The Trip To Roebling Road Raceway
May 29 was to be my first race of the year as I did not have the ability to take advantage of the Grattan, Michigan vintage season starter. My plan, was to ride down Friday evening and take advantage of the all-night access, a new concept for Roebling Road Raceway. The Savannah Georgia area race track was notorious for shutting down at 10 pm. That made the Atlanta working class racers have to grab a hotel after our four hour long trip after a long day’s work. This usually meant grabbing a hotel for 6 hours of restless unconsciousness the night before a race.
This trip was supposed to be different, but not as different as it ended up.
I had just cleared the Macon, Georgia are and was proceeding down the beginning of I-16 when I felt my steering begin to pull to the right. It progressed rapidly. Then the next thing I saw was the tachometer on the ’98 Dodge Caravan rev to redline. I popped the tranny in neutral and coasted to the shoulder of the road just as the entrance ramp ended. I was stranded the night before my first race of the year. Avoiding panic, I zoomed out the image on my GPS and took a look at the “big picture”.
Going through the logical motions, I contacted the Allstate Motor club representative, apprised her of my situation and was notified that I’d have a tow truck at my location in less than 45 minutes. Having an idea of what occurred, I took my Nikon Coolpix and looked under the engine compartment. Sure enough, the CV axle had shredded on the right side leaving no ability to propel the vehicle.
Since I was chatting with John Cook just minutes before, I thought I’d let him know how he had the capability to be my superhero. John had decided to spend the night at his place with his truck loaded up and then he’d drive early in the morning for Roebling. This gave him the ability to watch the drag races with friends on Friday and race on Saturday. It just so happened that the entrance ramp where my minivan broke down is the same entrance John uses to go to Roebling Road. I was on his way!
The tow truck driver listened to all the input I had and recommended 96 Tire & Collision, just one exit back. Once there, I let John know where I was and I reclined the driver’s seat and grabbed some sleep. John gave me the wake up call as he got close.
My Superhero Arrives
It only took about 10 minutes to transfer what there was room for in John’s truck, which meant I left a lot behind as for spares, tools, etc… However, it did mean I was on my way to Roebling and John Cook was my superhero. Just think of all that had to fall into place for him to only have to get up 15 minutes earlier than planned to pick me up along the way. I have to believe that somebody was watching out for me as if destined to race that weekend. Thank you Mr. John Cook. Thank you, Sir!
Racing at Roebling Road Raceway
We rolled in with plenty of time to register, pay our gate fee and find a shady place to pit. The usual suspects were already in place as they had actually made it in time to spend the night comfortably and get good rest before the race.
The “big frog” in our little pond, Doug Bowie was in place and ready to go. Jamie Brenton and Bill Johnson were also pitted in the V1/GP350 gang’s area. Mr. Mike Wells was off near the front strait as he ran into Stevo & Monica Staser as he was driving in. I let him know he should plan to hang with the gang from now on. James Walker was the only other V1 competitor beside John Cook that made it that weekend and he was hanging with Doug.
Little did we know, there was a new 350 “Clan” that was a part of the HMGP & WERA rider’s school group. We’d be finding out more about them later.
The South Georgia weather was consistent with it’s reputation. We were sweating before our first practice session was in motion. This is always quite comforting as vintage motorcycle racers don’t use tire warmers. So, for us, the sun heats the track, the track heats our tires, and we race as fast as each of our bikes is capable of going.
Practice went like clockwork. Nothing out of the ordinary. No surprises… associated with practice.
However, our first race of the day was the GP500 which, for the 350 Stocker guys, is our bump up race. The race that our bikes are NOT designed for, but we get to race in the next class up. The race included GP500 bikes like a BSA500 ridden by Mr. David Rutherford, and a Kawasaki 2 stroke 350cc Bighorn ridden by Mr. Jim Henshaw. They were joined by the 350 Honda stocker guys, Doug Bowie on his 250 Ducati and another Ducati 250 ridden by Mr. Jerry Duke and Mike Wells on his Honda 305 Superhawk. It was really nice starting in the grid of 8 riders. Would be cool with even more racers joining us. This was actually a lot more than expected on Memorial Day weekend.
The schedule for the had us racing on the 8th & 10th races of the day. This left only one Solo race between each of our runs on the track. The GP500 was a 2 wave race with the V2 bikes getting a head start to clear turn 1 and minimize complications. Mike Wells, Doug Bowie, and Bill Johnson started in front of me. That left the faster bikes with Jim Henshaw and David Rutherford somewhere behind me. When the second green flag ripped through the air under the power of Mr. Ed Bargy’s consistent and precise motions, the pack advanced from a dead stop. Almost immediately after that, Bill Johnson’s bike when from rocket to falling back like a rock. Doug got a quicker than usual start but drifted back right in front of me as we raced toward turn one, which from a dead stop on GP bikes is a no need to brake situation. After the full run of the front strait at race speed is a different story for laps 2 through x to the end of any race.
With the timing chain and restrictive coils resolved just prior to the GNF the year before, I was expecting better performance from my machine which was having difficulty reaching redline in most gears. I held my pace only reaching about 8,000 rpm, which on the high speed track at Roebling left me slowly drifting back from the leaders. At the end of the first lap, after crossing the start/finish line, Doug passed me and set his sights for the traffic up front. This left me chasing Jamie after Doug passed him. Jamie got some good camera time for about a lap until I passed him. By this time, the traffic ahead had drifted away and out of camera view. That left me doing my best to put some distance between me and Jamie.
At this point I’ll let you check out the ending on the video. You have to follow along all the way to the end to see what happens. WERA GP500 Memorial Day Weekend 2016
Returning to the pits, we found out that Bill Johnson’s issue at the starting line was a chain that slipped of the sprockets… and… torqued the chain into a distorted unusable mess. My uncut, brand new 520 chain was in my stranded minivan. Jamie had come to the conclusion that his main race bike still had an oil leak so he went to his backup bike, formerly ridden by Ms. Wendy Gee. Thinking the chain from Jamie’s bike would get Bill back on the track, I asked Jamie about gearing. Jamie ran a smaller front & rear sprocket making the chain too short for Bill’s bike. It wasn’t until I just wrote these words that I thought of transferring sprockets with chain to Bill’s bike. Sorry I didn’t think of it earlier, Bill! As such, Bill’s first race, having ridded all the way from Baltimore, Maryland was a DNF (did not finish) and his second race was a DNS (did not start). Now that’s a disappointment.
Running out of time between races, we had to concentrate on refueling, hydrating our sweaty selves, lubing chains where necessary, and psyching up for the next race, the GP350/V1.
GP350/V1: Doug and Mike started directly in front of me and were noted on the video at the beginning. At the start, Doug took his gradual start due to his race speed optimized close ratio gearing configuration. Mike and I advanced at a virtually matched pace. Jamie Brenton burst onto the scene and left us behind with his great start. Then something totally unexpected happened. Two “orange shirts” passed us and raced for turn one.
“Orange shirts” are the guys that just finished the WERA racer’s school. This was their first race, at least with WERA. They were part of the HMGP class. Historic Motorcycle Gran Prix is a non-racing, exhibition class to get new guys who have never been on the track before as well as old guy who’ve raced, but just want to get back on the track again in a non-competitive setting. It seemed that these guys are some of the newbies that would be joining the 350 stocker gang and were going to make an impression. Their bikes were literally STOCK. Original handlebars, stock footpegs, stock fenders, etc… And, two of them had just passed me from the starting line.
I was significantly more comforted when one of them had eased off for turn one, but the other didn’t seem to flinch and raced through the turn. To make things more exciting, the rain began to splatter on my face mask. I was motivated to keep up with the orange shirt that had just passed Jamie in turn three, so braking was out of the question till necessary in turn four with Jamie right in front of me. This unknown orange shirt had the lead in the GP350 race! Interested in seeing where this was going, I passed Jamie in the back turn set and the orange shirt was still pulling away.
As my ability to scream though the redline was still out of reach, Jamie passed me back at the start/finish line, end of lap one. Doug followed and pulled in front of me before turn one. Jamie, Doug, and I swept through turn one with the mystery racer leaving turn one. Receiving a little drafting effect from Doug, I was able to close the gap as Doug passed Jamie. I drafted Jamie, then Doug as I passé Jamie into turn four. From this point, my mission was to record Doug taking the lead from this “orange shirt” or have “some splaning to do”.
Together, Doug and I passed Mark Williams of the Formula 500 class chasing the mystery new guy. During this time, Doug did get some good camera time until the front strait where he began to leave me behind. Closing on the new guy, I could see Doug getting close enough to almost draft him, but this guy rode like a young kid who didn’t know any better. The next time across the start finish I could see that Doug had made no more progress and was still following behind. It wasn’t till the next time across the start/finish line that I knew that although I could see them but the wide angle camera wasn’t able to. That being the case, my race was behind me with Jamie Brenton.
Knowing how the last race ended, I had to stay on my lines without any mistakes to stay ahead of him. Concentrating on me, my bike, and my line was important as I was losing the ability to see Doug. Looking back at the front strait, I could see I had little room for margin. With Jamie’s pull away power, I had to stay on the curves to make up for lack of horsepower… WERA GP350/V2 Race Memorial Day Weekend
After the GP350 race was over at the end of the hot south Georgia day, it was time to take Mr. Ron Raven up on his offer for some of his fine home brewed beer. Nut Brown Ale is the finest brewed treat I’ve ever tasted. It was while Ron was explaining the details of his home brew that a few guys came over to Ron’s camper area. It was then that I got to meet the Miller’s. Danny, Preston, and David Miller were the three “orange shirts” that had joined us in the last race of the day. They had completed their race school, dawned the traditional fluorescent t-shirts over their leathers, and started their way from provisional novice to novice racers.
We discovered that Danny Miller had purchased Bill Howard’s 2015 champion production lightweight novice CB350 stocker race bike and it was he who had made Doug Bowie chase him around the track where it wasn’t till the last turn of the last lap that Doug had to maneuver around John Cook (V1 class) to take the checkered flag before Danny.
We had a great time hearing about the brothers and their entry into the HMGP exhibition class and hope to see them back at WERA tracks in the near future.