Ultimate MotorCycling Amateur Race Report #4
As you read in my previous installment, my season opener for AFM at Buttonwillow Raceway Park was a mechanical disaster. The failure of my YZ450F connecting rod resulted in the near complete destruction of my engine: crankcases, cylinder, piston, cylinder head, transmission gears, and oil pump.
I knew from past experience that it normally takes about four weeks to remove/disassemble/clean/inspect/order parts/assemble/install a fresh engine. It would normally be much longer if I had to service the crankshaft or cylinder head, but fortunately I already had fresh parts on hand. I also had a serviceable set of crankcases, which were in the final phases of repairing a stripped drain plug hole.
Fast forward three weeks and the final parts needed arrived on Friday afternoon, exactly one week before I was due at the track for practice. All parts to be reused had been thoroughly cleaned, inspected, Ziploc bagged, and labeled, patiently awaiting assembly. Engine assembly went smoothly, with surprisingly little drama. It took me about 12 hours to convert this large pile of parts into a completely assembled engine. I really like the simplicity of the Yamaha YZ450F engine, and think that any reasonably competent mechanic that can read a shop manual and sling a wrench is capable of building one.
By Monday evening the engine was ready to install into the frame and start buttoning things up. The bike was completed late Wednesday evening, simply awaiting gas, oil, and coolant on Thursday afternoon. Once filled, she fired right up with no odd sounds or leaks. I took the engine through two heat cycles while loading my van with all my tools, spares, and gear.
It’s 5 a.m. Friday, and I’m off to Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, Calif., to race with AHRMA (American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association). AHRMA is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to restoring and competing on classic motorcycles. AHRMA’s “mission is to recreate and preserve the vintage era of roadracing, including the sights, sounds, smells and camaraderie. Certain historical groups of machines are also included in AHRMA’s paddock.” Officially it is the 2016 AHRMA/CPL Systems Historic Cup Roadrace Series, and consists of 20 events held at 10 separate racing venues.
The event is very different from a regular club road-race event, mainly because you don’t see any of the modern 600s or 1000s. The reason is simply because they are not allowed. The most modern 4-cylinder class they have is Next Gen Superbikes, and they are all 1980’s era specification. But what you lack in four cylinder machines, you more than make up for with the fascinating variety of 1, 2, and 3 cylinder machines which race in numerous vintage and formula classes. There are a lot of racers out there, young and old, having a lot of fun racing these “different” motorcycles.
I got to the track by 7 a.m., and found the pit area I was sharing with some old and new racing friends. Old ones include Carry Andrew and Willi Scheffer of Team HyperCycle Racing, Jack Baker of N. Las Vegas, NV, and newer friends Pete Hokenstad (IA), Mark Hoyer (MT), and Darrin Gauvin (CA). Registration, tech inspection, and practice went smoothly. The only adjustments I made all day were a couple of clicks on the front suspension and adjusting/lubing the chain.
My first AHRMA race was last year at this same track. My motivation for racing here, then as now, was primarily to race against one individual…Jack Baker. Jack and I first raced against each other at a Moto West Grand Prix event held in 2015 at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada.
At that time I only knew Jack by reputation as a top AFM and WERA Expert racer with 45+ years of racing experience. At that event we raced hard for six laps, but in the end Jack and his potent Suzuki RM-Z450 Super Single showed me who was boss and took the win. We both agreed we had so much fun that we had to race again…soon! AHRMA @ Willow Springs was to be the place. Unfortunately Jack crashed in practice and his machine was damaged beyond track-side repair, so I went on to win both Sound of Singles 2 events. But now it is 2016, Jack’s bike is repaired, and the much anticipated rematch was about to take place.
Saturday and Sunday both have the same schedule for practice and racing. 2 practice sessions in the morning, and 12 races to run in the afternoon. I was entered in two classes: “Motard” Class Race 9 and “Sound of Singles 2” Class Race 12. I use the same bike for both classes, but have to remove my handlebar fairing to run my Yamaha YZ450F in Motard Class.
Saturday, Race 9 – Motard:
I got the holeshot off the line, and rode to an easy win. Good warmup.
- 1st Place Motard – Rittner.
Saturday, Race 12 – Sound of Singles 2:
This was the first Rittner/Baker matchup of the weekend. I got another really good start, passing most everybody in the second wave before turn 1. Jack got stuck behind a little bit of traffic, and just didn’t have his mojo that day, allowing me to ride to an easy victory. Unknowingly at the time, Jack’s bike was starting to experiencing electrical issues on the last lap, and he had to push his bike back to the pits when it quit on the cool off lap. While not the determining factor in the race, electrical issues can weigh on a racer’s mind.
- 1st Place SOS2 – Rittner
Come Sunday, it was time to do it all over again. Jack and I both skipped practice that morning, as we both already had enough laps under our belts to feel comfortable. Well, as comfortable as you can feel at Big Willow.
I got another smoking holeshot from the fourth row of Wave 2 and quickly caught the Wave 2 leader from the Formula 750 class. The bike (I was told) was a race-prepped Yamaha 650 twin, full fairing, clipons, rearsets, the works. Rider was Brian Filo, no stranger to AHRMA racing. Brian and I swapped positions several times in closely matched racing, with me leading the last two laps and out of the final turn. Without the benefit of my front fairing, my speed suffered going into the wind on the final front straightaway. Brian nipped me at the line by just a few feet. But he wasn’t in my class, so no effect.
- 1st Place Motard- Rittner
Sunday, Race 12 Sound of Singles 2:
This was the very last race of the weekend. In the pits I sensed that Jack was brooding over his defeat from the previous day. The announcer made third and final call to the grid, and we took off on our warmup lap. Jack’s intentions became perfectly clear as he accelerated like a monkey strapped to a rocket. I followed him closely, to see just what kind of stuff he had today. Damn! Suddenly I had visions of a repeating our Pahrump battle, where I could barely hang onto him. However this time I was determined that this race would have a different outcome.
And if that was not enough, there was another wildcard on the grid. Curtis Adams, multi-time WSMC class champion and former overall lap record holder, was on a Honda CR500 2-stroke Motard in the Open Two Stroke class.
The flag dropped and once again I blasted into the lead, shooting the gap between 2 riders on the row ahead of me. I was pretty sure that Jack would slot in behind me to keep the hole open, and so he did. I led into the first turn, through Turn 2, but Jack got the drive and passed me on the inside going into Turn 3. I knew he was going to try and make a break for it. And then Curtis came up to play and made it a threesome.
Just to be cute, Jack reached over and touched Curtis on the arm as all three of us accelerated into the fastest part of the track. We held a tight formation through the treacherous Turns 8 & 9, with Jack and Curtis leading the way. I tried to draft Jack down the front straightaway, but the stiff headwind and my bikes relative lack of aerodynamics stunted my drive and I could not slingshot by. But I did pull up almost even, hot on his heels into the uphill sweeping Turn 2. This time I got the better drive and passed Jack on the inside of Turn 3. Just returning the favor, buddy.
Not one to give up easily, a lap later Jack tried to take me on the inside of Turn 6, a full-throttle dogleg right that goes over a rise. We hit the apex nearly shoulder-to-shoulder, but I held my line and stayed on the gas into Turn 8 with full afterburners blazing. With four laps to go, Curtis and I made our break to the front to battle it out for bragging rights. We stayed in fairly close contact as I gained and lost and re-gained some ground, suffering from Curtis’ inch-perfect lines. But I could not catch him, even with running the fastest lap of the race on the last lap. In the end, I fell short by a little under 1 second. Jack’s bike quit on the cool off lap again.
- 1st Place SOS2- Rittner
So it was a very successful weekend, and here’s why:
1.) Hung out with my friends at the racetrack
2.) Brought me and the bike home in one piece with engine intact
3.) Evened the score with Jack
4.) Got one-up on Jack (I’m enjoying it while I can)
5.) Took home (4) 1st place trophies.
Four weeks until the next race (WERA @ Buttonwillow Raceway Park). Getting ready will be a breeze since no engine build is required this time. I have a scheduled track day two weeks prior, so I will be tuned-up and ready when race day comes.
AFM Expert #129
Action photography by Etech Photo
- Alpinestars Atem suit $1,499
- Alpinestars GP tech leather gloves $299.95
- Alpinestars Supertech R boots $499.95
- Arai Corsair X Statement White helmet $969.95
Next report: WERA, Buttonwillow Raceway Park
Read previous reports from Ultimate MotorCycling Amateur Race Report, Racing Past 60:
Racing Past 60 | Marc Rittner Intro
Racing Past 60 | Rittner Preps for 2016 AFM Race Season
Racing Past 60 | YZ450F Mechanical Failure at AFM, Round 1