Aug. was spent preparing for the Classic TT. For the eight year in a row, Team Obsolete had been invited to participate in the Lap of Honour. This year for the first time we brought two bikes: the Surtees 7R for me to ride and the MV Electronica 350 four cylinder for Giacomo Agostini to ride.
The Surtees 7R has a chassis designed by John Surtees with a frame designed by him and fabricated by Ken Sprayson of Reynolds Tubing, with Norton forks and rear wheel, and a 230mm Oldani front brake. Surtees built the bike around 1960 for British short circuit racing, but at the time was contracted to MV and the Count wouldn't let him race it. Surtees sold it to Rex Butcher who then sold it to Tom Arter for Mike Duff to ride and, after Duff was hired by Yamaha, Peter Williams rode it. I had ridden the bike a few times in 2017 and 2018, and consider it a sweetheart with exceptional handling.
The MV that Ago was to parade was the last four stroke to win a World Championship 350 GP (at Assen in 1976). It was dubbed the "Electronica" because the ignition was by Krober electronics, fitted after the original Mercury magneto couldn't keep up with the high revs the motor reached after years of development. It has to be considered the ultimate development of an MV race bike with a titanium frame, plasma sprayed aluminum front brake rotors, dampening adjustable Ceriani forks and a very narrow valve angle cyl. head.
On the Saturday, the first day of racing, Seth Rosko and I tried to get in a lap before the roads closed for the races. It became clear that we weren't going to make a whole lap before the roads closed, but we got by Kirkmichael and I figured we could take a left off the course and drive the back roads up to and around Ramsey, then take the coast road back to Douglas. But, I missed the last chance to turn left before the marshals stopped us and made us turn to a loop road on the inside of the coarse at Churchtown. It looked we were going to be stuck there until both races and a following practice were over at maybe 7pm. We had no food or water with us, but one of the marshals recognized me and gave us some water. But, we did have an Ordinance Survey topographic map. I knew a cafe that I had eaten at some years before that wasn't too far, so we headed off cross country, up forestry roads, through fields, over barb wire fences, and forded a stream and finally got to the cafe. But, it was closed because the only access to it is off the TT course, which was closed. Duh. So we pushed on further and crossed the pedestrian bridge near Schoolhouse Corner and got into Ramsey. We got something to eat and went to Connor Cummings coffee bar, Conrod's, to use the Wi-Fi, and had a brief chat with Connor.
T/O major domo, Rob Iannucci called, crying that he really needed us back at the paddock and why didn't we just take a cab from Ramsey. That probably would have cost 50 or 75 Pounds. Then I though of the Electric Railway, so we walked to the station and only had to wait maybe 20 minutes to catch the train. It was a beautiful day and the views are fantastic. The railway dates from 1893 and the rolling stock is all Victorian or Edwardian. The train makes one scheduled stop in Laxey, but one can request a stop at many places on the trip. The terminus in Douglas is at the north end of the Prom not far from the Regency Hotel where we were staying. Predictably, when we got back to the hotel, we found that we weren't needed. Ago, his son, and friend, Fausto Zanetti, had arrived and we all had dinner in the hotel. Ago wanted to do a lap in the rental car and Seth and I had to retrieve the van. So, we all piled in with Ago driving and his son in shotgun, Fausto, Seth, and me in the back. Ago gave a running commentary but, unfortunately, it was in Italian, so Seth and I didn't get the nuances, but there were lots of hand gestures and going over to the wrong side of the road to show the racing line. They dropped us off at the van, about half way around the TT course, and carried on.
What started in the morning looking like a disastrous day turned out to be a wonderful day.
A wonderful day for us, until we learned that the 500 Classic race had be stopped because Chris Swallow had died in a crash at Ballaugh Bridge. The son of Bill Swallow, who was also in the race, he was a very popular, likable, talented rider. He had come over to Team Obsolete marquee in the paddock to check out the bikes a couple of days earlier. We talked about the geometry of the girder forks on the Velo special that he was riding in the Junior Classic. He told me that he was looking at a photo of his dad on the podium when he had won the Senior Classic Manx in 1989. He noticed on the leaderboard in the backround of the photo that #20 had been fastest on the first two laps and asked his father who that was, and Bill told him that it was me. That was the year that I crashed at the Bungalow when I had almost a minute lead on the third of four laps when the frame of the G-50 broke. Chris' death cast a pall over the event, but it went on as it always does.
Sunday was the Jurby Festival with lapping of classic bikes around the circuit on the disused WII airfield in the north of the Island. It's always a great time to shake down the bikes before the parade around the Mountain Circuit the next day. Both bikes worked fine and I don't remember making any adjustments.
|riding the Surtees 7R at the Jurby Festival. Seth Rosko? photo|
It was a pleasure spending some time with Ago. I was really impressed with his patience and graciousness with the non-stop stream of well wishers, autograph and photo seekers. He's still a superstar. And, he's still very meticulous and particular about the bike he's going to ride. In getting ready for the Lap of Honour, Ago went over the MV 350-4. He always had the grips on the clip-ons and the footrest taped with bicycle friction tape. The tape on the twist grip was getting tatty and he personally retaped it. Then he fussed at some length with the fuel level in the tank. This was just a parade lap, but it was like he went right back into race mode checking every detail and he didn't want excessive fuel in the tank.
|It looks like the Bungalow. Photo by Tracy's Photos|
|Basking in the limelight of two of the greatest: Giacomo Agostini and John McGuinness. photo by TT USA|
I came back to the States a day before the rest of the crew so I could load up my 1946 Moto Guzzi Dondolino and the Team Obsolete MV 350 three cylinder to take to the VRRA's Vintage Celebration at Mosport(CTMP). We had learned some months before that our good friend Doug MacRae had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and had surgery in Feb. to remove the bulk of it. But, it was considered incurable. Doug is a brilliant photographer and painter and had done a lot of photography for Team Obsolete. (https://www.douglasmacrae.com/). Rob Iannucci decided he wanted to offer Doug a ride on an exotic and the T/O 350 MV three cylinder was the one closest to ready. Doug lost some peripheral in one eye with the surgery and Ontario took his driver's license away. He didn't think he'd have any trouble doing some parade laps on his own, but didn't want to be on the track with other racers. So, it was decided that I would race the bike and Doug would parade it. I also brought my Dondolino to race in the Pre-50 class. Our friend Carlos Escudero of Solo Moto (http://www.solomoto.org/index.html), volunteered to come along and wrench. I loaded the Dondolino, tools and spares at my house and drove to Brooklyn and loaded the MV, then drove to Greenwich and spent the night with Carlos and his wife. We left from Greenwich in the morning and arrived at Mosport in the afternoon and got registered and got the bikes through tech. Saturday, both bikes seemed to go well in practice, but when Doug did his parade laps, he reported that the MV was starting to break up. We found that the battery was low (the bike uses a total loss points ignition) and assumed that was the problem.
My first race was the Pre 50 heat on the Dondllino and we were gridded behind P2 Heavy weight, Pre 65 500 and Pre 65 350, and P1 200. I finished 1st in Pre 50, beating the Rudges and Velo, and 5th overall.
Next up was the P2 Lightweight heat. It quickly became apparent the the low battery wasn't the only problem as one cylinder was kicking in and out and I pulled off after a lap thinking it might be a fouled plug that would clear. Carlos and I went through the ignition and found a few niggling problems which we corrected and, when we fired up the bike, it sounded good.
In Sunday's one round of practice the MV ran properly again. During lunch, the sky turned threatening and by the time the Pre 65 500, Pre 65 350, P1 200 and Pre 50 race started it was raining lightly. I found the turn #5/5A area quite slippery while the Turn #8, 9, 10 area had good traction and, sure enough, someone fell in front of me in #5A, vindicating my tip-toeing through there. So again I was 1st in class, this time 3rd O.A.
|Sunday's Pre 50 final in the rain with Cris Ness #124 on a Velo . Photo by Richard Coburn|
By the time the P2 LW race was on, it was raining steadily. I debated starting at all, but I thought that people would love to hear the MV-3, so I did race, but took it very cautiously as I definitely didn't want to drop the bike. Again, someone fell in front of me turn 5A and the bike started jumping out of 4th gear and I started shifting from 3rd to 5th in the 7 speed gearbox and I ended up 4th, which was a bit disappointing, but kept it upright.
Some photos here: file:///Users/davidroper/Downloads/VRRA-BaffledMuffler-Vol3-19np%20(1).pdf
A couple of weeks after Mosport was the debut of film Daniel Lovering had done on me, "Motorcycle Man"at the Newberryport Documentary Film Festival. I rode brother Doug's '77 Moto Guzzi LeMans to my friend Bill Burke's house in Dorchester, Ma. The next day, we drove to Newberryport and saw the video with two other videos involving wheels, one bicycle racing at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn and the other a cross country trip in an old VW bus. The theater was standing room only and the makers and/or subjects of the videos had a brief Q & A after. Daniel arranged a lunch with a bunch of friends. Later Daniel learned that 'Motorcycle Man' was awarded Best Short Documentary by the festival organizers.
The following weekend was the USCRA's Fall Giro, this time based in Oneonta, N.Y. I rode my '68 TC 200 Suzuki and had a great time. Photo by Matt Rice
There was an excellent route, with a fair amount of dirt roads. Sat. morning started out quite foggy, which was challenging, but the day turned very nice and sunny. We had a check point at Bennett Motors, and Honda/Kawasaki dealership run by Ray Bennett in Fly Creek, N.Y., a vintage enthusiast. Ray has an extensive collection of vintage bikes on display at the shop. Among them was a Bridgestone RS 200 built by my late brother Doug, which I had no idea was there. It was a bitter sweet moment as this was the first Giro I've done without him since he started doing them.
Here's a video that gives the flavor of the event. My bike @ .40 (seconds)
Sunday evening, I drove to Cortland and spent the night and the next morning went to my friend Steve Keast's house in Ithaca where I picked up a Horex Imperator frame and swing arm to go with the Zundapp Citation motor that I acquired incomplete a couple of years before and for which I had been gathering parts.
The final race of the 2019 season was the Barber Vintage Festival. I took my H-D 350 Sprint and my 1946 Moto Guzzi Dondolino. But, Gary Roper brought my ex-Mike Bungay 350 Sprint that lives in California with Karl Engellenner, who has developed it into superb race bike. Gary also brought Karl's sister bike for Walt Fulton to race as well as his own Velocette MAC and Indian Sport Scout. Racers are required to practice Thurs. and/or Fri., as there is no practice on the race days of Sat. and Sun. I chose to practice Thurs. Karl had put new fuel tanks on both bikes, with new fuel taps. I got out three times on this bike and, while we may have change the gearing once, the bike was working great. I went out once on the Dondolino and it seemed good. But, Dave Tompkins asked me if I like to take his Vincent Grey Flash out for a practice, and I definitely did. The bike was excellent and my quickest lap on it was more than 14 seconds faster than on the Dondolino. Dave decided that he had to go home to look after his sick dog. I told him that I'd be happy to race his bike in place of my Guzzi and, after thinking about it a while, he agreed.
|'Motorcycle Man' film maker Daniel Lovering and I pose with my 350 Sprint while Karl and Walt work on the sister bike. That's Gary Roper's Velo MAC on the right. Photo by Talbot Lovering|
Friday, I did a walk-about, going to the swap meet, seeing Chuck Hunneycutt, my old sparing partner and now head restorer at the museum, and going to the AMCA display. Walt did more practice, having never ridden the track before, and Karl decided that the cutting out problem was down to fuel flow.
Saturday, my first race was the 3rd of the day, the 350GP, with 350 Sportsman and Novice Production Heavyweight gridded behind us. Jack Parker got the jump at the start on his DT1 Yamaha, but I led out of turn#1. However, we had a red flag on the first lap and we had to do a restart, now for 5 laps instead of 6. This time I led into turn#1 and was never headed, though early on I thought I saw a wheel in on me going into turn #5, and I presumed that was Alex McLean. Dean de St. Croix was riding Ken Rosevear's 350 BSA Goldstar Geoff Monty Special replica, a bike that I had race a couple of times and I knew that it and Dean were very fast. But, Dean had no points in AHRMA and therefore was gridded well back and had to wade through a lot of traffic. Apparently, he passed Alex on the last lap and he turned the fastest lap of the race (0.057 sec. faster than my best) and finished 2.8 seconds behind me and 0.001 second ahead of Alex. My bike had a hiccup between turns #10 & 11 on the last lap, which I didn't pay much attention to. That turned out to be a mistake. Walt again had his motor cutting out repeatedly as the race progressed and he ended up 5th.
The Class C Hand and Foot shift classes were gridded behind the 200GP class in the second wave. I was never headed (in Class C) in this race either. Alex McLean had trouble with his Norton and dropped out on the 4th of 6 laps, his best lap being 1.4 seconds slower than my best. In fact, Gary Roper was the only other Footshift finisher on his 350 Velocette MAC. Dave Bourbeau was the first Handshift finisher, 45 seconds behind. Tompkins Vincent is a superb machine with excellent power, handling and brakes. Scott Dell on his Vincent was another of the non-finishers, his bike having seized. Scott requisitioned the Tompkins Vincent for Sunday and I would ride my Dondolino.
|Starting Saturday's Class C race on Dave Tompkins Vincent Grey Flash. #81 Ralph Wessel, #75a Gary Roper, #35 Doc Batsleer. Photo by Darleen Dremhel|
Sat. night Karl thought of a possible cure for the apparent fuel starvation that Walt was experiencing. He cut the rubber gasket in the fuel tap so that both the main and reserve fed simultaneously. Karl asked me if I wanted him to do that on my bike, but I didn't think I had that problem, so decided not to change anything without being able to test it before the race.
|Aldana mugs with me and Maurice Turgeau, organizer of the showing. Photo by Talbot Lovering|
In Sunday's 200GP and Class C race, I started a bit tentatively on my Dondolino having only done a few laps on it three days before, and Dave Bourbeau shot into the lead on his H-D. Then, Ralph Wessel came by on his Indian. Alex McLean made a slow start, as he often does. I had started to get in the groove when he came by and he dragged me along and we both reeled in Ralph. We then both started closing on Dave, but Alex got by him, beating him by less than 1/4 sec., and I didn't, finishing just over 2 sec. behind Dave, 2nd Footshift, but 3rd Class C overall. My best lap was 4.28 seconds slower than my best on Dave Tompkins Vincent the day before, nothing like the 14 seconds slower in Thurs. practice.
For the 2019 season, I did eight events at eight different venues, entering 32 races and starting 30 of them on six different bikes owned by three different people. I had 18 class wins, six 2nd, four 3rds, one fourth and one DNF. I didn't crash once, which is rare for me. A good year.