Monday, May 18, 2015

Summit Point

Less than a week after getting back from California, it was off the Summit Point, W. Va., for a WERA Vintage event, this time to race my own bike for a change.  After I got back from Phillip Island, Australia last year, I vowed not to race my ERTT Harley Sprint until it got the complete rebuild.  The motor had more than 5500 miles on the big end bearing and almost 3500 miles on the piston.  I figured I was running on borrowed time.  I asked my old friend Bill Himmelsbach if he would undertake the rebuild and he agreed.  Bill and I raced together in AAMRR in the '70s and he had raced a CRTT Sprint himself.  He didn't promise any quick turnaround, but it ended up taking longer than either of us suspected.  This was in part because the amount of deferred maintenance involved and the fact that Bill and his wife have elderly parents who required a lot of their time.  But, the motor was finally done with a reground crankpin, oversized rollers and the conrod race honed to suit; a new cyl. liner and piston and rings; new valve guides and seats; and new valves; and a re-shimmed gearbox.  I drove to Bill's house in Quakertown, Pa. and installed the motor in my chassis.  We bumped the bike off there and it sounded good.  I installed the fairing that Steve d'Angelo had recently repaired and painted.  The bike looked better than it had in a while.
A fresh motor,  fresh paint job on the fairing and a new windscreen. 

Saturday morning I took it out for the 1st practice slowly breaking in the fresh motor.  It seemed to be running well and I worked the motor up to 7000 rpm and some load.  On the 5th lap, it mis-fired a  couple of times, cleared for a bit, then died.  When I got it back to the pits, I discovered that the intake valve clearance was 0.045", a huge amount.  Hmmm, that's odd.  Usually you'd expect the valve clearance to reduce as the fresh components settle in.  I re-adjusted the valve, but then it seemed like it had no compression and wouldn't start.  I checked the clearance again, and I had none.  OK, maybe I made a mistake and adjusted the valves on the the overlap rather than on compression.  So, I adjusted the valves again and now I had compression and it started.  By this time I had missed the 2nd practice, so I arranged to do a 'scrub' lap on the warmup lap of the 2nd race.  The motor ran fine below 4000 rpm but wasn't at all happy above that.  I checked the valve clearance and it had changed once again.  Frank Giannini thought it looked like the intake valve collets were pulling through the retainer.  I was less convinced as they normally sit very deep in the retainer and this wouldn't explain the changing valve clearance.  But, if they did pull through, it would be disastrous, so I took off the cylinder head and removed the collets and retainer.  I had to struggle to get the valve out of the guide, but when I did, it became apparent what the problem was.  The valve stem was 'picking up' on the guide and you could see valve guide material on the valve stem.  Either there wasn't enough clearance between the guide and stem, or the guide was the wrong material, or it wasn't getting lubricated properly.  In any case, this wasn't going to be fixed before my races were up.
I had noticed that Joe Traino's CB 350 Honda with an XL 350 motor in it was pitted next door with a for sale sign on it.
Joe Traino's CB 350 Honda powered by a '74 XL350 motor
Bill Johnson had brought it for Joe who had moved on physically and moved on with his life and now wanted to sell the bike.  Bill was curious and had taken it out in practice but was racing his own CB 350.  I had raced the Traino bike at Summit Point 2 years before, with some success.  So, I explained to Bill that my bike was dead and that I didn't suppose that I could race the Traino bike, as we'd have to check with him.  But, Bill assured me that Joe would be honored if I'd race his bike.  I didn't challenge this assumption.
The bike was built by Stan Lipert many years ago and is for sale for $3500
By now, it's just before the start of the 500GP race,  so we quickly change the numbers from 222 to 7 and I put my transponder on the bike.  There was just one minor wrinkle:  the bike wasn't legal for the class.  There was no time to change classes and I decided that it was better to ask forgiveness than permission.  The warm up lap would be my practice on the bike.  The digital tach either didn't work or I couldn't read it anyway, so I was just shifting by ear.  The one V-2 entrant was gridded in front of us, Rich Lucas on his RD 350.  I got a good start and led down towards turn one, but was unsure of my brake point, so Rich, Bucky Sexton and Bill Johnson all went by on the brakes.  Rich checked out.  I got back by Bill fairly quickly and followed Bucky around and drafted him down the straight.  I braked later, but still not late enough and continued to follow Bucky.  But, the next lap I got him.  I finished 22.5 seconds behind Rich and about 8 in front of Bucky.  Bill almost caught Bucky, finishing just over 0.1 sec. behind.  After the race, I went to several of the contestants and told them that the bike wasn't legal for 500GP and if they had a problem with that, to please protest me.  No one did.  So, I figured that I might as well also cheat in 350GP, which was the 2nd race after the 500GP.  Here we were gridded behind two Formula 500 machines: Mark Morrow on a RD400 based racer and Rich on his RD350.  This time, Mark checked out and I kept Rich in sight.  Starting the 3rd lap, Rich Midgley came by. We swapped back a forth a bit before he started to pull away from me and close on Rich Lucas' RD 350.  On the 5th lap, when he was right on Lucas, Midge tucked the front end in turn #5 and went down.  I had to ride off the track to avoid him, but I was able to do that without going down and was able to close back up on Lucas, finishing 3 1/3 sec.s behind him.  Bucky was alone in 4th overall and Steve d'Angelo, on his beautiful 350 Ducati,  finished less than a quarter second ahead of Bill Johnson.
Two years ago, I turned high 1:33 minute laps winning the V-1 and V-2 races.  This time I turned a low 1:37.  Does that mean that I'm getting old?  Or that practice DOES help?  Or that a tach DOES help.  Or that the track was faster then?  Who knows?  In any case, my thanks to Bill and Joe for salvaging the weekend for me.
The Stan Lipert built XL/CB 350 is a fun bike and a good value at it's asking price of $3500.  If anyone has interest in it, they can get in touch with me and I'll pass on Bill's contact info.
It was a light turn out for both the vintage and modern classes, especially considering how beautiful the weather was.  I hope we can just chalk that up to it being Mother's Day Weekend and that it doesn't represent a trend.

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