The Promised Land — Part 7

After the better part of a day wandering through the various collections of the Barber Motorsport Museum, it really was time to get back out in the fresh air.

As I headed back towards the light at the front of the Museum, though, there was one more area with some thrills to be had.

The Barber folk had a Legends of Racing area that concentrated on their unrivalled collection of Daytona winning motorcycles, with a few others thrown in for seasoning.

The Yamaha TZ750 was one of the most successful road racing motorcycles of all time. Using a 2-stroke powerplant that was essentially 2 stroked TZ350 engines siamesed together to make an inline 4 , the engine had an entirely deserved reputation for being a bit of a handful.

For a few races, Yamaha had demonstrated extreme hubris by installing the TZ’s 4 cylinder power unit into one of then two time Grand National Champion Kenny Roberts’ Dirt Flat Track racing motorcycles.

That motorcycle was that thing that Kenny was talking about when he famously said, “They don’t pay me enough to ride that thing.”

In his characteristic terseness, Kenny described riding it thusly: “Finding grip was a problem.”.

Funny thing was, substituting pavement for dirt didn’t improve things that much.

It took more than five years of sleepless nights and endless brain explody for suspension engineers, for tire engineers, for frame engineers, before a road racing motorcycle could be constructed that could adequately manage the insanity that came out of that engine.

By then, TZs were still lighting up their rear tires, but at least as a pilot, it was possible to get that thing to at least go where you pointed it.

This machine, that was raced by Randy Cleek in the 1975 TransAtlantic Match Racing series, wasn’t one of those.

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This one still has a pipe frame, pretty skinny tires, and simple emulsion shocks and damper rod forks.

I find myself just looking at it, and in my head vividly hearing that shriek, and imagining the feeling of the bars going loose under my palms as the rear hazes the pavement under power.

I saw the last of the inline 4 2-strokes race when Yamaha leased one year old GP machines to a team that campaigned under a run-what-ya-brung-no-matter-how-nutz class called Formula Extreme. The Yamaha OWs absolutely dusted a field filled with Turbocharged Big Block Suzuki four stroke fours and other silly modified muscle bikes. Standing at the end of the main stright at Pocono and having the two Yamamha racebikes blow by nose to tail felt a lot like being overflown by The Blue Angels.

 

***

 

This isn’t what it looks like.

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What it looks like is Old Blue, Cook Neilson and Phil Schilling’s famous California Hot Rod road race Ducati, winner of the 1977 Daytona 200.

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But since Old Blue is actually sitting on a Persian carpet in a living room somewhere in New Jersey, one can be excused for the HumminaHumminaHummina Quadruple Take when one walks up on this in one of the museum’s corners.

What this is is Deja Blue, a completely accurate in every detail replica of Old Blue.

Since the Barber couldn’t manage to obtain the real thing, they made their own.

I will observe that their attention to detail borders on the spooky. It not only fooled me, but being guys with a flair for the dramatic, they rolled it out behind Cook Neilson, the pilot of the original bike, during a presentation he was giving and he was rendered absolutely speechless. Guys that know Cook will attest to the infrequency of such events.

The guys at Ducati liked it so much, they had NCR, the famous Ducati race shop, create the Cook Neilson Replica, known as New Blue.

 

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New Blue, Deja Blue, all this blue.

When all we really want is Old Blue.

 

***

 

Nobody needs to be told who Freddie Spencer is.

One of the most gifted riders ever, and the only one ever to win two Grand Prix racing classes — 250 and 500 — in the same year.

Freddie retired from GP after 1988, but couldn’t stay away from racing.

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This is Freddie’s 1991 AMA Superbike ride, a Two Brothers Racing RC30.

Freddie won the Camel Superbike GP held in the streets of Miami on this motorcycle.

The bike, like Freddie in his prime, is a thing of beauty.

I read an article by him lately stating his distain for motorcycles with electronic riders aids, and he sounded just like me — saying it was impossible to live in the moment with the robots watching your back.

When I say it, its an opinion.

When Freddie says it, some people might at least reconsider.

 

***

 

Miguel DuHamel is also one of the pantheon of motorcycle racing greats — right up there with Kenny Roberts, Gary Nixon and the Doctor.

The son of a roadracing champion, and a champion in his own right, Miguel is the second most winning AMA Roadracer of all time, bested only by Matt Mladin.

This is one Miguel’s many Daytona winners, this one from 1999.

 

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In 1999, Miguel was still recovering from staggering injuries suffered during 1998’s Superbike round at Loudon, NH. He had suffered an ugly, compound fracture of his left femur that had, for a brief time, caused doctors to consider amputation of the leg.

He was in such mariginal shape at Daytona that he came into the pits on one crutch, and had to be assisted to get astride the bike. Once there, though, his comfort level must have increased at least a little.

This is Mig’s CBR 600 F4, that he used to win the 600cc support race. He used the 600 race as a warm up — placing the CBR F4s 1-2 with Nicky Hayden on an almost identifcal bike in tow.

In the Superbike race Mig won one of the closest 200s in history – besting Mat Mladin by something like 0.14 seconds at the stripe.

Miguel was in such distress that he was quoted as saying “I didn’t even want to celebrate after that. If I could have rode my bike straight to the Hampton Inn and gone to sleep, I would’ve done it.”

Makes you wonder what woud have been possible if the guy was healthy.

 

***

 

Finally, I found myself back out in the sunshine, leaning up against the saddle of the LT in the parking lot.

I was turning over all of the wonders I had seen within, trying to commit them to memory.

There were two guys from Georgia whose bikes were parked next to mine. They lived a short ride away and had made a simple day trip down to the festival. We were shooting the shit and laughing, just reveling in the bikey atmosphere of the whole thing.

I’ve always indulged in dangerous sports my entire life — ice hockey, lacrosse, motorcycling. All are pursuits where significant things can occur in the literal blink of an eye.

My relative success in all of these pursuits likely has something to do with some relativistic time elongation thing that occurs when stuff goes horribly wrong. My perception goes into an alternate mode where everything occurs in super slo-mo, whether someone has just fired a hockey puck at my face, or the front wheel of my motorcycle has just decided it has had enough of this traction thing.

And standing in the parking lot at Barber that day, time went all rubber on me.

The thing is, my recollection of the thing is clearly asynchronous.

Simple physics.

Light is faster than sound. Not debatable or at issue.

But what I remember perceiving first was the “BANG!”– the explosive, metallic slam of something significant slamming insto the pavement.

I’d been looking up in the direction of the perimeter road.

But I’d been shitshootin’ with the guys, and wasn’t really paying attention.

The human brain probably wasn’t engineered to function like a DVR, but I clearly TIVOed.

At the “BANG!”, my brain went back a few seconds on the video stream and replayed what’d I’d apparently missed.

A standard motorcycle, two up, was running down the perimeter road toward the park exit — maximum speed 25 miles an hour — revs down in second gear. A good citizen, not a hint of moto-foolery.

During playback, the passenger slowly rolled off the motorcycle to the rear, her legs wheeling through the air as she dropped on her head and her shoulders.

And just as fast, the rear of the bike snapped sideways, and even fighting it, the pilot got slammingly high-sided, only letting go of the bars when physics could no longer be resisted.

The visual track and the soundtrack came back into full sync.

Me and the two guys from Georgia wigged.

“Shit! Did that just happen?”

The three of us sprinted up the bank towards the downed riders.

The young lady was already up, walking it off.

The pilot was in worse shape. He had rolled over the curb and into the grass, and had clearly taken a shot and was slow coming around.

One of the Georgians had the presence of mind to kill switch the bike, a newer Triumph Speed Triple. The left crank cover had broken cleanly in two, and oil — dude was a little overdue for a change, it seemed — was pouring onto the pavement. Another onlooker helped him get the bike up and moved to the side of the road.

It looked, upon inspection, that some soft luggage had gotten dislodged and sucked into the driveline, causing rapid and unmanageble adjustments to vehicle physics.

We helped the pilot sit up, but not get up, and helped him remove his helmet. His jeans were in ribbons, and both his knees bady rashed and bleeding.

I took a position on the upside of the accident, and the other Geogian moved to the downside, and both of us directed traffic around the bike, rider, debris and spilled oil.

Less than a minute went by before the local Sheriffs, stylishly riding their Authority Model Gold Wings, arrived on scene and took control.

I checked up with one of them — “You got this?”.

I got a thumbs up from LEO and and walked slowly back across the road, hearing the sounds of one of the ambulances coming in, having been pulled from its station beside the racetrack.
***

 

I left the track, cruised an exit up the Interstate and into Leeds proper.

I found a nice family-run mexican restaurant, and had some absolutely great tacos al carbon, a rellano, and a Dos Exxis.

I kept looking at my canvas cargo work pants, and thinking how inadequate they were — given what I’d seen — if Physics decided it had had enough with me. Thinking about how often that I rode like that, and how much faster I usually rode than the 25 mph I’d seen could produce such damage.

I headed back to the Hampton, and tried to wrap my head around the last 24 hours, which contained more motorcycles and motorcycling than any other single day of my life.

As I fell into an exhausted sleep, I kept thinking — “This ticket on my wrist is good for two more days… two more days… two… more …. days…..”

 

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