Saturday, June 23, 2012

June 7th I set off for back to back race meetings at Road America, in Elkhart Lake, Wi. and Grattan, Mi. the next weekend.  I drove by way of Waterdown, Ont., Canada and spent the night with my friend and great vintage racer Dean de St. Croix.  The next morning, Ken Rosevear drove down from Utopia and delivered my Dondolino motor, which he had just finished rebuilding.  For those of you who weren't paying attention, a year ago I had 'magneto failure' on this bike at Grattan when the broken connecting rod knocked the magneto off the crankcase.  After much welding and machining, a new repro crankshaft assy, a new flywheel, a new cyl. liner, and new piston a new magneto, and many new bearings, Ken got the motor squared up.
Shortly before I arrived at Dean's, my van's anti-sway bar broke and the van was all over the place.  It scared me enough that I decided I had to fix it, which is against my nature.  Dean got on the internet in the morning and located one and we drove there and picked it up.  Ken had arrived by the time we got back and, after some breakfast, the three of us installed it in the van.  This set my schedule back some and I didn't get on the road until almost noon but, without Dean and Ken, it would have been much later.  I had no trouble at either border crossing and, after the usual slog through Chicago, got to Road America about 10:30p CDT.
My pit at Road America.  Photo by Terry McGuire
Sat. practice went well and I lined up on the pole for the 350gp on my H-D Sprint ERTT, but gridded behind the F-750 and 750 Sportsman classes.  My arch nemesis and good friend Bruce Yoximer was on his Seeley AJS 7R but hadn't completed a lap on the bike as the primary belt had broken first thing Fri. and he didn't have a spare.  He had some Fedexed in, but they didn't arrive until after practice had finished Sat.  Bruce got the holeshot follow by Paul Germain on the Yamaha DT-1 he had previously won the 250gp race on.  But, Bruce missed the 2nd to 3rd shift and I went by both of them into turn #1 and led for probably 3 laps.  By then, Bruce had got his break markers and apexes figured out and he came by me (after he went by Germain pulling off with a flat rear tire.)  He had motor on me, but I was able to out brake him and we swapped back and forth several times.  Somehow, I managed to drop over a sec. on the last lap and Bruce tried a little too hard in the last corner and ran wide loosing his drive on the rumble strip and I beat him by 0.259 secs.
Craig Breckon prepares to push me off.  Photo by Terry McGuire
I immediately went back out on the same bike for the 'bump up' race: 500 Premiere.  When the #1 board went sideways and I put it in gear, the bike jumped and stalled as the rest of the grid launched.  My clutch wouldn't disengage and I had to find neutral to push it off the grid.  I thought maybe a clutch plate had broken and jammed but, when I took it apart, the plates were all intact.  I took the inner hub off and fount the nut retaining the outer shell had backed off and was hard against the inner hub preventing one from turning in relation to the other.  That clearly was the problem.  But, when I tightened the nut up, the inner still wouldn't turn in relation to the outer.  I ended up taking the whole primary/timing case off and then found the primary gear didn't want to slide off the mainshaft.  Finally, with some prybars and brute force, I was able to pop the gear off.  Evidently, when the nut backed off, it forced the outer shell inboard and the needle bearing cage had welded itself to the thrust washer.  I dressed everything up as best I could and reassembled, hoping for the best.  With the nut tightened up, there's a little clearance in there and the clutch seemed to work fine in practice Sun. morn.

My friends Terry and Sharon brought their 11year old neighbor to the track Sun.  Here I am introducing her to Leah Orloff after she finished 3rd in the CB160 race.  Photo by Terry McGuire
In Sunday's 350gp, I managed to get by Bruce in turn #2 on the first lap, but he was up to speed sooner and back by me before the lap was over.  He would pretty consistently pass me on the front and back straights and I would pretty consistently pass him on the brakes into turn #5.  I began to think he was content to let me lead and he would just out drag me from the last corner to the finish line.  And that's almost what happened, but he passed me a couple of feet after the finish line.  I won by 0.067 secs.

Out braking Bruce Yoximer into turn #5.  Photo by Terry McGuire

Again, I immediately went back out on the same bike for the 500 Premiere race.  I had just about no hope against Wes Orloff on a 500 Honda twin and the plan was to just cruise around smoothly.  Going through the carrousel I thought to myself "the rear end is moving around a bit; this tire has a lot of miles on it."  Two turns later, accelerating out of the chicane, I spun it out and backed it into the dirt.  For the second day in a row, I went from hero to zero in a flash.  I just banged my foot a bit, and the bike wasn't too bad, but I just created a lot of work for myself in the week between Rd. Am. and Grattan.  The right clip-on was bent and torn, the shift lever was broken off, the megaphone was torn open at the rear mount, the windscreen was broken and fairing torn up, and there was dirt everywhere.

The ERTT after Sunday's crash in the 500 premiere race.  Photo by Terry McGuire
Dumping the dirt out of the ERTT after crashing it Sun.  Photo by Kenny Cummings.

I moved to the Irving Park neighborhood of Chicago with old dear friends Terry and Sharon from college days and got to work on the bikes.  I needed welding and a call to Big Bob Burns got me set up with Fred Cousins, at 'the Bunker' that evening.  In the mean time, I pulled the cyl. head and cleaned the dirt out of the combustion chamber and lapped the valves.  Fred's day job is working at a vintage car restoration shop, Cooper Technica (Preserving the Art of Fine Mechanisms), but does bike work on the side at his Triple O Service.  We heated up and straightened the clip-on and megaphone, then he MIG welded them and the shift lever while I cleaned the carb in his solvent tank and, after much fiddling, finally got the slide to close all the way.  Fred did a great job and really saved the day.  The next day, I finished up the H-D and started to install the newly rebuilt Dondolino motor in it's chassis.  This involved pivoting the front end of the chassis up so we could slip the motor into it's cradle.  Many thanks to Terry for pulling away from tending their beloved garden to help hump the motor in.

Installing the motor in the Dondolino

Wed. Terry and Sharon were off for three weeks in Spain and France, so I moved to some other friends in Chicago, Tigerlady and Dick Watts.  Dick rearranged things in his wood shop where he makes custom guitars, so I could continue on the Dondolino.  That evening we went to Cooper Technica and Fred gave us the tour.  He was working on the most modern car there, a '62 Ferrari 250GT.  There were two '42 Alfas and a Mercedes from the twenties with English body work.  But, the car that impressed me the most was a '34 Tatra T77, a streamlined Czech car with an aircooled flat eight in the rear.  From Cooper Technica, we went to the ChiVinMoto 'garage crawl' which, that week, was at Burt  Richmond's townhouse.  Burt runs Lotus Tours with his wife Dianne, and has a big collection of little scooters, motorcycles, and cars.  Burt had several new additions since I was last there in 2008 including a Dunkley, a 61cc four stroke British scooter and a Polish scooter I had never heard off.  A bunch of the people I had seen at Rd. Am. and would see at Grattan were there including Big Bob Burns, Rebecca Berneck, Pat Fitzgerald, and Dan Waite.
Thurs. I finished up the Dondolino and Fri. morning headed to Grattan via Richland, Mi., where Buck and Constance Boudeman live.  Buck is the owner of the 1894 Slyvester Roper steam cycle.  Slyvester is my 2nd Cousin, 4 times removed, and he invented the motorcycle in 1869, a 'boneshaker' now in the Smithsonian Institute (  Sylvester made many steam vehicles during his life, the last being a Columbia 'modern safety bicycle' into which he put and boiler and steam engine.  According to the Boston Globe, he went 40 MPH on this on Dorchester Ave. in 1896.  Later he challenge a bicycle racer to a race on a cycle track in Cambridge and, after blowing off the 'push bike', opened it up on the back straight, went into a wobble, and died of a heart attack at the age of 72.  When Buck got the Roper steam cycle, he powered it up with compressed air and everything worked.  But, he hasn't fired the boiler, knowing that Sylvester was very weight conscious and made it very light weight.  Now Buck has decided to get it running and has asked me to ride it 'at Goodwood or somewhere'.  Buck has been to Goodwood five times with his Stanley Steamers and Miller cars.  This probably won't happen for a year or two as he wants to finish his current massive project of restoring/reproducing a Miller V-16 four wheel drive car from 1933.  He has a few of the original parts and has acquired the original drawings and most of the original patterns.  From this, he has cast up the crankcase and other motor castings and is building a motor around an original crankshaft.  This man is not afraid of a project.  BTW, Buck's wife Constance is the granddaughter of F.E.Stanley, one of the two Stanley brothers of Stanley Steamer fame.  Buck and Constance met through steam.
At Grattan, I fired up the Dondolino for the first time in a year and it seemed good; smooth and no smoke.  In the race, I was running a distant 3rd behind Alex Mclean of Bob McKeever's rigid cammy Norton and Ryan Ambrose on Big D's rigid, pre-unit Triumph twin, when the Dondo lost power on the third lap and I shut it down.  Alex went on to win when Ryan dropped the Tri. in Turn #3 on the last lap.  I didn't find anything obviously wrong with the Dondo and fired it up again, so I decided to try it in Sun. morning practice and decide if I was going to race it.
In the 350gp, once again Bruce Yoximer got the holeshot, but I soon outbraked him and led overall after we had gotten by some Vintage Superbike Lightweights.  Starting the last lap Bruce came by me on the straight and I followed him until the turn #10 hairpin when I did a somewhat rude stuff pass.  We crossed the finish line side by side not knowing who won.  The transponders said I won, by 0.001 of a second.  In three races, I had beat Bruce three time by a total of less than 1/3rd of a second.  While I knew that last pass was a hard one, I didn't think there was any contact.  Bruce however wasn't happy and apparently my bike had hit his elbow and knocked his hand off the handlebar.  I apologized and resolved to do better.  I love these close races but don't want to win by bashing into people.  BTW, Bruce had the fastest lap in the race.
It rained hard Sat. night and was still drizzling for Sun. practice.  I went out on the Dondo and it was slow and wouldn't rev.  It felt like retarded timing.  Paul Germain, Francis Ganance, and Jon White helped me analyze the situation.  Using the outside flywheel as at timing disc, we roughly calculated that the points were opening at around 5 deg.s btc, not the 40 they should have been.  Apparently the mag gear had slipped on the armature.  Paul packed up and went home to Winnepeg, Manitoba, scared of a little rain.  Francis, Jon and I pulled the timing cover and move the magneto gear two teeth (40 deg.s).  In the class C race, I blew the start when I thought I was in gear but wasn't and got off last.  The track was wet, but drying and I was pretty tentative initially, but the bike ran great.  Again, I finished a distant 3rd and again Alex McLean held off Ryan Ambrose for the win.
For Sunday's 350gp race, they gridded the Vintage Superbike Lightweights ahead of us.  Again, Yox got the holeshot in the 350gp and again, I out braked him going into turn #1.  It took me a couple of laps to get by Craig Breckon on his FT 500 Honda and his cousin(?, nephew?) Chad Wiers on a GS400 Suzuki.  A couple of laps later, I got balked by a back marker and the two of them came back by me.  I was able to get them back and win overall, all the time expecting Yoximer to come by.  But, turns out he had retired with a sticking throttle.  Then, in the post race 'hot tech', I saw I had failed to switch my transponder from the Guzzi to the H-D.  This left me the option of paying $50 be manually scored or being disqualified.  I opted for the DQ, in part as a gesture to Yoximer for my rude pass of the previous day and in part because I'm a cheap SOB.  And, I still have a decent lead in the 350gp championship, if that means anything.
All in all, a great trip with close racing, a largely successful relaunch of the Moto Guzzi Dondolino and quality time spent with good friends.  


  1. Great report, Dave! Glad to hear the Dondolino is running on all one cylinder again. Best, Corey

  2. Yes,so glad to see the Dondo back on track. Truth be told.....that bike... Gets My Motor Running!!!

  3. Engaging chronicle of the challenges & solutions! Cheers for return of the Dondolino! Terry McGuire's and Ken Cummings photographs enhance the narrative of the to-the-wire racing and great comaraderie! Thanks. H