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.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

AHRMA Sonoma raceway

From Willow Springs, I rode up to Sacramento with Karl and Monday got working on the bike.  Mike determined that the swing arm pivot failure that we experienced at Willow was from a D shaped retainer, which the spindle socketed into, had broken free, allowing the spindle to back out of the retaining bolt on the other side.
 Mike started to work on repairing the fairing.
I discovered a broken spoke in the rear wheel.  Mike had another wheel with a broken spoke and I harvested two spokes from a third wheel to repair the two.
harvesting spokes

Tuesday, we took the bike over to Karl's and he came up with a plan to fix it.  This involved Mike and me finding some 2" diameter steel bar stock.  This took us to a neat old welding supply store in Auburn in a building that dated back to 1865.  We dropped the bar stock off with Karl, then drove to Davis to pick up some supplies from Mike's storage facility.  Back at Mike's house, I started cobbling a bench to put the bike on, because at my age I don't want to work on my knees.  After dinner, we drove over to Karl's and put both bikes in his pickup and took them back to Mike's.  In the morning, we finished the bike (except for the final paint on the fairing), organized the tools and spares, loaded everything up and headed for Sonoma.  There we rented a garage and unloaded the pickup and waited for the track day to finish to move in.
Garage mates Don Lange arrived from Seattle and and his old musician buddy Kenny Cummings arrived from NYC via SFO.  Several years ago, Don had become intrigued with Kenny's hobby of racing vintage bikes and started coming to the races and filming.  After a year or so, Don bought a street bike, a Honda CBR300F.  After another year or so, Don bought a race bike, a CB 175 Honda.  The weekend before the AHRMA Sonoma race, Don took a race school and made his race debut at Pacific Raceway in Kent, Washington.  This allowed Don to race at Sonoma and he invited Kenny to share his bike, racing it in 250GP, while Don rode it in the CB160 class and 200GP.
Kenny Cummings on left and Don Lange or right with Don's CB175.  Don's made a brilliant start to his RR career.  photo by Stacie B. London

On the first lap of my first practice Thurs., the gas cap flew off when I braked for turn #9.  I came right into the pits and we were able to bodge a solution with tape and an aerosol spray can top and a zip tie and I was able to get one for one or two more laps.  A couple of laps into the 2nd practice, I saw my teammate Walt Fulton III on a sister bike had crashed at turn #2, but was up and looked OK.  A couple of laps later, I was given the black flag at start/finish, and I pulled off at the next corner worker in turn #2.  I couldn't see anything wrong with "my" bike, while Walt's was a bit rough, and we both came back on the crash truck.
Always could be worse, but bad enough to put it out of commission for the event 
I found the black flag was for exceeding the 103db noise level.  I was told that track policy was three strikes and you're out: exceed 103db three time and you could no longer put the bike on the race track.
Mike and Karl, with the help of Andrew Cowell, fabricated a crude deflector to try to direct the exhaust away from the noise meter.  It was decided that "Walt's" bike was too badly damaged to fix up and that he and I would share "my" bike.  Therefore, I changed my entry from 350GP to Sounds of Singles 3, the single cylinder class for the smallest bikes, so Walt could race in 350GP.  SOS3 was gridded last behind Sound of Thunder 2 and Vintage Superbike Heavyweight in the first wave, and Triumph Thruxton TransAtlantic Cup and Electric bike class.  The other bikes in SOS3 were Mick Hart on a RS125 Honda, Mark Hunter on a Morwaki 250, Kurt Hipp on a pretty standard RC390 KTM, and Austin McCabe on a tricked out RC390 with reprogrammed ECU, special twin exhaust, special yokes, etc.  Austin led from the start with me second, but Mick came by in turn #5 on the 1st lap.  Mick got by Austin at some point , but they were well ahead of me and I finished a mere 0.008 seconds ahead of Mark.  We had passed one of the SOT2 bikes, two of the Vintage Superbikes, three of the Thruxtons and all of the e-bikes.  Good fun, but when I came in, I was informed that I had again exceeded the noise limit.  Strike Two.  
So it was decided that I would sit out the 500 Premiere race that I was entered in to ensure that Walt would get to ride in the 350GP.  Walt's significant other, Nancy, rode her bike to an auto parts store in Novato and got some radiator hose with elbows and some hose clamps and Karl and Mike made a better deflector for the exhaust.  The 350GP was also a second wave start and Walt, focused on a new to him starter, screwed up and launched with the first wave.  He immediately realized what he had done and stopped and waited until the entire second wave had left to start himself.  He consistently closed on the 350GP leader, Jim Neuenberg on Fred Mork's short stroke H-D Sprint, and came up less than 3 seconds short, but with a fastest lap more than 2 seconds quicker than Jim.  When Walt came in after the cool off lap, the radiator hose deflector was missing having fallen off sometime during the race, but he never tripped the noise meter.
At Willow Springs, I felt that the Grimeca front brake didn't make that much difference, but one doesn't brake much at Willow.  At Sonoma there are many hard braking areas and the Grimeca was definitely better but both Walt and I felt that the weight of it made it much harder to heave the bike from side to side through the esses.
This big Grimeca 4LS front brake definitely stopped better than the previous A1R, but it's weight also made it harder to change direction.  There's no free lunch
Karl took the exhaust pipe home with him and made a more secure connection for another radiator hose elbow.
Mike drills while Karl directs to attach radiator hose deflector to exhaust
Friday, I figured we had the noise problem licked, but in practice I short shifted by the noise meter to be safe and didn't have any problem.  In Friday's SOS3 race Austin McCabe didn't start, nor did Ari Henning, who showed up with his well developed KTM RC390, but both of them raced SOS1 and SOS2.  This may have to do with their bikes being of at least questionable legality for SOS3.  The rules say:"Single-cylinder machines with production chassis (with street-legal VIN) must retain stock bore and stroke, stock frame, forks and wheels.  Eligible machines include KTM 390RC and Duke."  Austin had told me that he bought the race version of the RC390, which may well have not had a 'street-legal VIN'.  Ari started with a street-legal RC390, but I don't know if it had stock forks and wheels and, in any case, he never entered SOS3.
So, in Friday's race, I was running 2nd to Mick Hart when, starting the 7th lap, I got the 'meatball' flag.  I assumed it was for noise again and wondered if I should pull off.  But, a couple of corners later, Zack Courts lapped me on his SOT2 FZ-O7 Yamaha, so I knew I would get the checkered flag the next time around and something in the back of my mind told me that I had a couple of laps to respond to a Meatball flag (as opposed to a black flag).  So, I didn't pull off and took the checker, finishing 2nd in class to Mick Hart and 15th overall of the 27 finishers and ahead of one of the SOT2 bikes, two of the Vintage Superbikes, two of the Thruxtons, and all of the e-bikes.  But, when I came in off the cool off lap, I was told to report to tech.  Cal Lewis, the AHRMA referee, told me that I had indeed gone over the sound limit again.  I told him that in practice I had short shifted by the sound meter and had been alright.  He told me that until the track said that I couldn't go out again, he would interpret the 3 strikes rule as per day.
So in the 500 Premiere race, I led off the line from pole position, but Ari Henning and Jon Munns came by me between turns #2 & 3 on their 500 Sportsman 350 Hondas.  I had a big slide on the exit of turn #5 which cooled my jets a bit, and then I really short shifted by the noise meter and lost touch with the two of them, but stayed close enough that I was able to watch a really good battle between them.  My fastest lap was more than 1.6 seconds slower than in the SOS3 race, largely because of short shifting for the noise meter, and I finished 3rd overall and 1st in class.
Walt got the start right this time for the 350GP, though he follow Jim Neuenberg for a few laps as he had ridden at all Fri. up until then.  He passed Jim and won by just under a second.  Walt didn't short shift by the noise meter and never exceeded the limit.  Did we take different lines, sit on the bike differently, shift at different points?  Who knows, but I tripped the meter 4 times over the 2 days and Walt not once.  Life isn't fair.  My best lap time this year was 2:02.434; last year I did a 1:58.490, almost 4 seconds faster, and that was on a frame that turned out to be significantly bent from the crash the previous week at Willow Springs, and was subsequently straightened.  It's not entirely valid to compare times year to year as a lot of things change, but 4 secs.  The brake might have been a bit of that and maybe the tires were getting a bit old, but 4 secs?  It can't be because I'm getting old, can it?
Lenora Cox, editor of the Velocette Owners Club newsletter, rode this MAC to the track
Lenora let me ride it around the paddock and it's badass
Jeff Scott fettled the MAC and made this exh. clamp
An interesting character assembled this tableau outside our garage

Saturday, I did a 85 mile road ride with my good friend Parra and three other Roadoilers.
With my old friend Parra in what could be mistaken for his native Ireland.  Great photo by Robert Bleeker
 Last year,  I rode Parra's TR5T Triumph, but it played up with a leaking fuel line, so I road his Dick Mann Special TT500 Yamaha.
With the Dick Mann Specialties TT 500 Yamaha (despite what the tank says) Robert Bleeker photo
Dick made nearly 200 frame kits for the XT/TT500 between '76 and '81.  Parra had initially cow trailed the bike but later converted it to road use.  It has Betor forks with Marzocchi yokes, Kosman front wheel with a Lockheed caliper and a Yamaha MX rear wheel and fuel tank, and Works Performance rear shocks.  Gus rode his '58 BSA Goldstar,  Robert rode his '83 Honda VF 750 Interceptor, Parra rode his FT500 Honda Ascot, and Jim rode his 2011 XT250 Yamaha, which may have been the smallest bike, but it was also the newest and Jim is an old roadracer and he led and set a great pace.
L to R Parra, me, Jim and Gus.  Robert Bleeker photo
 Parra, Robert and I left Parra's house in Forest Knolls and met Jim and Gus in Pt. Reyes Station.  From there we headed north through Marshall, then headed inland through Fallon, Valley Ford, Two Rocks, Dillon Beach and stopped in Tomales.
I critique the DMS TT500 for Parra.  Robert Bleeker photo
Robert headed back to the East Bay and Gus, Parra and I left Jim there and headed back to Forest Knolls with Gus peeling off at the end.  It was a gorgeous day and Marin was quite green after some recent rain.  The roads were fabulous and what an eclectic collection of bikes.

Corsa Moto Classica

Busy day at Willow Springs today.  I took Mike Bungay's 350 H-D Sprint out in the first Group 3 practice and eased into it as it had a fresh liner and rings, though it had spent some time on the dyno. It also had the front brake changed from an A1R Kawasaki to a 230mm Grimeca.  The Grimeca is much heavier, but is much more powerful than the A1R ever was. Exiting turn#3 on the 4th lap, while still getting up to speed, I rolled on the throttle and promptly spun the bike out.  I was dumbfounded as I didn't think that I was anywhere the limit.  It was a nice gentle low side and I wasn't hurt at all, and the bike wasn't that bad: broken windscreen, hole in the fairing, bent rear brake pedal, and lots of dirt around, but none in the carb.
While Mike was finishing up kicking it straight, I took Gary Roper's beautiful Velocette MAC out.  Gary had had trouble with it when it wet sumped when he was testing it and it severely overheated.  He thinks there was an obstruction in the oil return line, but he also found a cyl. stud insert pulling out of the case and excessive end float in the crankshaft.  The piston and liner were scored a bit.  Gary worked insane hours to get this all fixed in time to make the drive from Medford, Or.  His plan was to take the AHRMA rider's school on Fri., get his license, and race the Velo himself over the weekend.  But, he ran out of time and didn't make it to Willow until Fri. afternoon, missing the school and his chance to race.
So, he offered the bike for me to race, but he wasn't totally confident that it would survive.  I decided to just take it out in practice on Sat., and if it was OK, race it on Sun.  But, at the end of my first lap on it, it started to vibrate badly and I pulled off.  Another of the cyl. stud inserts had pulled out and the head was loose.  So, the Velo was parked for the weekend.
I went out for the second round of practice on the Sprint and it felt good, though I was taking turn #3 gingerly.  In fact, I thought we'd have to gear it up as I was hitting redline easily.  But then, on the 4th lap, it seemed to slow or loose power.  I backed out of it, but the motor still seemed free and I gradually wicked it up and it accelerated briskly down the back straight.  Then, in turn #8, it seemed to lose power and slow again and I pulled into the pits.
We went over the bike quite throughly and didn't find anything wrong.  Was I imaging it?  So, we just gassed up the bike for my first race, race #7, 500 Premiere, 500GP, and Vintage Superbike Middleweight in the first wave and 500 Sportsman and Historic Production Heavyweight in the second wave.  I was on the pole, with Jeff Elings next to me on a G-50 Matchless, and Andrew Mauk on his right with a 450 Honda racer.  From the start, Ed Milich on a Cagiva Allazurra based racer shot into the lead and Mauk out dragging me to turn #1.  I got by Andy braking into turn #3, but then had a bit of a slide in the corner, and another in the left hand, downhill turn #5.  Now I was thinking there was something wrong with the left side of my tire.  Andy motored by me on the back straight, I was able to get by him in the last turn and he came by on the front straight.  I got by again and led for several laps.  But, as I suspected, Andy was going to school on me (he had only been to Willow once, three years before) and he passed me just before the last lap flag and I followed him, making a big effort in the last corner and pulling out of his draft but coming up 0.640 sec. short. A very good race.
I was immediately up for the next race, the 350GP, 350 Sportsman, Classic 60's and F-125 race.  My teammate on Karl Engellenner's sister bike, Walt Fulton III, had a fastest lap over two seconds faster than mine in practice.  He had geared his bike up, which I didn't do because of my perceived mysterious slowing, and he thought it helped.  I got in the lead from pole at the start, but Walt stuck a wheel in on me on the second lap, then passed me on the back straight.  I tucked right into his draft coming out of turn # 9, but he slowly crept away up the front straight.  I got by him again going into the Omega and he decided to follow for a while.  Then he passed me before the last lap and, as in the previous race, I made a big effort in the last corner and got in his draft but he crept away to take the checker first, by 0.345 second.  another very good race.  There was a good race behind us, too.  Tim Mings recovered from a poor start on his CB 77 Honda to close down on Jim Neuenberg on Fred Mork's short stroke 350 H-D Sprint to finish 0.792 sec.s behind in fourth.
Mike and Karl took a tooth off the rear sprocket and went up one jet size on "my" bike after Saturday's racing.  In Sunday mornings 1st practice, the electronic tach didn't work so I wasn't able to get a definitive fix on the gearing, but it felt good and I went faster than I had in Saturday's practice.  In the second practice, I had a working tach again, but there was a red flag immediately when Andy Mauk, my arch nemesis in Saturday's 500 premiere race, crashed in turn #6.  In the Saturday race, I noticed his bike was smoking a good deal, from the fairing rather than out of the exhaust pipes, and I thought he must be leaking oil.  I mentioned this to him after the race, but he said no, he didn't see any evidence of an oil leak and the bike was running great, but he'd look it over well.  After the Sun. morning crash, I went to check on him and he was basically OK, but expected that he was going to feel pretty sore from his tumbling.  I said "so your bike was leaking oil", but Andy said no, that he had just lost the rear end and the the oil they were cleaning up on the track was deposited after the bike hit the pavement.  But, when I went back a couple of hours later to see if, against all odds, they had gotten the bike fit to race, a chagrined Andy said that they had found a crack in the oil cooler fitting, and it had been leaking.
This meant that I had no real competition in Sunday's 500 Premiere race and I finished about 18 seconds ahead of the next bike, Stephen Hipp on a Sportsman bike from the 2nd wave and about 35 seconds ahead of the other 500 Premiere bike, Jeff Elings on a G-50 Matchless.  The clutch had grabbed at the start and the bike was a little squirrelly, but I just put that down to the wind.  Coming off the track, I couldn't find neutral, the clutch feeling funny, though there was plenty of free play in the cable. Mike gassed it up for the immediately following 350GP race, but when I went to back it up onto compression, it seemed like something was binding.  It started right up and I started out for the warm-up lap.  But, the bike definitely felt squirrelly, and I stopped before leaving the pit lane to see if the rear axle was loose.  No sign of that, so I carried on, but now there was no question that something was definitely wrong and I just slowly putted back to the pits.  There we saw that the swing arm spindle had backed out of the bushing on the drive side, allowing the chain tension to vary radically and maybe even the tire to hit the chain as the swing arm flopped around.
Walt Fulton III lead from the start, but Jim Neurenberg had found something and was right on Walt's tail.  Walt didn't realize this and wasn't pushing too hard thinking he had a good lead with me out of the race.  It wasn't until the 350 Sportsman bikes of Rick Carmody and Stephen Hipp caught up and one of them passed Walt just before the last lap, that Walt put his head down and won overall.
So Team Bungay/Engellenner had a pretty good weekend with three wins and two seconds, and Walt riding the best he has since the early Seventies.  Great to see.
As usual, Corsa Moto Classica had a great concours.
a 150? Gilera
This AT-1? pitbike really spoke to me
Hans Mellberg has restored the legendary 250 Parilla Gaget
Frank Scurria, who raced Gaget in the 60's was there, too
This pit bike was used constantly all weekend
an absolutely stunning restoration of a 250 Bultaco Metralla

A Velo Scrambler
I thought this was a very nice tribute to a Matchless G-45 made out of a Kawasaki W-1