Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Last year I raced at Portland and had a great time.  While I was there I heard a number of rave reports about a new track in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington west of Seattle.  This year, when I found that the local club, WMRRA, was holding their vintage weekend at The Ridge over my 65th birthday, I decided I had to go.
My friend Mike Bungay, who's 350 H-D Sprint I'd raced many times, was game for the trip as long as he could find someone else to haul the bike from his home in Sacramento to the Seattle area.  After some scrambling, we did find that person.  And, one of WMRRA club members said they'd try to find me a 175 Honda to race.
I flew to Seattle on Wed., and Don Lange picked me up and put me up.  Don is a film maker who I met through our mutual friend, Kenny Cummings.  Don had become intrigued by Kenny's hobby, vintage M/C roadracing, and started to make a film about it.  He had come to Sears Point and Road America with a couple of his colleagues and started filming.  Don was able to take Thurs. off and we visited several area motorcyclist and checked out their piles.
First was Tim Fowler, one of the founders of the CB 160 racing movement, a M/C missionary out to save old bikes, and a prolific artist.  His garage had in it a NSU Max, a Zundapp SuperSabre, a 250 DKW twin, an AJS 500 single, a Triumph 500 twin, a Norton 16H flathead, and a relatively modern Suzuki DRZ 400 dual sport bike.  But this was just the tip of the iceberg, as tucked away in various sheds and basements were a Bultaco Mecurio, more N S U's both 2 & 4 stroke, an Adler, scads of CB160 Hondas and many more bikes I'm forgetting.  Virtually all the bikes were runners and Tim tries to exercise them regularly with his friends, but he's finding it increasingly hard to keep up and is slowing thinning the herd.  In addition to the bikes, Tim has several old cars and trucks.
Tim Fowler's 500 AJS on left and 500 Triumph on right
Then there's the art, beginning with a mosaic wall rivaling Gaudi in Barcalona and reminiscent of the Watts Towers in L.A.  
the gate

The wall
There re many mosaic and wooden sculptures in the yard or mounted on walls or adorning roofs. 
A shed Tim build w/gargoyle.  Note the sculpture lurking in the bushes on right.
 Inside, Tim showed us woodcut prints, paintings, and beautiful wood carvings of Deco trucks from the 30's/40's.  tim is amazingly prolific and a delightful character and it was a real treat to visit what he calls 'The Museum of the Mundane', which is anything but mundane.
Tim Fowler's '49 Chevy 'El Camino' race transporter
Tim did the conversion after a truck hit the back end.

Next, we took the ferry over to Vashon Island to visit Dick Casey.  I know Dick through the Velocette Owners Club of N.A. and have run into him at the I.O.M.  He's also a former Moto Guzzi Airone owner.  When we got to Dicks place, a beautiful early '60's 250 Aermacchi was out front.  
Dick Casey's Aermacchi
This was a bike he had gotten from Tim Fowler as a total seized roach.  Back when the Dr. Ben Casey show was on T.V., Dick got dubbed 'Dr. Casey'.  So, on the side covers, Dick had attached laser cut 'il Dottore' emblems and had removed any reference to Harley Davidson.

  He had made a scoop for the front brake backing plate that looked like the original casting. 
A home made scoop on an original backing plate

 In his very well equipped shop, we saw his latest project, a Seeley AJS.  The motor was a 500 pushrod, but Dick had added to, and cut away finning to the the head and barrel, and was making a dummy chain case to make the motor look like a AJS 7 R/ Matchless G-50.  Dick prided himself with doing everything the hardest way possible, and rather then buy a brake cable splitter for the four shoe brake he was putting on the Seeley, he made a beautiful one out of thin air.  He had seen an elaborate oil tank cap latch on an early M.G. and decided the Seeley should have something like that, so again he fabricated one out of thin air and was working on a larger version for the gas cap.  With Dick was Jody Heintzman, editor of the Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiast news letter and he gave us back newsletters and Tee shirts.  Jody couldn't make it to the race at The Ridge as he was going to an AHRMA vintage motocross that weekend and Dick couldn't make it because he was off to the Velo club annual 5 day rally, this year in Volcano, Ca., on his beautiful Thruxton.
Then, it was back on the ferry to Seattle to meet Steve Arnett and his son and  girlfriend for dinner.  I've known Steve for years through AHRMA racing where he and our late friend, Bob Sinclair, would race their near identical 750 SS bevel Ducatis.  Afterdinner, we went over to Steve's house and saw part of his collection: a 125 ohc Ducati that he'd done a couple of Giro ' d Italias on, a 250 Ducati single, a 900 SS bevel, a 750 Sport and a 900 SS belt drive.  He also had a '55 Porche 356 Spyder project nearing completion.  Steve would be racing his 750 SS at The Ridge on Sun.
Three very different collections, but all three passionate motorcyclist.
Friday morning, Don dropped me off at the airport where I met Mike Bungay.  He picked up a rental pickup, and we headed to Tacoma where the race bike had been delivered. 
Mike Bungay's killer 350 H-D Sprint

 From there, we checked into a motel in Lacey, then continued on to the track in Shelton.  We unloaded the bike and  Rod, the track owner, drove me around for three laps in his truck.  The track definitely lived up to it's reputation with lots of elevation change, blind corners, and a great mix of fast and slow turns.
Sat. morning, we were a little late getting out for the first practice and I only got in 3 laps, which is not nearly enough to learn this 16 turn track.  Luckily, we had made the right guess on the gearing (tall, as it's got a long straight), and the bike was working great.  I got out for the start of the second practice and it was starting to come together, but I could see there was more to be had.  Michael Bateman had brought his 175 Honda for me to ride, and they let me do a couple of laps on it during their lunch time track tour.
Michael Bateman's 175 Honda

 Everyone at the track and in WMRRA was extremely accommodating.
The first race after lunch was the Sounds of the Past 160/250 race.  Mick Hart and Daric Cheshire took off and gapped us and I got into a dice with Tim O'Mahony.  We went back and forth a few times, then Mica  Grohn came past.  She then got into the Corkscrew too hot and ran out of track and crashed unharmed.  Though I out braked him at the the top of the Corkscrew, Tim came around me In the last corner and out dragged me to the finish line.  Daric's selector spring broke after he had got around Mick on the last lap, and Mick passed him back, so it was Mick, Daric,Tim, then me.
With a race in between, I then went out on the H-D Sprint for the SOPT vintage 500/750/Lwt. classic SBK race.  Again, Mick Hart jumped into the lead, this time on his 750 Triumph. 
Mick Hart's 750 Triumph
 I eventually got past Duncan Craic in his 750 Seeley Westlake and John Nilsson on his 750 Honda four.  Just before the white flag, Gary Ryder came by on his 850 Norton Commando.  Gary pulled away and closed on Mick, but didn't catch him, despite turning the fastest lap of the race.  It seems that Gary was getting used to a new close ratio four speed gearbox and was slow off the line then had to learn to cope with some front end chatter before getting really rolling. 
Gary Ryder's 850 Commando (I'm a terrible photographer)
 So I was 1st 500 and 3rd overall.
Next came the 160 (175) LeMans race. I was gridded 8th of 9 and I hobbled across the track and jumped on the bike and waddled.  Although the bike had started very easily several times before in the pits, it didn't this time and I was last away.  I caught up to Tim O'Mahony and we started at it again.  We got the white flag and I chased Tim on the last lap when we got the white flag again which Tim and I both mistook for the checker, and we but pitted on what we thought was the cool off  lap, but was actually the last lap.  Oh well.
Next for me was the SOTP 500/750/ Lwt. classic SBK on the 350 Sprint.  I made a big effort from the start as I thought Gary Ryder would be coming on his slow starting Commando.  What I didn't know was that his clutch cable broke just as he was going out, and he didn't start.  So, I didn't need to make that somewhat rude pass on John Nilsson on his 750 Honda in the blind turn#3 and ended up 2nd to Mick Hart's 750 Triumph.  The day ended with the 2nd 160/250 race.  Tim O'Mahoney didn't start this one as he had an oil leak.  Again, Mick Hart and Daric Cheshire went at it in the lead and again Mica Grohn blew by me on the straight.  I got by her to get back into 3rd.  On the last lap, Mick ran out of track in the Corkscrew and crashed, so I inherited 2nd to Daric.  Mica crashed again, further down the Corkscrew behind me, but again wasn't really hurt.
There were an unusually large number of crashes during the day, which no one had a convincing explanation for and which caused lots of delays.  But, the track has no curfew, and they ran all the laps of all the races and we finished near 7p.
Sun., the 160/250s ran with the 500/750/ Lwt. Classic SBK, so I only planned to run the Sprint.  Mick Hart had left Sat. night, but others had showed up and beyond Gary Ryder, I didn't know who would be the competition.  I got a good start and was learning how deep I could send in in turn #1.  I went around Duncan Craic in # 2 and underneath Paul Brodie on his amazing Excelsior in#3. 
Paul Brodie's homebuilt 1919 1000cc Excelsior in his own chassis.  The story on this bike can be found at:
It uses a Triumph gearbox

Bevel drive to the single overhead cams with exposed coil valve springs.
 I went around John Nilsson on his 750 Honda on the outside of turn #6 carousel for the overall lead.  John came back by me down the straight but I was able to go underneath him in #4, and led the rest of the race.  Gary Ryder inherited 2nd when John crashed in, you guess it, the Corkscrew on the last lap.
After the race, Mike discovered that one of the screws holding the stator plate to the crankcase had stripped out of the crankcase and the other screw was held on by half a thread.  The stator had been hitting the rotors and it was decided we couldn't run it in the second race.  
After the stator had got loose and was rubbing the rotor
So I went back to Michael Bateman's 175 Honda for the 250 Class.  I ended up having a great race with Daric Cheshire and Dana Clark on their 175 Hondas and Steve Arnett on his 750 SS Ducati.  Steve hadn't raced for a couple of years and was still learning his way around The Ridge.  He had motor on all of us, but we could make it back on corner speed and late braking.  Daric and Dana had motor on me too, but I could dive bomb them in a couple of places.  The four of us swapped back and forth a million times.  Steve's power prevailed, as the finish line is a fair distance from the last corner, with Dana, then Daric then me.  It was a ball.  Duncan, on his Seeley Westlke won the overall.
Rod, the track owner, asked me Sat., after I had run a couple of races, how many tracks I had raced at and how did The Ridge ranked.  I made a wild guess of forty racetracks I had ridden.  Before coming to The Ridge, I would have said the north circuit at V.I.R., Barber, Mid-Ohio, maybe Oulton Park were my favorites.  Now, I'm thinking The Ridge maybe my favorite race track in the universe.  Of course, one tends to think that the last track they were at is their favorite, so maybe we'll have to give it some time, but The Ridge is right up there.  Unfortunately, the original partners in the track had a falling out and the long term development plan isn't proceeding until lawsuits are settled.  So, the track lacks the infrastructure for big time events at this time.  It needs a pedestrian bridge to gain access to infield viewing and showers at a minimum.  Hopefully, the legal disputes will get settled and they can proceed with their master plan.  In the meantime, if you're willing to rough it a bit, it's a fabulous track.

1 comment:

  1. Have visited this blog several times as its an intriging & multilayered recounting via film, narration & photographs: art for arts sake, art of fabrication, art of racing, art of the engine, all come through. Thank you Don Lange, Mike Bungay,Tim Fowler, Dick Casey, and Dave Roper.