The first race weekend of 2012 has come and gone. This year had a few variations on what has traditionally been referred to as the “Ice Bowl” of racing. Usually held on the second weekend of February, this year’s event was held on the third. But, with this year’s warmer milder winter, it would have made no difference in temperature. 60 degrees made it too warm to run with a sweat shirt under the leathers, even for the first practice.
The winter, and all my delusions of grandeur, did not deliver the newly rebuilt race motor that was supposed to go into the racing-reinforced frame that was supposed to be enclosed in the vintage racing fairing, covered by fiberglass tank and seat with my original electronic ignition, etc… However, my race partner’s motor that held him back from the tail end of last race season has been assembled and ready for installation the week before Tally. Keith’s issue was a vintage guy thing. As a now 53 year old fart (Happy Birthday, Buddy) Keith took a short fall walking up the stairs. At the time, he had no pain or issues of any kind. A couple days later, he could not bend his knee.
In case he was going to heal in time, I spent Thursday evening helping Keith install his motor into his frame and completing the bike. Once fully assembled, I gave it a couple shots of starting fluid and pushed it up his driveway and coasted down his street. That bike fired right up and ran like a newly rebuilt motor was just installed. It sounded great. Nothing but the exhaust sounds were heard. But, when we turned on the flashlight (it was 10+ PM) we saw a stream of oil run down points cover and spill to the floor. Knowing this, Keith wanted to test his knee, so I hopped off and he tried to swing his leg over. This proved fruitless as he could not bend his knee. The wrench session was over and Keith knew he would not join me for Tally’s traditional Ice Bowl. We parked the bike in a manner that would allow Keith to work on the offending area of his motor and began bench racing.
My race day was preceded by a few sleepless nights in a row. Even the night before the race, all I got was about 5 hours of semi conscious random thought streams. At 5:15 the alarm went off and by 5:30 I was on the road. Arrival at 6:45 at the track was a first in years. The rainy forecast kept many away in spite of the warmer temperatures. As a preregistered racer, my time to pickup the paperwork was less than two minutes. Setting up the pit area took ten minutes at the most. I was without any rush and had time to contemplate the 2012 race season possibilities.
Between Keith’s poorly timed old guy issue, the Kentucky wrecking crew deciding to wait out the horrible forecast, David Hurst not showing (he simply won’t race in the rain), Jamie Brenton’s valve welded to piston motor still not rebuilt), Wendy Gee and Mike Hutchison not showing up, and the rest of the racers that have faded from the scene with the fall of the economy, there were four racer from our pack. King pin Doug Bowie brought his two GP350 freshly rebuilt bikes, his race partner James Walker had his trusty Dunlop tired silver streaker, John Cook was breaking in his freshly rebuilt (the night before) CL350 and I brought my Maroon Monsoon that was just as it was at the GNF.
No flurries was the talk amongst the racers that remembered last year’s practice sessions. The track was dry and the bikes were receiving their usual shakedown. Maroon Monsoon had an issue that Doug pointed out. From a distance, he could see a small puddle of oil that was sitting under the bike. I took a Phillips head screwdriver and applied some torque to the left engine cover and almost all of the screws turned. I took the impact screw driver and rubber mallet to each and they snugged up nicely. After the second practice session I still had a leak in the belly pan that didn’t make it outside to the ground. I found my oil level was noticeably high so I dropped the belly pan and drained almost a quart of oil to get to proper level. Don’t know how that happened, but fixed it and the oil leaks ceased.
GP350 was the second race, following the minis race. I had a very warm in the heart feeling when I watched the long-time corner worker lady out there on a mini. That was the first time I saw her out there. I watched her perform a very smooth pass. Then on the next pass, she went off the track while maintaining control and returning to the track without incident. She looked like she was having some fun with the kids.
The rain began to fall during the Minis race, so I suited up into my 1984 Thunderwear rain suit overall bottoms. Remembering racing in Hurricane Berry, I didn’t want my leathers to get weighed down for the race where I actually had a chance to win. “Third and final call for race number 2, Formula 500, V1, and GP350” is what the announcer stated as we were riding up and down the pit out row. We experienced a crashless warm up lap as we headed to our grid positions. I was sandwiched between John Cook on my left and Doug Bowie on my right. The start was a bit slower than most and John ”jumped the gun” a bit, but his hasty recovery kept him from being black flagged. When the flag when flying through the air, I had a small wheelie that propelled me toward the forward classes of racers. Doug to his usual slow start as his bike is not geared for starts. It’s geared for high speed shifting.
Doug let me lead for almost two laps and then fly past me. I upped my game by sticking as closely to him as long as I could. I felt he was being a good team mate and goading me to run above my capabilities. The rain was at the stage where it was lifting all the oil to the surface and each of us was experiencing little bursts of slippage at the rear wheel. I gave a good effort to stay with Doug and then he just poured on the power. I looked back and there was no sign of John. The race was over around the half way mark. Nobody would change position between then and the finish line.
We had a nice comfortable break between our first race (#2) and our last race (#10). All of us, that is, except for John who spent his break partly tearing down his engine. Uniquely enough, John and Keith had the same issue. Both of them had unknowingly flipped the points cover gasket. The only difference that prevented the gasket from being symmetrical was a small hole that the mechanic is supposed to use to put over the dead end casting pocket and NOT the oil pressure channel that needed a true seal. I called Keith and let him know the solution after Buff Harsh diagnosed it. Flipping the same gasket had John back up in time for next race.
The heavy weight expert and novice races were combined due to a lack of participants. This left two racers on the track after combining the races. There was one expert and one novice. This meant, so long as they both finished, they would both receive 1st place trophies. The novice was not just a novice. He was a provisional novice. He was still wearing his orange shirt from race school to signify to other racers that he was a newbie and should be given extra space for safety sake. At least that’s what it is supposed to mean…
The orange t-shirted novice had every one’s attention in the steady down pour of rain. Early in the race, it caught my attention that the sounds we were hearing were either a warm up lap or a cool down lap. That’s when I noticed there were only the two racers. Then, I noticed that the newbie was tearing up the track. Before the halfway mark, he was approaching the expert and preparing to lap him. We were all beginning to suit up for our race and watch these two on the track. I was getting psyched by watching this new guy spank the more experienced racer as he was trying to lap the more experienced racer for a second time. Adding the last of our race gear and listening for our second call, we started getting fixated on the race. Just before “Third and final call for GP500…” this new guy did it! He had shortened a 20 lap race to 18 by lapping the expert racer twice! You go, James.
I was still revved up from what I had just seen. And, having James Walker’s front tire (a Dunlop with the left side tread worn to shadow) I knew I actually had a chance to win. The last time James and I raced in the rain, even though is tires were in great shape, I passed him early in the race, only to get far enough for James to witness my “slip and slide” in the infield. This time, James was putting his leg down in the turns on the warm up lap. I was thinking of all the reasons he was doing so: First, he had crashed on the warm up lap the year before at the Ice Bowl. Second, he had worn out Dunlops in the rain. Third, he could be just trying to set me up and psych me out?
The pack stayed tightly grouped during the warm up lap, so the count started seconds after the first racer stopped on his grid position. I had bumped the bike into neutral as I was coasting into position. The 2 board came down slowly as we all got into gear and revved a bit. The green flag flew through the air and clutches were released on revving engines in first gear. All bikes lunged forward toward turn one, except mine. I gave a quick look at my chain which was staring back at me. I pulled in my clutch again and pulled up on the shifter. Looking down the track, I noticed that the first racers were taking turn one. I revved the engine and let out the clutch only to hear my motor rev. Remembering what I have been telling newbies to vintage racing, I moved the bike toward turn one while pulling up on the shifter and CLICK! The transmission was in gear, I looked down the track while revving the motor and lunged as the John and James were pulling out of turn one. The race was on!
Once in motion Maroon Monsoon was behaving as good as ever. By the time I reached turn two, I came up on both of them. I passed John in turn two and went after James. It seemed surrealistic that I had caught up to both of them by then, but they were not moving fast in the steady downfall of rain. I believe it was before turn 4 that I got up alongside James and passed through the turn. I hit the back strait (about the halfway mark of the track) with most of the pack behind me. I was on a roll.
Logic was not in charge. A euphoric excitement had me pushing as hard as James, the newbie rider that had nobody in his class to race against but decided to lap the faster class racer, twice, pushing me to my max. Not looking back, I trudged forward and starting getting closer to Russell Bagget and Paul Garland. They were in different classes and Russell was back after a three year hiatus, so Russell wasn’t pushing hard. As we all came through turn one, I passed them both on the inside and took turn two first. This was the beginning of the fourth lap. With a bit of a burst separating us, I rushed into turn three, the right hander, and hit the patches too early. I hydroplaned my front wheel and slide to the infield. Russell, Paul and James went past me as I grabbed my bike and hoisted it upright and pushed it toward the track.
No other racers were coming so I pushed the bike to the spot where no racers would be interfered with and push stated my bike to life and raced to pit row. In order to continue racing after a crash, a racer must be tech inspected before being allowed to reenter the race. On the way to pit row to be inspected, I took advantage of the back strait and checked out my bike while accelerating the same way I had the laps before. Everything about the function of the bike felt the same as practices and the first race. I flipped up my face shield and rapidly stopped the bike under total control right in front of Glen, the inspector. I burst out the information saying “It was an easy slide and everything works” while he scanned the bike 360 degrees around. Five seconds after stopping, he slapped me on the back and I was racing through pit row to pit out.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a racer on the track approaching turn one. As I entered the track, I concentrated on the deep pocket of water at pit out. I felt the parallel slide of the hydroplaning wheels in matched unison and they both grabbed smoothly. I looked over my shoulder and saw John Cook rounding turn one. He never passed me as I accelerated to turn two, headed for James. John Cook’s presence meant that my remount, retech, and reentry to the track all occurred before the last racer on the track could get back in front of me. Thanks Glen.
Knowing how much fun the slip and slide would be if I were to crash again, and still being revved up about James’ (orange shirt) performance, and now being reinforced by Glen’s serious and expeditious reteching, I was even more psyched to hit it as hard as I could. With half the race remaining, I continued to push hard everywhere, except the spot where I had been down earlier. When the straight portions of the track allowed, I would look across and try to find James Walker, to see if I could catch him. I did continually get closer, but never did get to within 100 yards of him, although I did close significantly.
I felt great when I finally got to the checkered flag. When I got my helmet pulled off I gave out one helluva “Yee Haw!” The 2012 race season had officially opened, I got two second place finishes, and had my crash for the year already checked off, my bike was still in working order and my body and mind were both doing much better than the day before.
While at the awards ceremony, I got a chance to thank my sponsor, Mr. Martin Mattes and Sirius Consolidated Incorporated for years of continuous support.
I did not bring any video equipment so either you had to read this article or you had to be there. “Racing for therapy” is my motto for my blog. I got a winter’s worth of therapy at Tally and am looking forward to the next two Tally races later in the season. There are 12 weeks between Tally and Barber Motorsports Park in May. If all goes well, I hope to have my new race bike ready for the challenge. Stay tuned. Houman 796