The day before the 2015 Independence Day race, I had just discovered the issue with my cam chain having be assembled mistimed from my crankshaft by one tooth. 85% power was no way to take on the pack at my favorite track of all. So I had to spend that weekend pulling my motor and synchronizing my cam chain/sprockets. This year was another story!
The laid plans of being at the track before sundown fizzled in a very productive surge of projects that just kept falling into place, so I kept on being productive. Since my plan was to sleep in the van, I had no worries. No rain scheduled for day, comfortable evening temps, and plenty of room in the pits, I headed out just in time to drive with the sun in my eyes all the way until it sank over the horizon. When I pulled in, before I got to our usual spot, I came across Bill Johnson & Bucky Sexton. There was plenty of room around them, so I parked, accepted a cold beer, and began to chat, leaving my stuff to be addressed later. It was just good to be at Barber, the nicest campus we go to and race at. Add good folks, cold beer and a comfy chair, and I was home for the night.
Bucky literally shook the van Saturday morning, as I had asked, for my wake up call. On this trip, I brought my street 350 as a pit bike. Having brought the minivan with the race bike on the hitch rail, I was pushing the weight capacity to the max. (Note to self… fix one of the smaller bikes for pit usage!) It was to be another 95 plus degree day with no clouds, for the most part. A slight constant breeze did help keep things cool, but the track was hot!
This was to be my bikes ideal performance run as I shamefully have to admit that my carbs we in dire need of new internal parts. When I flipped the bare bottom right carb over, the needle seat fell out with the loose jets. The rubber o-ring was no longer providing a seal and that would have explained my inability to reach and maintain redline, as I was not controlling the amount of fuel & air mixture going into my cylinders. Happy to have that resolved, I was ready to create great times on the finest track in the world. However, there was still one issue that I knew about and forgot about that gave me a reminder and sent me to the pavement, in Charlotte’s Web, for the first time in years.
The clutch pushrod oil seal, one issue that the 350 Honda is notorious for, gave way and sprayed my rear wheel with oil, just as had happened to Keith Bennett, in the same turn, at the Grand National Finals a year and a half before. The bike went out from under me in a low side that sent me sliding through all of the turn, and then some of the infield, before I came to a complete stop, grabbed my bike, and pushed it to the area behind the guard rail. I had been probably four years without a crash and it was the first time on my Sirius Consolidate Incorporated colored second set of leathers which now shows I got my A$$ stomped and the seam gave way to prove it.
I gladly missed the second practice session as we were the third race of the day and I had yet to re-tech my bike, necessary after every crash to reenter the track. The temporary fix was easy enough as the problem with my spring pressure retainer combined with 3m weatherstrip adhesive works, but over time (many race weekends) drifts out and gives way. Most of my work was cleaning the oil of the rear wheel/tire and the aft port side of the bike. If you thought chain-fly was bad without a chain guard, this issue turns the rear wheel into an oil sprinkler as long as you’re up and moving.
Tech Note: In discussions with Bill Howard, whose brother had created a CNC solution to the issue, we’ve concluded that we’ll work within the 350 racers and come to an agreement amongst ourselves to use some sort of physical restraint on this seal and THEN inform WERA that we have self-imposed that which we recommend all 350s be subject to and should probably be included in WERA rules, then to be sent to AHRMA? I have since used a 1-1/2″ angle iron solution and will buy a Mr. Howard part as well. Over the 10 plus years I’ve been racing, this was my third time (charm) hitting the pavement with oil on the rear tire.
I wish to thank Mr. Mark Marrow for his rendition of the National Anthem on his trumpet/coronet. What a great way to start a day of racing… even though I habitually say “Play Ball” when completed, each time. As the WERA race school’s mock race was beginning, I headed down to tech for approval to race. Cleared by the tech inspector, I returned to the pit, chugged some water, and wet down my t-shirt to cool off. It was then first call for the Formula 500, V1, & 350 GP race, just in time.
Bill Johnson was running on a new 520 chain and Bucky was listing all the parts that he’d had on his bike forever. While I had the new Keyster K-1561 HK carb kit to tell about. It’s the ULTIMATE 350 Honda carb kit for the stock KeiHin carbs. It includes everything that controls, meters, and prevents the leaks of fuel in the carbs. It even includes the preformed pentagon float bowl gasket to make the carb rebuild effortless. I was quite impressed, having dealt with many variations and parts included ranges of carb kits. For less than $44 at Sirius Consolidated Incorporated, it’s a bargain. the K-1561HK is also the center piece for the Master Carb Rebuilt Set (even though the KH1200F is still shown in the photo). This is the deal of the century and just over $200 it makes almost any pair of carb bodies better than NOS! Attention racers!!!
Third and final call for Formula 500, V1, & 350 GP was our cue to be riding to pit out and to take our warm up lap. Looking closely as I went through Charlotte’s Web, I saw no signs of oil and was happy to hear of no issue had by other racers. Completing the warm up lap and parking in my grid spot, I noticed Bill Johnson had an issue as he was in the wrong location. Seems he remembered, but didn’t write down, his location for the second race and gridded there by mistake. He wisely pulled over of the track and waited till cleared by officials to join us AFTER the start of the race.
I had John Cook in front of me a few rows ahead in the V1 set, so I set my sights on chasing him through the pack. As the flag signaled GO, we revved forward. I ripped past Charles Gault who appeared to have stalled at the start. Doug passed me before turn two and I played his wingman through the curve. It was nice to see my tachometer finally want to play in the redline area. So much so, that I now had to pay attention so as not to blow up my motor.
One of my vintage motorcycle race heroes was on the track and in front of me for a while. Steve-O Staser, #911, was nursing a back issue and it was seriously affecting his performance. He was in the Formula 500 class which is a much faster set of bikes, but in this case he became an obstacle for the GP racers to work around. At his first hesitation to take the second chicane set, I stayed on the throttle and went into hot to get by and make my stand to stay in front of Steve-O. As Steve-O knows, he was used as a block by racers to put distance between those in front of him and those behind. As we finished our first lap, I had the honor of trailing John Cook on his souped up V1 bike and wondered how long before John would pull away. By the time we cleared the museum curve and I hand cleared the hump, I notice that John was already leaving me way behind.
As the Barber track has a tendency cause, racers will fan out with space between them and unless you have someone very comparable in speed, the track is your race and not any one competitor. I looked back after the third museum turn and saw nobody. I started thinking about the next race and maintained a maintenance pace, rather than a full out, risky, race pace. Not wanting to unnecessarily take out two race possibilities in one more crash that day, I took my line serious and made turns safe and sure. Unfortunately… I didn’t check back to see who was making up for a bum start… like Mr. Bill Johnson.
After the fourth museum curve, Bill eased his way passed me as I was back in full tilt boogey to get my position back. However, that was not the way that Bill saw things. He was riding like he knew he was in front of the camera. Stylishly leaning and wind braking with his legs, sweeping the curves as they were meant to be enjoyed. I did manage to get close enough to draft him through the last turn set heading in toward the white flag, indicating one lap to go…
It seems that Bill had no intention of getting in front of me, only to have me pass him. Where I had excelled to draft him earlier was nothing compared to other parts of the track that he had mastered. Bill took, and earned, second place from me and I was proud to have been there to record his efforts. WERA Formula 500, V1, & 350 GP race Independence Day Weekend, 2016
I almost forgot to mention that this was the race that Ron Raven had offered a purse for the top five finishers for all three classes combined. He had calculations for handicaps for the Vintage 1 and GP35o classes to level the playing field. A great time was had by all. Doug Bowie was the only GP350 racer to score some cash in 5th place.
The GP500 was a regular race without cash awards and it was much later in the day. Keeping cool and visiting with fellow racers was the best way to pass the time. Soaking down the t-shirt kept me cool with evaporation. Hiding in the shade sure beat soaking in the sun’s rays. By the time the end of the race day was nearing, the track was hot, deep into the pavement. During the long span between races, I picked Bill Johnson’s brain about the evolution of his bike. My bike, “Black Bullitt”, with the same NOS (10 years later) Red Wing shocks that came on the bike when I got, original steel wheels (a spinning mass/weight variable), new lighter radial tires, 35mm shocks (without emulators), battery powered (and weighted) electronic ignition system (and not a battery-less PVL magneto system) still has a few more refinements to go through before being fully completed. I was aware of everything but the emulators that are available for the front fork suspension system. Perhaps I’ll follow behind Bill Howard who is headed down that modification path soon???
The GP350 refinements conversation ended as we heard “first call for GP500 & V2” from Jeff “Mr. Microphone” over the announcement system. Giving my t-shirt one last splash of cool water, I suited up into my leathers at the same time Bucky and Bill did. Even under the canopy in the shade, the leathers suit-up operation becomes a race in itself. By the time I got to adding my helmet and gloves, I was ready to start the bike and ride away just to have a breeze going by my dripping wet sweaty face, so I did just that. Once near the pit out area, I continued to keep the bike moving and my face shield open for air circulation.
The racers parked in the shade near pit out began to move onto the track so we joined the flow of traffic. At only 20 MPH, the increased speed allowed the sweat to dry while cooling my face. Chanting the traditional “don’t crash on the warm up lap” I followed the crowd around the track and to my grid position. All the racers got into position in short order minimizing the delays and allowing Ed Bargy to begin the countdown as soon as the grid workers were clear of the track. Bikes revving, racers leaned as far forward as possible preparing for the release of their clutches, the green flag flew threw the air and the race was on!
A clean start for everybody almost immediately changed when John Cook’s bike experienced difficulties after a quick surge off the line. His left hand went up and feet to the ground, he would not be part of the pack going into turn 1. I had a great start and flew past Charles Gault (399) just after his starting point on the grid. This smile was almost immediately replaced with a grimace when the only racer in proximity, headed toward turn one was an “orange shirt”. A wave of relief came over me as he eased off the throttle and I kept on mine. This left me in the front of the GP wave coming out of turn one, a left hand leaning sweeper curve and flicking over to a really long sweeping right hander with almost 180 degrees that dips down into a gravity cavity. Keeping the inside line is a balancing act of leaning, throttle, and the design of the track.
Just before Charlotte’s Web, Doug passed me on the left, leaving me a chance to ease in behind him and draft him coming out of the curve. As the curve straitened out, Bucky passed me on the right. The question became, would Bucky’s jockey build or my knowledge of the track win out. He obviously had the pull away power to spare in his power to weight ratio, but was still apprehensive about the layout of the Barber track. This apprehension showed in the second chicane set of turn 11 & 12, heading toward the last turn set of the track. I was able to draft Bucky through turn 13, pass him in 14, then dip in front of him at 14a. We had a battle! Flicking the bike over to the left in 15, then tucking behind the camera for the front straight I maintained my momentum.
Doug was my target and chasing him was my best bet for keeping Bucky behind me. Making it through Charlotte’s Web without being passed, I concentrated on all I’d learned about the Barber track and all my bike had to offer. This lasted for another lap until the clutch issue arose. Going through Charlotte’s Web for the third time, something didn’t feel right in the shifting of my bike. Relying heavily on the smooth results of engine braking, Charlotte’s turn didn’t go so smoothly. It was as Bucky was passing me that I concluded I had no clutch! This didn’t end the race for me. I’ve finished a race on my Norton without a clutch cable before. As you can imagine, it’s not the optimum means of performance.
I chased Bucky through the length of the track and again, I was able to take him in the last turn set of the track, again. This didn’t last as long because Bucky took me near the start/finish line. We both when through turn one shoulder to shoulder, leaving me on the inside turn of turn two, barely in the lead. Matching my engine speed with the transmission to shift, I held him off until just before the museum turn set, 7a/7b and followed him over the hump, and through the turns. Going through the first chicane I straightened up to have Bill Johnson pass me. Shortly after that, Bill passed Bucky. The footage going through Charlotte’s Web is enjoyable to watch with Bill leading through the turn, Bucky following, then the camera leaning to follow them both. This was some close racing.
It appears that once Bill gets his tires warmed up, he just keeps turning up the speed. In the fifth lap, Bill pulls away from Bucky, who had gapped me a bit in the back chicanes so much that I had no chance to take him in the last turn set, this time. I did close enough to draft him in turn 14, but he pulled away in 15 after I checked my brakes getting uncomfortably close to him between the turns.
In the last lap, Bill was entering turn 2 as Bucky was leaving turn 1 and I was entering 1. I got to ride along side Bucky through turn 3, but he climbed out of the gravity cavity with less effort then my bike required pulling my heavier self. The rest of the last lap was a matter of Bucky pulling away in the long straights and me catching up in the curves. With about one second between Bucky and I, we swerved through turns 14 and 14a heading toward the finish line. Going into 14a Bucky ran into some slow traffic. David Hurst was in the back following Jerry Duke. Kudos to David Hurst who did hold me off at the finish line. After the finish line, Jerry Duke, in the orange shirt, did go from the left side of the track to the right where he pinched Bucky into the painted edge during the cool down lap. Watch out for the orange shirts!
The WERA GP500/V2 race was fun to watch all the way through with action all along the way.