Charging down Thunder Alley at Road America at top speed has to be one of the greatest experiences one can ever have on a motorcycle. Doing it on a revving British Single or Twin is even better. This 4.05 mile long course has everything for the bikes the NYC Norton team races – very fast sections, some wavy twisties, and tight little moments. It is without question a top-3 favorite track for all of us. We loaded up the Sprinter and began the drive to the land of cheese curds and brats – Wisconsin!
Road America, Elkart Lake, WI, June 06, 2014:
This year we brought 4 bikes – Helmut’s G50, Kenny’s G50, Jon’s Atlas, and Magyar’s NRE (again, Kenny riding the NRE on loan while new pistons were being manufactured for his Seeley Norton). Kenny was to run the NRE in Formula 750 and his G50 in 500 Premier. Since Road A is back-to-back with Grattan, Thorndike chose stay back at the shop working but would meet us at Grattan the following week. So this weekend the Atlas stood on the sidelines collecting gazes as it always does.
Along with Helmut came Brad Coleman, a Kevin Schwantz school instructor, fast racer, and really, really good dude. The plan was for Helmut to run his G50 in Premier and Brad would ride it in Formula Vintage. Friday practice was fast and frenetic and towards the end of the day some problems arose on Hemut’s G50. The afternoon and on into the evening was spent with all of us re-engineering the beltguard mount so the belt would not abrade against the bracket. Brad worked his magic with some “North Carolina Engineering” and it looked like we would get the bike back on the track, but it was admittedly a one weekend fix.
Beyond the belt issue there was also a sporadic electrical short rearing its head on the G50 that took us into Saturday morning to troubleshoot. We must have changed out every component in the ignition system 3 times before we found it; a tiny break in the harness right at the coil which was intermittent and very hard to replicate and trace. We were so relieved to finally locate the problem and were able to swap the harness in short order. Brad was great at keeping things upbeat while we all sweated and scratched our heads working through this. Thanks, Holmes!
Saturday’s Premier race saw Dave Roper riding a borrowed Seeley G50, Californian Ron Melton on his very fast Manx, Helmut and Kenny ready to make trouble, as well as several others, making it one of the biggest 500 grids in quite a while. At the flag Kenny and Roper got into turn one together, side-by-side. Good stuff. Roper is a fast old dude, and while Kenny got out of T1 first, Roper came tight underneath in T3 and kept his lead. Suddenly Kenny’s G50 revved to the moon with no power having lost its chain! Losing a chain usually goes one of two ways – either an easy coast off the track or complete devastation as it gets tangled up in the gearbox, motor, and often, even the rider. In this case the former “easy coast off the track” was the move, dodging a big bullet and getting a bonus ride back in on the crash truck. Later that day Brad finished his first race on a classic bike (a Seeley G50 – not a bad first bike to have a debut on, if we may say so) having a great run in Formula Vintage.
With all the commotion and ups and downs there would be no F750 racing for Kenny. The G50s needed a lot of attention and there wasn’t enough time to put some measured laps in on the beautiful Nourish 8-valve, so it too became a fancy paperweight for the weekend. Too bad as John Ellis was here with his Yamaha XS ready for a Formula 750 battle. John is our best racing bud and Kenny’s biggest 750 competition, and if there were ever a track that the 8-Valve Nourish was built for, this was it. But it just wasn’t in the cards for the weekend. Arriving with smiles and snacks and giving us all a much-needed boost of good Mojo was one of our dearest old friends Jon Blonk, who, with his wife Jenny, drove in from Minneapolis for the weekend. Jon is an original Spannerlander from years prior (Spannerland was the communal workspace before it became NYC Norton’s shop), but life and work moved them back to the Midwest and we don’t get to see them as often as we like. This weekend Jon kept himself busy helping Roper, and both he and Jenny rattled off some great photos.
And yet another John arrived to Road America, as he always does. This John being the famous John Gregory – the brains behind the Norton Hogslayer. TC Christensen always gets the press and glory from the successes of the legendary Hogslayer twin and triple-engined Norton Dragsters that came out of Sunset Motors in Kenosha, WI, but we all know who really made these bikes the unapproachable machines they were. Shooting the breeze with John and his wife, Jody, is always a treat and they’ve been big supporters of NYC Norton since our earliest days. This year John brought a beautiful movie poster from the Hogslayer documentary that he signed to Kenny, “To my fast Norton buddy”, which is now framed and prominently hanging in the NYC Norton shop for all to see. Very cool!
Sunday set off with a mellower tone. Brad, Helmut, and Kenny were able to get some good laps in on the G50s in morning practice and things seemed to be on the up. Once again the Premier grid was fantastic and started off an almost exact reenactment of the day before. This time Kenny was able to stick closer to Roper and changed places with him a few times as the race progressed.
On about the 3rd lap while heading into Turn 5 at the absolute fastest part of the track the unthinkable happened – Kenny’s G50 locked up the rear wheel. The bike slid and fishtailed for probably 150′ as it barreled off the track into the grass, stopping just short of the tire wall. A spectator who witnessed the whole incident began pointing at something lying on the track which turned out to be a mangled, broken chain – the old one that Kenny had dug out of the bottom of his spares box to replace the chain lost from the day before. Ugh. This time things weren’t so lucky. The chain had wedged itself between the swingarm and rear hub locking the rear wheel, then ultimately flinging off while taking chunks out of the magnesium gearbox and rear hub and bending and shearing the cush drive studs. This wasn’t going to be an easy fix. Nope. The bike was brought back in on the crash truck yet again but this time put away for good. This was not something that was going to be bodged – the swingarm would need replacing and the hubs and gearbox needed to be inspected very closely.
But while Kenny was sliding off the track, Helmut was close behind having already put the moves on Melton, and ultimately taking home 2nd place in 500 Premier behind The Rope Well done, Helmi-Bobby!
And with that our weekend ended at Road America. Certainly our favorite track on the schedule but these past few days tested our patience and the gremlins cut into some of the quality track time at this beautiful place. The next few days off would be spent up at John & Jan Ellis’ cabin in upper Michigan carousing with Mike and Leona Dixon and Kevin Burns, talking politics, bikes, bench racing, and getting the racers geared, prepped, and ready for Grattan.
Grattan Raceway, Grattan, MI, June 14, 2014
Grattan is a grass-roots racetack located just outside Grand Rapids, Michigan. It is run by two brothers who literally wake up each morning, walk out the front door of their home located adjacent to the front straight, open the gates, and let folks in to play in their sandbox. It’s a small operation but without question one of the most unique and challenging tracks in the country.
The track was built on rolling hills with lots of elevation changes, very tight, technical sections, a massive off-camber left-hander, and a very long straight. It seems that folks either love it or hate it. It is one of Thorndike’s favorites, while Helmut isn’t too keen on it (even though it’s 50 miles from his home!). In any case we were here, Helmut’s G50 was running good, the Thorndike Atlas was ready to go, and Kenny would devote his time on the Magyar Seeley Nourish duking it out with John Ellis. Suit up.
Saturday’s 500 Premier race was a real nail-biter-turned-head-scratcher. Melton and Helmut must’ve changed places 10 times. On the last lap Helmut put a great pass on Melton and was leading when Melton fell due to some oil deposited on the track causing a red flag and ending the race. Now, whenever a red flag comes out the race is scored back to the previous lap. In the previous lap Melton was leading. But… if a rider causes a red flag as Melton did, then they are disqualified from the race. So Helmut should’ve gotten the win. Period. After much back and forth AHRMA decided to give both riders the winning 1000 points. This will come into play against Helmut later in the season. AHRMA needs to rule by their own rulebook and quit making random decisions on the fly.
Thorndike had a good one with Wesley Goodpaster and Daniel May in the BEARS class taking a close 3rd. That’s some quality competition and it’s nice to see some Nortons on the box with Wes and Jon. Kenny and John Ellis had a knockdown in Formula 750 – some of the best racing the two have had in a year or more. Ellis got the win but it was a certainly ding-dong.
Sunday was going to be another great day that got even better as it went along – Rob McKeever handed his Classic 60s original Manx over to Kenny for a wobble. Bob and Rob McKeever’s bikes are legendary and some of the most beautiful historically significant machines you will see out on a track, anywhere. The chance to ride one of these bikes at speed was the ultimate honor. Alex McClean races their bikes almost exclusively and does good by them. They are beautiful but not babied and they consistently bring home championships. So allowing an interloper into their pits was the ultimate gesture of friendship. Thanks, Rob!
On Sunday Helmut was having a another great race with Ron Melton in Premier. Melton’s Manx is fast and might even have some motor on our little G50s but Grattan is the perfect track to utilize the nimble Seeley chassis and Helmi played this well, but Melton edged him out at the last moment getting the win.
In the BEARS race Thorndike put in one of his best showings to date. Wesley Goodpaster is a fast kid, especially at Grattan, having grown up at this place with his father Bob and grandfather John Goodpaster each putting in thousands of laps here. Thorndike did good by hanging on to Wes’ tail. Dan May, who was in the mix on Saturday, took third as Jon’s times went down by almost 3 seconds a lap from the day before. No wonder Thorns likes it here so much.
Ellis and Kenny again had an amazing race in the F750 class, with Kenny leading most of the race. But Ellis put a in a really good Junkyard Dawg move in the last lap and that was that. Ellis is an old dirttracker, and you can never rule him out… he’s got something up his sleeve in every corner.
The weekend came to a close and it was time to load up and head home. As always, the plan was for Roper and our transporter to travel as a vintage racing convoy pounding our way back to New York, but making a certain stopover at our all-time favorite and Toledo’s finest restaurant – Tandoor Palace. Life is good.
But wait, there’s more. New Jersey Motorsports Park coming up in July.
|Friday, February 28, 2014||Roebling Road Raceway|
|Friday, March 28, 2014||NOLA|
|Friday, April 25, 2014||Willow Springs|
|Thursday, May 01, 2014||Sonoma|
|Friday, June 06, 2014||Road America|
|Friday, June 13, 2014||Grattan|
|Friday, July 11, 2014||NJMP – Thunderbolt Circuit|
|Friday, August 29, 2014||Miller Motorsports Park|
|Thursday, October 09, 2014||Barber Motorsports Park|
|Friday, October 17, 2014||Daytona|