Ultimate MotorCycling Amateur Race Report Volume 2, #2
This year marks the 22nd anniversary of the AHRMA/Corsa Moto Classica vintage races at Willow Springs International Raceway (otherwise known as “The Fastest Track in the West”), and my third year participating.
This is the most fun race weekend of the year, with motorcycle sights and sounds that make it more like a racetrack carnival than a regular club race weekend.
Over the years I have observed three types of entrants for this event:
1.) casual racers who participate to be part of the AHRMA vintage racing scene.
2.) Committed racers who regularly compete in the AHRMA vintage racing series.
3.) Other racers who compete here for a variety of reasons.
I put myself into the third category. Competing in this event allows me to stay “racer-sharp” instead of just aimlessly droning around on a track day. But more importantly, I came to defend my previous year’s wins in the Sound of Singles 2 (SOS2) and Motard classes. The added bonus is I can better enjoy the company of my friends than I can during a club race weekend.
This year I shared a garage with Carry Andrew’s Team Hypercycle and Associates. Carry brought a pair of immaculately prepared ex-AMA Superbikes: 1978 Kawasaki KZ1000, and a 1997 Suzuki GSXR-750. The KZ1000 was to be ridden by Carry (former AMA Crew Chief of the Year and ex-AMA Superbike Pro), and the GSX-R750 was to be ridden by Mark Miller (former AMA/Pro and current Pro rider of international acclaim). Of special significance is that this occasion marked the 20th anniversary of when Mark first rode that bike in AMA competition early in his racing career.
Carry’s pit crew for the weekend were his trusty mates Willi Scheffer and Michael Gallagher, and new apprentice crew member Ryan. Also in the garage was George Beavers with his 1980 Suzuki GS1000 ‘Wes Cooley Replica’ bike, Chris Bush with his own fast 1997 GSX-R750, Chris’ friend Jim with his 1992 Kawasaki ZX7-R, and me on my trusty 2008 Yamaha YZ450F. Erich and Carmen Martin came to visit. And we had a full complement of lovely and delightful pit ladies in attendance (Nancy Andrew, Oana Miller, and Karolina Nunes).
Did I say ‘Wes Cooley’? Yes, I did! Wes was here as a special event guest, roaming the pits and signing autographs. This is the first time I have ever met him in person, and I made sure to tell him what an impression he made on me in the late 70’s thru early 80’s racing Yoshimura Superbikes. He signed my retro Wes Cooley t-shirt. ☺
Friday, April 23 – Practice Day
I got to the track around 7 a.m. and waited for registration to open. Signup was quick and easy, and I breezed right through tech. Back in the garage I gassed up and put on the tire warmers. My first session out was at 10:20 a.m., and it only took a few laps to start getting back into the groove.
I already knew where some of my historical rough spots would be, so I got right down to work on finding fresh solutions.
Having a year away from this track was actually a good thing. It gave me the opportunity to look at some of my problems with fresh eyes instead of just repeating my same old mistakes. I tried some different gearing (taller), that resulted in fewer upshifts, more top speed, and a smoother ride. I also tried some different (earlier) braking points that allowed me to settle the bike and get back on the gas much earlier. Finally I developed a new approach to the diabolical Turn 9 which allowed a deeper entry and WFO throttle on exist. I felt like I hit the Willow Springs Trifecta.
Saturday, April 24 – Race Day
There were two practice sessions in the morning, but I only rode in the second practice. All I really wanted to do was loosen up a little bit, and heat-up the engine oil, suspension fluids, and tire carcasses. It was going to be a long wait until my races anyway. I always reset my tire pressures after the first practice once I’ve put on the warmers and the tire temps stabilize. These were the same tires that had been through three races plus practice at WERA West’s Auto Club Speedway round 2 weeks prior. I had some concerns about racing on them, but Mark Miller took a look and confirmed they were fine.
My schedule was to run Motard Class (Race 9) and Sound of Singles 2 (Race 10). I don’t really mind running back-to-back races, but that created a small problem. Motard class does not allow any aerodynamic bodywork, so I had to remove my front fairing for Race 9, and then re-install it for Race 10. Conferring with Race Direction, I was informed that there would be no delay in starting Race 10, so it was up to me to setup my own pit logistics.
I made the decision to move my electric rollers, race fuel, and front fairing with tools to pit lane against the hot pit wall. The thought was that I could use George Beaver’s electric rollers to start my bike. Boy, that was a mistake. George’s rollers did not have enough wheel speed to fire off my high compression single. The racers in the pit next to our garage waved us over to try their rollers. Again, their electric roller setup just didn’t have the wheel speed or torque to get my engine to fire up.
I couldn’t believe that I had been waiting all day to start this race and now I was going to miss it! I jumped off the bike and pushed it down pit road at a full run. Not an easy task in race leather, boots, helmet, and gloves. Big Willi was right on my heels, and helped me put the bike up onto MY rollers. She lit up instantly, and with no time to spare I blazed out onto the track catch the rest of the field already out on the warm-up lap.
Race 9 – Motard
There were only 3 of us in the Motard class: me, Darrin Gauvin, and Alan Brown. I have raced against both of them before, and knew I had to bring my game. As the pit board turned from 2 to 1 all bikes dropped into gear. I brought my revs up to the midrange torque peak, and let out the clutch lever until I could just feel engagement.
The 1 board went sideways, and at the first twitch of the starter’s flag I dropped the hammer on what turned out to be a pretty good holeshot. Bursting into the lead, I never saw either Darrin or Alan again. Eight laps later the checkered flag flew for my first win of the day, by a 26 second margin.
1st Place Motard – Rittner
Instead of taking it easy on the cool-down lap, I hauled ass around the track, got checked by the Hot Pit Tech folks for leaks, and hot-footed it off the track into my makeshift pit area.
Willi and I had already discussed who would do what. His primary job was to refuel the bike. My job was to re-attach the front fairing to three of four mounting points. I finished right about the time Willi finished fueling, so he took over the task of the fourth mounting point, and I worked to put my gloves back on. I jumped onto the bike, stabbed the electric roller’s foot pedal switch, and my bike barked instantly to life.
Race 10 – Sound of Singles 2
We had done our job in the pits in record time, and I rolled into the staging area among a variety of bikes. This race would be a combined start of 3 types of machines: Formula Thunder (unlimited formula twins), Battle of the Twins (unlimited air-cooled twins), and 450cc singles in Sound of Singles 2. Gridded last again, I blazed off the line past all the singles and all but four of the twins into turn 1.
The big twins had big power, and were already stretching their lead on the short chute between turn 1 and turn 2. However, there was one “Sitting Duc” in the lead pack, and I seized the opportunity to drive around him in the high-speed uphill turn 2.
Now I was in no-man’s land between the leaders and the following pack. My lap times were very consistently distancing me from the SOS2 riders, but also losing ground to the race leaders. All was going smoothly until the 3rd lap going around turn 2.
My left leg was hooked over the seat, and I was leaning off the bike as far as my old-school techniques would allow, when I felt a large pop in my left knee joint. The pain was immediate and excruciating. Should I pull off the track? Heck no…there’s a race to win here! I held it together and crossed the finish line with a 33 second margin of victory.
1st place Sound of Singles 2 – Rittner
My knee was another story. My guess is that I had slightly dislocated the knee joint from all the side pressure I was putting on it. It is not swollen, but the knee joint is very stiff and does not like me to apply much weight to it. It was bad enough that I withdrew from the races on Sunday, as it was just not possible or safe for me to race with my knee in this condition.
Ten days later it feels much better, and I have been getting some light exercise walking the dogs. Nonetheless I have an appointment scheduled with an orthopedic sports medicine doctor to insure it gets the proper treatment and makes me fit for the upcoming WERA West races in June.
Despite my injuries and early departure, I still consider it to be successful weekend:
1) Hung out with my friends at the racetrack. Made some new friends.
2) Met West Cooley! One of my racing idols.
3) Brought me and the bike home in one piece with engine intact.
4) Took home (2) 1st place trophies.
5) Extending my winning streak in SOS2 to 3 years.
Eight weeks until the next race (WERA @ Willow Springs International Raceway). The bike is still running strong and in great shape, so it will only need some routine maintenance. On the other hand, I have some work to do getting my knee back in shape. I’m not yet ready to throw in the racing towel, but this knee injury is my forcing me to acknowledge that Racing Past 60 has its perils. Until June…
AFM Expert #129
- Helmet: Arai Corsair-X Statement
- Suit: Alpinestars Atem
- Armor: Alpinestars KR-R Back Protector
- Gloves: Alpinestars GP Tech
- Boots: Alpinestars Supertech R
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
- Racing Past 60 | Supermoto Spank, 4 Wins at AHRMA
- Racing Past 60 | Luck Holds Up for 2 Wins at WERA West, Round 3
- Racing Past 60 | Two Wins at WERA West, Round 4
- Racing Past 60 | Two Wins at WERA West, Round 5
- Racing Past 60 | 2017 Begins with WERA Win at Auto Club Speedway