July 4th, Independence Day, Weekend has always been special for this freedom loving American. This one will always stay fresh in my memory. Barber Motorsports is what I’ve called the finest campus we go to race at. For years now, WERA has arranged it so that we spend the weekend closest to Independence Day at the finest campus…
Today had other treats to offer. Jeremy Backer made it back to the track after about three years hiatus. He also brought a couple new additions to the track. Ryan Uebelhor showed up on what was once Jamie Brenton’s GP350 race bike. His brother Nolan was present to assist in the pits. Ryan took the WERA rider’s school and signed up for both the 350GP and 500GP races. Also new to the WERA track was Jeremy Sherer, a Kawasaki Big Horn rider in the 2-smoke category.
It should also be noted that there was a missing contingent who had committed to make the Mid-Ohio races the following weekend and had to forego the Barber racing festivities.
The usual suspects like David Hurst, Jerry Duke, David Rutherford (500GP only), and Doug Bowie (350GP only) were present. They were matched with Jeremy Backer and the two he brought into the mix. It wasn’t the packed grids of AHRMA, but the improvement was appreciated in the two classes. Hopefully, a few more will join us for each race and WERA too will have some full vintage racing grids.
Honorable mentions in the vintage grids include Michael Wagner in the V6 grid, Mark Morrow who again played the national anthem on his coronet, thank you Mark, Dick Gruhn on his tws stroke screaming machines (Quick Bikes), Mark Williams on his Kawasaki green two stroke 500cc triple, John Cook and Charles Galt of the Vintage 1/2 class, and David Clark, Jerry Duke’s race partner, in the Vintage 3 class. There were plenty more vintage racers there, I just listed the handful I know by name.
Unlike the race schedule we had at Road Atlanta that ended less than 1/3 the way through the race day, we (350/500 GP and V1/v2 classes) had the 8th and 11th (final race for the day) which gave us plenty of time to tweak things like ignition timing, replace float needle seats and seals, and install the new Antigravity battery sent by my sponsor, Sirius Consolidated Incorporated long before the race 8.
In spite of the likelihood of rain throughout the day, we had hot weather and the only sign of rain was the “ooze” that bled from the track and gave all of us something to avoid. The cracks in the track at Barber, having seen rain for the days before our Saturday race, leaked water and whatever came up with it onto the track, leaving a shimmering gloss that if nothing else would cause all of us to try to avoid them whenever leaning at speed. Add high humidity, temperatures peaking at 90 degrees, ever changing cloud conditions threatening to dump on us now and then, and you had a physical and psychological weight upon us all.
Practice was fairly uneventful. The first practice was only a few laps, while the second practice session offered more time/laps on the track so we could mentally note the location of each of the mini/micro rivers of oozing liquid where we’d have prefered dry track.
My motor, which I had pretty much written off as being several years raced without a rebuild got me thinking that I really couldn’t make it any worse. So, after practice and during the long wait until race 8, I decided to experiment with the ignition timing a bit more. Running a Dyna-S electronic ignition off the crankshaft with my OEM stock back up points system on the camshaft, I hadn’t seen any reason to doubt their settings as optimum. I still proceeded to tinker with variables I could change.
First adjustment showed noticeable improvement. Looking on my custom ignition plates I found a some markings and lined up a few of the unmarked etchings. Taking a test ride in part of the parking area of the pits, I felt noticeable improvements. More tinkering lead me to believe I was making notable improvements. Leaving the adjustments at the best performance settings, I buttoned up the side covers and made ready for the first race.
For the previous races this season, I was thankful for the improvements I had induced in the handling with alloy wheels, new spokes and newly laced & true wheels, Continental radial race tires, the SL350 rear hub mated with the CL175 brake plate and shoes, etc… I had been making up for the fatigued engine with pushing the velocity through every turn, gaining in those areas where others had apprehensions, and doing all I could with what I had. The increase in performance had me feeling more optimistic with the races of the day.
Watching the laps remaining on race #7, I began to suit up and make my way to the pit out area. It seems that for some reason, there were two waves of racers that were released to the track. As such, the first wave that I was in had to sweat in the grid while we waited for the rest of the 500GP/V2 Class to join us. What I did not do during this wait was to turn on the camera’s recorder. Eventually, the rest of the racers all showed up together and the countdown began.
I had the best start I’d experienced in a long long time. Next thing I knew, I had past all the racers in the class in front of me and was in the front of the pack. Clearing turn one and heading toward turn two, I remembered to turn on the camera. By this time, there was nobody in front of me. Unfortunately the start was not recorded. What followed was a battle that Jeremy and I had that fully tested my pre-race tinkering.
I enjoyed being in front up until Jeremy took me on the inside of “Charlotte’s Web” where he swooped under me and took the lead. As is usually the case when I believe that I have half a chance to catch up, I went into speed shifting. This is where I pull in the clutch, but don’t ease off on the throttle. I was pleased that at a certain point, Jeremy no longer increased the gap between us. He maintained a constant distance between us as we sped through the museum turn of Barber Motorsports Park and I tracked him from a distance.
We levelled off heading toward the first zig-zag (chicane) where I noticed I was beginning to close on him slightly. By the time we levelled off after the chicane, I was drafting him and even past him… for a moment. He then surged by and led the way around the sweeping final turn set best viewed from Norton Hill. He was back after a few years without racing, so I had to leave him some room as he tried a few unorthodox techniques. Wide here then tight at the apex, I knew if I hadn’t planned for his maneuvers we were going to collide.
The best feedback I got from trailing him at first was that it seemed that my “tired motor” had just received new life from my canopy tinkering. I was actually closing on him as we approached maximum velocity. I realized I had a chance here if I could avoid slipping back or making any foolish mistakes. We crossed the start/finish line for the first time since the start and I was closing as we headed toward turn 1.
As we approached the first set of right hand turns, Jeremy again went wide while I dipped to the inside. Together we climbed up and out of the mini gravity cavity and headed toward Charlotte’s Web again. Jeremy did a nice job of pulling away from me throughout all of the Web and then museum turn. We’d get closer then further apart.
My theory of the tired motor began to get squashed as I again closed as we neared our top velocity. I draft him after the first chicane and took him before the second. This time, I led across the start/finish line, through turn 1, Charlotte’s Web, the museum turn, the chicanes, Norton Hill, and through the start/finish line again where he took me just before turn 1. We had a race that was going to be down to the wire.
I was back in his draft before the gravity cavity and we raced toward Charlotte. Side by side, we strained to the Web and he eased into the inside of Charlotte’s turn and had the lead again. I drafted him up to the museum turn. He pulled slightly away, then I was drafting him again toward the second chicane. He was barely ahead of me as we approached the second chicane and had me drafting him through the same turn that I ended my previous season at.
Completing this lap, he pulled slightly away from me yet I had closed again by turn one. Following closely, but not being comfortable behind Jeremy, I decided to keep my momentum up and barely overtook him at the museum turn. This allowed me to stay in front all the way through the white flag being waved furiously as I crossed the start/finish line, indicating there was only one lap to go.
I held him off until his strong point and he slide under me on the inside at Charlotte’s Web. With half a lap to go, I was looking for my opportunity to take the lead and keep in till the checkered waved for me. Jeremy didn’t get the usual distance between us after the Web. I drafted him toward the museum turn. I overtook him long before the turn and all I had to do was a more comfortable repeat of the previous lap.
However, that is not how Jeremy saw the conclusion of this race. He kept the throttle wide open and passed me with just enough space to ride the hump and lean hard right, through the micro river and down the back straight. Coming up alongside Jeremy through the first chicane we zig-zagged along side each other and headed toward chicane #2. As this was where we were approaching top velocity, I had a slight advantage and went through the chicane first and in front of him.
Norton Hill was in sight. I kept the inside track of the last turn set and tucked down for the smallest aerodynamic profile. Knowing that the best Jeremy could do was draft me and slingshot past, I just did my best to be the most efficient I could be. Upon crossing the line, I looked back to my left and there was nobody??? However, looking to my right, Jeremy and I were aerodynamically linked and he was travelling faster. We were both excited and I experienced the fastest fist bumps I’d ever shared on a bike.
Jeremy followed me to my pit. We both appreciated the closeness of our racing capabilities and looked forward to race #11 at the end of the race day. It was only one Solo race away, as the heavy experts and novice races were combined in a two wave race. We would play again… real soon.
It would seem that the Antigravity battery (8 cell) really made a big difference. Check out the SCI selection for an Antigravity battery that is correct for your application.
Watch and enjoy the best race I’d ever experienced as Jeremy and I battled for the WERA GP500 race at Barber Motorsports Park.
Best Day Ever, Round II
After the dust had settled over the excitement and I realized that my motor wasn’t quite as “tired” as I thought it was, I became a bit more conscious of the possibility of burning a hole in a piston in the case that I may have advanced my timing too much, so with the engine still hot from the race I pulled my stator cover and back off about 25% of the gains I had just enjoyed. I added the necessary amount of fuel for 7+ laps around the beautifully landscaped track at Barber MSP and checked the battery indicator which told me it was ready for another round of internal combustion battling.
There was only one “combined” race between the 500GP and the 350GP race and I downed 2 1/2 bottles of water, pouring the other half bottle over my T-shirt, hair, and over my face. Not only had I burned a lot of calories exerting my myself on the track, but my body was pumping the water out my pores just trying to keep cool in leathers.
With only two laps remaining in the combined expert and novice modern bike race I began the ritual of donning my chest protector, zipping up all loosened flaps, slid into my gloves, and put my helmet on as the laps remaining counter reached 1. Pulling the bike of the makeshift stand, I rolled out on pit road and started the bike. The area around “pit out” was blocked off nicely and made for a nice warm up the tires and engine area with no real velocity required. A little bit of lean in the slow turns brought the engine up to temp and slightly warmed the tires for the warm up lap.
This time, we were all released to take the warm up lap and park in our grid positions. Once there, I remembered to start the recorder on the camera. Only a short wait before the countdown began. After a smooth and even start sequence we were all accelerating toward a fast track through turn one. I came upon Jeremy Sherer while leaning into turn one. Only the slightest easing off of the throttle showed Jeremy Backer plowing around Mr. Sherer and the race was on.
Not really fixated on JB (Jeremy Backer), but I did find myself drifting unnaturally wide through turn three while we experienced the rush of the downhill into the gravity cavity before the hill climb that was a horizon event that revealed the stretch toward Charlotte’s Web. JB took his trademark wide to tight (kinda dangerous) transition that put the V1 and F500 class between us before he cleared the crest.
I couldn’t believe that 25 degrees or so in timing shift could cause my 350 stocker to climb past the V1/F500 bikes and be on JB’s tail so quickly. Just halfway to the Web, it was like we were having a flashback to the previous race. However… there was a new obstacle and he almost cost me a grass slide. As I attempted to take JB before the Web, John Cook showed is V1 powered 350 Honda front wheel to me just in time to admit he was not in the right place for Charlotte’s unforgiving off camber turn and backed off just as fast.
Just as John was out of sight, JB made an abrupt lane change crossing from the outside to the inside in front of me leaving me reacting less than optimally and almost ending up in the grass. My recovery gave John and Doug the chance to step in between me and JB. I was quite impressed with my little bikes response and ability to minimize the degradation of performance.
The straight toward the museum turn led me to believe that there was plenty of time to catch up and start the battle again. Enter Charles Galt. He “showed a wheel”, a racing term for letting another racer know that you’re in his game, and just as quickly eased off before the “museum hump” as his entrance left him on the inside of a very sharp turn ahead. Approaching the hump, I watched the mob of bikes become a line that graciously fell into a line all trying to find the ideal traversion through the turn without being taken out by one of the micro rivers of ooze that racked our brains all day.
The hump is a concrete portion of the track designed for the small cars that race on the track in order to keep them on the pavement rather than riding the hump that motorcycles are more likely to “jump” over then lean into the turn. Cars don’t quite behave as beneficial as motorcycles that just consider the path as a way to “straighten out the curves”.
Uprighting after the curve, I saw four bikes in front of me, all taking different paths after the micro river avoidance, gradually realigning as some overtook others, heading toward the first of the two zig-zags. Wouldn’t you know it… JB was directly in front of me and our challenge had begun again. A quick draft after the turn set had me passing JB, or so I thought, before the second zig-zag, but such was not the case. This misconception caused some serious confusion. Compounding the problem was the almost merger of Doug Bowie and Mark Williams at the squeeze of the second zig-zag while JB came back into the picture. This scene is worth playing over and over again to see how “hairy situations” can disappear quickly by doing what you’re supposed to do.
I must admit that Doug really cut close to Mark, but Mark didn’t respond as if flustered as Doug flew by. He also played it cool as JB took advantage of the hole Doug left for him on the Mark’s right while I followed shortly thereafter on Mark’s left. Still in the first lap, we’d had more excitement that most races have in their entirety.
JB took his unorthodox wide setup for a tight cut in front of me, but by this point I had become accustomed to it. I can only imagine that Doug was surprised as JB cut in front of him on the inside of the last turn before the start/finish straight. By the time we left the turn behind us, Doug was behind JB, I was following Doug, and in a good position to draft Doug past JB, or at least very close. JB and I leaned at the same time, side by side into turn 1 but JB kept the throttle on harder than I did through the turn. We had just completed the first lap and beginning the second of six.
Through turn 2, from the inside at the apex Jeremy then drifted wide again only to take a sharp cut toward the apex. However, this time he left space and drifted wide again going through the gravity cavity. We were close. This was becoming a rerun of the previous race. And the two of us had Doug, historically the default winner of the GP350 in all races and all season championships in the WERA GP350 since WERA had Vintage racing, not only in our sites, but we were on his tail. He’s our Big Frog in our Little Pond. However, Jeremy and I were chasing him close, so that had to be a good thing?
All three of us climbed the hill and headed toward the Web. I cut from the outside in most of the way to the inside but left room in case Jeremy was there. I followed Doug and drafted him through the turn. Doug’s pull-away power from his Ducati showed quite nicely, reminding me that Doug, like my late father, knew the art of “beat them just enough to keep them coming back”. If he wanted to Doug could turn this class in the Doug Bowie Show, leaving a separate show for the 350 Honda guys to battle it out, but he leads us on and we follow suit.
As I approached the museum turn for the second time I was close on Doug’s tail and hoping I had put some distance between Jeremy’s bike and mine. Making through the zig-zag where I normally performed better, I saw no sign of my battling counterpart. Doug was getting some good camera time as we past Norton Hill area and as I always try to do when following Doug, I was paying attention to any techniques I might pickup on.
Wrapping up the second lap on Doug’s heals was a rare occasion, so I wondered just how well my engine was doing. Before the second pass through the start/finish line Doug gave a glance back to see what was going on and there I was. I looked back and noticed we had put some distance between us and the bikes behind us.
Turn 1, following Doug’s path, we could see John Cook in front of us just 50 yards ahead. Drafting Doug through the Web, it appeared we were closing on John. The approach to the museum curve had Doug putting some distance between us. Halfway there, Charles Galt flew past me and he closed on Doug over the hump. Charles made the hump look smooth and effortless as he continued to close on Doug. Not knowing where Jeremy was at this point, I just kept up my pace as Doug and Charles began to pull away.
Maintaining as much velocity as I could through the second zig-zag, I closed slightly. My momentum carried me closer to Charles through Norton Hill and into the last right hand turn of the track. By the time Charles made is final lean, I was all but part of his rear wheel. Levelling off from the last turn set, I was thinking I liked Charles race line better than my own.
Approaching the start/finish line, Doug had pulled away from Charles. Charles was pulling away from me, and still no sign of Jeremy. Charles Yamaha RD400 had some serious power, especially have he had invested in a nice expansion chamber exhaust system that did a nice job of optimizing his performance. Going through turn 1, 2, and 3, I kept up with Charles and we headed towards the Web. With nobody in my way through the Web, I used all the breadth of the turn from outside to inside and all the way back to the outside of the turn barely gaining on Charles, only to loose all I had gained in the straight towards the museum hump.
The back half of the track had me slowly gaining on both Doug and Charles to the point where I had great video footage just in time to see Charles washout in front of me in the last right-hander before the last left. With Charles separating from his bike, I then had to obstacles that I had to chant to myself “do not get fixated on either”. Charles cleared the track, but his bike stopped on the track, in the race line. A few turns later, the corner workers (Salutes and Kisses to you all) all had the red flags flying through the air indicating this race was over and we were to safely return to the pits.
As we entered the pits the “cut-throat” sign that we received from officials and spectating racers alike told us we had gone past the half-way mark of the race so it was officially over. The standing at the last completed lap would determine class standing and the winner of each class.
Only after getting back to the pits, having consumed a celebratory beer, and exited my leathers did I find out Jeremy had caught back up and saw the crash as well. So yes, it was the best day on the track ever. Taking second place in the WERA GP350 at Barber Motorsports Park on the 4th of July weekend with Doug Bowie in sight, just a turn ahead of me, made my day complete.
As I stated at the awards ceremony, I thank the corner workers with Salutes and Kisses to all, WERA Vintage motorcycle racing for a place to play with my friends, Sirius Consolidated Incorporated for their decade long sponsorship, and Jeremy Backer for making the race weekend as exciting as it possibly could be. I hope to recreate this excitement again really soon.