Vintage Racing


 

Overview of the Northwest Vintage Racing Scene

 

If you’ve been mildly wondering about Vintage racing or are at the stage of seriously considering it, here is one man’s perspective, as seen through a clear visor.

Vintage racing is not for everyone, but for a few of us it is truly addictive. Here are a few indicators to consider:

Are you:

  • always thinking about old motorcycles?
  • a tinkerer, fabricator, mechanic (if not, can you afford to pay someone else to do these things)?
  • wanting to live your life with no regrets?
  • someone who loves the roar of older motorcycles?
  • happy walking around in black leather with earplugs in?
  • having a mid-life crisis? Needing to get out of the house more?
  • thinking about the fastest way to get around a particular racetrack?
  • not a grouch if you have to get up at 5 am?
  • willing to use VISA for that new front tire?

The Vintage crowd is typically low-key.  We tend to stay away from the asphalt, sun, noise of the generators and end up under the trees in the quiet shade.  Someone said the grass and dirt won’t show when your bike is leaking oil.  This is true, but the “level of build” on these bikes is generally very, very good and oil leakage is not usually a problem.  The racer crowd is generally small enough that everyone knows everyone, and if someone is having a problem there’s usually a few helpful souls around trying to lend assistance. This is probably reminiscent of how it was years ago, before the big teams and the big bucks.

The age gap is non-existent, with motorcycles being the common denominator.  Our youngest rider in the Northwest is mid-30s, with the oldest being in his mid-60s. They also happen to be the best of friends.  And don’t think mid-60s is slow, because that’s not the case!  At Sear’s Point the oldest rider is 78 years young, which is an inspiration to me.  Most racers have a job to go to Monday morning, so there’s not the same “do or die” mentality found in the Supersport or “squid” classes.  This is not to say Vintage isn’t competitive; it is.  If you pay attention, you’ll see that bikes are rarely the same from the start to the end of the season.

Most Vintage race bikes are going through some kind of evolution. This is where the tinkerer/fabricator/mechanic comes in.  You go out on the track, and as you improve as a rider you start to notice the deficiences in your machine.  Last year it handled great, but now the front end chatters.  It’s still the same bike, but you’re a better rider.  You know you can go faster in that corner, but now your bike is holding you up.  This is where your skills as a tuner can help you as a rider.  For example, I’ve heard that John’s Norton has funny looking knobs on top of his forks. He’s figured out a way to put the internals from a Honda cartridge fork into his Norton forks.  If the chatter goes away, his confidence will increase, and his lap times will go down.

We all race for different reasons.  I’m competitive, and I like to be up front even if I’m not.  I enjoy working on my bike, knowing it’s as race ready as it can be.  A friend who raced for many years said that Vintage racing is all about the old machinery and the sound it produces.  Not to mention the smells . . . does Castrol R do anything for you???  It does for me.  I think there’s also the feeling knowing you’re part of something, even if it’s not mainstream.  The Big British Vintage races attract huge crowds, and having Barry Sheene race around Goodwood on a 500 Manx does wonders for the ratings.  Over here, we race around in virtual obscurity.  Major Moment if someone asks for an autograph!  So, we do it because it’s good for our souls, because it’s something we WANT to do and because it keeps us young at heart.

Paul

 

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