The forecast pretty much guaranteed rain at Talladega Gran Prix Raceway for Saturday vintage racers. We just didn’t know when it was going to change the game. Bucky mentioned that the concept of driving more than 600 miles to race in the rain didn’t make much sense to him. We were without Bill Johnson as well in the pits of Tally. Even John Cook (V1 racer as of this year) missed the race as a result of FORD truck technology. His spark plug popped out of the head, tanking the threads with it. Jamie had a very honorable reason for not making the race, someone he’d taken under his wing was getting married, a proud time for the family. Mike Wells had registered for the race, but did not show and the Miller brothers were not on scene either.
We did have Bill Howard, Scott Wilson, Dave Howard, Jerry Duke (on his Ducati), David Hurst, myself, and the venerable Doug Bowie in the GP350 class. As most of us bump up to GP500 and race the same bikes in that class, I’ll add David Rutherford on his BSA and that covers the only other entry from 350 to 500 GP class.
I’d spent some time thinking about the information Bucky gave be about his choice of rear sprockets being a 35 tooth as I geared my bike for Tally. Just recently being able to see redline for the first time in a while, I didn’t want to blow my motor, but I did want maximum revs in top gear before dropping down into forth and leaning into turn 2 and the turn set known as turn 8. On the 350 Honda twin, you have an equal opportunity to reach max speed before braking, leaning, and riding through these curves. I saw the sense that Bucky realized with a 35 tooth rear and I would have gone happily with a 15 tooth front sprocket to match it. However, my 35 tooth sprocket will not be in the picture until I complete my transition to the XR 350 aluminum rear rim laced up on a CL175 rear sprocket and connected with the very nice Buchannan custom spoke set that are now ready for final torqueing. So, I raced Lil Tally with a 14 tooth front sprocket and a 34 tooth rear. It worked out as good as I could have hoped for.
Having arrived just in time to see the sun in the sky for it’s last few minutes, I went strait to setting up tent, canopy, and bike cover. I reached for my phone to find out where Bill Howard was RVed and he had just sent a text with the answer, even before I inquired. Great times talking racing with some of the greatest guys you’d ever want to meet. And I didn’t even know they made a 350 SuperSport wall clock! Bill’s got a nice comfortable rig for going to and staying at the track. Best of all, the air conditioning worked great.
The next morning everybody was up before me which was strange because John was going to give me a 6:30 wake up call when he drove in from Rome, Georgia. But loosing a spark plug out of his FORD truck seemed to have cost him a day at the track. For me, I was just a bit delayed getting Black Bullitt to the tech inspection in time for the first practice session. Not sure how the 14 tooth front gear would “tractor” around the track, I had a 15 tooth ready to go, just in case. However, the first practice session was interesting as I didn’t have the pull expected. Really close inspection showed that the carb manifold screws had back out on the left side only. So, I snugged them up before the second session and went over everything before first call.
The second practice session revealed a bit of a surprise. I’d just barely touch the beginning of the redline area on the tack when it was time to brake, lean, turn. At race speeds, I’d have the width of the redline to use as needed.
The rider’s meeting let us know that the honorable Mr. Ed Bargy would be starting and officiating the race with Jeff (Mr. Microphone) announcing for the day. As has been the case lately, the Solo races were combined to include novices and experts together which shortened the day a bit. That left the GP racers with only one race between the GP500 and the GP350 at the end of the day’s schedule, originally lined up as race 8 and 11.
We had heat down to a science at Tally. Water, Power-ade, and flavored water were the drinks of choice and lots of them. Sun and broken clouds started the day and eventually faded into a totally cloud covered day. After the dust from practice had settled, a few bikes were no longer contenders. Dick Gruhn’s 2 stroke FastBikes super-screamer Yamaha 400 had major issues, so Dick took the 3 baby possums he brought with him to Tally back home before the racing started. Charles Gault lost spark out of his left plug that was proven not to be the left coil, after a coil swap. Looked like a PVL failure at the pick up? Steve-O’s Ascot started making some pretty scary noises, so he had to throw in the towel for the day. Mark Morrow’s 2 stroke Yamaha 400 also didn’t make it to the track which meant that half of the Formula 500 class was out of commission, while the GP350 and GP500 classes still had half a dozen racers at the grid.
The GP500 race was our first. David’s BSA 500 is exactly the kind of bike that the GP500 class was designed for. That made this one of the few occasions where we actually had a real GP500 class bike racing with us. On many occasions, the GP500 is merely a sequel, or prequel in this case, of the GP350 race. It was race 8 and no sign of rain yet. Going to pit out, we could see the last of the modern bikes exiting tech inspection for sponsorship signage as the track crossing was allowed for those leaving Lil Tally between races. Everything was right on schedule, no crashes on the warm up lap and everybody made it to their grid position. I was front center of the GP500 class with Doug on my left and Jerry on my right. I was the Honda 350 sandwiched between the two Ducs. Behind us was Scott Wilson, David Hurst, and David Rutherford soon to take the lead.
Things got tense when the “orange shirt” newbie in the class in front of us exercised a less than controlled wheelie and came down hard. Doug pressed towards me for more room and I raced ahead and away from incoming Doug. Eventually he took the tight inside path while I took the far outside to be the front of our class… at least for a few seconds. As Doug pulled ahead the roar of David’s 500cc thumper came by me and filled the gap between Doug and I. Doing my darndest to keep up with David through the curves, I knew he’s pull away from me and up with Doug for the real battle. The best I could do was capture the results on video, if I could. By the end of the first lap, I could see what was going on, but also had to acknowledge that the wide angle lens of the GoPro camera already made it look as if they were dots on the screen. I waited until the end of the second lap before looking back. There was nobody to be seen within a few hundred yards. With the gap that Doug and David had put between us and the gap behind me, maintain is all there was to do. Unlike races of the recent past where I was in the ideal location to play cameraman, I now had a lead over all the other 350 Honda stockers with none to show in the camera’s view. The next 8 laps would be as if I rented the track on my own… until James Walker led the V2 class and lapped me just before I started my 10 lap. 9 laps is all there would be for me, and those behind me.
As we made it back to our pits, we noticed that there was still no rain. More water and sports drinks, a few chill towels and heads soaked in ice water, and we were ready to go for the GP350 race. As David Rutherford was not in this race, David Howard, Bill’s brother, was on his Stock 350 Honda for the 350GP.
Jerry Duke (orange shirt) will prove to be a force to reckon with as he refines his skills. He had a great started and pulled his way to turn one quickly. Built like a jockey, he kept the class lead into turn 2. With Jerry going wide on turn 3, the only real right hand turn in the course, I took the opportunity to keep tight on the inside and take the lead. Fast into turn four, I thought I had Mark Williams to put behind me, then he hit the throttle. In the few seconds of the strait before the last set of turns, I had to wonder where Doug was by now. He showed up on the inside as we three leaned into the Tally chicane.
Doug now in the lead and chasing Mark, the last ride in the class ahead of us, we had just completed our first lap. Before we reached the right-hander again Doug had taken Mark and I passed him on the inside while sweeping right. That would have been pretty much it, if not for Doug’s “running circles around me” camera time. The infamous searching for problems on his bike as I passed him at the end of the third lap.
So, I had the lead again through turn one and then Doug took is close up shot stepping in front of me, then pulling away. After a lap of watching Doug’s lead get further out of my reach, I looked back as saw just as much of a gap behind me. Remember the warnings that Keith gave me about 14 tooth front sprockets having too much torque, I realized it was time to “coast” all the way around the track without being passed. Being lapped is another story. Jim Hinshaw flew by me on the outside of the last strait with lots of comfortable space between us. Halfway around the track, Dean Middleton, back for the first time in years, lapped me next. Before the race was over, brother Dave Howard had lost control of his bike and had us racing under a yellow flag by the end of the race.
The rest of the track time was just a matter of going through the motions and not screwing up.
With the race shortened by one lap, we got back to the pits with about 60 seconds before the sky opened up and made packing up a wet soggy mess. In summary, I was happy to be behind David Rutherford in first place and Doug Bowie in second for the GP500 and only behind Doug in the GP350. That gave me two trips to the podium to thank my sponsor, Mr. Martin Mattes of Sirius Consolidated Incorporated for supporting me in my vintage racing endeavors, WERA for offering me a place to get my therapy, and the corner workers without whom we can not even get on the track.
Road Atlanta is next on Saturday September 10th, stay tuned for details.