Barber Motorsports Park in October is the pinnacle of any classic motorcyclist’s schedule and the highlight of the US vintage racing calendar, but in turn feels a little bittersweet, simply because it punctuates the end of each racing season. The event itself is huge, with 65,000 spectators visiting over the weekend, each year growing more and more. And just when you think it can’t get bigger, it does. NYC Norton’s representation has also expanded over the years and this year we had 11 bikes under the NYC Norton canopy. And with all that’s going on, we rarely get a chance to leave our compound and see all the sights. It’s a black hole of laughing, swearing, and sweating. This year was no different. And the intensity that Barber brings started in the shop right after we got home from Miller.
There would be three NYC Norton G50s racing at Barber this year, and our partners Minnovation Racing were coming over from the UK with their fast bikes and rider, so lots of prep was necessary to get things ready to go. Not only going through the motors, but getting the bikes and chassis in shape. We worked closely with Cogent Dynamics to get the front ends working like a dream. Rick Tannenbaum and his crew at Cogent are a good addition to our team and there will be more collaborating with Cogent and NYC Norton to come.
When we arrived at the track we were greeted by our “bessie mate” Martin Page – Major Domo at Minnovation Racing. Martin is not only our best friend but also our best supporter. And to be completely honest here, it was our visit to Minnovation a couple of years ago and seeing the level of build of their bikes that really set the bar for proper preparation and building at NYC Norton.
Along with Martin was George (owner of Minnovation), Wayne (chief operations of Minnovation mining division), and their families. Also with them was rider Lee Hodge (not to be confused with our Lee Acree). Hodgy, as we like to call him, is a fast, fast English bloke, and the smack talk started between teams before we even had the canopies opened. Unfortunately what didn’t come with the Minnovation crew was their bikes. US Customs was playing games and being difficult, and the crates of bikes shipped from the UK were sitting in limbo in the Atlanta airport untouchable until they were released. Ack!
Thursday practice went well for Kenny, Jon, Helmi, Acree, Magyar, and Brad. We all worked on gearing and suspension setup. While Barber is one of the nicest tracks in the world, it does have some little issues with chatter, particularly against our spindly frames and forks and sticky tires, so getting the right tweaks can mean the difference between a fast lap and a really fast lap. By Friday afternoon things were looking really good. Helmi had some great sessions, as did Acree. Brad was dialing in his Ducati TT, Kenny was doing good times on his 750, and all was good in the world. John Magyar’s Seeley Nourish 750 was going great after a very fresh build, but a pesky oil leak from the pushrod tube kept him and Thorndike busy between practice sessions, finally getting it all sorted by Friday afternoon. Soon after the last practice session ended on Friday the word came in that the Minnovation crates had cleared and could be picked up at the Delta Terminal in Atlanta. Oh wow. Talk about cutting it close! Kenny, George, and Wayne hopped in the front of Robert McClendon’s (D&D Cycles – thanks Robert) truck with trailer and took off for the 2.5 hour drive to Atlanta. Upon arrival to the air freight terminal there was a lot of red tape and waiting, but finally at about midnight the crates were loaded onto our borrowed flat bed truck, and back to Birmingham we sped, arriving back to the track about 3am.
Saturday morning rolled in and the excitement ramped up immensely. Minnovation had brought 3 bikes over (Seeley G50, Seeley 750 Commando, and TZ350) and each bike needed to be tested. So Hodgy spent the morning doing scrub laps before the early races just to get the bikes dialed.
The Premier/BEARS race was coming up and Acree, Timmy Joyce, Hodge, Helmut and Thorndike would all be running. In Premier, Helmut was very close to Melton for the championship, and Acree and Timmy wanted to be up front at all costs. The green flag dropped and the grid took off. As they came around down into T5 it was Joyce, Acree, Niederer… no Hodge, who was off due to a mechanical. This was a direct effect of no practice time to work out any bugs, and a shame, as Hodge was looking good and ready to rumble. Helmut and Melton had an incredible dust up, but up front the positions changed between Joyce and Acree probably 10 times during the race.
It was clear the Maurice Candy Manx Timmy was riding had a bit of horsepower over Acree’s G50, but Acree could catch Timmy in the back sections and close it all back up again or make a pass. This race had everyone jumping up and down. In the end Timmy got the win with Acree 2nd a second behind. Melton got Helmi but not without a dogfight. Good stuff. Naturally, Acree wanted more, so no more than 5 minutes after returning to the paddock he was out of his leathers and in with ideas on how to eke out a bit more performance, if not by brute horsepower, then certainly by setup. This professionalism and spirit is a good shot in the arm for the classic racing crew.
Thorndike’s BEARS race was one of the best showings he’d put on all year. This is only Jon’s 3rd year of racing and heading into Barber he was 2nd behind a fast BMW for the BEARS championship. Off they went behind the Premier grid, and it was really hard to focus on which race to watch – the Premier guys or the BEARS guys. It was great to see Jon keep his head down and click off other riders, putting some really quality (but clean) passes in spots that a less-seasoned rider wouldn’t be able to pull off. He managed to work his way up into 2nd but a shift lever fell off in the 5th lap preventing any shift, so he nursed his way in by slipping the clutch in 5th gear and 5th place.
Kenny suited up for F750 on his Seeley Commando. His big competition has dogged him all year (or should that be “dawgged”) in the way of John Ellis, and there was a lot of smack talking and promises of brimstone and fire for this weekend. Kenny and John were close on points, but John only had 8 races in this year so any points he acquired this weekend would go directly into his total, whereas Kenny had 12 races in already, so any points here would mean deducting points previously scored (AHRMA scores best of 10 races). This pretty-much meant that Kenny needed to win both days this weekend – a tall task. Magyar was in this race as well as a lot of other 750s that have been running this season. The flag dropped and Kenny and Ellis took off. Kenny got the holeshot, but Ellis came up around in T2. This would set the pace for the rest of the race. Once Kenny would show a tire, Ellis would ramp it up. Again, another nail-biter, but Ellis got the win from Kenny by 1.5 seconds, and now almost certainly the championship. Magyar nailed 3rd place on the NRE. No heavy hearts – this was a great season of racing with our buddy John and his Junkyard Dawg, and Kenny likes to remind anyone who will listen of the time of his first ever race at Mid Ohio in 2004 when he lined up behind Gary Nixon, Jay Springsteen, Timmy Joyce, and John Ellis. So to be chasing the fast guy around the track (or having him give chase) is a dream realized.
Last race of the day was Vintage Superbike Middleweight which would bring out Brad Coleman on the beautiful Ducati TT2. Brad is a fast bloke who has cut his teeth riding Suzuki Superbikes. Between Brad and Lee Acree they have probably put in a combined 10,000 laps at this track, both being instructors for the Kevin Schwantz racing school. So it was no surprise when Brad got the win in VSB Middle, beating out AHRMA stalwart Paul Germain by less than a second. We were getting our money’s worth today. Brad was pretty damn happy when he returned to the pits. Good for him on his old Ducati! The day was done, and we all went out for a BBQ smackdown at Rusty’s up the hill, certain to make us faster the next day.
Sunday had a good tingle in the air. The races started off again, and Hodgy was back out early on, making the most of of some scrub laps. Things were settling in now that Acree had made some gearing changes by actually gearing taller than needed and using the 4th and 5th gear pair instead of the 5th and 6th, which gave him a better drive out of the important corners.
The Premier/BEARS race was again the show of the year. The riders took off with Acree, Timmy and Hodge 1,2, & 3 into Turn 5, but a rider in another class fell and the race was red flagged after the first lap. As the riders pulled into the hot grid Timmy realized he’d sprung a serious oil leak, and out he went. There would be no restart for him. After lining back up, it was Acree and Hodge going at it, the likes of which few have ever seen in classic racing here. Honestly, the last time there was a showdown like this was Timmy and Kevin Schwantz in 2011. This was a spectacle. Hodge got in front of Acree and had some power (a theme for this weekend that won’t happen again) in the back sections, not unlike the day before with Timmy. But the difference today was the pace was 2 seconds a lap faster than the day before. Acree was the little engine that could, but the big ultra short stroke really could… and had him as Lee Hodge pulled out a win in one of the most spectacular races of recent times. Acree did a 1:41s, and Hodge got into the 1:40s (this from a guy who had never been to this track and hadn’t had any real practice). Wow! Everyone was impressed. These were some of the fastest lap times ever from a 500 Premier bike at Barber. Lee Acree doesn’t like to get beat, and he smiled when he came back in, but we all know he wants more, so the showdown will continue in 2015. Good good stuff. Good good stuff. Helmi took 4th behind Hodge, Acree, and Leeuwis (from Holland), and got around Melton, but Melton had enough points to seal up the championship giving Helmut 2nd place in the 2014 500 Premier National Championship standings. Congratulations Helmut!
The Minnovation crew were chuffed. So much so that Hodge took his G50 back out in Formula Vintage and clicked off a 1:39 later in the day, racing against a bunch of Vintage Superbikes. That folks, is possibly a lap record for a 500cc single at Barber.
Thorndike tightened up his shift linkage and went out in BEARS. Again, a spectacular race. Better than the day before. He rocked it home in an easy 2nd place and sealed up his championship run for 2nd in the BEARS National Championship. Well done, Jonny.
In F750 it was an exact replay of the day before. Magyar put in a solid 3rd place. Kenny getting the jump, Ellis in tow, Ellis makes a pass, Kenny makes a pass, Ellis makes a pass. Ellis’ pass is the one that sticks giving him the win, and Kenny makes it home in a close 2nd.
Brad’s Vintage Superbike Middleweight race was also a snapshot of Saturday – he fought hard and squeaked out the win over Paul Germain. Good going, Brad! Good to have you here. Brad has plans to make a spectacle of himself again in 2015. That little Ducati is a beautiful machine.
Apologies to all for Kenny mugging in every single photo, but it seemed these snaps were the only group shots we had…
But one photo that means more to us than all the others.
As Kenny writes: “Gold Star Ron. What a guy. I don’t think any of us have ever met a person with quite the fiery passion he had. I first learned of Ron from different Brit Bike internet forums I’d frequented. As we all knew, you couldn’t tell Ron otherwise (online, anyway) when it came to Gold Stars, racing, or what was going to happen at the Manx Grand Prix. But when I met the man in person I saw the true Ron – a very considerate, caring, generous, gentle man, who loved motorcycles and racing, but even more, loved life and his friends. Ron wanted to win. He set lofty goals and worked every day to achieve them. I pitted with him when Roper rode his Gold Star at Miller a few years ago and we hit it off. After that, Ron “tossed me the keys” to his bike, allowing me to come racing out west and have a BEAUTIFUL machine to push through the corners. In return, I would give him as much feedback on setup, power, etc. He gobbled this stuff up, as it all was fodder for his master plan to achieve his 100mph goal on The Island. I never had a doubt he would make that goal. I will always be thankful for his generosity, and I’m a better man to have called him a friend. We last spent time at Barber this year – an event he had yearned to attend, and I was happy to keep him comfortable in the paddock. Ron was sick, and we candidly discussed his ability to keep up at the pace he’d been going. But the news of his passing really caught me by surprise. Godspeed, old friend.”
As we loaded up to go home we were left with a lot to think about. We can go faster, and will go faster… all of us. But it was an amazing season. Helmut, Jon, and Kenny all picked up 2nd places in the National Championships – Helmut in 500 Premier, Jon in BEARS, and Kenny in Formula 750. But 2nd isn’t enough. There will be more. In the meantime it was time to get back to the shop and build some bikes. Customers don’t all live their lives at racetracks and need their bikes!
2014 AHRMA Championship Standings:
Helmut Niederer – 2nd Place, 500 Premier
Jon Thorndike – 2nd Place, BEARS
Kenny Cummings – 2nd Place, Formula 750