The raceday did not get off to a good start. Just after I passed the coffee stand that I had hoped would be open (and was not - first disappointment) I remembered that I had left my transponder in the box that normally would have held all the 125 spare parts. Which was safely ensconced below the engine building workbench in the shop. And it's too late to turn around to get it and still make it to the track in time to make the riders meeting. Dang. Second disappointment for the morning.
I had high hopes for a dry race as it was clear and dry for quite a while after leaving the house, but as I approached Tacoma it started raining - hard. Oh well - I go fine in the rain. On the 125GP bike I usually fall down from a podium spot somewhere around the second to last lap, but this isn't the 125.
Registration was a bit of a drag as I had to stand in the post-reg line in order to rent a transponder for the weekend, but it was nice to see everyone and chat a bit while waiting.
The riders meeting went a bit long. Our first indication that it would was when Course Marshal Mark Creager started talking. "So - do you guys want to race here, again, ever?" There are a lot of things going on with the track since the owners have regained control of Pacific Raceways, but the main two issues right now are 1) there have been some modifications made that aren't the best for motorcycle safety, and 2) Some of the club members have been complete putzes and Jason Fiorito (one of the track owners) is pissed at us. To the point where he offered Mark that morning a refund check for the year in order to not have to deal with us again, ever. Yikes!
It turns out that the safety issues are nowhere near as bad as we'd been led to believe through all the rumors. It's certainly not as good as it could be, but in my opinion it's safer now than it was last year running on VHT. There have been quite a few runoff improvements made around the track. From a 160 racing standpoint the track is fine. On a faster bike it would not be as good, but still not as bad as I had pictured or had been led to believe.
The conclusion at the end of the meeting was to race, and I'm glad. From the seat of the bike the track looks much better even under a critical eye than it does even standing in the stands and looking down the straightaway.
My third disappointment for the day started around the end of the practice session. My 160 had been running very well, revving quickly and clearly making good horsepower (for a 160). But - due to a mechanical blunder on my part it was not to stay running much longer. It started to miss a tiny bit and not rev out, and while at first I thought it might be the timing changing(missed tighening the screws?) , by the end of that lap it was barely running. Pulling the cam bearing cover on the right side it became evident what the problem was. The right cam bearing was not getting any oil and had siezed the bearing to the cam, spinning the bearing in the aluminum cam bearing carrier. It got so hot the aluminum melted and dripped into the head below the bearing.
On the right is the left side cam bearing. On the left is the right side cam bearing. You can see that the bronze bushing from the right side is welded to the cam, and that the aluminum from the cam bearing around the bronze bushing has gotten hot enough to melt.
It turns out I had managed to install the gasket for that cam bearing backwards. I had noticed when I put that cam bearing carrier on the head for the first time that the gasket didn't have the mirror image oil passage hole on both sides like most gaskets do so it can't be put in the wrong way around, and reminded myself that I'd have to be careful to not get that gasket in backwards. Apparently at some point in disassembly/check/reassembly/drop things on the floor I managed to get that gasket in backwards. I'm surprised that the bike made it through several runs around the block at home as well as a full practice session before siezing the cam bearing. I guess that's a testament to the moly assembly lube I used assembling the engine. Unfortunately, it's also a testament to my lack of attention at one point in the engine assembly. It's also embarrassing. I hate making those kind of mistakes.
Luckily, Group W Racing comes prepared and Tim and Simon-Pierre had brought the black bike (aka the Bobino bike) as a spare. We changed the numbers to mine, changed the linkage shifter to a straight shifter so I'd have GP shift, filled it up with gas and took the bike through tech. We didn't have a huge amount of time as the first 250 Vintage race was up second after 250 GP.
It took a bit of time to get used to the bike, but it seemed to run fine after taking forever to start.
I got a pretty good start from the back row of the 250 Vintage grid for heat number one with my "Fred Flintstone" running with the bike technique. It really helps the 160s (and 125's for that matter) get off the line. The clutch engagement on the black bike is a lot grabbier than mine and the seat is further back, which caught me off guard a bit. I got a bit of a wheelie off the line because of that, but still ended up near the front of the pack going into turn 1. Tim Keane apparently missed a shift or two as I got past him as well. It was raining, but not too bad and the 750 and 500 vintage riders slowed down so much that we ended up getting through most of them in turn two. Tim Keane eventually got his shifting sorted out and got past me. We had a small battle for a short while, but Tim's Ducati has legs on the black bike and I just couldn't make up in the corners what I was losing on the straight. Brian Halbert challenged once so I knew I couldn't back off, but I did keep it on two wheels and ahead of Brian and finished second.
Our next race wasn't until 3:30, so after socializing a bit I decided to take the engine out of my bike and check it out. At the time I knew the right cam bearing was spun, but I didn't know why or what other damage had been done. It turns out that all that had happened was I'd gotten that gasket in backwards, and the engine really wasn't in really bad shape. With the head and cylinders off it became clear what had happened, and that the bottom end, cylinders and head were fine. I'd need a cam, two lifters, the right side cam bearing and a new head gasket. And I'd need to clean the aluminum drips from the head, and check the cam chain for stretch. I actually had time to get it back together for the afternoon race as Tim Fowler had all the parts at home, but I'd rather do the assembly carefully on the bench at home after inspecting and cleaning everything. Plus - I seemed to be going fine on the spare bike.
The engine was loaded in the back of the Mighty Subaru in pieces and it was time to watch some races.
Since I'm not racing my 125GP bike this year I've got it leased out to my friend Sparky. He was up right then in 125GP - and seeing as how it's my bike he's racing I had a bit of a vested interest in his progress. I helped him get it started, and assured him that it's much easier to start when the clutch isn't dragging from the winter break, then watched him take second in the class. Way to go Sparky.
Eventually watching the races got quite cold and wet (while Sparky was out in Open Single). Tim Keane's trailer and a cup of hot cocoa called and I answered.
In the second heat of 250 Vintage I got a decent start - but not as good as the first race (or some other folks got a better start, or both). I trailed Tim Keane and Brian Halbert into turn 2, passing Brian and dicing with Tim briefly again before the legs of the Ducati started pulling away and he sorted out his shifting problems. The race was red flagged one lap later, but restarted. I got about the same start the second time, and again Tim pulled away on the straight to where I couldn't give him a race. So I settled in for a great battle with Tim Fowler for second place, ending up successfully repeling a last lap bus stop attack to beat him across the line for second place behind Tim Keane again.
It turns out we got down to 2:13 lap times. Not too bad considering our best time on the old track layout in good weather was 2:05. I know those times sound crazy high, but remember these bikes only go 82 on the front straight.
After the races and collecting my second place combined results medal for the day, I met some friends at the Two Bells Tavern in Seattle for a birthday celebration. Tim Fowler showed up there too with all the parts I need to rebuild my 160 and then some. I really love 160 racing. It's going to cost all of 20 bucks to fix the engine and be ready for the next race.
In fact - I've already selected a replacement cam (the best lift numbers of two cam choices), cam bearing and lifters from the spare parts Tim Fowler supplied. The head is cleaned, the cam chain inspected and the head/cam/lifters/cam bearings is assembled. The new head gasket arrived in the mail today, and the engine is ready for reassembly, an oil change, installation in the frame and some running. And another oil change. And a check to make sure oil is getting to the cam.
We'll see at the next race in Spokane if my rebuilt 160 will have the legs to keep up with Tim Keane's Ducati. He'll have done some work figuring out his shifting problems, but I'll have my 160 again with all the work I did this winter. Will it be enough? Tune in next week...
I was happy with how my bike felt before it quit running though. I didn't do anything revolutionary, or spend any money on the bike. What I did do was be careful (other than the gasket debacle) in the assembly. I looked at parts and assemblies and thought about what would make them better. I rebuilt the shifter detent roller so it works the way it should. I removed several ounces of unnecessary weight from the shift drum with a carbide end mill in my small milling machine. I replaced a worn shift fork with a new one from Fowler's stock (Three dollars!). I dug through the bin of spare parts and found a matching slider gear that was in much better shape than the one that was in the bike. I took a Cratex bit in the dremel and worked over the shift dogs and gear windows to undercut the tranny a little bit and match the dogs to the windows. I checked the transmission shimming, and made sure that it didn't need adjusting for better engagement. In the end I left it alone. I was careful about gasket scraping and assembly so I have a motor with no leaks, drips or seeps. I put a newly rebuilt head on it (done by Phil at MSI) to replace the head with a bad valve guide I was running last year. I torqued everything carefully. I lubed all the cables. I checked the carbs and intake manifolds and made sure everything lines up with no restrictions. I carefully synchronized the carb slides so they lift together. I adjusted both to be at the same level at idle. And I painted the frame red and reassembled it from scratch with fresh grease.
The work I did to the transmission really made a huge difference. The shifting is now what a vintage rider would call "sweet." It isn't in the same ballpark as the 125gp bike, but it is pretty darn good. I didn't miss a single shift and it snicked into gear positively each shift. It also seems to rev faster than the other bikes, as it should since I've removed a bunch of weight from the flywheel. At some point this year I'll go ahead and finish building the 2-1 pipe I have for it. This should do several things - build more horsepower, make it quieter and make it possible to fit bodywork to the bike. A nice vintage style full fairing would probably technically take me out of the "Fowler Formula" stock 160 class, but would probably make it possible to fit an effective bellypan to the bike. It would also help with streamlining and give me several more MPH on the straight. Iím reluctant to do that for both expense and hassle, although we may need to go that way next year anyway as bellypans are probably going to be required for vintage as well next year. (That's not any club position, purely speculation on my part).
So - other than the wrecked engine I had a very successful weekend. It's good to be back - I needed it. I'm looking forward to hopefully giving Tim Keane a run for his money at the Spokane race.
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