Friday, January 6, 2017

Rich Schlachter's '81 season

A recent post on caused me to review my old friend, Rich Schlacter's, 1981 season.
The post mentioned that Rich finished fourth in the 250 Spanish GP at Jarama in '81.  I thought he also turned the fastest lap, so I pulled out my 1981-82 copy of Motocourse.  I was wrong; he had the second fastest lap.  It was Silverstone that year, where he also finished 4th, that he had the fastest lap.
But, this sucked me into going through Rich's whole season as reported by Motocourse.  It starts with  Daytona, 6 March, '81, when Rich stood in for Ted Boody who was supposed to race George Vincensi's Ducati in Battle of the Twins, but broke his collar bone in a practice crash.  Rich won the Modified Production class and finished  second overall.
The next day was the 100 mile Light Weight 250 race. Mark Homchick, in his report in Cycle magazine, writes: "Rich Schlachter was missing from the heat race results.  Working his way up from a slow start, Schlachter had a big-end bearing fail on the back straight, ending his ride."  So he had to start the final from the back of the grid.  "Meanwhile, Rich Schlachter was making amends for his back-row starting position.  His running 2:18s and 2:17s in the midst of mid-packers proved he was willing and capable.  On lap 13, Schlachter had moved up to fourth.  Unfortunately for Rich, he would get no farther.  His bike threw it's chain twice and he retired."
On to the Daytona 200 the next day on the 8th.  Peter Clifford reports in Motocourse:
" Spencer didn't win--his bike blew up while he led by an incredible, embarrassingly big margin.  Schlachter inherited the lead from Spencer, having moved up from mid-pack, but when his TZ struck transmission troubles Singleton and Frenchman Marc Fontan moved past to finish first and second."  Schlachter 3rd.  But, that doesn't tell the whole story as John Ulrich reported in Cycle World: "Roberts' race was over, ending with stuck throttles just as Rich Schlacher's race was beginning.  Last year, Schlachter fried his bikes clutch getting the hole shot, and retired in one lap.  This year he swore not to do that again so eased out the clutch gently as he fed in the throttle -- and promptly killed the engine.  Jumping off to push, Schlachter got underway at the end of the first start wave and immediately abandoned his plans for an orderly, cautious approach to the beginning of the 200 miles.  Instead he whipped into a series of 2:05 laps and sliced through the field, gaining rapidly on the leaders.  
Schlachter was third and closing in three laps, behind Spencer and  Cooley and ahead of Fontan, Singleton and Aldana.  Crosby already had shifting trouble and would retire in another handful of laps.
By the fifth lap, Schlachter was second, and Cooley started to lose ground as his Suzuki overheated and slowed. At 10 laps, it was still Spencer alone in front; Schlachter , alone in second; Fontan and Singleton in tandem, racing for third; Cooley; Aldana.  The 15th lap showed little change except that Spencer was farther out in front of Schlachter and Schlachter was farther ahead of Singleton, who had passed Fontan.  Aldana was fifth, Christan Sarron sixth, Stafford seventh, Cooley eight.........
It threw a rod, opening a huge hole in the cases on the next lap.  Spencer pulled into the pits, where the broken Honda deposited all its oil on the pavement.
Schlachter led, convincingly.  He dove towards Turn One just after someone else had crashed, and ran over debris.  His bike whipped sideways on the pit-side banking, flinging I'm up out of the saddle and off the footpegs.  Schlachter held on and didn't crash, but his forearms broke a section of plexiglass out of the windscreen.  
With the chunks of plexiglass went the bike's fuel tank breather hose, and gasoline sloshed out of the breather, was whipped inside the remains of the bubble, and Schlachter couldn't see through the windscreen anymore.  
He could deal with that, peeking above the bubble, straining he is neck muscles against the 170 mph wind blast.  
But, when second and third gears in the transmission lost teeth, Schlachter was forced to shift around the troubled gears, slipping the clutch out of turns,  which is why he slowed, and why Singleton over took on the 37th lap and pulled off into the distance ahead.  It took Fontan a few more laps to overtake and  pass, and then he, too, was gone, and Schlachter was left alone, wondering if he could even finish the 52 laps in possession of third place."
Don Morley Photo from June '81 Cycle World
Next up was the Transatlantic Match Races in England.  Again, from Motocourse:
Brands Hatch,17 April: "Randy Mamola , riding last year's 500 Suzuki Grand Prix machine, and chasing the £10,000 put up by Marlboro for the first rider ever to win all six races, duly won both 13 lap races with Richard Schlachter (Yamaha) second on both occasions......Potter lay third, Haslam fourth and Heuwen fifth, leading the American skipper Dale Singleton, with surprise of the series Schlachter ready for action in seventh place after a bad start.
The 29-year-old from Old Lyme, Connecticut, who later starred in 250 Grand Prix races, carved into the British belly like a butcher with a sharp knife and cut his way through the field to finish second behind Mamola who looked quite capable of taking that £10,000 back to California.
Mamola repeated his winning dose in the second race with Schlachter holding off a groggy-feeling Potter to finish second once again."
Mallory Park, 19 April,1st race: "Schlachter restored a little pride by snatching second place at half distance but four laps from the finish the flying Newbold relegated him to third spot to finish second behind Haslam, who recorded his first Transatlantic win."
Mallory Park 2nd race: "....Huewen was fifth in front of Schlachter whose chain was jumping the rear sprocket."
Oulton Park, 20 April: "Any thoughts the weakened Americans had of pulling back the massive 61 point deficit disappeared on the second lap of the first race at Oulton Park when their top scorers, Mamola and Schlachter, crashed without serious injury.
With Mamola and Schlachter missing from the second race Spencer and Singleton did a great job trying to restore the Americans' fading pride and morale."
Schlachter ended up 5th individual scorer overall and 2nd American.
Alan Cathcart, in his report in Cycle News, writes: "Current U.S. Road Race Champion Rich Schlachter seemed like a man in form after two second places (sic) at Daytona in the 200 and the Twins.  Suffering a heavy cold throughout the weekend-'the English doctor I saw said I had a social disease when I knew damn well I had a virus,' said Rich."  (Rich told me that the English doctor told him he had an 'American' disease-Rocky Mountain Fever or something, but I like Cathcart's 'social disease'.)  "So I turned right around and flew back to the States for treatment and some medication before I went to Paul Ricard."
Actually, Rich went to the Imola 200 next, but got there too late and they wouldn't let him ride.  So, he just spectated that weekend and went to Circuit Paul Ricard for the Moto-Journal 200 the next weekend, 11/12 April, 1981.  Rich remembers qualifying 3rd on his TZ750.  He put on a new chain for the race, but it came off on the warm-up lap, and Rich confessed that he may not have pressed on the rivet link properly.  So, he didn't get to start, but the organizers did pay him start money and told him that he had an entry for the 250 GP five weeks later.

Then come the GPs with Rich's first at Hockenheim, the 3rd GP of the season (but the 2nd 250GP, as there was no 250 race at Salzburgring in Austria), on 3 May.
"One additional moment of excitement came when a bug got inside Nieto's helmet and he pulled up his visor as he peeled off into a corner.  The sudden movement upset his line and he an Schlachter touched.  Both managed to stay on the road and neither slowed for more than a split second."  Rich finished 6th in his first GP.
A week later, Rich was at Monza.  It was cold and wet and they had taped over part of the radiator to get the operating temperature up.  In the race, part of the tape came loose and somehow got in the carb.  Not understanding why the bike was running so poorly, Rich retired.  DNF; no points. 
Circuit Paul Ricard, 17 May:" Richard Schlachter's chances of really impressing the Gran Prix world evaporated in the Mediterranean sunshine as he returned to the grid from the warming-up lap.  One of his throttle slides jammed open and his mechanic, Kevin Cameron, remedied the problem but as the race started it caught up again and the engine would not fire.  He struggled off the line in last place, accompanied by Eric Saul.  While Eric set about cutting his way through the field, Schlachter could only manage four laps with his engine over-revving violently going into corners and the machine trying to throw him off.  He returned to the pits, beating his thigh in frustration."  DNF; he had qualified 2nd to Anton Mang.
Jarama, 24 May: Rich almost didn't get to ride.  After the organizer had previously promised him an entry, when he got there, they said no.  His new friend and competitor, Martin Wimmer, had a friend with an entry who had gotten hurt at Paul Ricard and was not going to race at Jarama.  Wimmer pulled some strings and Rich got to take Wimmer's friend's place, but he missed the first practice session sorting this out.  "Richard Schlachter's ride from last place to fourth in the 250cc race was simply superb.  It was an effort that distracted attention from the race leaders; the focus became 'where is Schlachter, how many places can he make up on this lap, and who will he pass next'
Jarama is not an easy circuit to pass on: its three hairpin bends and other tight corners force the faster rider to move off line as he overtakes.  It's not as if Richard had the advantage of works machinery: his near standard Yamaha TZ250 H was in no way superior to the opposition.  That did not force Richard to resort to wild or dangerously aggressive riding; He never seemed likely to fall off and smoothly maintained his pace through the race.  His fastest lap, in fact was the 25th of 31 laps, time bettered only by Mang.
Had the Yamaha not refused to star, the story might have been different.  After the race, Richard was quietly certain that he could have won:  "I thought this was mine, but at least we now have a foot in the door.  Next we want to get the whole 'body in".  There is every indication that Richard can do just that.  It would have been all too easy for him to have clawed his way into the first ten and then eased off for a few championship points.  The fact that he continued to rise faster than those ahead of him showed a balance of talent and maturity that will stand min in good stead its the future"
Rich trying to start at Jarama with the rest of the field out of sight.  Don Morley photo
Assen, 27 June:"...Martin Wimmer and Richard Schlachter were in eighth and ninth places respectively.
Schlachter had been last off the line again and was charging through the field when, after reaching eighth place at the end of lap ten, felt his rear tyre begin to slide and decided to ease the pace.  This allowed Wimmer to retake him, a position he held to the finish."  Rich ends up 9th.
Imola, 12 July: "Richard Schlachter struggled home nineteenth, thanks to a rear suspension unit that refused to damp properly."  No points.
Rich came back to the States for the AMA race at Laguna Seca 0n 19 July.
Laguna Seca:"In both legs, however, Mamola ended up in front.  Cooley was second twice, and with back-from-Europe Schlachter (who was amazed he could ride his 'dinosaur ' 750 at all after most of a season on a TZ250) fourth in one leg behind Aldana's Bob Work-prepared TZ750 and fourth in the other behind behind Bettencourt's TZ."  Schlachter 3rd O.A.
Then it was back to the 250 GPs.
Silverstone, 2 August: "Richard Schlachter and Martin Wimmer rapidly put pressure on Tournadre.  Mang closed inexorably on Freymond and took the  lead convincingly on the sixth lap.  As the West German star pulled steadily away Freymond's second place was severely threatened by Wimmer, Schlachter and McGregor.....
The fabulous battle for second continued to rage at full strength.  Wimmer and Schlachter were riding superbly to keep up with the disc valve machines of McGregor and Freymond.  Mang marched away from this hectic struggle which was obviously going to be decided on the run-in to the flag.  On the last lap the superior speed of the Ad Majora and the Kawasaki favored Freymond and McGregor and the pair flashed across the line side by side.  Freymond was credited with second and this decision stood even though the Australian protested.
The two great friends Wimmer and Schlachter also crossed the line together and although the young German thought he had claimed fourth the judges thought otherwise and typically Martin warned Richard that he would make sure the positions were reversed next time round."
Rich at Silverstone on his way the 4th place and fastest lap.  Don Morley photo
Imatra, 9 August: "....Closing fast on them was Richard Schlachter who had overshot the chicane on the first lap.  Schlachter passed Bruno Kneubuhler on lap ten as the Swiss dropped down the field.....
Schlachter had obviously put his intense dislike to the circuit behind him as he scythed his way through the group of riders contesting fifth.  De Radigues retired as his front brake locked on and the remaining riders separated as Schlachter towed Eero Hyvarinen and Patrick Fernandez in pursuit of Jean Louis Tournadre.
As Mang increased the pace Guignaboet was gradually left behind and Balde had him in his sights by the 13th lap.  Balde got past with little difficulty and left Guignabodet in lonely third place.  Tournadre's fourth position turned out to be secure as Schlachter ran out of fuel with two laps to go and neither Fernandez nor Hyvarinen had the speed to catch him"
Anderstorp, 16 August: "Tourndre was making up ground after a slow start and soon passed Martin Wimmer and Richard Schlachter who were fighting between themselves for tenth......
.....Richard Schlachter found himself unable to match the pace of Wimmer and the others when the performance of his rear suspension unit deteriorated.  He could, however, maintain a healthy lead over the local rider, Bent Elgh, who hung on to tenth place."
The last GP of the season was at Brno, Czechoslovakia on the old 6.785 mile long road circuit.  Rich found it intimidating and, when his exhaust pipe broke up in the race, he was almost relieved  to retire.
Two 4ths, a 6th, and two 9ths and a fastest lap is not bad for a privateer in his first year on the circuit.  I think the only tracks that he had been to previously were Imola and Circuit Paul Ricard.  
I met Rich through my brother in the spring or early summer of 1970. They were classmates at Old Lyme (Ct.) High School, both having recently moved to Old Lyme, and both motorcyclist.  I had wandered back East after being discharged from the Army.  The three of us, and a few other friends, did a lot of dirt bike riding together.  Then both Rich and my brother bought H-1 Kawasakis and I had converted my Kawasaki Bighorn dual sport bike into a 'cafe racer'. I saw a poster for the AAMRR road races at Bridgehampton, Long Island, and suggested to Douglas that we go.  He said he'd race if Rich would.  So, a bunch of us got on the New London-Orient Point ferry and headed to the Memorial Day 1972 road races at Bridgehampton, knowing nothing.  In Sunday's sprint races Rich's H-1 seized.  We hadn't realized that there was a 4 hr. endurance race on Mon. and I bugged my brother to race in that.  He thought the 10 lap sprint was plenty and he finally said "Why don't you race?"  I hadn't intended to race because my Bighorn had a terrible front brake and I replied that I would if I had a decent brake.  That led to coming up with a scheme to take the complete front forks and wheel off Rich's seized H-1 and put it on my F-5 Bighorn.  We took the number plates off Doug's bike, because he had raced as me.  At the time, if you were under 21, you needed a parent's permission to get a race license.  So, I got the license and Doug raced as me.  We each got a few laps practice Mon., then I went to grid up for the start.  The grid marshals were sending people to their respective spots until I was the only one left.  I wasn't on the grid sheet because I hadn't entered.  They told me that they didn't see me on the grid sheet and asked if I had entered.  Yes I did, I lied.  They said that there must have been some mistake and would I mind starting from the back.  Oh, alright.  We started the race and people were streaking by me down the straights, but I was passing many in the corners.  Then, on the third lap my motor seized locking the rear wheel and my mind seized and I went sky-ground-sky-ground.  I had some blood in my urine and spent the night in Southhampton hospital and I was hooked.  This road race stuff was for me.  Rich was hooked too, and we spent the next several years going to club races together.  I got a TD-3 Yamaha and started doing AMA Novice pro races and Rich followed suit maybe a year later.  He quickly advanced to Expert, got a TZ250 then a TZ750.
After Rich stopped professional racing and started a family and built up his business, it seemed he made a conscious effort to stay away from the race track, though always had bikes and rode on the street.  After many years, he started going to races to spectate and now follows racing avidly.  He's gone to at least one GP in each of the last several years and he's been to the Barber Vintage festival the last three years, anyway, usually riding a bike down the long way.  He puts thousands of miles on his bikes touring all over the country.  A motorcyclist through and through.