Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Heartland Park

Towards the end of May, I drove out to Heartland Park in Topeka, Ks., for the AHRMA race there. I had raced there twice before, in 1990 and 1993, but I had little memory of the track plus it had changed somewhat since then. The road course used to incorporate the drag strip and the last corner came out over the launch area, which was trecherous in the wet. Now, the front straight runs parallel to the drag strip but doesn't use any of it. It's a good circuit, 2.5 miles long, very smooth, with a fair amount of elevation change and a good mix of fast and slow. I brought my CRTT and ERTT, though the ERTT was just for back up as Karl Engellenner brought his and my sister bikes from Roseville, Ca., picking up Walt Fulton on the way in Montrose, Co. I got there Thursday afternoon and was able to ride a bicycle around a couple of laps. I had been told by a couple of riders who raced there in 2019 that the gearing should be like Barber or a little taller like Carolina M/S Pk., but on the bicycle, it sure seemed much faster than that. As it turned out, my 350 Sprint had the gearing on it that we used to win 3 of the 4 races I was in at Laguna Seca last year and that proved ideal at Heartland. I signed up for half day practice on Friday and set about relearning the circuit. In the first practice on the 250, my plug lead came off the spark plug and cut my session short. But, the motor wasn't running right and it didn't want to rev over 8,000 rpm, where it should do 10,000. Over the weekend I richened the jetting and reduced the ignition advance a bit, but it made little difference. I finished a distant 2nd in the 250GP both days to John Scales who had a fresh Hall brothers built motor in his 175 Honda twin.
My '67 CRTT in the garage. Karl had the 350 running great and I don't think we changed anything on it all weekend except adjust the front brake. From the practice lap times, I decided that I could at least annoy the front runners in the 500 Premiere class, so I post entered that race, which ran before the 350GP. I fairly quickly worked my way up to 4th behind Wes Orloff, Andrew Mauk (both on Honda twins) and Tim Joyce making his debut on a Dutch built 500 BMW boxer in a custom chassis. On the last lap, Wes got into the chicane too hot and went straight onto the sopping wet grass with sheets of water flying from the heavy rain on Thurs. I was sure that he was going to go down, but he kept it upright and came back on the track pushing Andrew wide and allowing Tim to get by. Wes got well off line and seemed to wait to get any mud off his tires before gassing it up, and I was able to get by too, finishing 3rd. My final race Sat., was the 350GP. While waiting at pit out to start the warm-up lap, the motor stalled and there was a roller started there which got the the bike running again and we were almost immediately let out on the track. As I was climbing the hill that leads into turn#1 the motor died and decending the other side I wonder if the fuel tap was off. I coasted straight on the extention of the drag strip rather then blend right into turn #1 as I fumbled around trying to find and turn on the fuel tap. Just as I was coming to a stop the motor caught and I got it running. Now I had to enter the track at the apex of turn #3. Most of the field had already gone through so I didn't have to wait long to find a safe gap to re-enter the track. I was oh so close to not starting the race. 350GP was gridded behind Vintage Superbike Lightweight and I followed Mat Joy on his VSL Suzuki twin the first lap. I got by Mat in turn #1 starting the 2nd lap and led over all to the finish. Mat had a slightly faster fastest lap on the last lap but it was enough to make up the gap I had built. My fastest was more than half a second faster than I had gone in the 500 Premiere race. My 350 Sprint in the foreground with Karl Engellenner's, which Walt Fulton rides, behind. In Sunday's 500 Premiere race, I never got by Tony Read on the B-50 BSA and, while Wes Orloff over shot the chicane again on the last lap when distracted by Andy Findling crashing in front of him, he got back on the track before Tony or I could get by, again baulking Andrew and allowing Tim to get through. I the 350GP, I again got in the lead, but I could hear a bike right behind me, which I assumed was Alex McLean. On the 4th lap, my bike jumped out of 5th gear and I shifted it back in. On the penultimate lap, exiting the chicane the bike went 'bang' and I lost all drive and I couldn't shift it. I thought something in the drive train broke and I coasted into te pits. Karl found on subsequent examination that it was a selector problem, not the actual drive train. I was scored 4th as Tim Joyce retired before me and we had several DNS, and my consolation was that I had my fastest lap of the weekend in this race.
The garage we shared with Tom Pillsbury (XS 650 Yamaha) and Gary Roper ('51 Vellocette MAC)
Hiroshi Murata's TA 125 Yamaha
Keith Martin's freshly restored Vincent Black Shadow

Saturday, May 8, 2021


A couple of weeks ago, I got my latest motorcycle purchase registered. Last October, I bought what was advertised as a 1959 Horex Resident, though I suspect it's earlier. It was advertised as 'almost museum quality' and, though it looked quite nice, it had been sitting a long time and needed some sorting (don't they all). The gearbox had no oil in it and the leak after I filled it, led me to discover that the shift shaft seal was shot. After riding it a bit, it died and didn't want to start. Eventually, a friend pointed out the the throttle stop screw was missing. It had fallen out because the threads in the body were stripped. I was able to get a Helicoil kit (6m X.75!) and a new screw which cured the running and starting problem. The gas cap leaked because the gasket was no good.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Team Suzuki

I mentioned to my friend Bill Himmelsbach that I had a good biography of Jarno Saarien and he asked if he could borrow it and offered a long list of books that he had and with which he could reciprocate. I chose 'Team Suzuki' by Ray Battersby, largely because I have long been fascinated with Suzuki's '60s GP team dynamics. This started with reading an excerpt of Mat Oxley's 'Stealing Speed' that I had read in Roadracing World. I thought that Oxley was unduly hard of Ernst Degner who defected from the East German MZ works team and went to Suzuki with tuning secrets he'd learned from Walter Kaaden, the head of MZ racing. I ran into Oxley at the IOM later and talked to him about this. Mat said from his interviews with Degner's son and widow, he got the impression that Degner was not a nice man. Later still, I got a copy of Hugh Anderson's autobiography "Being There", and Hugh writes of what a sportsman Degner was and how much he helped him to his own detriment when they were teammates on the works Suzuki GP team from 1962-1966. The book also indicated that there was friction between Anderson and his other teammate, Frank Perris. This caused me to get Oxley's 'Stealing Speed' and read it in its entirety, and was interested that Perris also said complimentary things about Degner. Then I saw some posts on a forum by Ray Battersby critizing Oxley's depiction of Degner and Kaaden. Now, having read 'Team Suzuki', the team dynamics seem more confusing, or complicated at least, as Anderson is quoted saying complimentary things about Perris. I found 'Team Suzuki' to be an excellent and well researched book. It starts with Suzuki's decision in the 1950's to go racing to enhance its reputation, first with domestic Japanese racing, then internationally, sending a team to the IOM in 1960. This was a year after Honda first went to the IOM and a year before Yamaha went there. Their initial efforts were disappointing and they carefully cultivated a relationship with Degner and helped facilate his defection. With Degner's input and with the hiring of the other experienced Western racers Anderson, Perris, Suzuki began to get results. I hadn't know about the input of Geoff Duke nor that Tom Phillis and Paddy Driver had raced for Suzuki. Then came Bertie Schneider, Jack Ahearn (who dubbed the Suzuki 250 "whispering death" because of it many sudden seizures), Hans Georg Anscheidt, and Stuart Graham (when Anderson retired from road racing to race motocross),Suzuki won six World Championships. Suzuki retired from World Championship GP road racing after the 1968 season as did Yamaha, a year after Honda withdrew. But, Suzuki had already started racing in the U.S. Wanting to raise the profile of Suzuki in the U.S. market, Haruo Koshino brought a works GP 50cc and 125cc to race in West Coast club events in 1965. It isn't mentioned in 'Team Suzuki', but Walt Fulton III got to race at least the RK 65, a 50cc, a twin cylinder, watercooled, 12 speed, but also the twin cylinder, watercooled, 9 speed 125 RT 65. This led to Walt racing a race prepared X6 250 in AMA novice class along side Experts Dick Hammer, Dick Mann and Ron Grant in the Lightweight class in 1966. Walt won the Novice race in record time at Daytona and was high point novice for the year. Mann was 2nd and Hammer 3rd at the Carlsbad national. Walt also rode the works GP 50 and 125 in Westcoast club events. Walt rode a H-D KR 750 in the AMA 'Amateur' races in '67, but a Suzuki in some Am/Ex Lightweight events and an H-D Sprint in others. The Expert team was cut back to Hammer and Grant. In '68, the T500 was added to the team stable and Cal Rayborn rode the X-6 in the Lightweight races. In '69, Art Bauman won the Sears Point national on the 500 Suzuki, the first time a two stroke and the first time a Japanese bike had won an AMA National. In '70, Jody Nicholas and New Zealander Geoff Perry were added to the team. Grant won the Kent, Wa. National on the T500. In '71 Ron Pierce was added to the team. For '72, the 500 was retired and replaced with the TR750 triple, the water cooled 'Water Buffalo'. These motors produced more power than their chassis, chains and tires could handle. Nicholas won at Road Atlanta, but was diqualified for an illegal cylinder casting. For '73, new and improved TR 750s were provided to Don Emde, Grant, Paul Smart and Geoff Perry. Smart won at Dallas, Tx., and Perry won the next race at Rd. Atlanta. That year Perry died in a plane crash on his way from New Zealand to Laguna Seca. In 1974, Gary Nixon and Cliff Carr joined Sheene and Smart on the factory team but, with the introduction of the TZ 700 Yamaha, Suzuki's only win was with Nixon at Loudon. 1975 was the last year for the TR750 triple in the AMA and their best finish was Pat Hennen's 5th at Laguna Seca. Internationally, Suzuki raced the 500 twin and 750 triple. The 500 twin reached it's zenith in 1971 when New Zealander Keith Turner finished 2nd to Ago's MV in the 500 World Championship with less success later. In '73 a watercooled, 6 speed version was made, but it's only real success was Jack Findley's winning the IOM Senior TT. In '73, Sheene won the Formula 750 Cup and in '74 Suzuki only won one race in the series (Paul Smart). Sheene won three races in '75 to finish second in the series. '76 was the last year the triples were raced internationally. The RG 500 square four 500 made it's debut in 1974 but didn't win a 500 GP until Assen '75 where Sheene won. In '76 & '77, Sheene won the 500 World Championship, but then Roberts and Yamaha won the next three years. Marco Lucchinelli won the 500 World Championship in 1981 on a Suzuki, but Suzuki won the Manufacturer's Championship 1976-1981. The book finishes with the 1981 season and the book was published in 1982. Franco Uncini won the 500 World Championship in '82 on a RG500, but Suzuki wouldn't win another World Championship until 2000 with Kenny Roberts Jr. on a very different 500. I thoughly enjoyed Team Suzuki as it gives very detailed history of the evolution of the machines while conveying the personalities of the riders and management thinking. I was struck by how many of the riders I had known. Hugh Anderson--I had several great races with Hugh at Circuit Paul Ricard in '86 and Brands Hatch in '89 Frank Perris--Paraded with Frank at Cadwell Park and the IOM TT Centenary Stuart Graham--spent time with Stuart at the IOM when Team Obsolete brought the 250 Honda Six in 2017. Stuart had raced that bike in 1966. Walt Fulton III--I'm 'teammates' with Walt on the Karl Engellenner built 350 Aermacchis in AHRMA racing Dick Mann--I spent a lot of time with Dick when he worked with Team Obsolete in the '80s and '90s Jody Nichols--met Jody many times at West Coast vintage events Mick Grant--spent time with Mick when he rode a T/O MV at Oliver's Mount, Scarborough and many times at the Isle of Man Paul Smart--I did a 5 day Moto Giro with Paul in Central California in 2004 and at the spoke with him at IOM. Don Emde--shared many vintage events with Don including when he was Grand Marshal at Mid-Ohio Vintage M/C Days Barry Sheene--I followed Barry on an MV 500-3 when he was on a RG 500 Suzuki on a parade down to the seafront at Scarborough doing smoky burnouts. Gary Nixon--I did many vintage events will Gary and chatted with at the USGP at Indiannapolis in 2010, the year before he died. Hurley Wilvert--I met Hurley in the mid '70s when I was club racing a Kawasaki Bighorn and saw him several time at the IOM and stayed at his house in 2018. Dave Aldana--shared many vintage events with Dave and drove with him to a race in Loudon, N.H. Pat Hennen--met Pat at Laguna Seca and again at the IOM Graham Crosby--shared parade laps with Graham at the IOM Steve Parrish--spent a good deal of time with Steve at the IOM in his capacity of presenter for ITV television. Phil Read--spent time with Phil at many vintage events at Circuit Paul Ricard, Snetterton, Laguna Seca and the IOM. Plus Rod Coleman, the New Zealand importer of Suzuki and sponsor of Geoff Perry among others. I spent time with Rod on his boat on Lake Taupo, N.Z. Roberto Gallina, team manager for Suzuki Italy who won the 500 World Championship in '81 with Luccinelli and '82 with Uncini. I spent time with Roberto at his house and shop in La Spezia, Italy in '86, in Brooklyn, N.Y. several times and at the IOM in 2018. I'm incredibly fortunate to have known these great racers.
With Pat Hennen at the IOM TT in 1984. Pat commented that I was the first American to win a TT and he was the first American to win a World Championship GP.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

2021 CMP addendum

The first 30 seconds of Jonathan Hollingsworth's video shows how close I was to being taken out in the first turn crash in Sunday's VSL/350GP/350 Sportsman race. Jerry Duke got his usual good start and got through the corner before some VSL bike crashed in front of Alex McLean taking him out. I just barely missed Alex and took a long ride through the grass.

Monday, March 29, 2021

AHRMA Carolina Motorsports Park 2021

In preperation for my second race of the 2021 season, I put my CRTT H-D Sprint on the dyno to understand why it didn't seem to want to rev at Roebling Road four weeks before. After several runs, the motor went BANG and lost power. I found that the exhaust valve wasn't opening and suspected that a tappet had broken. This happened to this motor last July at Blackhawk Farms and was no big deal as I just took the broken pieces out and put a used tappet in that I had with me. But when I investigated this time, I found it wasn't so simple.
It looked like the broken off head of the tappet had been jammed into the tappet bush and pushed it up towards the head and galled the bush so the broken off stem of the tappet was jammed in the bush.
I decided that this was more than I could deal with in the time I had left and Rob Iannucci offered me a Team Obsolete AJS 7R which I accepted. The bike had last been run in 2015 when I raced it at a USCRA event at NJMP Lightning circuit. We just put oil in it, changed the number plates and did some safety wiring and it seemed ready. I had a miseralble Friday night at CMP as it got really cold and I had to make three dashes to the men's room in the middle of the night with gastro-intestinal distress. Sat., was cold, cloudy and very windy. I took it very easy in the first practice, but had a lot of problems shifting the gearbox, especially downshifting (i.e.lifting the lever up). I got an old broken aluminum footrest from Stu Carter and slid it over the toe piece of the shift lever, lengthening it and making it bigger in diameter.
This helped enormously in the 2nd practice, though I still occasionally had problems downshifting.
Testing the shift lever on the bench. Amy Roper photo. My first race was race #7 with Sound of Singles 2 in the first wave and 500 Premiere (Vintage Cup) in the second wave and Formula 500 gridded behind. At the start, Helmi Neiderer crashed going into turn #1 and his bike knocked down Tony Read, the winner of the two 500 Premiere races at Roebling Road. This brought out the red flag, one of an incredible number of red flags over the weekend. Neither Tony or Helmi made the restart, so I was able to finish a distant 2nd to Wes Orloff, on Dale Coffman's 450 Honda, in class, but 17th overall behind a bunch of SOS2 bikes (and lapped by the leader, Ralph Staropoli) and three F500 bikes. There were more crashes and red flags before my second race, #13 the Vintage Superbike Lightweight, 350GP and 350 Sportsman and and Formula 125. I was running a distant 2nd to Alex McLean on his Drixton Aermacchi in class. I still occasionally had problems downshifting in the 'fog of war'and failed to get it right entering one of the corners and came out two gears too tall. Jonathan Hollingsworth on a Rickman Aermacchi and Jerry Duke on a 350 Ducati came by me. I initially thought--no problem; I can get them back--but then the red flag came out and the race was called final, so I was 4th in class and 10th overall. I decided that I was geared a little tall and added one tooth to the rear sprocket. I also went to one step colder sparkplug as I had a little concern about the center electrode on the one I had run with. Saturday night was much better than Friday and, while Sunday was somewhat warmer than Sat., it was perhaps more windy and even drizzled a bit in the morning. I trimed the footrest that I had slipped over the shift lever in a effort to further improve my downshifting.
My sister-in-law Amy Roper and her fiance Dave Nichols came to the event and were a trememdous help. Amy Roper photo.
Amy Roper Photo. After the one practice round, I went up one jet size in the carb.
Trying to find neutral after starting the bike on the roller starter. Amy Roper photo. In Sunday's 500 Premiere race, Tony Read stalled on the grid and wasn't able to start the race. I again ran a distant second to Wes Orloff and was able to hold off Helmi, who was somewhat detuned by his crash on Sat. This race too was red flagged for a crash and I ended up 2nd in class and 13th overall behind 8 SOS2 bikes, Wes and 3 F500 bikes. By the time the 350GP race came up, the sun had come out and it was considerable warmer, but still very windy. And, people were still crashing. I think it was on the second restart that someone crashed in front of Alex McLean and he had no where to go, went down and didn't make the restart as he hurt his foot. So, I took the lead in the class on the third restart.
Exiting turn #1. Amy Roper photo. I thought the race might be re flagged again as someone fell in the last corner and the bike ended just off the track in the impact zone, but for once they didn't throw the red flag. I had passed Jerry Duke early on but must have been goofing off or again wasn't able to make the downshift as my fastest lap was nearly three seconds slower than in the 500 Premiere race. In the last corner of the race, Jerry stuffed me hard up the the inside. I thought that he wasn't going to make the corner and I ran off the track. Jerry ran over the rumble strips but stayed on the tarmac and beat me to the finish line by 2.5 I recovered, so again I was 2nd in class, this time 4th overall with two VSL bikes in front of us. So, all four of the races that I was in were red flagged, the last one three times. And these were far from the only races red flagged. There had to be a record number of crashes. Part of this was undoubtedly the weather and maybe March isn't the best time to race at CMP. Part of the problem was just a big turn out--more entries mean more crashes, perhaps especially when it's the first race of the year for many of the racers. And, part of it is the nature of the CMP track. Turn #1 is very tight and not that far from the start line, so it's not uncommon for there to be a gaggle of riders there at the start trying to occupy the same spot. I felt lucky to survive unscathed.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

AHRMA Roebling Road 2021

My 2021 racing season kicked off with the traditional February Roebling Road Raceway date.  I only brought my 250cc CRTT HD Sprint and my 350 wasn't ready.  The 250 had a pretty extensive rebuild over the winter: new crankpin and big end bearing, new main bearings, new gearbox, new cylinder bore, new rings, new valves and new exhaust seat and guide.  And a new rear tire. 

My '67 CRTT H-D Sprint as it arrived

So I signed up for Fri. afternoon practice.  I rained Friday morning and, while it had pretty much stopped raining by the time I got on the track, the track was fully wet and I was very cautious.  By my 2nd practice the track was drying, but there were plenty of damp patches and the odd puddle.  The motor started easily, sounded fine and accelerated fairly well, but didn't seem to want to rev and I wasn't pulling the gearing that I had in the past, so I dropped a tooth on the gearbox sprocket.

Saturday morning was quite cold with temps in the low 30's and I took it very steady.  By now the sun was shining brightly and it had warmed up a bit.  I went out for the 2nd practice and on my out lap when I cracked the throttle in turn #3, the rear tire broke loose and I low sided.  I slid on my ass on the track then into the dirt without tumbling, but I did wear right through my leather and got a raspberry of my left cheek. 

Wore right through my leathers.  Darleen Drehmel photo

The bike wasn't too bad, but the fairing was pretty smashed up and dirt was packed everywhere.  It seems like I'm making the rookie, cold tire turn #3 crash an annual tradition as I did it last year, though then I tucked the front.  
After the crash.  Kenny Cummings is very disappointed in his 'dad'.  Courtney A. Black photo

I abandoned the fairing and mounted number plates.  Now I have an air filter on the carb, so I didn't have to take the head off to clean out the dirt as I did last year. 

mounting number plates with Dr. Dan Levine.  Courtney A. Black photo

I installed a new CO2 cartridge in my inflatable vest. I got the bike re-teched and was able to do a scrub lap in race #2, and everything seemed OK for race #3, my bump-up race, 350GP with 350 Sportsman gridded behind us in one wave. 
heading out for a 'scrub lap'  Darleen Drehmel photo

As soon as I started the warm-up lap, the motor started cutting out intermittently.  I pulled in pit lane and saw that one of the leads had pulled off the coil.  I shoved it back on and got a push start and started the race from the pit lane after everyone got rolling.  Three of the 350GP and three of the 350 Sportsman bikes started pulling away.  After a couple of laps, I saw I was catching Colton Roberts riding his Dad's TD2b Yamaha.  Jason Roberts had crashed in practice when an oil line failed on his Aermacchi and oiled the rear tire.  He broke three ribs and offered his Yamaha to his son.  Colton had never turned a wheel on this bike before the start of the race and he was clearly figuring out how to ride it.  I was able to pass him in several corners and he would blow by me on the straights.  By the last lap, Colton had gained enough confidence in how the bike was going to act that I was unable to pass him and he finished 0.9 seconds ahead of me.  So I was 4th in class and 7th overall.

The 250GP class was in race #11 gridded behind Sound of Singles 3 in the first wave and Vintage Superbike Lightweight in the second wave. 

On the front row of the 250GP grid, behind the VSL grid, in the 2nd wave.  Darleen Drehmel photo

I got ahead of a few of the VSL bikes at the start and soon caught some of the SOS3 bikes.  SOS3 may have the greatest range of speed of any class.  The first two in that class lapped me (and all but 7 of the 30 starters)on what were effectively Moto3 bikes--modern watercooled, fuel injected 250 singles in full race chassis.  I passed 6 of the SOS3 bike and two of the VSL bikes for 1st in class and 17th overall.

Sunday morning was even colder with frost everywhere.  There was only one round of practice and I managed to complete 5 laps without crashing.  I still wasn't pulling the gearing, so I added two teeth to the rear sprocket.  Then, Art Kowitz told me that he was taking his X-6 Suzuki to the Hall brother's mobile dyno to sort it.  I didn't realize that it was there, and I followed Art down and after he made a run, we put my Sprint on.  Rob Hall was able to alter the ignition timing while Jake kept the bike running.  Rob advanced the timing 2-3 times to optimum and noted that the fuel/air mixture was a little rich, so I went down one jet size.

Sunday's 350GP/Sportman race went much like Saturday's except Jason Roberts wasn't riding his dad's TD2b.  I had a fairly lonely ride after the first 5 pulled away and ended up 3rd in class and 6th overall.  My best lap was more than 0.8 seconds slower that Sat. without the encouragement of chasing Jason and maybe his draft, too.  

There were a couple of crashes in close succession around race #7 that required both the ambulances to transport riders, which shut down racing until one returned.  After racing resumed, there was another red flag delay so, by the time race #11 came up, the race was shortened from 8 laps to 6.  Again, I led the 250GP class from the start.  I passed three of the VSL bikes and two of the SOS3 bikes to finish 1st in class and 17th overall.  I was only lapped by the leader of the SOS3 class (as were the next 16 bikes).  What I didn't realize until after the race was that I finished just 0.315 seconds ahead of Don Hollingsworth on his 250 Sprint.  I had a slightly faster fastest lap than Don, but mine was on the 3rd lap and his was on the last.  Clearly, I was goofing off and he was smelling blood.  Would I have been able to respond if the race had gone the full 8 laps?

My fasted lap of the weekend last year on the same bike (also without a fairing) was more that 3.3 seconds  faster then my fastest lap of the weekend this year.  I'm willing to accept that some of that is because I'm a broken old man (or rather more broken, older man), but I was definitely pulling more revs with taller gearing last year.  Why is mystery that I'm still investigating.

Brian Larrabure's Seeley G-50.  Brian unfortunately had a serious crash Sun. on another bike and broke his leg and clavicle

My pit neighbors: Doc Batsleer's Indian and Beno Rodi's cammy Nortons

Dave Kaufman's G-12 Matchless


Local Rick Panettieri always brings an interesting and immaculate bike, this time a Laverda Jota


Stu Carter's ex-Ginger Molloy Bultaco

The Bultaco seat warning

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Skip Aksland addendum

I recently ran across two races that Skip Aksland had competed in of which I wasn't aware on two successive days.  I saw a photo of the start of the Formula 750 race at Mosport Park in Canada, 17 Sept., 1978 and there was Aksland on the front row with  Johnny Cecotto, Yvon Duhamel, Kenny Roberts and Mike Baldwin. 

Photo courtesy of CSBK/PMP

I checked back, I saw that I had included Skip's 4th overall (5th in the first leg, 4th in the second) in the text, but had left it out of the list.  But, in researching this, I learned that Aksland had raced the previous weekend (10 Sept.) at the F-750 race at Laguna Seca, which I thought he missed because of injuries from his crash at Sears Point in July.  Laguna may have been his first race back after that crash.  In th first 100km leg, Skip finished 2nd to Roberts and ahead of Steve Baker, Gene Romero and Mike Baldwin.  In the second leg, he made only two laps before pulling into the pits with a "broken coil". Two weeks after Mosport, Skip was 8th in the San Jose Mile and a week later 11th in the Ascot Half Mile, both on a XR H-D.  Then, the next weekend (7-8 Oct., '78), Skip finished 8th overall in the AGV Cup of Nations at Imola, Italy.

Then I stumbled across an old post on the WERA forum by Larry Lawrence.  He had come across an old floppy disc that he had made on the history of the WERA GNF.  I was surprised to see that in 1978, Skip had raced in that year's GNF at Texas World Speedway.  This was three weeks after racing at Imola, 28 Oct.  In the F-1 heat race on Sat., Lawrence says the Aksland and Freddie Spencer 'tangled' and both went down.  Cycle News says they both hit oil and crashed virtually simultaneously on the last lap while dicing for the lead.  Lawrence says Aksland got a 'badly injured hand'.  Cycle News says both were unhurt other than Aksland's sprained thumb.  Evidently it was bad enough that Aksland didn't start the next day's final.  Mike Baldwin arrived after the heat races Sat., and started the final Sun., from the back of the grid and went through to win over Spencer and Aldana.

Quite a busy and varied two months for Skip, racing a four stroke V-twin on the dirt and an inline two stroke four on the asphalt, in three different countries and two continents.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Bruno Kneubuhler

 I've been reading "Chris Carter at Large,  Stories from a lifetime in motorcycle racing" which is a collection of anecdotes about races and racers.  Carter writes of the Swiss racer Bruno Kneubuhler "He was good, too.  Second in both the 50cc and 125cc world championship, and he rode in the 250cc, 350cc and 500cc championships at various times, scoring podiums in all classes, I think.  Possibly a unique achievement."  I found this quite amazing and started researching if it was in fact true.  Bruno Kneubuler's name was vaguely familiar, but I didn't know any of his details.  A quick Google search confirmed that he had been on the podium in every solo class, had won five GPs, and finished 2nd in the '73 Spanish GP in the 50, 250 and 500 races.  But, what I found even more impressive was that he raced in the World Championship GPs from 1972 when he was 26 years old through 1989 when he was 43 and scored points every year except '87 racing a Honda in the 500cc class. Bruno started racing in 1969 and got 2nd place in his first competition, a hillclimb.  In 1970 he won the Swiss Senior title.  In 1971, he rode as many International races as he could get starts for.  In 1972, he started racing in the GPs in the 350 and 500 classes on Yamahas, was 4th at his first GP in the 500, third behind Ago and Pagani on the works MVs at Assen and third again at Brno, and won the 350 race at the last GP of the season in Spain by 42 seconds. This made him third in the 500 class for the season and 6th in the 350 class in his rookie season. For some reason, I associated his name with the Imola 200 Ducatis.  Sure enough, he rode one of the works bikes in '73.  '72 was the first year of the Imola 200 and Paul Smart put Ducati on the map by winning over his teammate Bruno Spaggiari.  Apparently, the 350 Yamaha wasn't allowed in '72, but was in '73 and Jarno Saarinen, fresh from his win in the Daytona 200, dominated the event.  Ducati had developed their 750 V-Twin considerably with a shorter stroke, and reduced valve angle that allowed a shorter wheelbase.  Smart rode a Suzuki in '73, and Spaggiari had Mick Grant and Bruno Kneubuhler as teammates on the works Ducatis.  Grant fried a clutch at the start and retired and the two Brunos chased Saarinen, after Yvon duHamel and Art Baumann on H2Rs dropped out.  Kneubuhler was in 2nd place near the end of the first 100 mile leg when he crashed after turning the fastest lap of the race.  

At Imola on the works Ducati in 1973

Here's a link to a documentary of the race:

In June of 1977, Bruno crashed at an International in Holland and badly fractured his left ankle and the surgery was botched and it got infected.  He was flown to Zurich and, after three months and more surgery, his ankle was fused.  This not only ended his season and but compromised his push starts when he resumed racing in '78 on a RG 500 Suzuki, and he only scored 2 points all year.  So, in '79 he switched to a 125 MBA, but that season was ruined by a fall at Assen where he broke both wrist.  He came back strong the next year with the MBA with three podiums and 4th in the 125 championship.

On the 125 MBA at Assen in 1980

For 1981 Bruno raced a 250 Pinfold Rotax that wasn't very successful.  He only scored points in  two GPs.  Fron Motocourse 1981-82: "Schlachter passed Bruno Kneubuhler on lap ten as the Swiss dropped down the field.  It was yet another disappointment for Bruno who struggled all year to make his Pinfold-framed Rotax competitive and had qualified fourth only to have the engine run flat in the race."  Here's a video of the earlier race at Hockenheim:

#33 is Bruno at Monza in '81

It was back to the 125s with an MBA in '82 and in '83 he had perhaps his best year finishing 2nd overall in the 125 World Championship with two wins, a 2nd and a 3rd, and scoring points in 8 of the 11 GPs he contested at the age of 37.  Bruno stayed with the 125s through 1986, but in 1987 he raced a 500 Honda, presumably a RS500 three cylinder.  This was probably prompted by the FIM changing GPs start from push to clutch. '87 was the first year that Bruno didn't score any World Championship points since 1972 but, keep in mind that '87 was the last year that points were awarded only 1st through 10th and the next year they went to 1st through 15th, which is still used today.  And, Bruno was racing against Gardner, Mamola, Lawson and Schwantz on works bikes.  It only got worse with the addition of Rainey in '88 and Doohan in '89, but Bruno did score points both those years.

On the RS 500 Honda

Bruno has participated in Classic racing in more recent years and operates riding school in Switzerland.

So, from 50cc Kreidler to 750 Ducati to RS 500 Honda, Kneubuhler was superbly versatile.

But, somewhere in my research, I saw a reference to seven riders being 'classified' in all five solo classes: Ralph Bryans, Tommy Robb, Luigi Taveri, Stuart Graham, Dave Simmons, Bruno Kneubuhler, and Alberto Pagani.  It wasn't totally clear what 'classified' meant, but I assume it meant scored points.  Further research revealed that Kneubuhler's podiums in all solo classed wasn't a unique achievement.  Tommy Robb won 125, 250 and 350 races and got 3rds in 50 and 500 GPs.  Stuart Graham may have also been on the podium of all five solo classes as he won 50 and 125 GPs and was 2nd in 250 and 500 GPs, but I haven't been able to find results of all his 350 GPs, though think that it's probably unlikely that he made the podium in one.  Bryans, Robb, Taveri, Graham, and Simmons all raced against each other in the mid to late '60s and Kneubuhler and Pagani were just a little later in the early 70's, but Kneubuhler carried on and was 5th in the 125 World Championship in 1986 riding an MBA, then spent his last three years in the GPs racing the 500 Honda.  It was a different time.  Much was made of Freddie Spencer winning both the 250 and 500 World Championships in 1985 and I don't think anyone has even tried running more that one class since then, even Kneubuhler who last raced more that one class in a season in 1977.  The 350 class was eliminated after 1982 and the 50 class was replaced by the 80cc class in 1984 and ran through 1989, when it too was eliminated.