Saturday, May 17, 2014

Western Swing

24 April, Kenny Cummings and I flew out to LAX for the 19th annual Moto Corsica at Willow Springs followed by racing at Sonoma Raceway.  John Thorndike drove the NYC Norton Sprinter out there with his Atlas Bears bike, Kenny's Seeley 750 Norton and Helmi Niederer's Seeley G-50.  In addition to Mike Bungay's fabulous 350 H-D Sprint, Art Kowitz arranged a ride for me on
a Brammo Impulse electric bike.  Mike didn't arrive with the Sprint until late Friday, but a big crate arrived by FedEx around 10:30a Friday morning.

I opened it up and, in addition to the bike were an extra set of wheels with different tire on, an EZup, and a charger. 

 The way Art understood it, this was a demo bike that they set up for racing.  
Swiss Niederberger on left and Art Kowitz check out the Brammo Impulse

Their 'set up' didn't include wiring the gearbox drain plug (or anything else).  I didn't even know it had a gearbox, but it does: a 6 speed.  Art recommended starting in third gear as the first two are stump-pullers.  I drilled and wired the drain plug while charging it, set the tire pressures and took it to Tech for the afternoon practice sessions.  This was the first time I had ridden an electric bike of any kind, but I had talked to a few people who had, Kenny Cummings among them.  They made much of the silence and how that changed the experience both by allowing one to focus more on riding without the distraction of the noise and by how much noise they (the riders) made grunting, etc.  I didn't find it vastly different than an I.C. bike.  You twist the throttle and shift the gears to go and grab the brakes to stop, just like a 'normal' bike.  For me, the difference was that it was a modern bike with big, fact wheels and tires, and huge disc brakes.  The first lap, the bike felt 'squishy' until the tires got warm, then they felt fine.  I had trouble getting used to the brakes and initially was braking way too early.  Willow is not a place that one uses the brakes a lot, anyway.
It rained over night and Sat. dawned very cold and extremely windy.  The wind always blows at Willow, but often it's relatively calm in the morning with a NW wind developing in the afternoon.  The plan had been for Mike to have a second 350 Sprint there for Walt Fulton III to ride, but he ran out of time and it didn't quite get finished.  So Walt and I were sharing the bike, me riding it in 350GP and Walt in the 'bump-up' class, 500 Premiere.  
Mike Bungay's killer 350 H-D Sprint

Walt was a top roadracer of  the late '60s and early '70s who had raced factory Suzukis, Kawasakis and Harley Davidsons.  I met him a few years back when he rode my ex-Cal Rayborn Sprint at Daytona in the "Great Men, Great Machines" parade they used to hold.  Mike met him through Jim Beland, a legendary Harley tuner/builder, who built the latest frame on Mike's Sprint and who has Walt's works KRTT for restoration.  Mike and I agreed Walt would make a great addition to the team.
Jody Nicholas and Nancy Foote check out the Sprint

When Walt was getting ready to go out for his first practice, Mike couldn't get the bike to fire.  While they were trying to figure this out, I went out on the Brammo.  I exited pit out and gently tipped it into turn #1 and the back end came around and I was down in an instant.  I tried to pick up the bike but couldn't as it's 450 lbs.  Practice had to be red flagged as the bike was nearly in the middle of the turn.  I was fine and the bike not bad at all.  It had frame and axle sliders on it which took the brunt of the crash.    The forks were twisted a bit and I had to loosen up the lower yoke to get them to spring back.  The shift lever was bent up and pushed into a plastic cover, but there seemed to be no damage underneath.  I just bent the lever back in position.
After changing a bunch of electrical components, Mike got the Sprint running and Walt and I went out in the second round of practice.  The Brammo was fine as was the Sprint, except that it was under geared.  But, Mike had forgot to bring sprockets for the first time in his life, and we'd just have to live with it.  Mike assured me it wouldn't hurt it to rev the piss out of it, which turned out to be the case, but I think we were definitely giving up speed. 
Walt was up first in the 500 Premiere race, but as he finished his warm-up lap, he over shot the grid and stalled the motor.  He had no clutch release as the clutch pushrod had broken.  This may have been a blessing as we found the bike was covered in oil.  We figured out the oil cooler was leaking and we took it off and re-routed the oil lines.  We installed a new clutch pushrod and cleaned up the bike, and I was ready to go one race later for the 350GP.
Mike, his son Brennen, and I thrash to get the bike ready for my 350GP race.  Photo by Jack Weston

I got a good start and led out of turn #1.  On the 2nd lap, Jeff Elings on a TD-3 Yamaha, then Dave Crussell on a Kawasaki Bighorn came by from the F-250 class and slowly pulled away.  Just before I took the white flag starting the last lap, when I tried to shift into 5th gear, I found the shift linkage had come apart.  If you're going to be stuck in one gear at Willow, 4th gear is the one it should be.  But, it was definitely bogging in the turn #4 Omega and I saw 8600 rpm before I had to look where I was going in turn #8.  It held together and I had enough of a lead that I still won the class, 3rd overall.
Immediately following was the e-bike race, gridded behind Sound of Thunder and ahead of Formula Vintage and Sound of Singles 3, some heavy iron.  There were four bikes in the e-bike class: Art Kowitz, the founder and sponsor of the class, with his tricked out Brammo; Ed Milich on Art's stock Brammo street bike; Jeff Clark on a Zero; and me on the supposedly race prepped Brammo.
Art told me the first two gears were stump pullers and to start in 3rd.  This I did and got off not far behind Art.  But, exiting  turn #2, Art slowed and I went by.  He had a mysterious power drop and backed out of it and let everyone go by then got on it again and it seemed to run alright.  This gave me enough of a gap that I was able to win the class, though thankfully, we were lapped by three of the SOT bikes and Dave Crussell's F-Vintage KZ1000.  I started the warmup lap with the batteries reading 100%, started the race at 91% and finished the cool down lap at 16%.  My best lap was about 6.4 seconds slower than my best in the 350GP race on the Sprint.
Sunday started just about as cold and windy as Sat., but was sunnier.  I passed on the first round of practice, but Walt did both on the Sprint.  I took the Sprint out after Walt and on the lap I was planning to come in, it cut out momentarily before shutting off for turn one, but then ran alright.  I took another lap and it did almost the identical thing and I pulled in.  We eliminated the possibility that it was running out of fuel and after much searching, a wire off the stator was found to be pinched and making an intermittent disconnect.  That must have been the reason it wouldn't start Sat. morn, too.  That repaired, Walt went out for the 500 Premiere race and got a good start and actually lead the race for a while.  He and Kenny Cummings, riding Ron Halem 500 BSA Goldstar went back a forth a bit before Walt started sliding with oil about.
Walt Fulton III in the Omega before the oil leak got bad.  Photo by Jack Weston

 He pulled off on the fourth lap with the bike covered in oil again.  We found 4 of the 10 timing case screws missing and the other 6 loose.  Once again, Walt had found a problem in time for us to fix it so I could get out in the 350GP race.  Again, I led out of turn #1 for a little over a lap and once again first Jeff Elings then Dave Crussell came by on their F-250 bikes.   But, this time I latched onto Crussell's 350 Kawasaki Bighorn and dogged him.  I was getting a great draft off him and seeing big revs.  I thought I had a little for him in the Omega but he was really good in turn #9.  After taking the white flag, I dove under him in turn #1 and headed him to turn #7 when he came back by.  I tried to draft him out of the last turn, but came up 0.16 seconds short.  Great fun.
Again, immediately following, I rode the Brammo in the the e-bke race.  This time, my old sparring partner, Zack Courts, rode Art's 'street bike' that Ed Milich rode Sat.  Art evidently figured out the problem his bike had Sat. and he was gone with Zack in pursuit with me loosing ground.  Not long after the half way flag, the end of my shifter broke off, apparently from damage from the Sat. morning crash.  I was able to reach down and shift it into 6th by hand, then just left it there.  Even though I went faster than on Sat., I was a distant 3rd, though scored 2nd because it seemed Zack's transponder didn't register one lap, which magically was twice a long as his others, and he was only credited with 7, not 8. But, trust me, he was well in front of me.  And, even though I went faster on the Brammo Sun. than Sat., my fastest lap was more the 8 1/4 seconds faster on the Sprint.  And, my fastest lap on the 350 Sprint was half a second faster than anyone went in the 500 Premiere race.
As usual, Yoshi put on a great concours and here's a sampling of some of the bikes in it:

From Willow, I drove with Mike to his house in Sacramento.  Mon. we took the bike to Karl's and he checked over the motor and resealed everything.  We found a problem with the rear brake which Mike and I sorted out Tues.  Wed. we drove to Sonoma Raceway (still Sears Point to me), warmed up the bike to adjust the valves, and secured garage space.  
Mike checking the valve clearance hot.

As last year, I entered the Sprint in 350GP and 500 Premiere.  Walt Fulton entered it in Sound of Singles 2.  This class allows 450 watercooled and 610 aircooled singles of any year..  And, like last year, Gary Roper brought the '51 Velocette MAC 350 that I entered in Class 'C' footshift.  And, like last year, I did the double trifecta, winning all six races I entered.
The Gary Roper '51 Velocette MAC
Class 'C' was gridded behind the 250GP class and the game was to see how many of them I could pass.  My arch nemesis turned out to be Lorraine Crussell.  From the start I chased her and was able to out brake her going into double apex turn #7.  But, in the turn #9a chicane, two riders collided and went down in front of me and I checked up. Lorraine came flying by only to see the red flag a couple of corners later.  The mess was quickly cleaned up and on the restart, Lorraine just steadily pulled away and I finished 8th overall out of the 20 finishers.
An elemental but bad-ass bike

In the 350GP, I was never headed and finished more than half a minute in front of 2nd, my best lap almost 5 seconds quicker.  The 500 Premiere was run with 500GP, Formula Vintage, Vintage Superbike Middleweight and Production Heavyweight.  I was only passed by Dave Crussell on a TZ 750 Yamaha and he was the only one to turn a faster lap.
Walt's SOS 2 race was gridded with F-750/750 Sportsman and Motard.  He finished 2nd in class against seriously bigger and newer singles, and 6th overall.
Friday went pretty much like Thursday.  In the 250GP/Class 'C' race, I didn't have Lorraine to chase as apparently she got run off the track on the first lap.  But, I did have another fast lady on a 200 Honda arch nemisis, Mica Grohn.  I met Mica last summer at The Ridge in Shelton, Wa., and she impressed me then.  I did finish ahead of her, in 8th overall again, but her last lap was less than one tenth of second slower than mine.
My Class 'C' competition: Fred Mork's '38? Norton
More Class 'C' competition: Beno Rodi's early BSA Goldstar with 350GP competition in the backround: Mork's short stroke 350 Sprint ridden by Jim Neuenburg

Again, I won the 350GP by more than half a minute and did so like wise in the 500 Premiere as Crussell didn't start on his TZ750, for some reason.  Despite this (or because?), I turned my fastest lap of the two days and beat my time from last year.  This was probably because Mike and Karl got the front brake working better for Fri.
L to R:Karl Engellener, Walt Fulton, and Mike Bungay ponder how to make the Sprint even faster
Dave Crussel's  350 Bighorn that I chased at Willow
More of Crussell's stable: a KZ1000 and a TZ750 Yamaha, the only bike to pass me on Bungay's Sprint in the two days.
The KTM factory team there for the AHRMA races as practice for the 'Superbike Shootout' on the weekend

Walt was 3rd SoS 2 on Fri., but 4th overall.  Ari Henning put in an amazing ride on a CBR 250R Honda to finish 2nd SoS 2 and 2nd overall.  He tells me the bike has stock forks with emulators, stock wheels and brakes (with uprated pads), an aftermarket rear shock, stock cam that's retimed, stock piston and a milled head.  While giving away a lot to the winning 450 Kawasaki on the straights, Ari was demon on the brakes and cornering and several times got in the lead.  I took great interest in this not only because Ari is a friend, but because I ride a CBR 250R on the street.  It a very fun bike, but definitely built to a price and marketed as a 'entry level' bike, and it was jaw dropping to see how fast Ari went on his.  The lad can ride.
It was another great meeting at Sonoma and Mike's Sprint is still the ultimate weapon there, in my mind.
Tim Fowler, the founder of CB160 vintage racing, delivered an NSU Max to it new owner

Sat. I hung out at the BSA International Rally in Petaluma and saw some old friends and a lot of nice bikes.
Probably the most interesting BSA there was this V-twin made with two Goldstar topends.
All the way from Melbourne, Australia 
The crankcases were home built.  This is one of three V-twins Doug Fraser has built.  Google it!

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