By Victor Wanchena
Last year MMM went through its mid-life crisis and started racing. First was MX. We weren’t very good. But late winter, while at a MX track, I spotted an event poster for an upcoming flat track race. It got me thinking. After a small bit of cajoling from some known flat-tracking friends, I was in and determined to make a go of it. All my misadventures were chronicled in previous issues of MMM at www.mnmotorcycle.com.
A quick recap of the season had me learning some lessons in Beginner Class. I won a race and moved up to Open B. Tried riding little bikes in the Mad Dog Class and failed. Decided I needed a vintage bike. Crashed a few times. Went to school and ended the year with a 2nd place in Open B and 3rd place in Vintage 600. I also screwed myself by finishing well in Open B. You see the top 10% of B riders are automatically bumped up to A Class. So I was now an A Class rider, at least in name.
I was busy over the winter during the off-season doing a complete tear down of the Yamaha TT500 that I raced in the Vintage 600 class. I stripped it to the frame, removed all un-need tabs, welds and other crap. I added a few new tabs for number plates, a better rear brake master cylinder, and for vanity sake repainted the frame a consistent shade of black.
I also solved a few mechanical mysteries. The TT is a dry sump with an oil tank in the frame. It had always wet-sumped where it would drain much of the oil from the tank into the engine. That meant smoky starts, difficult to read oil levels, and other assorted oiling issues. A new check valve buried deep in the motor fixed part of that, but the other win was figuring our why the oil tank was pressurizing. A little Columbo like detective work led me to a plugged oil tank vent. It vents to the valve cover but had become clogged with oil sludge/coke.
The motor internals were examined and refreshed where needed. The big win was when I opened the top end. The piston and bore were in nice shape. The motor runs an 11:1 piston and is bored out pumping the displacement to 540.The big piston is paired with an aftermarket mid-range high lift cam. The mid-range cams are preferred for flat track over the full “race” cams, which make the bike too hard to control and don’t run well below ½ throttle. I replaced thecarb with a fresh 38mm round-slide and added a few other small touches in the name of reliability.
I also dropped the front forks 3” and added stiffer springs. I decided to try some cheapo Chinese piggyback shocks off E-Bay. They were scary cheap, but work surprisingly well. I also had a new seat pan welded up and ditched the old bread loaf gutless foam stock seat.
For this year I was going to move in to the age grouper class running Vet 30+. I ditched my old KTM 520 and went a little silly buying a fully prepped AMA GNC2 bike from a racer that was getting out of the sport. It’s a 2010 Kawasaki KX450F, was his back up bike, and is ridiculous fast. The motor has all sorts of pro-engine build alchemy involving super high compression piston, head porting and some tissue paper thin head gasket. It’s got cop tires, cop brakes, cop suspension…. you get the picture, and runs on leaded 112! Other than starting it a couple times I did absolutely nothing to it all winter. The few rides around the neighborhood had me concerned if my skills were properly aligned with what the hammer blow from the KX could deliver.
So fast-forward to late April, I load up and head trackside to Cedar Valley Arena located in New Richmond, WI. This a short indoor track that is
perfect for these early and late season races when weather is a gamble. The organizer was offering an evening of practice on the Friday prior to the race. Perfect, this will let me get some seat time and get acclimated to both bikes, especially the KX. I got situated in the pits, into my leather daddy suit, and busted out my new hot shoe. I bought it from a guy in Sturgis who is a nationally renowned hot shoe guru. It’s super light, custom made to my boot, and the bottom is covered with special hard facing for super long wear.
I figured I’d get the pain over with first and try the KX. I’d either pack up and head home or be in love. The practice sessions were 5 minutes a crack and we sort of separated into skill levels. Sort of meaning that it was basically a free-for-all vaguely delineated into adults, vs. kids, vs. quads. This is no fault of the track folks; it’s the rabid racer types, which lack any patience. I wait my turn and quickly enough I’m out on the track. The track was a little slick as they had watered it earlier, but it was smooth and the banking was actually steep at a guesstimated 10 degrees.
So far so good, I take a couple slow warm up laps and then let the KX buck. To my complete surprise it didn’t instantly throw me off like the rank amateur I am. Instead, it was incredibly powerful in acceleration, but very controlled at the same time. It didn’t get twitchy or wiggly. It would just light up the back end and spin as I rolled on the power. When it hooked up the front end would gently start to climb even with me sitting dang near on the gas tank. Huh, maybe a well-prepped former pro-level bike wasn’t a mistake?
I did a few sessions then switched over to the TT. To my surprise all my work hadn’t been in vain on it either. The suspension felt much better and the motor was running pretty good. I ran a few sessions with the TT until … the back end got all loose. Thinking I lost the rear tire I pulled off just as the chain came off the rear sprocket. I roll back to the pits and discover to my horror that the swingarm pivot bolt has lost its retaining nut! Holy crap. I had intended to safety wire it, but ran out of time and thought I hit it with Loctite. Apparently not. I walked the infield looking for the nut, but no luck. I checked the bike and found the rear axle nut was the same size and pitch, but I haven’t achieved trackside gypsy status with one of everything stashed away. After much scrounging a fellow racer found a front axle nut off a late model Yamaha YZ fit. I thoroughly Loctited the new nut on and retired back to the trouble free KX.
Race morning came with me cold and stiff from 6-hours of practice and a chilly night in the camper. I busied myself with all the normal race prep as I tried to loosen up. I had decided to run three classes for today’s race. The TT was in Vintage 600, and KX would be for Vet 30+ class. Last year my strong finish in B class had pushed me into A Class, but Open A is a tough class for a lightly seasoned rookie. The Vet 30+ guys are actually faster many times than the Open A riders, but way more likely to not take the big risks. We’ve learned stupid hurts. It was a good fit. As a laugh I also threw in with the Hooligan class. This is a run-what-you-brung class with no points, no rules, and a high likelihood of some drama. Why not?
Saturday practice was the usual chaos and this time amplified by a large influx of riders from Wisconsin’s District 16. This being an indoor event and zero chance of a rain out had attracted a lot of riders from as far away as Chicago. I got a couple a brief practice sessions in, but wasn’t in a big rush. The track was identical to the evening before and all my track time had me feeling very prepared.
First up was the Vet 30+ class heat. There were seven of us in the class. I had got a decent starting position toward the inside and tried to stay loose but focused. The light went green and with that the season was on. The pack surged ahead and I tried to wedge my way into the pack. My inside line got me ahead of a couple riders through the first couple corners, but they were on me like stink on poop. By corner four my timid throttle hand meant I was in last place. I knew how to accelerate down the straights, but couldn’t match their corner speed. I wound down the laps, but the main pack was gone and I held firmly on to last.
Next was the Hooligan heat. I decided to run the TT since everyone likes the old bikes. It was a little bit of a knife in a gunfight as there were two Sportsters and a couple other wicked fast machines on the line. My start went great with me getting ahead of a couple bikes, including one Sporty, and holding that position until late in the race when a bobble on my part had me run wide and give up the inside to both racers trailing me. Another last place, but a moral victory.
The Vintage 600 heat was last. This was another full class with seven riders. I got my usual mid pack start and settled in focused on not letting the leaders run away. That didn’t happen. The lead guy was on some lightning fast TT and seemed comfortable running high, wide, and
handsome. They pulled away, but I held on to 5th staying out of trouble.
The races went down pretty much like the heats with a couple of notable events. In Vet 30+ a very fast rider lapped me, but we battled through one corner shoulder to shoulder. It was the first time I had real contact with another rider at speed. It wasn’t dramatic. We both knew what we wanted and tried to take it from the other, but didn’t do anything dirty to the other. It was actually neat and made me feel like I was in the race more than I was. I also found myself driving a little farther into the corners and trying to roll on sooner. I was getting more comfortable if not incrementally faster.
Sunday was pretty much a carbon copy of Saturday. There were a few less riders, but I ran the same classes. In the Vintage 600 heat I had some drama when the leader crashed mid corner. He had just taken the lead, but went too hot into the corner. I was ¼ lap back and could tell it wasn’t going to end well. He low sided mid-corner and was sprawled on the track. The number two rider got past unscathed. The number three rider, known Flying Dutchmen Ryan Schmidt, tried to dive under, but quickly realized that he didn’t have the room. Instead of sliding broadside into the downed bike and rider, he stood the bike up to take the impact square. He hit somewhere around the rear wheel and launched airborne landing in the hay bales. I dive low and miss the carnage and am off the gas, as I knew this would be a red flag race stopper.
The bikes and riders are all quickly attended to. Both riders are fine and quick assessed by the EMTs. The original crasher is out and limps off the track. Ryan takes a couple minutes to regain his composure and walks it off a bit, while a couple other riders assess his bike. It jettisoned a couple non-critical parts, but is otherwise no worse for wear. One other rider gets his bike kick started and Ryan limps over ready to make the restart. Because of the crash he has to start at the back on a staggered single defined line. The restart goes well for me and I hold onto 2nd place in the heat, not letting the lead bike get away.
The main event races are not without drama either. In Vet 30+ the race was winding down with me in 7th place ahead of one rider. Near the end of the race one rider withdraws with mechanical issues. Then on the last lap two riders crash after crossing the finish. Both riders and bike are spread like a yard sale across the track as I come across the finish line. I quickly scrub as much speed as I can, but my dramatic slide leads to an inglorious low side. I had crossed the line, but it was not my finest move. I’m unhurt, but a little chagrinned.
The Vintage 600 main also had my 2nd fail of the weekend. My good finish in the heat gave me second choice on the line. I picked a great spot to the outside with good traction and a nice line to the first corner. We lined up and sat motors humming at a mid throttle. One rider jumps the light and we wait as we get lined up again. We reset, the light turns green, and …. chug. I kill the motor. Crap, crap, crap. I had mis-timed my starting technique of lightly holding the rear brake on launch killing the bike. I quickly rolled off the track and I kick the bike to life but it’s too late, everyone has a ¾ lap jump on me. I pull out and do 10 hot laps with nothing really on the line.
It was a great start to the season and my enthusiasm only grows. I am steadily becoming a faster rider and it only grows my awe at what level the pro riders compete at. The next event will be the Flying Dutchmen two-day in New Ulm. What could possibly go wrong?