Through out the “Summer of the 90s” in Atlanta things have been moving at a hectic pace. The few races available were only minor interruptions to the hustle and bustle chipping away at a very long To-Do list. And, if anyone had told me that I’d be happy about the crash that ended the season, I would not have believed them.
On the road at 5:30 Friday morning, I was headed to the “finest campus” that we have the privilege to race at, Barber Motorsports Park. The bike was in the van with spares and supplies while the temperature was making it’s first nose dive after the most consistent temperatures of any summer before. Sunshine and 71 degrees, at it’s peak, is all we’d have to warm the track for the Friday Vintage races at the WERA Grand National Finals. It was not to be the hot track that summer normally has to offer.
Having just spent four days at Barber, just two weeks before, at the Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival, the only thing that was different was the number of people inside the park. The Festival didn’t have near as many as the few years prior, but we still had a great time at Norton Hill. The WERA racers used all available pit regions, but the top tier was very thin. There was definitely space for plenty more to show up, if they had.
Practice sessions included only one pass for each class on the track. As the Vintage 1 – 4 practice session was in progress, I noticed some really squirrelly handing issues and remembered that I hadn’t checked my tire pressure, so after two laps, I was re-familiarized with one of my favorite tracks that I can play back by memory, turn for turn.
We were honored to have Ed Bargy as our race starter, on his 70th birthday. Mark Morrow played his horn with a rousing round of “Happy Birthday” for all to cheer. The racer’s meeting was a roundup of all the usual vintage suspects where we got to see those who pitted far away from the “hang out” where John Cook, Bucky Sexton, Bill Johnson and I pitted on the third level. Doug Bowie was racing with a broken had after it was run over at Road Atlanta, the month before. James Walker was the only other racer that John had to play with in the V1 class. Jamie Brenton and his son were down on the lower level representing the rest of the 350 Honda guys. Jerry Duke was there on his Ducati, and David Hurst wasn’t parked too far away with his Yamaha DS-7. David Clark is a fairly new guy who’s on the track with us on his Yamaha 400 two stroke. And of course, there’s David Rutherford not far from us on his BSA 500 single that has been experiencing “leaky head” issues.
Unlike most years where we are getting off the track just minutes before the awards ceremony was to begin, this year were races 1 & 3. Many of us had decided to take off and work our way homes after race 3 in hopes of wrapping up the day at a reasonable hour and I was one of them. As such, our social time had been cut short and the celebration was going to be something we read about later.
I’d like to make a special note that we had the pleasure to meet both Raven and Natalie. Raven is lady vintage motorcycle racer who lives in San Diego, California. She had sponsorship for this year’s racing and hopes to wrangle up support for next year. Natalie is with Roadracing World Magazine and she spent some quality time covering the magazine’s features, her brother’s exploits as a motorcycle racer for decades, and generally sharing some fun time cutting up with the old guys on old bikes gang.
As things were just beginning to settle down, we had the inspiration of Mark Morrow’s horn proudly sounding out the National Anthem over the PA system, followed by the announcement for first call for the GP500 & Vintage 2 race. We were on deck and suiting up. Engines started in our area waking up others to the fact that the vintage bikes were taking the track. Racers on machines paraded around keeping their motors warm and their tires scuffed. We were motioned onto the track and the warm up lap began.
I (and my camera) were gridded behind and between Bucky and David on his BSA. The start was clean. The light pack of racers courteously worked our way toward turn one and neatly meshed into a fairly matched of machines blending our way around the first few turns. The transition into turn two was uneventful, but there was a blatant oops that can be seen for those who know what their looking at. It could have been a mess start to a race that would have to have been restarted.
As turn two faded away, a line had formed and we were headed toward Charlotte’s Web. Jerry and I played a quick game of chicken before the web and we swept through the turn beginning to heat up our tires. After the web, Jerry went full on throttle and his Ducati pulled away easily. At this point, most of the grid was in front of the camera as we headed toward the “museum hump”. Just in front of Jerry was David Clark. Hoping to get around Jerry and David, I lifted off the seat for the hump and leaned through the museum turn and followed the two of them. As we sped up and straitened out, Jerry found himself a bit to close to the edge of the track. I passed as he eased off. Following David through the first zig-zag I closed slightly. As we entered the second zig-zag, I was gaining as he was slowing for what is a great GP set of curves. As David went wide, I cut to the inside holding the throttle wide open and passed him at the portion of the track that we had watched throughout all of the Vintage Festival, weeks before.
Bucky had developed a bit of a lead and David’s BSA, even further ahead. Bucky was next on my list. Bucky was close on David’s tail, so I had two targets to chase. Turn after turn I could swear I was getting closer. Then lap after lap, I was getting closer. The closer I got, the further David’s lead from Bucky grew. The closer Bucky was in reach, the more impressive each of his power pull-aways seemed. Within two laps of the end of the race, I was trailing Bucky and drafting him through the turns, then he’d pull away. As we got back to Norton Hill, I continued to get even closer. Then, my opportunity came when Bucky took his path so far to the edge of the track he was riding the rumple strips and slowing down rapidly, so I pulled ahead.
By this time, David’s BSA was in sight, but at a significant distance. Completing the last two turns before the main straight, I looked back to see that I had taken a nice lead on Bucky. Looking forward I saw the white flag. One lap to go. The best I could hope for was to play my cards right, dot my T’s and cross my eyes (;) to keep Bucky from taking my position. For one full lap, we all did what our bikes would allow and nobody changed position. Tucking down behind the camera and making the smallest profile I could, I raced across the finish line. Less than 2 seconds after clearing the line, my motor just gave up all power… and my next race was just one race away.