Racing for last place glory

An article I wrote that appeared in the AHRMA Newsletter.

     It's the starting grid.  My very first race.  We're all
snorting our engines, blipping throttles like mad.  Before the
race I had asked how the others would feel about such a rank
beginner on the track. Eeveryone said "Go for it!  Just get out
there!  We'll go around you.  Keep your line, and don't make any
sudden moves.  Leave some room inside for us to pass."  I'm
wearing a big white X on my back to warn others of my novice
status. I'm in the back row, by request. 
     The flag drops.  We're off, and by the first turn I'm well
back. The track is empty, better than practice time because no
one is around.  It's like the track is all mine!  I just work on
my technique.  It's Tom's private practice session. But I learn
that being last is great!
     About 2 laps into the race, I'm coming around a gradual
right turn.  My mind is on my next upshift when suddenly two
bikes pass, one on each side. As they roar around me like I'm
standing still, I momentarily panic, but I keep my line.

     I started vintage racing late last summer, attending the
Penguin racing school at Loudon, New Hampshire as a part of an
all-vintage weekend.  On friday, the day before the races, I
showed up with my recently acquired Norton Commando, a 1972
Combat model with the motor that blows up at the drop of a hat.
A neophyte to racing, I had called ahead to inquire about 'race
prepping', an arcane art that everyone else seemed to know about
but was a total mystery to me.  "Just tape up the glass, wire the
oil drain plug, and that'll take care of it." is all I get in
response.  Realizing that I don't even know enough to fake it, I
look for an expert and visit a local vintage sports and racing
car restorer who helps me drill my oil bolts and safety wire
them.  Friday comes, I start with a classroom session from 9 to
12.  Flags, race etiquette and tech are covered.  We're then told
to join Jerry Wood and his sons on the track at 1 o'clock.  Now
its 12:05, and my bike is still on the truck.  I find some
members of the International Norton Owners Association (INOA),
and plead for help.  They look at the bike, look at me, and
scratch their heads while sizing up the challenge.  I had no idea
how crazy (make that insane!) it was to even entertain the
thought of taking an antique street bike with external oil hoses
and prepping it, let alone passing tech, in one hour!  Well, it
was all hands on deck, with Pete Kogut leading the way.  Club
members rose to the challenge, and we had about 8 hands swarming
the bike.  Not enough time to drill and safety wire, so we used a
lot of Weatherstrip adhesive to secure bolts.  The bike was
nicknamed the 'gorilla snot special'.  Of course my throttle
cable snaps in the midst of this, and Pete comes up with a spare
(mine I left home).  At 12:55, we walk the bike to tech
inspection, and Pete vouches for me.  His word gets me a fast
tech, "If Pete OK's it, I know it's done right".  At 1:05 I'm on
the track, the new throttle cable installed, but unchecked.  As
soon as I get started I find It's too short, so I'm on the track
with a 3500 rpm idle.  The track is wet, my first time on a
track, my 2nd hour on a Norton.  I'm petrified.  But also
exhilarated.  A friend had said "you won't believe how far you'll
lean the bike over on a track.  you'll do things you'd never do
on the street.".  It's true!  I even ground the tip of my boot!
We started out with slow laps, all in a row, learning the 'best
line'.  Then we sped up.  Or the others did, I started drifting
back.  At a break I asked Jerry about braking, as in where and
when.  He gives me a blank look and says "I haven't even touched
my brakes yet".  Withered, I slink back to the end of the line.
At times we stopped and watched others at corners, with a
narration provided critiquing other riders. Racing was the next
day, but I wimped out and just pit-crewed for others.  I decided
that 750cc was too big a bike to learn racing on, so I began
searching for a 250cc machine.  In Pittsburgh I place a 'fishing'
ad looking for old Hondas, and lucked(?) into a 1965 CL72 250cc
scrambler.  In a barn for years, I offer 125 dollars. He takes it
so quick I back off and offer 100.  He still takes it. In August
I drive up to Mosport Canada for another vintage weekend.  This
time I am very race prepped, with every bolt in sight drilled.  I
ride the bike as is, with only a tuneup since the barn years.  I
enter 4 races, and run in three of them.  The fourth I DNS (did
not start) due to a dead battery.  My very first race, and I'm
excited.  Pete Kogut again lends a steady hand, giving generous
assistance. In three races I come in last, last, and second to
last. Improvement!  I never saw who was last in my third race. I
think the scorers made him up to make me feel better. Turns out
those are the only races for me in 1991, work preventing me from
other opportunities.  But I know I'm hooked. The crowd is mostly
older, with a definite awareness of mortality.  A few women
racers, not enough.  The comradery is extraordinary, and the lack
of prize money leaves only those who love the sport. Winter
comes, and I begin to overhaul my Honda.  I piece together the
best parts of two scrambler engines, blast and paint, and have a
merry old time into many a late evening.  I learn about
sprockets, as in the scrambler has a stock 40 tooth rear, while
the CB72 non-scrambler has a 30 tooth rear.  Same engine.  Lots
of looking, and I find Chaparral will custom order sprockets for
me.  I'm still waiting for them.  I've reduced weight, (more of
the bike's than mine) and replaced the front forks and triple
clamps with those from a Honda 450 (I think). My first race this
year will be at Loudon, New Hampshire next week, on Thursday,
June 18th.  AHRMA is running an all day vintage event.  I figure
no one can take last place from me without a fight.

Tom Lichtman,,