Friday, September 26, 2008

My Old Stomping Grounds

Back in the mid 90s during my last year in the Marine Corps I began racing motorcycles at Willow Springs International Raceway, a 2.5 mile, 9 turn paved roadcourse (shown below) in the high desert northeast of Los Angeles. Dubbed "the fastest road in the West" it is a fast track where overall speed and momentum are the key, as opposed to a "point and shoot" kind of track with slow turns and long straights.
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I had a lot of great times and met a lot of great people during my 10 years of racing. Two of those people are Jim and his wife, Lynn. Jim is a multi-time, multi-class champion in the WSMC. I never beat him, but we had some good side-by-side action on a few occasions; and I learned a lot from him. Jim is still racing, and he recently competed in the Ninja Cup, a race series where the riders all compete on Kawasaki Ninja 250cc, 4-stroke twins. These bikes, capable of just over 100 mph (160 kph) don't have awe-inspiring speed or acceleration like a 2-stroke of the same displacement, but they are light and handle well. Below is an on-bike video from the August 2008 Ninja Cup race. The video quality is very good considering that the track is quite bumpy in places. I'll let Jim's wife, Lynn, give you the set-up for what you are about to see.
Here’s a 9 minute video of one of our races at Willow Springs Raceway. Jim is in the yellow leathers. He is on a Kawasaki 250 Ninja (rented for the day).

The guy renting the bikes, Richard Barnett, has the camera on his bike and is chasing his pit-mate.

The first part of the race is interesting, but it gets down right exciting around 4 minutes into the video.

You will see a rider in yellow leathers - that's Jim - come whizzing between the two riders going into turn three and then he makes a bonsai pass going into turn five then a lap later at 7 minutes they are coming out of turn nine and the other rider reaches over at 100+ miles per hour and lets Jim know he’s there. Like they say… rubbin’s racin! It’s all friendly. Great video! Enjoy!



Ah, the memories...


My first race bike, a highly modified 1977 Yamaha RD400, a 400cc 2-stroke, air-cooled twin. Making over 60 brake horsepower at the rear wheel and weighing about 280 lbs. (~130kg.) this bike was capable of speeds over 125 mph (200 kph). It never quite handled the way I wanted (very unstable at speeds over 100 mph), so, with the help of my good friend, Todd, I upgraded to the heavyweight class and began racing the bike shown below. I should note here that with a little help from guys like Todd and another mate, Scott, I engineered and rebuilt both these bikes from the frame up. Aside from some custom welding and machine work I did the engines and tuning myself.


This is a 1978 Suzuki GS1000, a 1000cc (overbored to 1085cc), 4-stroke, air-cooled 4 cylinder monster. Making well over 100 horsepower at the rear wheel, this bike was capable of 1/4 miles in the 10's and top speeds over 140 mph (~230 kph). And with a big, fat torque curve it launched like a rocket and drove out of corners very hard. With a few suspension mods, woefully inadequate stock brakes and wheels, this bike was still a BLAST to ride! While difficult to turn into a corner (by today's standards), its long wheel-base made it very stable once turned in, making it a very capable bike for Willow Springs, enabling me to get a few podium finishes.


That's me on the GS in Turn 4 during a Saturday practice.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Oldcatman said...

I think I told you this a few years back---

When I lived in Santa Rosa,
my close friend and his brother were short track racers and I did some publicity for track.

My friend crashed wrong one night and drove his ankle bone out the side of his leg!

There was a 16-17 year old that hung around the
track (I think they had to 18 to race then)--it
was a very young Kenny Roberts who was, at the time, predicted to be a great racer--and he became one.

8:28 AM GMT+12  
Blogger Joe Ramen said...

KR was THE MAN!

7:56 PM GMT+12  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe,
Awesome video!! This brings back the many memories of battling it out with Jim and Dave and Ole' Denny Fryer!! I just got the Kawi running again after a few years in storage and I have been getting ready to go back out...if for nothing else a saturday practice day!!

Talk to you soon Bro!!

Todd

6:09 AM GMT+13  

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