Sunday, August 12, 2012

Last weekend I flew out to Portland to race at Portland Intl. Raceway in OMRRA's Vintage weekend.  I did this in conjunction with the Graeter Art Gallery's current show:
We took one bike out of the show to race: Gary Roper's 1951 Velocette MAC.  This is a bike I've raced twice at Miller M/S Park and once at Willow Springs.
preping the MAC at Poor Bastard Cycle Works, Gary Roper photo
Gary Roper testing the MAC at 'the Heap', John or Debbie Roper photo

 Mike Bungay also shipped his 350 Aermacchi up from Sacramento.  The plan was to race the Velo in the 250 Vintage class, even though it's a 350, for no points or trophy, as it was felt that a bike that old, with a rigid frame and 21" front wheel, would be no faster than the more modern 250s.  OMRRA doesn't have a 350 Vintage class, so the Aermacchi went in 500 Vintage.

Mike Bungay's Aermacchi,  Gary Roper photo

Things started going wrong right away.  The Velo made a bad noise in less than 1/10 of a lap and inspection showed a huge exhaust valve lash, a smashed sparkplug, and the engine didn't want to turn over.  Gary had had some head work done since we last raced it and we figure that the valve seized in the guide, or the valve seat fell out, or it jumped cam timing somehow.  I'll report when I get the autopsy results from Gary, but it was done for that weekend.
Mike's Aermacchi had a brand new, one off custom frame built by Jim Belland, a legendary NorCal H-D guy, a new to the bike Kawasaki A1R brake (200mm, 4LS), and a new exhaust that gave more HP everywhere on the dyno.  The bike felt good immediately, except it was geared too short.  We geared it up and it was still too short for the 2nd practice.  While we were putting a smaller yet rear sprocket on, we were told that the bike was too loud and we'd have to baffle it.  PIR is in a city park within city limits and I had told Mike about the sound limits, but he didn't take it seriously/ran out of time.  So, we pulled the baffle out of the now dead Velo and adapted it to the Aermacchi.  We finished this work just after the first 500V race had started.  Oh well, there was a 2nd 500V race after lunch.
During lunch, I gave an informal talk which consisted of a short synopsis of my 'career' and Q & A.  It was well attended and there were many good questions, largely on the IOM.
In the 2nd 500V race, I got off third behind Erik Nielsen and Jon Munns, both on CB350 Hondas.  I got by Munns and was leaning heavily on Nielsen despite the baffle killing the top end.  Then, starting the 3rd lap, the 'Macchi suddenly lost power and I clutched it and pulled off.  Back in the pits, the sparkplug looked fine, the motor turned over fine and it had good compression.  So, we put the plug back in and it fired up and sounded fine.  The best theory I could come up with was that the extreme heat (it was over 100 degrees, hot anywhere, but unheard of in Portland) was exacerbated by the backpressure caused by the baffle, and cause the piston to tighten, but I clutched in time to avoid any damage.  So, we jetted up a couple of steps to cool it with gas and took the baffle out.  Several people, including OMRRA's liaison with the city's sound meter guy, told us that deflecting the exhaust away from the meter, which was on a bridge towards the outside of the track, would get us by.  We went to the local auto parts store and bought a chrome 'turn out' for an exhaust pipe and fit that pointing down and out on the right side exhaust.

Mike and I modify adaptor for exhaust 'turn out', Gary Roper photo
We went downtown and got some dinner, then went to the Graeter Art Gallery where I was again to talk.  There are some beautiful bikes there, probably the most impressive being John Stein's triple engined TR2 Yamaha drag bike.  But, there was also a beautiful '47 Norton Garden Gate Manx, a couple of Ducati singles, one with a one off frame, a Triumph TT Special, and American Eagle 250 and a Honda four done up as a Mike Hailwood tribute.  Complimenting the bikes was great M/C related art and memorabilia.  After a leisurely smooze, Jon Graeter introduced me and again I gave a short talk then did the Q & A.  It was a somewhat different crowd and I had different questions, and again seemed to be well received.
Sun. I changed my 250V entry (for the now dead Velo) to Ultralightweight Superbike.  This class allows a variety of engine configurations including up to 500cc 4 stroke, aircooled, two valve but, at this meeting, consisted entirely of 250 Kawasaki Ninjas.  My lap times had been similar, so it seemed like a good fit.
In practice, the Aermacchi motor cut out just before finishing the 1st lap.  Mike was convinced it was the battery, even though it read over 12V.  We were able to borrow an identical battery from another racer an installed this while we charged the first battery.  In the second practice, the motor cut out at the end of the back straight on the first lap.  I clutched it and coasted and, just before pit in, dropped the clutch and it started up.  I accelerated up the front straight, but it died about start/finish.  I pulled it in pit out and we were able to put the original battery back in and the bike started right up and I went out again in the same session.  Again, the motor died before I finished the next lap.
We checked over the wiring, but found nothing wrong.  So, for the 1st 500V race, Mike wired both batteries on the bike in parallel.  I completed the warm-up lap fine, but again, as I finished the 1st lap, the motor died and I pulled off.  Mike then went and bought the $160 lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery and installed that.
I went to the grid of the Ultralightweight SB race after the warm-up lap very skeptical.   I got the holeshot and led the 1st lap.  But soon, Chris Page on his 250 Ninja, was sticking a wheel in on me in turn #2.  I had motor on the Ninjas but they probably had brakes and maybe corner speed on me.  Then, on the 3rd lap (of this 12 lap race), the motor cut out just before I  shut off for turn#1 at the end of the long straight.  But, it came back when I rolled on at the exit of the turn and ran fine and I still led.  Next lap, the motor cut out slightly earlier before turn #1 and a pattern was established.  Each lap it cut out a little earlier towards the end of the straight, then ran fine the rest of the lap.  This allowed Chris to get by me in turn #2 or 3 or 4, but I would always pass him back on the back straight and lead across the finish line.  On the last lap, it cut out earliest yet, maybe 2/3 way down the straight, and three of the Ninjas went by.  I was able to get one of them back and finished a very close 3rd.  It was somewhat frustrating but also great fun and an entertaining race to watch as everyone, spectators and racers alike, could hear the engine cutting out.

I'm leading on the 'Macchi with the jackels (#9 Chris Page, #141 Andrew Pignataro, and #726 Justin Pyle) nipping at my heels,  photo by Jane Erickson at
We charged the battery and I went out for the 2nd 500V race thinking I had a chance as the race was only 6 laps.  Unfortunately, neither Erik Nielsen or Jon Munns raced on Sun., so it turned out to be a cakewalk, though the motor did cut out a couple of times.

It turned out to be a very useful shake down of the bike before the AHRMA race at Miller M/S Park.  The new frame felt great; the front brake got better as the weekend went on, but could still stand looking at; and now we know we have an ignition problem.  It seems that some component is getting too hot and demanding too much amperage.

My thanks to Courtney Olive, Jon Graeter, Chris Page and all of OMRRA for making it happen.  And, of course Mike Bungay and Gary Roper for letting me ride their bikes that they put so much work into.

1 comment:

  1. Seems like you should have ridden a Suzuki.