ZQ. California Club Racing in the 1970s

Posted 7/9/2014
Updated 7/23/2014

When Sears Point Raceway reopened for motorcycle racing in 1972 the racing situation in California was pretty nice. There were five quality tracks, Sears Point Raceway near San Francisco, Ontario Motor Speedway and Riverside Raceway in the Southern California metro region, Laguna Seca in Monterey and Willow Springs Racetrack in the Mojave Desert near Rosamond. The AFM regularly held races at Sears, Ontario and Riverside, and every once in a while there would be a race day at Willow Springs – I raced there once in 1974. Nice track, not so nice an environment – the desert can be brutal in the summer and really windy in spring. The Continental Motorsports Club (CMC) based in the Los Angeles area raced at Willow more frequently. Laguna Seca was usually not available for club racing but there was one AFM race there in 1973.

A personal note: I raced my Ducati 350 Desmo at Laguna in 1973. I had been to the track to watch the AMA National races and saw that there were count-down signs going into the corkscrew, you know, 3, 2, 1. The entry was blind and the signs were to help racers find their brake marker. On the very first lap on the track I was going up the hill, thinking I’d use the signs to know when I neared the corkscrew. Suddenly, BOOM, there it was. I wasn’t going very fast so I made the corner (badly). It had never occurred to me that the countdown signs were put up by the AMA and taken down after the race was over. Duh.

The three main tracks where the AFM held races were very different from each other. Sears Point was hilly and bumpy, tight and technical with many blind corners; Ontario was smooth, flat as a pancake, featured fast sweeping turns, two long straights and lots of run-off room if you goofed; Riverside was fast and flowing with one long straight and some elevation changes but nothing as dramatic as Sears.

Another personal note: Ontario had two sets of fast sweeping left hand bends, quite similar to each other, except one opened onto the long infield straight and the other led into a tight right turn, almost a hairpin. The first time I raced there I had trouble recognizing which was which and would be in the wrong place, ready to go down the straight only to find a tight right turn, or vice versa. Then I made an amazing discovery — I could look ahead and see what was coming. Because of all the blind corners at Sears Point looking ahead didn’t help much. Looking ahead is a very important technique at most tracks as well on twisty roads. Racing at the flat Ontario track taught me something I couldn’t learn at Sears Point.

With the dry weather in Southern California racing could begin as early as February and continue until November. A normal year would have 18 AFM races scheduled; 10 races at the southern tracks and 8 races at Sears Point; the Bay Area early spring and late fall weather was less dependable. There were 14 points races where you could earn points toward a year-end class championship, and these were split evenly, 7 north and 7 south. A racer able and willing to travel could average 2 races a month for 8 months of the year. For me it was about an 8 hour drive to Ontario and just slightly longer to Riverside.

A normal AFM race event was a one-day affair, always on Sunday. There were a few special two-day race weekends during the year, such as the Ontario 6-hour, but they were exceptions. There were classes in four categories, Grand Prix, Production, Box Stock and Superstreet, and a sidecar class. There were no performance-equalization formula classes, like 600cc fours versus 750cc twins; the classes were all based solely on engine displacement.

A typical schedule looked something like this:

Practice Starts 9:00 AM:
1. Lightweights (50,125 & 200 GP, 125 & 250 Production)
2. 410 Production and 410 Box Stock.
3. Heavyweight GP (250cc, 350cc, 500cc & Open)
4. Heavyweight Prod. (550cc, 750cc & Open), Box Stock (675 & Open), Superstreet: (600, Open)
5. Sidecars
6. Lightweights, 2nd session
7. 410 Practice, 2nd session
8. Heavyweight GP, 2nd session
9. Heavyweight Prod, 2nd session
10. Sidecars, 2nd session

LUNCH
Rider’s Meeting
Races Start 1:00 PM:
1. Box Stock, all 3 classes, 6 laps
2. 550cc, 750cc & Open Production, 8 laps
3. Flyweight (50 & 100 GP, 125 & 200 Prod), 8 laps
4. 410cc Production 8 laps
5. 250cc GP 8 laps
6. Lightweight (125-200 GP, 250 Prod), 8 laps
7. Superstreet, both classes, 8 laps
8. Heavyweight GP: 350, 500 & Open. 8 laps
9. Sidecars 6 laps

Note: The different classes would race together but be scored separately.

When everything went smoothly the club was very good at sticking to the schedule. Of course, things didn’t always go smoothly. Practice might be delayed by fog; a motor might blow and dump oil on the racing line and take a long time to clean up.

Weird things can happen. We once had a 45 minute delay at Sears Point because a drunken spectator wanted to take pictures from the outside edge of turn 4, a very dangerous spot, and refused to move. None of the corner workers felt that their volunteer status required them to get physical with a belligerent drunk, so it was a standoff –- the races couldn’t start with him there and he wouldn’t move. They tried explaining to him that he wouldn’t get any photos if there was no race, but there was no reasoning with this guy.

A couple dozen racers were gridded up for the 250cc GP race, sitting in the hot sun in full leathers. Finally two of them got pissed off enough to do something. They got a ride in the crash truck to turn 4 and in full leathers and helmets physically ejected the guy. He fought them but it was one drunk against two fully armored and pissed-off road racers; it was no contest. You could hear the cheer from the other spectators all the way in the pits. The solution to the problem of unplanned delays was to shorten the races still to run. A race scheduled for 8 laps might get shortened to 6 laps, but the club made sure everyone had a turn on the track.

I stopped club racing after 1980, and in that year the Ontario Motor Speedway was sold to a real estate developer. Then, sadly, in 1989 Riverside closed, and the site is now covered by a mall, apartments and houses. That left SoCal with only Willow Springs for a while. It was a tough time for southern California road racers.

The AFM still exists and runs races today at Sears Point, Buttonwillow and Thunderhill race tracks in California. Things have changed since the 1970s. The website indicates that the races aren’t one-day events anymore; there is mostly practice on Saturday and, except for a short morning warm-up session, Sunday is reserved for racing. The classes have changed through the years. Many of the smaller displacement classes have disappeared, but newer Formula classes have been established. You can look at the club’s web site (http://www.afmracing.org/) to see how things are today.

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8 thoughts on “ZQ. California Club Racing in the 1970s

    • There was the ARRA (American Road Racing Association) and CMC (Continental Motorsports Club). I beleive Pat Manning ran under CMC first and then started ARRA. He was a nice British gentleman who happened to be a tailer with a shop in Burbank. Mostly a one man band if I recall.

  1. Paul – you forgot to mention the deer and rabbits but the best one … do you remember the day the turn workers in … two ? found a nest of rattlesnakes ? Ralston announced at the riders’ meeting that there were rattlesnakes in two, would not be any turn workers there, and if you fell down there too bad.

    For the rest of that day, guys who had no fear of ten flat-out would slam on the brakes and tiptoe through the rattlesnake corner 🙂

  2. I raced back then with Pat. What a nice fellow. A real gentleman. Raced at Orange County Raceway; a death trap if there ever was one. But the atmosphere and the racing were stupendous. Many great and not-so-great stories from those early 70’s events. Feels like yesterday.

  3. I had an awesome battle with Reggie Pridmore at Orange County Raceway in 73 I think it was. The back straight was bumpy as hell on the right side but sorta smooth on the left. There was a hairpin right at the end of that back straight that led onto the long front straight…and the correct line to enter that hairpin was on the left side. So in an effort to out brake me,
    Reggie chose the right side. It worked twice…but the third time I waited until he braked first. He went straight off and missed the corner and I thought YES…second place is mine. Uhh…not quite. He caught up and pump faked me going into turn one and I crashed in turn two. That’s how I learned what “racecraft” meant….and I never forgot that lesson.

  4. Paul describes the annual racing scene perfectly. I was a crew member for the northern California group known as the SGR (Solid Gold Racers) of which Paul was a member. We tried to travel together whenever possible and usually pitted close by each other. Those from NorCal who frequently traveled up and down the state included Glen Shopher, Bill Mullins, Bill Brinckerhoff, Gordie Hedemark, Greg Goodman, Greg Beck, Dan Spisak, Mike Ross, Dave Matthews, Kendal Mullins, Billy Addington, Mike Kauzlarich, Marty Segel, Marc Salvisburg, and more. Those from SoCal included Mike Baeder, Rudy Galindo, Dave Emde, Harry Klinzmann, Mark Homchick, Wes Cooley, Steve McLaughlin, Reg Pridmore, Flem Juliussen, Mike MacAvoy, and more. It was a real “raveling circus” in those days with the club races being so frequent and many of these competitors also running the full AMA Pro circuit.

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