The day before the GNF races at Barber Motorsports Park, Keith rode over on his CL350 street legal ride. We tweaked a bit and sipped some cold brew. By the time his three hour visit was over, he concluded that since he was not racing in the GNF, that riding to Barber didn’t make sense. Besides, he could accomplish a lot more on projects at home. So, I drove out from my place at 5:20AM and headed to Leeds, Alabama.
This was my third, three day work week in a row. Starting with Barbers Vintage Festival, and then followed by a long weekend in Wilmington, and now followed by another trip to BMP for the WERA Grand National Finals, I concluded the mini-vacations were about to wear me out.
7:20AM Alabama time marked my arrival. There was a line for tech inspections, and nobody there to inspect the race bikes. Registration line was outside the door, but moving noticeably. And as for a place to pit, Mike Hutchison wrangled up a guy from Texas who graciously moved his truck so I could pit with my buds. John Cook helped me unload my bike using the inclined sod at the edge of the parking lot, and I proceeded to registration. With a $130 credit for not having raced at Blackhawk Farms as I planned to, and having to register for my annual race license, I added $180 to my credit and was good for the GNF and the next seasons racing as a license racer.
The turnout was a bit of a disappointment. No Keith Bennett, Jamie Brenton, James Walker, no Adams brothers, James Stewart, nor Tony Mirando, no Nick Bowie, Steve Barber, Bucky Sexton, nor Dave Roper. That did leave Wendy Gee, Mike Hutchison, Stewart Carter, Doug Bowie, David Hurst, John Cook, Jack Parker, Mike Wells, Wayne P. Moore and yours truly. It could have been a monster wave of bikes on the grid, but turned out to be just a sampling of our close group of friends.
Practice sessions were limited to one per bike. However we were told the session would be long and that we need not be rushing out to be in the first wave on the track. The weather was exactly as I would have made it, if I had any control. A cool breeze at sunrise gave way to a clear sky followed by a hot track and pits. We vintage racers don’t traditionally use tire warmers, so a clear sky heated track is always appreciated. 80 degrees with a breeze created perfect conditions to race with.
My main goal was to avoid any internal excitement like that which caused me to lose the big picture on the first race weekend of the season. I had a significant lead going into the GP500 so finishing, without crashing, was all I had to do to win the GP500 national title. Not wanting to crash with my new HD camera was also on my mind as well.
Starting in the front row, I was also being recorded by John Cook’s and Mike Hutchinson’s SD cameras. Unfortunately, John’s camera didn’t make it to the grids.
The “heavy’s” in the class included Mr. Stuart J. Carter (AHRMA racer) who was rumored to be riding a $40K bike listed as a SEE 350. Details on the bike are sketchy, but I believe the bike was made by AJS of the British performance era. Then there was the unbeatable Mr. Jack Parker (AHRMA racer)and I believe he was on a Yamaha piston port 350cc two-stroke screamer (at least when Jack is riding it) as well as Mr. Wayne P. Moore (AHRMA and WERA regular racer) on a beautiful CB350 stocker and his jockey weight 145 pounds. Together, they were the racers I was not supposed to get “caught up in the moment” trying to keep up with. However, if any of my other 350 buddies were to show up in front of me, I’d be busted for slacking off.
The GP500 was a one wave race and we were starting in the front. The engine that Keith helped me rebuild was behaving so well during practice that I took Wayne’s cue and left the track two thirds the way through practice, rather than push it too hard and risk the races. Waiting on the grid I was actually beginning to sweat. The heat was surprising for later October. As the rest of the racers filled the grid, I simply blipped the throttle to keep from stalling. As the flagman was making his rounds, signifying the inevitable start of the race, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that the position to my left was empty. For some reason, Stuart had not made the grid line up.
As he positioned himself behind the number board, the flagman gave his calls the number board operator to flip the board, rotate, and the green flag flew through air. The GP500 race at the WERA Grand National Finals had begun. I had timed my revs ideally for an excellent start and was heading toward turn one. As I leaned left into One, Jack Parker flew by with grace and poise. Together, we leaned right into Two and rounded the downhill dip.
By the time I was approaching Charlotte’s Web, Mr. Buff Harsh on his Todd Henning V1 powered unstoppable 350 Honda had passed me, hot on Jack Parker’s trail and then Wayne Moore took the “leading role” in the video shot. I out braked him and he went out of sight (at least I thought I had). Wayne had dipped into the left hand horse shoe turn tighter than I had and came out in front of me. As we raced to the museum turn, Wayne pulled ahead. So I stayed on the throttle and caught up to him by the time we were riding over the rumple strips.
I was hitting all the right apex points at each turn and not letting up on the throttle, but my 60 plus pounds of excess weight was taking its toll on the rebuilt 28 horse power motor and drywall mud bucket aerodynamics of Maroon Monsoon didn’t have a chance. Wayne was, as expected, the last racer in my class to pull away from me. Then as I entered the second set of zig-zags on the back part of the track, I was passed on both sides by Mr. Paul Garland on his V2 RD250 on the left followed almost immediately by Mr. Russell Baggett on his Todd Henning powered V1 bike sponsored by Buff Harsh. I enjoyed staying on the throttle as the three bikes in front of me slightly bunched up in the last two turns of the track, but the thrill was short lived as we hit the front straights.
Paul was left in front of me the length of the track that passed in front of the main building and it did feel good to close in on him through turns one and two. However, the rush took me into turn two that I went through the downhill dip wide and had that “stomach losing” feeling before the uphill climb. As I straightened up to face Charlotte’s Web for the second pass, I was watching the racers I was closed matched to, pull further and further away.
In hindsight, my best lap time was the first lap, even from a dead stop. As I saw the other racers leave me, I eased back and save what I and the motor had for the next race. Until it came time to be lapped, shortening my race by one lap, there was nobody in front of the camera the rest of the race. My lap times that followed fell off by as much as five seconds per lap. Each time I’d look back and saw the there was nobody to play with, I’d just tanked it even easier than the lap before. So, if you ever wanted to see Barber Motorsports track without any “clutter” in front of the camera, the rest of the race video was made specifically for you.
There was only one session between our first and second race, so we had just enough time to get some water, check the fuel level and suit back up for our last race of the year.
With the GP500 completed and the national title in hand, I could afford to have a little more fun in the next race, right?
The GP350 was a two wave race, and we were in the second wave. It’s always difficult to keep the excitement of a race that is about to start and to avoid starting when you see the green flag flying through the air. So, as someone in the front of the pack with a bunch of throttle happy racers behind you, it’s easy to take the time to look back and give the peace sign to your fellow racers. Well, it’s not really the peace sign, it’s the two fingers to remind others that we are in the second wave. This is simply and act of self-preservation. If they jump the gun, they are head directly toward you… from behind.
As the first wave headed toward turn one, that was our cue to pop the bike into first gear and begin to blip the throttle. Once the flagman had taken his eyes off the pack clearing the first turn, he stared us down and began his instructions to the number board operator… 2, 1, 1 turned sideways, and the green flag ripped through the air. This was to be one of those turn one starts that takes your breath away. Stuart had made it to the starting grid for this race and started directly to my left. Jack Parker flew by around the same point before turn one as he had the race before. However this time, Wayne Moore shot into turn one before I did and Stuart was on Wayne’s “six” and ready to pass. He must not have been happy with his approach to turn one and from the looks of “MikeCam” was still deciding where he wanted to be even through turn one. Stuart made my line of sight shortly after Wayne did and we were all leaning into the left hand turn.
Then surprise came when Stuart decided to gain on Wayne to his right, exactly where I was headed. The prospects of a racer on my left and the edge of the track on my right had my attention and I back off the throttle. I was also waiting for Mr. Doug Bowie to do his usual swoop under me just before the track ran out, except that’s exactly where I was heading. Just two seconds after “closest point of approach” we had fanned out and there was nothing left to talk about. The GP350
As luck would have it, Doug had a really bad start and didn’t take me till the apex of Charlotte’s Web. The “fast pack” had passed me in the first one third of the race and the rest of the race, we just spread out. I did get to make a somewhat impressive passing of Mr. Mark Williams on his Kawasaki H1 Formula 500 two stroke bike, just before the last few turns of the track. But after that, there was nobody in front of the camera for the rest of the race (if you don’t count the guys who got a head start in the first wave that lapped me before the end of the race).
Enjoy the videos in high definition AND standard definition windows…
Until the next vintage motorcycle related report, Cheers!