths behind the two of them, my mission became one of avoidance. First, I had to determine who was going down and get behind the one, if any, that would stay upright. Mike got closer and closer and then… handle bar to handle bar (from my viewpoint) was all I saw.
Keith’s steering was jarred hard to the left. Then it came back violently to the right. By this time, Keith was not in control of his bike, nor had he any idea of why. At about 55 MPH, I passed Keith, while staying behind Mike, who seemed to be unscathed. I followed for a second to verify that Mike was continuing to race and then I looked back.
Keith’s body was horizontal, with his center mass about four and a half feet above the ground, in a high speed log roll with extended arms. All I could imagine was two broken arms…
Needless to say, I was steamed. Keith had done nothing wrong. He played it by the book and Ed Bargy would be proud of his line. If only…
As we continued to race, we received the red flag and returned to the pits. I stopped to let Russell Baggett know that Keith was the red flag and gave him a quick rundown. Then I did the same for the Atlanta boys in our pit area.
By the time we had been called back to restart the race, there was no sign of Keith. Worries and wondering were all we had at the time. We suited back up and headed to pit out. As we approached the main intersection, the ambulance went by followed by the chase truck. Keith’s bike was a semi-mangled mess in the back of the truck. I figured Keith was going to have them drop off the bike and get any necessities before proceeding to the hospital. But for now, I had a race to concentrate on.
Keith was Robbed
Fate plays many roles in racing. Keith’s crash meant the there would be a restart. For Keith, it meant that he received a DNS (Did Not Start) instead of a DNF (Did Not Finish) For Wayne Moore, it meant that the “Jumping the Gun” in the first take of the GP350 start would be erased as if it never happened.
Wayne had forgotten that the GP500 was a two wave race. When the first wave of racers were given the green flag, we were to hold still and wait for a second green flag. Wayne had jumped the gun the first time around which meant that he had to go into pit row and get a ”butt chewing” and would then be allowed to join the race. This restart meant that he got a fresh start with the rest of us.
Keith’s fate also helped out Dean Middleton. Dean’s first attempt at the GP350 race left him out of the running. He was ordered off the track because he had loose muffler. When the race got red flagged he and Chad robbed a nut and bolt from the Ascot and mounted the muffler back on the Honda. Dean was in the grids and headed for glory.
Doug Bowie was not so fortunate. He had done his usual great performance during the first run. But he was not destined to finish the race during the second shot at the GP350. Mechanical difficulties sidelined him in the second lap.
GP350, take two
Without my race partner on the grid with me, I sat on the grid and looked over at Mike. I knew he was feeling bad. He’s a good guy. We always hunt him down when he’s at the race track and say hello. He is a great positive influence amongst vintage racers. I had to imagine how I would feel in his shoes. That made it easy to concentrate on only one thing. Beating him.
I had to win for my team mate, right. Keith deserved at least that much. At least that’s what I told myself. I concentrated on Chuck and his starting flags and waited for his signal. Green means GO!
We raced around the track and I was in a new bunch. Mike was nearby, but so were the two Yamaha 175 two stroke bikes. Eventually Jack Parker put some distance between himself and Carl Anderson. Shortly after that, Carl pulled away from us.
I was keeping up with Mike Wells when my phenomenon kicked in again. It was all I could do to keep the RPMs up. My bike was fading with varying results and I was again trying to find out what was giving me problems half way through the race. Since my lap times were increasing noticeably, I had freed up my thought processes for troubleshooting. I thought about temperature sensitivity (since it’s something that shows up after the bike gets warmer). I thought maybe it’s a another heat sensitive coil. But I had already replaced a coil under that premise to no avail.
The raced continued without me for some time. I looked back to see who was going to pass me in my crippled stated. It looked my decent first half of the race might just carry me through to the finish. So I tried more troubleshooting ideas. I decided to think back to when the “plague” had begun. Going back to the first race of the year, Talladega.
Then I also remembered that the tank was a new addition. I had taken it off as soon as I bought the bike. As I put it up on the shelf, I told myself this is too pretty to race with. But, since I picked up a sponsor, I figured it was time to have a bike that looked nicer.
Then I thought of a tank that did not vent. If the tank could not vent properly, then it could give me these exact symptoms. That would explain why, at the end of a race, I have lean burning spark plugs. If the gas is having a hard time maintaining the flow to the carbs, then the carbs could not get the flow to the cylinders. It would also explain why the bike runs poorly with 120/125 jets early in the race and then changes later in the race. This could also explain why the bike was for sale when I bought it…
I wanted to test the theory immediately. As the next strait came up, I looked down at my tank cap to twist it open, only to remember that it is now a “key required” tank lid. I had no way to open the lid until I got back to my pit area. I was not going to be able to test the theory on this track, this weekend. It was time to finish the race. Maintaining all the speed I could, I kept going as fast as the turns would allow.
The white flag meant I had one more lap to go. I looked behind me to see nobody. Then I realized that could change. The white flag is also an indicator that you may be lapped soon. If that was going to happen, it is most likely that it will happen in your last lap. So, Keeping the turn speed up and the motor running, I proceeded to make my slowest lap of the day. It was ten seconds slower than my best lap all day.
Mike had crossed the finish line 16 seconds before me. I had failed to avenge my race partner. I will save that for another day.
I returned to the pits and expected to hear about Keith’s instructions left behind before heading to the hospital. Instead, I found Keith with his GNF injured, surgically repaired, Jennings re-injured and now Barber re-re-injured pinky toe on ice, literally. He had reached into the cooler and found a clump of ice, placed it on the pavement, and placed his foot on top. Needless to say, he was on his second beer already. Anesthesia was being administered.
After I was out of my leathers and opening a beer, Mike came over and was very apologetic. He offered any CB350 parts he might have to repair the bike. He repeated his apology over and over again. He is the good guy that we all know. He just made a mistake. Keith took it all in stride. “That’s racing” is a quote from Keith. To properly visualize it, you need to imagine Keith holding a beer in the air. I look back and realize that I forgot to offer Mike a beer. Sorry, Mike.
Having gone through that same point where Keith was “tagged”, I figured it could have been easily prevented. If Mike had only taken his throttle to zero and back on it hard. That would have momentarily up righted him and taken him out of the centrifugal thrust into Keith. I believe he still would have passed Keith even having done so.
After the fact, Dean told me of his perfect start and witnessing Mike Matthews knocking Buff off the track on the outside of turn one. Dean led for a lap until Buff came back and muscled his way past Dean on the back strait. From that point on, Dean never lost sight of Buff. As a matter of fact, Dean’s best lap was only .353 seconds slower that Buff’s fastest lap. I think we have a challenge to watch this season in the V1 class.
At the award ceremony, I was able to hand Keith a real smile generating piece of news. It seems that Keith did not have time to check the finish results. You should have seen the doubt on his face when I told him he took third place in the GP500 and was $100 richer. That’s right. This event was sponsored by Fast From the Past and had prize money. $300 for vintage first places, $200 for second and $100 for third place.
There is another note to make at this point. Before Keith was “tagged” and left for dead, he was in third place. Mike’s best time during the GP350 race was 2:11.826 while Keith’s best time from his first race was 2:11.239. It’s based on this that I used the phrase that “Keith was raped and robbed”.
He would not have received any more money as Max Perethian, Jack Parker, and Carl Anderson took first, second and third places. But he was robbed of points in standing for the GP350 class. He was robbed of a fully functional race bike that now needs some TLC and time in the workshop. He was robbed of his lead in the Southeast GP350 that I now have. And, he was robbed of his last chance to rub it in, that he finished in front of me. My problems are resolved and now he will have to follow me.
I want to thank a lot of people that have helped and encouraged me in my racing ventures.
First and foremost, I’d like to thank my wife, Corinne. Although she makes it sound like she has no input on the concept, she makes no waves for my racing exploits. She is very level headed about the calls when I tell her that “Yes I crashed, but I finished the race”. She gives up her side of the garage because my side is full of bikes and parts and tools. When I have to work on the race bike or the resale bikes, her van sits in the rain, or sun, or cold, when it could be in the protection of the garage. She makes my absences on Friday nights or Saturdays go by without a hiccup. She keeps things running when I’m not there. Thank you, Honey. I do so appreciate it.
Then there are my teammates. It’s important to note that Team Old & Oily is an inclusive “disorganization”. We have members that might show up to cheer for us once a year. Or, others who show up and race with us each and every weekend. Some that just read this report and others that send us parts we need. I want to list a few of the members that may or may not know they are included:
Charlie Young, Doug Bowie, Dean Middleton, Charly, Max, and Jesse Perethian, Brad Padgett, Rhett Mappin, Chad, Chris Adams (future racer), Russell Bagget, John Regan and Mike Ewer and of course, my original co-founder and author of our team name, Mr. Keith Bennett.
WERA, one and all!
And, God Bless the Corner Workers, especially David Brock, our Norton club president.
Let’s not forget my sponsor, Sirius Consolidated Inc the Keyster carb kit capital of the world.
Look for their special deals on eparts.us
Stay tuned for the next exciting episode.