Tuesday, July 26, 2011

22-24 July, 2011, Corey Wilkinson has given me permission to use his post.

Walking through the pits and discovering Dave Roper‘s garage was fascinating. At first glance, Dave’s physical appearance is that of a front-porch whittler, yet he’s leathered-up like a motorcycle road racing hero. While we’re unsure of his mountain-man skills, his past and present involvement in motorcycle racing indeed proves his status as a legend.

During AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, we wound our way through the paddock and ended up outside Team Obsolete‘s garage. Dave is their rider; they go waaaay back. The team had the well-deserved primo spot next to the staging area. Sitting at the mouth of the garage was a 1969 Benelli 24-valve, 350 four, perched upright on its race stand. A crew member told us simply, “it does really well around thirteen-five,” though it could reach 16,000rpm. The tech specs were impressive, fer sure, but we didn’t need to inspect any further than its cool cowling to be enamored with this bike (there’s something charming about those big white ellipses behind a simple black number).

Dave walked in and out of the garage talking to the crew, making adjustments, and tipping his hand up to say hello to the smiling onlookers, who were free to stroll right up to him.

We’ve never quite understood the obsessive zeal that some sports fans have for stick-and-ball celebrities, but knowing that this guy is the only American to win an Isle of Man TT in its 104-year history (who, during one race, caromed off the banks of the island course so hard it dislocated his hip), well, we admit wanting to inch a little closer to the garage and say fan-like things such as, “I mean, that’s Dave (pause) Roper…standing right (pause) there.”

Below: Dave also raced this early-80s Team Obsolete Harley XR909 during AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days at Mid-Ohio. This had a li’l more horsepressure. Its pipes beat the air unmercifully.

A note to parents: If you ever have an opportunity to attend an event where a guy like Dave Roper is racing or spectating, walk your kids over to him and show them what one variation of a true motorcycle legend looks like. They should know these things.

Thanks Corey for the kind words and good photos. Now, here my report:

The Benelli is a George Beale replica of a '68 or '69 works GP machine. The front brake was extremely grabby. After Fri. practice we took it apart and chamfered the leading edges of the brake shoes which made it a bit better for Sat., but still very hard to modulate. I also had some trouble shifting (it's a seven speed gearbox) as the shift lever was too short. But, I was able to win the GP350 race on it and make some glorious sound. It started to rain in the middle of the race and the track gets incredibly slippery in the wet. It started sprinkling in the southwest side of the track but remain dry elsewhere. The rain started to get heavier and move northeast and Doug McCrea fell in the 'Keyhole" on the last lap and they redflagged the race. Rob Iannucci decided to quit while ahead and parked the Benelli after Sat. race so I dragged out my 350 H-D Sprint and was 2nd in the GP500 to Todd Narduzzi on his 450 Honda based racer and won the GP350 race again.

I also ran a recreation of the XR909 Harley that Team Obsolete campaigned in the early '80. This is based on an XR 750, but with the flywheels from an iron XR, which had a longer stroke, and the pistons from an experimental OHC XR, that had a bigger bore. The bike had a mysterious electrical problem and it took us a long time to get it to run on two cylinders. When we finally did, the clutch slipped like crazy and the front brake had a terrible judder like the rotors were warped. Saturdays race for the XR was postponed to Sunday because of rain. I took the bike out Sun. morning in practice and it was running well and the clutch slip was much less, but the brake just as bad. As I started the third lap, the bike slid out from under me in turn #1. It was covered in oil. Luckily, I didn't get hurt at all, but the bike was beyond repair at the track.

The entries at Mid-Ohio VMD seems to be picking back up and, though a long way from the gloy days of three or four years ago, grids were decent. And, some people may have been scared away by the heat and rain. WERA ran the roadracing program and did a great job and made intelligent choice to get the whole program in despite the weather.

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