Thursday, August 20, 2020

Mid-West swing 2020

 At the end of July, I headed to Blackhawk Farms Raceway in South Beloit, Illinois for my first race in 5 months.  5 months is about as long as I've gone without racing since 1972.  5 month is the length of the typical winter off season, Oct. to Feb.  In 2020, it seems that we've had two winters.  I had raced at BHF four times before, 1991-1994 so, with the track layout fresh in my mind, I didn't bother with Fri. practice.  I brought my 1966 250 CRTT H-D and my 1970 350 ERTT H-D. 

My guess on the gearing was close, with the 250 arguably a little short, but close enough that I didn't change it.  However, the 250 was vibrating a good deal and the right rear fairing screw came out in the 2nd round of practice and the bezel on the tach unscrewed and I found it stuck between the footrest and the shift linkage, but I didn't find the glass.  I had forgotten how much fun the 1.95 mile track was with some areas where I could almost, but not quite, go flat out and good traction everywhere.

The 350GP was up first, gridded in front of 350 Sportsman in one wave.  Though there was a good turn out at the event, not so much in my classes.  We had only 5 entries in the 350GP and one of those didn't show up and Jason Roberts had his clutch explode on the launch at the start.  I got an average start and Alex McLean pulled steadily away finishing more than 4.5 seconds ahead of me and with a fastest lap more that a second faster than my best.  But, at least I was 2nd overall with none of the six 350 Sportsman bikes catching us.

The 250GP was gridded at the back of the second wave behind the 500 Sportsman and with F-500 and 500 Premiere in the first wave.  The 250GP grid was also small with six entries and one of those not showing up, and 19 entries overall between the four classes.  I led the 250s from the start and on the 2nd lap caught up to a gaggle of 500 Sportsman and F500 bikes at turn #6.  I thought 'I can ride around the outside of all these guys', but the gap I was shooting for all of a sudden disappeared and I clipped one of the bikes with my arm, which sent me off the track onto the grass at maybe 90mph.  Luckily, I had lots of room and it was fairly smooth and I took my time slowing down and making a U-turn, though even then, I slid a bit.  I got back on the track and took off.  On the last lap I saw another 250GP bike and thought if I can catch him, maybe I can salvage a 3rd.  I missed a shift coming out of the last corner and didn't catch that bike.  But, when I checked the results, they had me as 1st.  I thought that must be a mistake, but checking the times I saw it wasn't and that even though my 2nd lap was 26.5 seconds slower than my fastest, I still won my class finishing 7th overall with the 5th fastest lap of the race.

I realized that I had a slow leak in my rear tube and put a new one in after the race.  When I was putting the wheel back in the swingarm, it seemed as though my rear torque arm was flopping around too much.  When I looked closer, I saw the the safety wire on the front mount had broken and I had lost the nut, but the bolt was still in the mount.  If the bolt had fallen out, it would have been messy.

I removed the rear wheel to replace the tube and found the torque arm about to fall off.

Sunday I just did a short practice on each bike.  The 350GP class only had three starters Sun., as Jason couldn't do anything about his clutch on his Yamaha.  This time, Kevin Dinsmoor came by at the start on his 350 Sportsman bike and closed right up on Alex.  But, he could never get by and after a few laps decided that he shouldn't try as they were in different classes and I realize that I was catching him and Alex.  I got by Kevin and closed right up on Alex thinking that I should follow him until the last lap to make my move.  But, on approaching the last corner on the penultimate lap, I couldn't resist passing him.  He passed me back on the straight as we took the last lap flag.  Again, I passed him into the last corner, but he out dragged me to the finish, beating me by 0.194 seconds.  I had the fastest lap, though it was 0.017 seconds slower than Alex had gone on Sat.

In Sunday's 250GP, there were only four starters in class and twelve overall.  In Saturday's race, Andrew Mauk in the 500 Premiere class was leading overall when he fell in the last corner and handed the win to Wes Orloff, who was in hot pursuit.  Andrew's bike was too badly damaged to race Sun., and Wes stopped on the warmup lap when two wires crossed and burned.  On the third lap, I went into 4th overall behind Kevin Dinsmoor and Martin Morrison on their F-500 bikes and Eric Cook on his 500 Sportsman bike but, on the 6th of 8 laps, my motor made a bad noise and stopped and I was able to coast into the pits.  So I had a DNF, but was still credited with 4th in class and had the 4th fastest lap in the race.  I did some investigation and found that I still had compression, but the exhaust push rod was barely moving and I suspected that the tappet had broken.

Trying to diagnose the failure on my CRTT with exh. rocker out and ign. rotor off.

I had pitted next to my old friend Sven Bley, who was racing a '90 NSR 250 Honda in Next Generation Lightweight and an 848 Ducati in Sound of Thunder 2. 

Sven Bley's '90 NSR 250 Honda and 848 Ducati.

Sven and I go way back to the early '90s when he and his dad were racing a bunch of exotica in AHRMA.  Sven had gotten away from roadracing and started a business and a family, but we stayed in touch over the years and eventually I helped suck him back into roadracing with AHRMA. Sven had generously invited me to stay with his wife and him at their house in a Northwest outer suburb of Chicago between BHF and the race at Gingerman.  There, I got right to work on the CRTT and found that my suspicions were correct and the exhaust tappet was broken. 
I worked on the bike right in the van because of a threat of rain.
I was relieved to find that the broken tappet had done no damage to the cam lobe or anything else. 

That's the head of the tappet sitting in the timing chest.

The exh. lobe is the one next to the gear.
I also found a broken clutch plate.

I had a spare tappet with me and had the motor back together fairly quickly and changed the gearing for Gingerman.  I was able to start the bike and ran it very briefly and it sounded fine.  Sven ordered some plexiglass from McMaster-Carr and I was able to cut out some lens' for the tach on the scroll saw at his work, Made to Measure, where they do ultra precision measurement for quality control purposes.

I went with Sven's uncle, Karl, to the site of the old Meadowdale roadrace track.  This track was built in 1958 and was used until 1969, though most racing stopped in 1966.  The grounds are now a forest preserve and much of the old pavement remains and one can walk the whole 3.27 miles of the circuit.

The iconic Meadowdale silo. Karl Bley photo.

It looks like it was a fabulous circuit with a really long straight that goes steeply down and across a creek, then steeply up and it had a banked corner called the Monza wall.  I love going to ruins of all kinds, but especially race tracks and now Meadowdale joins the list that includes Vineland, N.J., Upper Marlboro, Md., Mid-America Raceway in Wentzville, Mo., and Catalina Park in N.S.W., Australia.

Sven was into trials riding before he got into road racing and twice competed in the Scottish Six Day trials and still competes.  He brought boulders, huge logs and construction debris into his back yard so he could practice on his modern Honda powered Montesa and a couple of mornings we played on it and a dual sport Yamaha he has.

I rode my '68 TC200 Suzuki over to North Chicago to visit Joe Walano at his shop, The Guzzi Doctor.  While he specializes in V-twin Guzzis he had an eclectic collection of bikes there including some Guzzi singles, Brit twins, modern and vintage Ducatis, and an H-2 Kawasaki drag bike.  From there I rode south into Chicago proper and visited some good friends there and had a socially distanced, outdoor BBQ.

Then it was on to Gingerman in Michigan.  While I was very pleased by how everyone behaved at BHF where AHRMA and the track made it very clear that the rules were masks must be worn whenever indoors or unable to socially distance and that the event could be shut down if people didn't comply, it seemed very different at Gingerman.  People seemed way more casual/sloppy about wearing masks and nothing was said by the officials.

My CRTT, ERTT and Stu Carter's Seeley G-50.

After a dry practice, we had a shower as racing started and in race #2, which included Sound of Thunder 3 and Sound of Singles 2, there were a few crashes and a red flag.  Several races decide not to make the restart or pulled off at the end of the warm-up lap.  The 350GP was next up (gridded in the second wave with F-125, behind 750 Sportsman and F-500), and while the rain seemed to be tapering off, I was very tentative in the first laps and the leaders pulled steadily away and I finished 3rd in class behind Jason Roberts on his TD2b Yamaha and Alex McLean on his Aermacchi, and 12th overall.  I was unaware that the Yamaha TD2b is now legal in the 350GP class and it could change the complexion of the class.

Leah Bober's RS125 Honda, Wes Orloff's Buell and Dan May's BMW which he let Wes race.
I had a long wait until the race 11 for the 250GP and by then the track was totally dry.  We were gridded behind Classic 60s and 650 and 350 Sportsman, but in one wave.  I won the 250GP class and was 5th overall.  The bike continued to shed parts, this time one of the rocker cover bolts, and this caused some oil leakage.  When I cleaned this up after the race, I dropped the belly pan and what did I find in it but the glass from my tach that fell off the week before at BHF.

Mark Williams and his H1R Kawasaki.  Mark fed me all weekend.
Sunday was quite similar to Sat.  It rained quite heavily over night and the track was very wet for the one round of practice and a couple of people crashed in front of me.  The track was still wet with standing water in places on the warm-up lap for race #3, but drying.  Again, I was very tentative especially at the start, and finished a distant 2nd to Alex in the 350GP class, though I did move up from 14th on the grid to 10th overall.  Jason Roberts didn't enter the race on Sun. for some reason.  

And again, the track was totally dry for the 250GP in race #11.  And again, my bike continued to shed parts.  Just after the start, I lost the right rear windscreen screw and the bubble started flapping around, which dislodged the second screw, which cause it to flap more and crack.  By the time I entered the last corner on the first lap, the windscreen was sitting in my lap and as I crossed the Start/finish line I tossed it to the side of the track.  That didn't stop me from finishing the first lap in 4th overall and eventually moving up to 3rd overall with the fastest lap in the race, with a time 0.068 seconds, faster than I had gone in the 350 race in the morning.

After I got the van loaded, I drove to Stu Carter's house.  Monday, we went to his business, a medical marijuana dispensary, unloaded his van at his shop, visited one of his 'grow' facilities, then went to the Henry Ford Museum.  We quickly found the 1865 Sylvester Roper steam car, which they describe as the oldest surviving car in America.

Not far away was a Sylvester Roper hot air engine. 

For those not paying attention, Sylvester Roper was my 2nd cousin, four times removed.

 Having fulfilled my familial obligations, we checked out the amazing collection of ancient steam engines, early machine tools, a great aviation exhibit, with the Ford Tri-Motor featured, a collection of Presidential limousines, and more.  An excellent museum.  

I drove back home on Tuesday, got a Covid test on Friday, and the results on the next Wednesday said 'none detected'.  Seems that I got away with it.