After going non-stop, till 4:00 AM Friday morning before going to work, just to put a motor back into the CL350 frame, the Roebling Road race seemed to be a less than stellar idea. Work went quickly and was very interesting. I had the pleasure of shooting (video recording) President Jimmy Carter at the Carter Center. This was my second interview shoot with him. Must admit, he’s 86 years old and sharp as a tack.
I always find these situations interesting as he was my first Commander In Chief while aboard the U.S.S. Casimir Pulaski SSBN 633. Definitely something I would not have believed possible if told of my future while still in the submarine service.
The shoot went well and my boss knew I was up late and would be pulling into the Savannah area around midnight. He sent me on my way after starting the tape duplication process.
Keith called and got an ETA for departure. I had some things to do before loading the bike, and some to do at the track. Our departure got us in around eleven at night and I was out before midnight. There was an interesting approach that Keith took at the intersection of I-16 and I-95. Seems he thought we should pass the 9 north exit, u turn after it, pass the 95 north exit again (due to construction, it was closed), u turn at the next exit and then get the first exit right the next time. Feel free to get his rendition of this story…
Saturday morning we had the Econolodge breakfast bar and hit the road. Jamie and Doug camped at the track and wondered where there coffee was. Keith and I both agreed that the $25 each to share a room with air conditioning, satellite TV, private bathroom, separate beds, and breakfast was worth it. Keith did find out about the AARP discount. He didn’t even have to show a card (as he is not a member).
Tech inspection was fairly forgiving as I forgot to resecure the maroon bucket (front fairing).
During my final inspection, I noticed that the splines on the shift shaft were worn. So, I really torque the poop out of the bolt clamp. The front tire change was planned to occur at the track, and a general lock wire process was recommended by Keith. He gave a diligent inspection for me and recommended I also lock wire my exhaust nuts as I did not have doubled nuts (lock nuts).
As all the things did keep me from the first practice session, I was not concerned about familiarizing myself with the track. Practice session would be required to shake down the rapidly assembled bike. I ran this track in 1996 on the Norton and started in the 38th place but finished 16th. Not bad for my second race.
During the only practice session I was able to take advantage of, I did notice that my muscles were not in shape for the riding position. The CL350 setup is a lot less comfortable than the Sl350, which is more of a vintage motard (dirt bike with road race tires) than the almost upright riding position. I did not feel comfortable, nor did I feel in control.
A couple more minor adjustments and I was as ready as I would be…
The GP350 grid included Doug Bowie (the usual winner by a long shot), Jamie Brenton, Keith Bennett, David Hurst, Greg Adams (Chris’ brother), Mark "250 Yamaha", and myself. The GP500 took away Greg Adams (who does not "bump-up") and Doug who usually does not bump up unless there is a good chance to race for free.
We had the first and third races because the second and third races were combined into one, single wave race.
When it came time for third and final call for the GP500, I started all the cameras (Keith’s, Jamie’s and my own bikes had cameras mounted for the GP500) and headed to the track. Hot was the forecast for the day Hot is what it was before we got to the track. Really hot is what we experienced after 9 AM. And extremely hot was the environ me raced in.
Chuck was back, thank God. I would not be receiving two checkered flags this time…
The green flag ripped through the air and we were off. I had a decent start, but watched as a few bikes past me before turn one. Jamie continually showed me what my bike could do if I was down to 155 lbs. 40 pounds heavier meant I got to see him take a nice approach to the fast sweeper. Then, without any hesitation, Keith past both of us by showing some testicular fortitude and did his new "brake late" technique. He had the lead for the GP500. Jamie appeared apprehensive to trail Keith with an aggressive pace, so I followed Keith out of turn two.
Roebling Turn three is an interesting effect on the human being’s sense of gravity and true local vertical reference. When you come out of turn 2, you immediately flip from a right lean to a left lean while accelerating. The turn changes, not because the track direction changes, but because you are going increasingly faster from the beginning of the turn to the end of the long sweeper. As such, you are fighting the centrifugal force trying to upright you while you lean to maintain the race line.
Turn four requires some slowing before leaning into a decreasing radius right hand turn that you have to "burst out of" as soon as you feel comfortable (or perhaps even before comfort kicks in). I don’t remember exactly where I took the lead from Keith, but it was still in the first lap. I didn’t pull away from Keith, but we pulled away from Jamie.
Not a very secure lead ahead of Keith, but I did feel confident about being in front. Before the cross flags which indicate the halfway mark of the race, I started to feel some vibrations that didn’t reassure me. Then, the exhaust noise sounded totally unmuffled. I lost my right header pipe. Seems that I not only didn’t properly tighten my exhaust flange, I did not take Keith’s recommendation to lock wire the nuts…
My race was over. Keith took his first first place for the year.
Between races, I had to scramble for parts to replace those which were not retrievable. Keith had nuts to replace my lost ones. Lock was employed this time. An exhaust pipe size adapter replaced the half moon flange clamps and I thought I was ready for the next race… Just as I was about to wash up, SteveO Staser came up with the portion of the starter that acted as my starter plug. Humbly, I thanked him and lock wired that part on as well.
GP350 had a truly honorable grid with the new additions. As we grouped into the grid, John Rickard was experiencing technical difficulties. We were sweating salt into our eyes and revving our engines. Finally, even with the help from a grid marshal, John had to pull over to work on his bike so we could get started.
Chuck stared us down, Charlotte flipped the number board, Chuck ripped the green flag into the sky and we were off. I had a better start this time. Keith did not. I was side by side with Jamie into turn one and there was Doug Reese. Doug was taking the inner track and I had been caught behind Doug in the curves in the past. Not where I wanted to be.
So, I used Doug’s presence and a little bit of guts and pushed out of turn two early and a head of Doug. This did give me the road block that I wanted between me and my 350 Honda racing buddies. Doug Bowie had yet to pass us, but it was inevitable. He had been spending some time recording us with his camera before taking off and leaving us in the dust.
Now I had my chance. I did get about a 50 yard gap between Keith and Jamie. Both of whom were fighting to be the one behind me. At the first pass through the really long strait run at Roebling, I looked back and saw a comfortable lead. While turning back to see where I was going, I hunkered down, gave one last shift and the shifter splines gave way. I was stuck in fourth gear at Roebling Road Raceway, a very high speed track with very little slowing/shifting involved. There was no better track to have this happen. I was geared such that I only used fifth gear in the long strait. There I planned to hold it wide open in fourth instead.
This worked for more than a lap. I was maintaining my lead without shifting and going as fast as I could through the turns. Third time around, wide open (without a working tachometer) and only imagining my engine speed, I was pushing this well behaving motor for all it was worth. Heading toward turn one, one of my two cylinders gave up. I was operating on half power. I actually went off the track trying to figure out if it was something I could fix without stopping.
I was also praying that I had not pushed this motor too hard. Back on the track, just in time to make it safely through turn one, I uprighted and checked the right side of the motor. Gasoline was pouring out the petcock. One of the two brass tubes, pressed into the aluminum cast petcock body, had backed out of its port and taken the fuel line with it.
I only gave one try while riding, knowing I was losing my gap behind me, but it was no use. It was the inner port that the brass tube fell from. I had to stop. I had no shifting capability. My second race of the day was also over.
Keith and Jamie would battle it out for second place. I got to see some of the race. Keith stayed in front until the last lap when Jamie overtook him and stayed in front of Keith. Jamie is back. His skirt is off. He’s a racer again. His crash is now behind him, and so was Keith. Greg Adams is new this year, so he was not a part of the mix. On the other hand, his brother Chris was pushing us early in his debut year and now we have to try and catch him…