Monday, January 20, 2014
On Thurs., 16 Jan., Kenny Cummings, proprietor of NYC Norton, and Maurice Candy, I.O.M.T.T veteran and builder of the fastest Classic racing singles in North America, and I, met at JFK to fly to Sydney, Australia, via LAX, to compete in the Island Classic at Phillip Island. At LAX, we were joined by Don Lange, Kenny's old friend from making music in their youth in Seattle. Don's now making a film about classic racing, having gotten intrigued with Kenny's hobby/business.We arrived in Sydney at 7:20am Sat., the 18th after traveling about a day. Maurice's nephew met him at the airport and took him to his sister's who lives in a west Sydney suburb. Budget gave us an upgrade on our rental car, and we were styling in a Holden SSV. We drove to downtown looking for a Telstra outlet to get our phones working. We ran into Mark and son Harry who had just been to NYC and they kindly led us to a Telstra store. After getting phones, we drove to Deus Ex Mechina, builders of custom bikes and purveyors of lifestyle clothing. We chatted chatted with Mikey, had lunch at their excellent restaurant, then took some photos with Saxon, one of the mechanics. We took the bus to Circular Quay, checked out boats in the harbour and walked to the southwest pylon Of the Sydney Harbour Bridge where there is a museum and observation deck with a view of the city. After checking out the observation deck and museum, we walked back to the bus, but took the wrong one, so had to walk a bit out of our way to get to our car. We drove to the south west Sydney suburb of Minto Heights to Geoff Clatworthy's. Geoff is a fellow whose ES-2 Norton I raced in 1999 at Eastern Creek. He gave us a complete tour of his workshop and ES2 and his wife, Caroline made us a fabulous dinner.
Sun. morning, Don went with Caroline to check on the bees she keeps at a club a short distance away. Geoff's good friend Tony Henderson, a legendary race bike builder/tuner, came over to Geoff's house on his KTM Duke, and we had the honor of chatting with him for and hour or two before we set off for Eastern Creek and the Sydney Motorsports Park where a Fiat track day was happening. This is a circuit where I had raced in 1998 & 1999, '99 on Clatworty's killer ES-2 Norton. After watching the cars go around from a few different spots and chatting to a few people in the pits, we went to Blacktown and had some great kabobs. We then picked up Maurice at his sister's house not far away. Next stop was Katoomba, the site of Catalina Park, an abandoned race circuit used from about 1960 to 1970 and now a public park and area of special Aboriginal significance. We walked the 1.3 mile lap. It looked like a fun, narrow, dangerous circuit with lots of up and down and no run off. We then drove on to the Mt. Panorama circuit at Bathurst, a purpose built, but public road circuit, and each of the four of us drove a lap (4 miles) in the rental car. Again, a fabulous circuit and extremely dangerous with no run off, and bikes haven't raced then since around 2000. We checked into the Knickerbocker and had dinner there.
Mon. morning, 20 Jan., we went to the Mt. Panorma Motor Museum, the highlight of which was the two Tony Henderson "Railway Special" Matchless G-50s. Both were in modified Norton Featherbed chassis (correction; I'm told they were not Featherbed frames, but made from scratch). The earlier of the two has a dustbin fairing and full streamlining. The later bike has a four valve head that Tony created out of thin air. This bike reputedly made over 70 hp (on methanol, at the crank)and weighed 220lbs and would blow off H1R Kawasakis on the straights. Tony worked for the railway and these bikes were built largely on the Railway's dime with the Railways material. Tony's rider, RonToombs, held the lap record at the Mt. Panorama circuit for several years with this bike. Ironically,Toombs was killed at Mt. Panorama later on a Kawasaki.
Other features of the museum included a Greg Hansford display with his 500 & 750 aircooled, and 750 watercooled triple, and tandem twin 350 Kawasakis, and a TR2 (?)Yamaha. The NSR 500 Honda with which Wayne Gardiner won the World Championship is there. There are several typical Aussie specials like a 315cc Suzuki with it's cylinder reversed with the carb in the front and exhaust out the back. Or, the 250 TSS Bultaco that someone grafted a rotary valve to. There were at least a couple of BSA Bantam specials.
They weren't all road racers either. There was an incredible drag bike with a home made 90* 2 liter V-twin, and a bunch of speedway/grass track bikes. And, of course, a bunch of cars, but who cares about them.
We drove from Bathurst several hundred kilometers through Canberra to Cooma, which is the gateway to the Snowy Mountains. Leaving town Tues. morning, we spotted a memorial with a radial motor, and made the quick U-turn to check it out.
We drove on to Thredbo at the base of Mt. Kosciuszko, the highest point in Australia. There, Kenny, Don and I took the chair lift up the mountain. It didn't go all the way to the top, but it was a great view from there. From Thredbo, we drove hours through the Snowy Mountains on beautiful winding, near empty roads. With an area about the size of the U.S., but a population of only 22 million, there's lots of uninhabited territory in Australia. We had one near miss with a Wallaby that jumped out in front of us. Eventually, we came out near the coast at Bairsdale and pushed on to Sale where we spent the night.
Wed. morning we drove three hours along the coast road straight to the circuit at Phillip Island. There, a fork lift pulled our crates out of the container and we unloaded our bikes and got set up in garages reserved for us. Everything seemed in good condition with no collapsed fork springs, corrosion, or flattened tires that some had worried about.
Wade Boyd, a IOM TT and Phillip Island vetern, and his sidecar passenger, Christine Blunck behind the H-D Sprint.
Maurice Candy thinks about what the coming racing will require while Kenny Cummings checks his phone behind his Minnovation Seeley G-50.1975 492cc CB400F
We then drove the ten minutes into the town of Cowes and got the key to the house we had rented in the adjacent community of Silverleaves. After a good lunch in the Silverleaves Cafe, we got set up in our house. We got a call saying there was a opportunity of a track walk. Tom Marquardt drove the 'ute' (utility vehicle, i.e. pickup truck) he had borrowed to Cowes and got Don and me. There was some delay before we could get out on the track and we only got about a quarter way around the 2.76 mile track before they told us we had to get off, exiting at turn #4 (of 12). Back to the house, we did a little grocery shopping, then had dinner in a decent Italian restaurant.
Thursday, there was an optional practice day that all of the Americans and many of the locals signed up for. I was scheduled for the first group on my 350 H-D but it took us a while to locate and purchase race fuel, so I only got out for one lap, but at least it gave me an idea where the track went.
Next, I went out on Tom's 1975 492cc Honda CB400F. We had forgotten to back off the steering damper which Tom had tightened up for shipping purposes, and that made it awkward to ride, but I could tell it was geared too short. Tom took two teeth off the back which seemed too much when I went out again, and we ended up putting one tooth back on. Other than that, the bike was good, though Tom was a bit concerned with high oil temperature.
My 350, on the other hand, was geared too tall and I added a tooth to the rear sprocket. It too seemed good, and I did three sessions on each bike and started to get comfortable with the track. The track is very smooth and grippy and generally high speed, though it does have two hairpins ('Honda' & 'MG'). Turn #1 ('Doohan's')proved to be flat out on the Sprint, but on the close ratio six speed Honda, I would sit up and kick it down to 5th and get back on the gas hard without touching the brakes. I found the most challenging corner was 'Lukey Heights', turn#9. It's a climbing, blind, decreasing radius, and perhaps slightly off camber left turn that then dives into the right hand MG hairpin. I'm sure I still have room for improvement there.
Thurs. night it started to rain, so official practice Fri. started wet. The forecast was for clearing in the afternoon and fine for Sat. & Sun., so there was really no reason to practice in the rain, but I was curious, so I did one session on each bike in the wet. Again, the traction was excellent. In the afternoon, we had the first of our two qualifying sessions. The Sprint ran in 350 Classic, which ran with Pre-war( of which there were only two or three), 125 All Eras (up to 1990) and the 250 Classic. I. Got in five laps and ended up 11th overall and 5th in class behind an incredibly quick CB77 Honda ridden by the young and talented Levi Day, two 350 Manx Nortons, and a 270cc Bultaco TSS replica.
On the Honda, I was riding in 500 Forgotten Era (up to'82) which was out with the 500 Post Classic(up to 1972). On the first lap, entering the very fast last turn, I looked down at the tach, and when I looked up, I was on the grass with the gravel trap fast approaching. I thought this was going to be ugly, but kept some throttle on and the bike tracked straight through and I was able to re-enter the track further down the front straight. Despite this messing up my first and second laps, I was able to get in two more decent laps and ended up 4th, in class and overall, behind a couple of TZ Yamahas and a remarkable 500 Ducati Pwere very pleased with this provisional qualifying as we didn't really expect to be that competitive.
Sat. was cool and windy, but dry. In the 2nd and final qualifying session on the Sprint, I was 4th in class but 13th overall with a slower time than Fri. But, I remained 5th in class and 11th overall with the combined times. On the Honda, I went almost 1 3/4 sec.s faster(?) than Fri. and was third in class, but still 4th overall, with a very quick Post Classic Paton twin leading the session. This left me 4th in class and 5th overall on the grid for the races.
My first race (of four per class), was on the 350 Sat. afternoon. The first two or three cleared off and I was dicing with the next three or or four when the race was red flagged for a crash after two laps. I was surprised that they decided to do a complete restart, as it was only a four lap race. On the first lap of the restart, I must have got on the gas too early exiting MG and spun the Sprint out. It was a very gentle low side and I was completely unhurt. The bike wasn't bad either and I just had to get the shift lever welded and remove the broken windscreen.
Because of various delays in the morning, the 4 lap races were reduced to three, making the starts very important. In my first race on the Honda, after some initial swaping back and forth, we spread out a bit and I ended up 4th overall & 3rd in class behind the Paton, the Pantah, and the TZ 350F, with a Seeley G-50 less than a second and a half behind.
In the 2nd race on the Sprint I was in a gaggle with a bunch of RS125 Hondas, Rod Tingate on a 350 Manx Norton and Paul Paton on the Bultaco TSS replica. I could get by a few of them by holding it on longer in turn #1 and into #2 and out braking into #4 and #9, but would get out motored from #10 to #1. The Bultaco and I were particularly close and he ended up timing the draft to the finish line perfectly and beat me by 0.005 sec.s for 3rd in class and 9th overall. Great fun.
Because of the delays, they weren't able to complete 4 or 5 of Saturday's races, and they had to be run Sunday with reduced laps.
Saturday evening there was a big dinner at the track and John McGuiness, the second most winningest rider in the history of the IOM TT, was the featured guest. McGuiness has long been a hero of mine, but after his interview by Allan Cathcart, he's now a super hero in my mind. He was incredibly funny and managed to get in digs of the Aussies, the Kiwis, Guy Martin, Michael Dunlop, football, cricket, the World Supersport Paddock, and himself. He was reverential of Joey Dunlop. He was self deprecating without any false modesty. Surprizingly, he gave his employer, Honda, at best a back handed compliment. He seemed remarkably free of the weirdness/other worldliness of many of the racers at the very pinnicle of their sport. I left there thinking that he's the type of person I'd like to have as a friend and hang out with. Maybe that makes him less of a hero and more human.
So, I was out on the Honda first Sunday, and a similar pattern developed with me able to get by some in the fast #1/2 section and on the brakes, and them getting by me at #11 & 12 and on the straight.
I finished 6th overall, but still 3rd in class with two more of the Post Classic bikes getting by me. One of them was a very nice 16 or 17 year old lad, Tommy Bramich, who was competing on the classics for the first time and very much enjoying it. But, his lack of experience with drum brakes showed in the next two races when he 'out braked' himself at the hairpins and ran off the track. He'll soon figure it out and I predict a bright future for him. Another Post Classic bike that got by me was Bob Marriner on a '72 CB500 Honda
In my third race on the Sprint, I again diced with the Bultaco and some RS125 Hondas. This time I ended up 7th overall and 3rd in class with the Bultaco coming up 0.003 seconds short in his effort to draft by me at the flag, this despite me having a bit of misfire. I cleaned the points and drained the float bowl, but didn't fine anything obvious.
In my third race on the Honda, I ended up 4th overall and 3rd in class, finishing 0.041 seconds ahead of the Marriner CB500 that had beat me in the previous race.
My Sprint was very hard to start for it's last race and didn't seem completely happy on the warm up lap. When the lights went out fo r the start, the revs wouldn't pick up and the whole grid passed me and finally the motored died. I pushed the bike to the side and watched the race from behind the wall. I finally remembered that I had never charged the battery Sat. night. A voltmeter showed about three volts ( rather than the 7 or so of my fully charged 6 V battery). A bit disappointing as I was looking forward to another dice with my new friend and arch nemisis on the Bultaco. But, a dead battery is a lot better than crash or conrod through the case.
That just left the last race on the Honda, another four lapper. The rear tire was by this time pretty shagged, but I though it better to be careful and smooth than introduce the unknown of a different brand of time with no opportunity to test it. I finished 5th overall, but third in class again with David Woosley pulling along side on the run to the flag, then dropping back slighty as he was pushing his own air and finishing 0.018 seconds behind and a TZ 350 in my class just over half a second behind him. So, I was again 3rd in class, which made me third in the class standings for the weekend, a result far better than Tom or I were expecting. Tom has turned a fairly modest street bike into a fine race bike.
Kenny and I got our bikes crated up Sun., after the races, so we could get an early start Mon. morn for the eleven hour drive to Sydney. This took us through the center of Melbourne which looked like a dynamic city with art and dramatic buildings and cranes everywhere with new buildings going up left and right. We did carve out 20/30 minutes to stop at Winton Raceway, where I had raced in 1985, and watched some cars go around. Again, we stayed with Geoff and Caroline Clatworthy in Minto Heights. Geoff had had a disappointing weekend with the Nikasil plating pealing off his cyl. barrel, prevent them from racing.
We has an absolutely fabulous time with great scenery, weather, racetrack, competition, and companionship, and I hope we'll be able to do it again next year. Now, it's back to reality and the long, dark, cold, cruel, lonely winter. It just not fair.
Friends of Tom brought a Honda CBX 6 cylinder.