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Aug. 7, 2011

Good News, Bad News and Racing

The bad news.

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Gary Nixon, a famous motorcycle racer passed away on Friday. Gary was AMA Grand National Champion 1967 & 1968 – He was always the most highly regarded flat track racer and then he became even more significant in my life as I acquired 1967 Triumphs, similar to the ones he became champion on. He was 70 years old and had lived a very full life, but learning of his passing while sitting in the grandstands of an AMA Grand National flat track race was quite a blow to me.

The joy of being sideways at speed

click here to learn more of Gary Nixon

The Racing

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Although I’ve been an avid motorsports enthusiast all my life and having a renewed interest in motorcycle racing lately, I had never made it to a AMA National Championship race until last night. The ‘big names’ returned to storied Castle Rock Race Park in Washington, about 50 miles north of Portland. I had fun and then even more fun. Practice was ending as I arrived and as I climbed the stands, I was not too late to catch a few qualifying laps and jeepers… those racers (men and women) are F-A-S-T !

90 miles an hour down the front straight and as the throttle is closed entering the first big, sweeping turn, they allow the brakes and compression skid the rear wheel as they start the turn. This looks like a certain spin-out, but by turning the bars the opposite direction of the turn and keeping the throttle on just enough to balance the skid-out and counter-steering, they fly sideways through the turn. Seeing this has thrilled me and amazed me since I was sixteen. I’ve seen it in numerous dirt track races, and would practice the technique for hours and hours when I was younger – Nothing matches seeing the world’s top racers perform this power-sliding because the speeds at which they do it, is astonishing!

Here’s a video of one of the races – the ‘Dash for Cash’ where the top two riders from each of the three heat races contend for points and money. (Won by Washington State’s Sammy Halbert – who out-qualified everyone and is leading the points for the season and who won the evening’s main event).

One more thing to mention – during the hour between qualifying and racing the paddock area is opened to the public and the racers (and their wives and kids) meet and greet, sell tee shirts and chat with the people. I’ve never been to a sporting event where the participants were as accessible, and all of them were as friendly as can be. It was great. Chris Carr (7 times National Champion and motorcycle land speed record holder) is having his ‘farewell tour’ – He and Sammy Halbert and Joe Kopp all signed shirts for me and smiled for the camera.

The good news

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After taking my motorcycle to the mechanic up the road five weeks ago, I finally brought it home today and the intended job of attaching the brake caliper to the front forks has been finished !

Despite taking a really long time to get anything done, the mechanic – slash – fabricator – slash – race tuner does pretty good work. Most motorcycles built in the last 40 years have front disc brakes. My beat up, basket-case desert sled came with a dinky 6 inch drum brake which was never good enough and adding better stopping power was high on my list for this build. Problem is, the dirt bike forks I am so enamored to use were not made to have disc brakes attached, so some customization was called for. I bought a caliper and reservoir/lever on eBay and made a template of what I thought might work as a bracket. The mechanic invited me to bring the project to him and by gum, it turned out pretty nice.

There’s still a few chores for me to finish before I have a 100 percent complete rolling chassis, but they’re minor things – Time to get that engine built !

Pics of the brakes…

Homeward bound – caliper attached to the forks
Fitting the Fork Brace
The front end is just about done !
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