Saturday, May 21, 2016

Thompson, Ct.

Last Sunday, Team Obsolete participated in a "Vintage " track day at Thompson Speedway in the extreme northeast of Connecticut.  The track has a long history starting in the 1940's, based around a 5/8th mile oval.  The 1.7 mile road course uses at least half of the oval. I had last raced at Thompson in 1978 and shortly after that there was a fatality when a stock car lost control and hit the gap in the oval where the road course pealed off.  After that, the road course (which was in rough shape with orange cones in the potholes down the back straight) was abandoned.  A few years ago, the road course was revived, totally repaved, and lengthened and altered slightly.  There hasn't been any racing on the revived course, perhaps because of a lack of runoff, but several track days.  This one was in conjunction with a swap meet and bike show, sponsored by Indian.
The fans take photos of the Team Obsolete bikes.  Ken Richardson photo

Team Obsolete brought three bikes: an Arter Matchless, a works BSA 750 triple, and a works 350 Benelli four.  This Arter Matchless G-50 is know as 'Wagon Wheels' as it is perhaps the first bike to be raced with cast magnesium wheels.  It's the bike with which Peter Williams finished 2nd three times in the Senior TT at the Isle of Man, to Ago's MV in '70 & '71 and Jack Finlay's 500 Suzuki in '73.  In '73, Williams did a lap of 102.7 mph which, I believe, was the fastest lap by a single cylinder bike until 1989 when Robert Dunlop won the Ultra Lightweight TT on a RS 125 Honda and probably the fastest lap by a four stroke single until Bob Heath won the Senior Classic Manx GP in 1991 at a race average of 102.62mph.  In 1989, I did the fastest lap of the Senior Classic MGP at 102.52mph, but the course was much quicker then than in '73 with places like Quarry Bends straightened, widened, and smoothed.  Tires were better and I'm sure that I had more power  in the Team Obsolete G-50 than Peter had in his relatively standard motor.  I'm in awe of his '73 lap.  Team Obsolete has been invited back to the IOM for the fourth consecutive year to participate in the Jurby Festival and Lap of Honour and Wagon Wheels is the bike we'll be taking this year.
on the Arter Matchless 'Wagon Wheels" with T/O mechanic Josh Mackenzie.  Ken Richardson photo

The BSA A75R is the bike that Dick Mann road raced in 1971.  This Is a bike that I've raced many times over the years and over the years we modified it to keep it a competitive vintage racer.  But, it was last raced in 2002 (with a different motor) and it was decided to return it to as close as we could make it to the way it was when Dick raced it in '71.  This was completed recently and Thompson was a good opportunity to see if it was right.
The BSA A75R in the middle in front of it's owner Rob Iannucci.  

Likewise, the 350 Benelli four was rebuilt recently and needed to be tested.  This is a works Grand Prix racer from 1968 of the type raced by Renzo Pasolini and Kel Carruthers.  It's motor is DOHC, four valve, and seven speed. I had raced this bike several times, including the IOM where I crashed it on the first lap of the '93 Junior Classic Manx GP while leading and took a ride in the helicopter.  It was last run in 1997 at Schubenacadie, Nova Scotia, where we had an engine failure.
The DOHC, 16 valve, seven speed 350 Benelli with it's beautiful  dry clutch

I went out on the track first on Wagon Wheels.  It's a bit awkward as the clip-onscreen very close together and inboard of the fairing.  Williams idea was to get the bike as narrow and aerodynamic as possible.  But, once I got rolling it wasn't a problem.  I did have some trouble shifting initially as the shift lever is a bit too long for me, but I managed once I got used to it.  When Alan Cathcart did a racer test on it at Mallory Park, he described the front brake (a Lockheed caliper with a 10" iron rotor) as "so wooden, it gives trees a bad name".  But, at the pace I was going, it seemed fine.  And, that pace was slow as someone crashed on our first lap on track at what seemed like a very low speed.  I guess just cold tires as the track seemed fine as we gradually upped the pace and I scrubbed in the new tires.
I took the BSA out next and, like the Matchless, I had some initial trouble shifting as it's lever was too long, also.  After a few laps, we were gelling nicely as I was reacquainted with an old friend.  It's a big, heavy bike with a heavy crankshaft/primary drive and therefore lots of gyroscopic effect which require some muscle to overcome, but it steers very well and has great brakes.
Finally, I went out on the Benelli, another totally different animal.  It shifted the best of the three and, with it's seven speeds and a relatively light crank, that's a good thing.  It was smoking a bit with rings that hadn't seated and I was shutting off early on the straight in deference to drum brakes and tires from 1997 which we hadn't had time to change, but it still seemed fast and I was getting into top gear.
Almost all of the other bikes participating in the track day were much newer that ours, but it wasn't a problem as there were few bikes overall and it didn't seem to be a problem going out in either group.  With plenty of track time, everyone seemed to pack up before the official end.
However, there was a good turnout for the bike show and there were lots of spectators for it and the swap meet and it has the potential to turn into a real event.
Talking with my old buddy, Bill Burke.  Ken Richardson photo
Mike Gontesky tells Bill Himmelsbach how it is on a cool, windy day.

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