For years our closest race on the AHRMA calendar was Grattan, MI, clocking in at 750 miles from NYC. So when the announcement came in last year that we would be racing in New Jersey we couldn’t believe what we heard. The notion of being able to load up and get to a track in 2 hours (125 miles), spend a weekend chasing the racing jones, and make it home to our own beds by Sunday evening was such an alien concept. Because the track is centrally located to NYC, Philly, Baltimore, DC, the organizers have worked hard to target the eastern seaboard motorcycle world (not just racers) and make it a cornerstone event smack-dab in the middle of our racing season, picking up where Mid Ohio left off. There are vendors, a swap meet, bike shows, bands, etc. and each year it grows in stature. Plus, the Thunderbolt track is wonderful. It’s hard to explain why it’s so good, but it is. It flows really well, with fast sweepers and some nice technical stuff in the middle. It’s a track where experience and seat time can lead to much faster lap times than simply brute horsepower.
New Jersey Motorsports Park – Millville, NJ, July 12, 2014
This weekend had yet another NYC Norton G50 in the mix, recently built as a 2nd bike for Helmut with the intention that other riders would also have a go on it (more on that in Utah and Barber). The bike came together quickly to be ready for the races at the end of the season, and we all agreed New Jersey would be a great place to put it through its initial paces to work out any bugs. Along with us this trip was our old friend John Magyar taking a break from his busy work schedule and getting the chance to ride his own Seeley Nourish instead of loaning it out as he does to wayward racing junkies.
We loaded in and got teched Thursday night. Friday practice was the usual bout of chaos (practice days are always hectic as everyone is going out at the same time, and coming back in wanting to tweak their bikes). Magyar’s NRE was running good, as were both G50s. Kenny was working on his 750 having just put it back together after the mishap in Sonoma (which turned out to be a broken camshaft) so the motor was fresh and was being broken in this practice day.
On Saturday Kenny taped some race numbers on the new G50 and took it out for morning practice. All was working good so Helmi gave him the nod to race it in 500 Premier. Thorndike would run his Atlas in BEARS, Magyar would be out in Formula 750, as would Kenny on his own Seeley Commando.
For the first time this season the Premier class saw Tim Joyce back on the grid, riding Maurice Candy’s Manx. Timmy dominates on this bike and showed everyone he still had it – he led the race flag-to-flag. Kenny held 2nd for most of the race with Melton right behind, but trying not to chuck away the brand new bike. Helmi was giving great chase behind Melton and put moves on him quite a few times. After several laps Melton over-shot T1 and ran off the track which allowed the pace to relax a little bit… perhaps too relaxed. Having crawled back into position, Melton made a great pass on Kenny in T5 that stuck. The results were Joyce, Melton, Cummings, Niederer.
The weekend’s BEARS grid was a good snapshot of what was happening in this class right now – an influx of very fast BMWs with a couple of Nortons thrown in for good measure. Up front was Rich Heritage who always goes well here, followed by Dan May and Craig Chawla. Thorndike had his work cut out for him. He was having ignition problems that have been intermittent all season and would come back to haunt him this weekend. He finished the race in 4th nursing his bike around on one cylinder for the last few laps. The ignition on the Atlas is driven off a separate gear out of the back of the timing chest initially designed to spin a magneto. Jon was running a fancy CDI ignition unit instead but it was becoming quite clear it couldn’t handle the stresses of racing. The solution was to find a robust ignition unit that could be driven off the back while using components that can be serviced or swapped in the field with less ado. This would be something to work on during the Summer break after this weekend.
F750 was a great one for Cummings having led flag-to-flag and getting the win.
Magyar had not ridden his NRE since Barber in 2013 and a lot of work had been done in our shop to get the suspension and handling dialed. He brought it home in 3rd and was very happy about the handling changes, but he too was having ignition problems. The bike would fire perfectly then suddenly stop. Then, after a short amount of time it would resuscitate itself and start firing again, which is a troubleshooting nightmare. Making matters worse the ignition drive shaft had worn down the end necessitating a repair. Magyar is a great solution-finder and managed to track down a local machine shop in the next town who would weld up the tip of the ignition drive and get everything sorted for racing the next day.
Sunday rolled around. It was July 13th, but also Kenny, Dave Roper, and Cindy Cowell’s (AHRMA Road Race Director) birthday. Everyone sang the familiar tune at the morning riders’ meeting. Awww. Kenny’s only wish was to get a win in Formula 750. And that he did… just as he’d done the day before. Happy Birthday!
Magyar had a better race on Sunday in F750 but the bike was still acting up. After coming home in 2nd it was clear after this weekend we’d have to get the bike back up to the NYC Norton shop and do some troubleshooting. (It was later found the pickup on the Interspan ignition was breaking down due to heat, as suspected.)
In the Premier race Helmut lined up again with Timmy and Melton. Kenny wouldn’t ride the “B” bike today, giving it a rest so it can be ready for its big showing in Utah coming up in September. At the flag Timmy took off, but after a lap or two his Manx started having troubles, backfiring and spitting back from the carb. This left Helmet and Melton to fight it out for the lead. Melton used the power of that beautiful Manx well. Helmut gave a good fight but Melton got the win with Helmut taking 2nd. Timmy came home in 3rd having carburetor issues – an unusual sight.
That about wrapped up New Jersey. Everyone was happy to be in one piece and hurried to pack it all up and get home. Kenny had family obligations and a birthday dinner, so Jon and his girlfriend Kelly gave AMA Hall of Fame GP Racing Tuner Nobby Clark, who was down in NJ working with the McKeever team, a ride back up to NYC so he could catch a train upstate. Pretty cool. By 8pm everyone was home after a big weekend of racing. Wow. Imagine that!
And the Summer break commences. The next meeting would be Miller Motorsports park on Labor Day weekend. So the next 6 weeks could be spent getting everything prepped and ready for the big showdown in Utah.
Miller Motorsports Park – Tooele, UT, August 30th, 2014
We had been talking quite a bit with Helmut about who would take the reins of his second G50 at Miller and and Barber. Lots of names were bandied about but we agreed that the right rider would be Lee Acree. Lee is an AMA Pro who has put in a great career riding 1000cc Superbikes. Making his way out on a 500cc single with a tube chassis would be a little bit of a departure for him, but he was eager and we were too. Helmut’s “B” bike quickly became the “Lee” bike, and Lee’s classic #84a soon adorned the sides. For this trip we would be taking G50s #80r for Helmi and #84a for Lee, and a Seeley Norton 750 #17 that Kenny and Jon would share – Kenny riding it in F750 and Jon in BEARS.
A lot of miles had put on the transporter this year and the coast-to-coast piloting burden often fell on Jon. This big trip seemed to be a perfect opportunity for Kenny to do a bit of the driving while bringing along his 10-year-old daughter for what would certainly be a the road trip the two of them would remember for life.
The bikes were loaded into the Sprinter the weekend before Miller, the van stocked with Chex Mix and lemonade, and Kenny and Natalya headed out across the US, making stops at every attraction along the way. From the St. Louis Arch, to the World’s Largest Wind Chime, to a meteor crater in Arizona. The trip culminated with a full day spent at the Grand Canyon and another with a great visit to Zion National Park in Southern Utah. But after days of adventure the racing weekend loomed and it was time to get busy.
The bikes were unloaded and teched Thursday afternoon, ready for Friday practice. Helmut, Lee, and Jon flew in together and met up with Kenny at the track Thursday evening. Lee sat on the bike getting a good feel of it but made very few changes. He admitted it looked like a little time-capsule and was not really sure what to expect. He he. On Friday morning things got moving pretty quick and Helmut, Lee, and Jon hustled out to practice. When they came back Lee quickly pulled out his clipboard and started taking notes. This would set the tone for Lee Acree racing experience for the rest of the season. He’s a fast and smooth racer who takes meticulous notes and makes little changes one at a time. There was a lot of discussion about chatter, on the throttle, off the throttle, mid-corner speed, etc. It was fantastic for the whole team to work together comparing notes and getting the bikes as dialed as we could. After lunch Kenny got out on the 750 and was feeling pretty good, but had his work cut out for him this weekend as John Ellis decided to show up at the last minute, and fast guy Scott Jennings on his BSA Triple and Brian Filo on his Seeley Yamaha both made the trip in from California. But by the end of the day everyone was feeling pretty good about things and knew where they stood. Lee made a lot of changes to suspension settings, tire pressures, etc, during the day. But being the pro that he is he knew he simply had to ride it like he stole it (and keep it pretty).
Saturday’s racing started with Thorndike in the BEARS class. Jon has ridden Kenny’s bike before but hadn’t had a lot of practice time on it. This time was the exception. He got some good time on it Friday and was feeling comfortable. He put in a great race and got the win, making us all proud, but not without a fight from a new rider on a BMW who keep Thorns honest.
Jon was happy and agreed it was nice to flog someone else’s bike for a change. Must be nice, Thorny!
The Premier race turned out to be a really good one. Lee and Helmut lined up with Roper on Mike Bungay’s 350 Aermacchi, and Melton was there with his Manx. Lee took off and led the whole race but Roper wasn’t going to give an inch. Although Lee put in about a 10 bike gap Roper never seemed to let up. Melton fell behind, and Helmut got caught up behind Melton. It was great to watch Lee as he has great form, and he fit well on the little G50. Lee came in, made a few changes, and got out of his leathers in about 2 minutes. He was a happy dude and his work was done!
The Formula 750 Race was chock full of quality riders. Not only were the aforementioned fast guys here, but also another contender Mick Hart from Canada showed up on a very fast CR750 Replica. Kenny put in the best he could, but a missed shift put him several bike lengths behind Ellis in the 2nd lap. On about the 3rd lap Scott Jennings came by on his Triple but two corners later lost the rear and absolutely destroyed his beautiful BSA. Ack! In all the drama Filo put a pass on Kenny. Then Mick Hart came by. Mick and Kenny had a really big race for the next few laps with Kenny passing, then Mick getting him back in the rear, then Kenny going at him. Mick’s bike had a lot of power and Kenny ultimately lost to him coming out of the last turn “Release” to checkered.
Sunday racing was a better day for all. Thorndike set off on Kenny’s Seeley again in BEARS, but this time he had Mick Hart riding a Triumph in BEARS to contend with. Mick did get the win, but Thorndike’s times were measurably better than they were the day before. That and the pesky BMW that tried to give him trouble the day before was nowhere to be found.
The Premier race was better for everyone as well. Lee’s times dropped 2.5 seconds from his best Saturday times. He pulled in the lead and had no one near him. Melton came in a very distant 2nd, with Roper in an equally distant 3rd. But… Helmi was closing in on Roper and his times were also down from Saturday, so a personal gain for him. Everyone was happy when the race was finished.
Kenny went out in the F750 race and led for 5 of the 8 laps. It was like a freight train coming down the front straight and each time the bikes came around you couldn’t tell who was behind one another because they were all lined up so tight – Cummings, Filo, Ellis, Hart! On lap 5, Filo got around Kenny, then 2 turns later Ellis made his move. Kenny passed Ellis back and held it for another half lap but the sly dawg Ellis not only got around Kenny but just eked out Filo at the finish like by 0:003 (three thousandths of a second). Wow. Ellis pushed that so hard he overshot T1 after the checkered flag and almost dumped his bike in the gravel after the race was finished! That may have been the best F750 race of the year, with Ellis in first, Filo second, and Kenny in 3rd. But it could have gone any of 3 ways in the end.
Time to go home. Barber was next and that’s the big show. Lee Acree has probably done a thousand laps around Barber and we were excited to have him ride the G50 there, so this was looked at as a bit of a primer for the big show in October. He had a lot of ideas about what could be done to get the bike faster and we had some work to do. Helmut was happy too, not only because he dropped his times, but because he knew the G50s were a capable platform and could run in the front.
Jon was happy too – he got to drive the van all the way back to New York while Kenny and his family flew home! Yippie!