The end of the season finale was again held at the “finest campus we got to race at”, Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Alabama. November 2nd was the latest I’d ever seen a GNF held and the weather was perfect. Mid 70s and totally overcast. No sweat, no squinting, and no place like Barber to race.
The turnout had been light on this Thursday race day. Doug Bowie was out of the GP350 with recent eye surgery. That left Jerry Duke, David Hurst, and myself to battle for the GP350 title. David Rutherford was at the GNF as the points leader in the GP500. David confidently let all of us know that we should probably just give our bikes a rest rather than making him work for his title. David has been sporting the number 1 plate on his BSA 500 single for some time now. Jerry, David Hurst and I thought it would look good on our bikes as well…
Without a rider’s meeting as the vintage racers have heard the drill many times over, we had lunch after morning practice, stood for the national anthem, and continued onto the racing for the day. Race 4 was the GP500 where the 350 Honda gang joined David Rutherford with this year’s new entrant on his 350 Ducati, Mr. Jerry Duke. The warm up lap led the small pack of racers to the grid. We took our positions and stared at Ed Bargy, the race marshal for the GNF.
Ed directed the number board be switched from 3 to 2… From over the number man’s head it was slowly brought down to mid height, flipped over to the 1 board, switch to the sideways position… and low and behold, Jerry Duke just burst down the track followed by the green flag from Ed Bargy. Jerry had just blown his start. All the racers that saw this knew that Jerry would receive the meatball flag associated with his race number soon. This was to be Jerry’s indication that he needed to report to pit row for a stop and go. As close as Jerry and I had raced this season, there was no way he was going to be able to catch up and pass me before the end of the 8 lap race.
Congratulations Jerry, and welcome to Team Old & Oily. Having received your meatball flag was your final initiation to the ever growing vintage race team.
This left me chasing David Rutherford on my own as David and I pulled away from the rest of the racers. I led David through turns one, two and three and he passed me as we approached Charlotte’s web. However, David braked early and I continued into the web before braking and leaning left into the off camber turn. David passed me as we headed towards the museum turn and I gave chase.
Without Jerry to battle with, my thoughts focused on the fact that this race was, unless David’s BSA grenaded, was going to be a warm up race for the GP350 battle. I kept David in my sights for the first half of the race. John Cook was behind me recording what was supposed to be a neck and neck race with Jerry and I chasing David. As that was not the case, all I had to look forward to was the 350GP, race 7. I gave a good show until around lap 5 or 6 and John took that as his cue to pass me and let his uncontested motor rip the track up for a while. The BSA behaved as it was supposed to and David pulled away for the win. His number 1 plate will stay in place yet another year.
There was a great effort exerted at the end of the race by both David Hurst and myself. Seeing DH off in the distance after receiving the white flag, indicating the last lap of the race. Closing on David as we approached the museum turn, I continued to get closer and closer to lapping him. We went through the first set of zig zags at a distance. The second set was much closer. Going through the big sweeping final turn set, I dropped the last of the space between us. The two of us went through the final turn with me at a higher velocity. After passing David, I tucked down behind the camera, arms tight in, and raced toward the finish line. As the line drew near, David burst back onto the scene and had his DS7 revving to produce a great burst of power passing me and almost immediately crossing the finish line. The caption of the optimum still frame from the video had an invisible caption that read “Oh no you don’t!”. David is da man!
Back at the pits, Jerry admitted, with his tail between his legs, that he thought the flagging had a level of inconsistency. And at the same time had to admit he was the only one that jumped the gun.
After a little ignition tweaking, I had to run to the men’s room as second call was being announced for the 350GP race. Running back, I was the last one in the pits for our race class. Trying to kick start the bike didn’t create any affect. Pushing the bike and taking advantage of the downhill toward pit out to bump start the bike to no avail. I pulled up against the concrete wall of the race tower, took off my helmet and found the one connection that had not been made and connected it. This caused a loss of time. I got to pit out on the 3 board and was directed directly to my grid position as it was too late for a warm up lap.
I started up the camera and put it into record as the rest of the racers came around the track and rolled into their grid positions. John Cook was in front of us as the only racer in the Vintage 1 class present, so again, he was out for some good footage.
The number board went to 2, flipped over to 1, flipped sideways, and… nobody moved until the green flag ripped through the air. Jerry got a great start and led through turn 1, 2, and 3, while racing towards Charlotte’s web. By the time we got to the museum turn, it appeared the pack was pulling away. However, by the time we flew past Norton Hill, the leaders were all tightly packed in the last turn set with me recording their traversion towards the start/finish line.
I did find myself comforted by the fact that with enough turns on the track, I could catch up with the pack that would again pull away on the straight portions of track. It’s definitely time for some motor refreshing this winter.
Racing through turn 1, not at race speed, I gained on the pack, passed John through turn 2 and closed on Jerry, the leader of our class. Playing Jerry’s wingman climbing out of the mini gravity cavity and heading toward Charlotte’s Web, Jerry showed is superior pull away power. Jerry seems to have a handle on the off camber turn to the left known as Charlotte’s Web so I barely gained on him at all. Just like most of the race, the long straight had Jerry and Dick Gruhn pulling away from me as we headed back to the museum turn. Finishing that turn, I was back on their tail and closing… until the next straight.
Dick had crashed in the Web causing a red flag in the very first race of the day, so he was nursing an ankle from what I was told. It was no surprise when I passed him in chase of Jerry. I never saw Dick for the rest of the race and assumed he was only riding for points achieved by completing the race. Passing Dick, shoulder to shoulder, I saw Jerry come a little close to the edge of the track.
The back half of Barber’s most excellent track as two sets of “zig-zags” best approached for minimal speed interruption. Being as smooth as I could, it appears as if I may have become a bit fixated on Jerry as I closed through the Norton Hill turn set 12, 13, & 14. Jerry went off the track and began a quick dirt bike race while I stopped my exit from the track on the rumble strips.
This was my chance and I took advantage of it when I saw it. Staying on the throttle while Jerry had to ease off to recover, I raced pass the imaginary gathering of the Norton Family on the Hill in a manner of saying “watch this guys”. Heading toward the start/finish line, I didn’t look back. I held the lead until Jerry passed me just before the museum turn. He seemed to have a minor difficulty after uprighting from the turn which allowed me to stay close on his tail with some drafting effect. Jerry didn’t have to look back long to see me hot on his tail enjoying his wind wake.
Perhaps Jerry experienced a bit of a fluster flashback in view of Norton Hill because I was able to pass him through the last turn set. It was official. We were battling for the much sought after 350GP title available for the first time since WERA had vintage motorcycle racing, due to Doug Bowie’s absence. Of course, I was not surprised when Jerry passed me just before turn 1. I knew this was going to offer some good footage and we ended up climbing out of Barber’s gravity cavity together.
For the next few laps, Jerry achieved and kept a slight distance between us although never leaving my sight. With nobody else around, I owned that portion of the track I was on. Turns came quite comfortably. I was slowly regaining any gap Jerry had created. Tasting that first place win, I continued to close on him. Then I saw it. That one last variable that could make or break the results at the finish line.
David Hurst was the one racer we would have to deal with as traffic on the track. I could tell Jerry slowed as he approached Norton Hill for the last pass of our race. Jerry’s encounter with David occured at a crucial point in the turn which required him to slow and avoid. By the time I passed David the track had opened after turn 12. As he cleared my view, there was the gradually sloping grassy plane known as Norton Hill. And, there was Jerry, in my sights.
Having not taken him before the last turns, I didn’t stand a chance to pass, but I was not to be left in dust for this exciting finish. Tucking in tight to Black Bullett, I became as aerodynamically smooth as possible. I crossed the finish line .884 seconds after Jerry did. As it turns out, my last lap was my fastest of the race and the fastest for the day, and possibly my best for the track, ever.
WERA 2017 GNF 500GP Race Video I have to apologize but it appears the humidity inside the camera case built up over the course of the day noticeably affecting visibility of the recording.
A great time was had by those who participated. The awards ceremony was lightly attended so those present had to applaud for the many missing from the gala. It did prove to be a family affair with a total of 27 attendees including the WERA personnel that were present. It is quite possible that this will be remembered as “the valley” of participation as we climb back up in popularity and participation of future WERA vintage racing history.
If you have ever thought about getting out on the track and having some ‘double digit” racing fun, grab a Honda 350 twin from 1968 to 1973 era and strip it down. There’s lot’s of guidance assistance available and the WERA 350 Honda guys do what it takes to get all racers out on the track to play with us. YOU could join us, IF you want to.
My contiguous gratitude to Mr. Martin Mattes of Sirius Consolidated Incorporated for his contiguous sponsorship. With two second place finishes at the GNF, leading to two second place standings nationally for the 350GP & 500GP vintage racing in 2017, it sounds like I still have a little room for improvement. I’ll be starting with the SCI 1.o mm over 350 Honda complete piston set for $89.99, a valve job, and cylinder honing for a fresh chance at playing with Jerry in 2018, and perhaps you, if you join us.