In April of 1977 I teamed up with Vance Breese to run the Ontario 6-hour endurance race. I was riding for Dale Newton that year but he didn’t have a bike suited for endurance racing so I dusted off my 750 Sport and we entered in the 750cc class.
The Ontario 6-hour race was a two-day event; Saturday had practice for the endurance race bikes and sprint races for the other classes, with a short warm-up session for the 6-hour on Sunday morning followed by the race itself. The 6-hour got national press and the competition was pretty stiff. In 1977 there were a total of 87 entries in the five classes: Open, 750cc, 550cc, 410cc and 250cc. There was quality as well as quantity; the nine riders who comprised the top four teams included no less than five who had or would win an AMA Superbike race! Saturday practice revealed the top three to be the Racecrafters team of Keith Code, Reg Pridmore and Cook Neilson; the Yoshimura team of Wes Cooley and veteran racer Tony Murphy, and young guns Dave Emde and Harry Klinzmann on the Mack Cycle Center bike. All three teams were racing Kawasaki Z1s, with the Racecrafters bike having an apparent handling advantage over the other big Zs.
Dark horse candidates included the team of Terry Waugh, John Ulrich and Pat Eagan riding a Yoshimura-built 884cc Suzuki GS750, the big engined Rickman-Triumph from Mr. Jag’s shop ridden by Steve Mallonee and Lee Fleming, and the 836cc Honda CB750 with Jack Baker and Dave Garoutte on board.
I had prepared the 750 Sport by disconnecting the pumpers in the Dellorto carburetors, fitting some endurance racing tires in place of the slicks, replacing the Conti mufflers with 115 Db silencers (legal under the rules that year) and re-jetting the carbs to match. Our competition was mainly a number of Suzuki GS750s in various states of tune and the Mr. Jags Norton. We were counting on the Ducati’s miles-per-gallon and large fuel tank to require fewer stops than the faster but thirstier four cylinder bikes. The bike was running well in practice; we were hoping for the class win.
In 1976 Mr. Jags had won the 6-hour with a 750cc Triumph Trident, but in 1977 they had problems on Saturday. Their 750cc Norton’s motor had tightened up in turn one giving rider Mark Homchick a scare but no fall. Mallonee crashed the over-bored Triumph doing some damage to the front end. The 750cc Trident was fast but kept pumping oil out of the engine breather.
There were many 410cc class bikes, mostly Yamaha RD350 or the newer RD400. The favorites for class win were the teams of Scott Clough & Bob Crossman or the Gingerelli brothers Dain and Alan.
Sunday morning began with a 45 minute practice that seemed to be over quickly. Many teams, including ours, were practicing fuel stops; the rules required dead-engine refueling. The Racecrafters team was struggling – the bike that gone fast all day Saturday was running poorly and resisting all attempts to get it going again. Mr. Jags had gotten his 750 Norton sorted out but the big Trident was still questionable.
With only 15 minutes left in practice the Racecrafters team discovered their problem. After Saturday’s practice the valves had been adjusted and one of the cams was installed one sprocket tooth off. Some quick work by the crew and the bike was a jet again.
The start was done in two waves, with the Open, 750 and 550 in the first wave and the large field of 410cc and 250cc bikes sent off 10 seconds later. All the big bikes got off the line quickly except one – Wes Cooley on the Yoshimura Z1. It looked like he tried to start in 2nd gear. He soon got rolling, however, moving up from 12th place entering turn one to take the lead at the end of the first lap. Pat Eagan, on the Eagan-Ulrich-Waugh Suzuki, had gotten the hole shot and stayed in front until Cooley passed him, then Dave Emde also squeezed past on lap two. Emde and Cooley really started to move, running times in the 2:12 bracket. They started lapping the smaller bikes by the 3rd lap.
Fuel stops began on the 20th lap for the thirstier bikes. The top three teams were out front as expected, swapping the lead around as they pitted for fuel. The Yoshimura team was the first of the three to run into trouble – their countershaft sprocket fell off! This happened just as Tony Murphy was leaving the pits so the team had the bike going again in only 5 minutes, but with 2 minutes and change lap times that put them 2 laps down. A more serious blow took the Racecrafters team out of contention for the win. Near the 3 hour mark Reg Pridmore stopped in turn six, apparently out of gas. The team lost 9 laps while the crash truck brought their Z1 back to the pits. What must have been frustrating was that the bike still had about ½ gallon of fuel on the reserve! It seems that once dry the special Keihin CR carburetors they were using must be “tickled” to fill their float bowl before they will flow gas again. Reg had missed the Saturday practice and during the fuss over the camshaft timing in the morning nobody had explained this to Reg. He had switched the tank to reserve but the engine failed to fire back up. They got the bike running again and really pushed it – they were easily the fastest bike on the track in the second half of the race.
The Mack Cycle Center team of Emde and Klinzmann had zero problems. Stops were made for fuel and to swap riders. The same was nearly true of our Euromart-Torco Oil sponsored Ducati. The 5 gallon fuel tank was good for 36-37 laps, or 115-118 miles, about 23 MPG at racing speeds, and about one hour and twenty minutes on the clock. Vance and I each took 1 hour 20 minute turns in the saddle. The bike wasn’t slow – I had 2:19 lap times during my first turn – but it wasn’t as fast as some of the other 750s. We made 5 stops for fuel and rider changes. The bike was nearly perfect – Vance had it miss one shift and took a short off-track excursion, and the band clamp holding the tachometer to its mount broke. The tach spent the last 20 minutes of the race tucked in behind the headlight.
At the end of 6 hours the Emde-Klinzmann team took the checkered ahead of Cooley and Murphy but a check of the scoring sheets showed that they had completed 152 laps while Cooley-Murphy had done 153 laps. The Yoshimura team was declared the winner and the Mack Cycle team immediately filed a protest. The lap charts they kept in the pits showed 153 laps for them as well. So the Yosh team was the provisional winner pending a scoring check.
The Pridmore-Code-Neilson team had climbed back up to third overall with 147 laps completed, only 6 laps behind. They had made up three laps in three hours. They had the same number of laps as Vance and me. They passed us on the last lap! We nearly got 3rd overall but were quite satisfied to be 4th overall and 1st in the 750cc class.
Vance had been racing much longer than I had and his experience really showed at the 6-hour. On my first turn I ran laps in the 2:19-2:20 range while Vance’s lap times were around 2:22-2:23, three or four seconds per lap slower than mine – at first. However, as the race went on and I became more tired my lap times dropped to about 2:24 – 2:25. Vance, on the other hand, kept turning 2:22 – 2:23 lap times for the entire 3 hours he was in the saddle! He knew how to pace himself. At the end of the 6 hours I was wiped out, sore and completely exhausted while Vance seemed ready to go another hour and twenty.
The bike, however, was not. I should have put fresh brake pads in the front brake; after all they had done one full racing season from new. At the end of the race one pad had about 1/8 inch of material left and the other was even thinner. Another 5 laps and it would have been metal against metal on the front brakes.
Another team that put in a superb performance was the pair of Dain and Alan Gingerelli on the Rustan’s sponsored Yamaha RD350 tuned by John Lassak. Starting from the second wave they put in a string of 2:19 laps that took them into the top 10 after only 15 laps, well before the first hour was up. They kept climbing steadily after that to finish 5th over-all and 1st in the 410cc class, only one lap behind our Ducati.
The dark horses stayed dark. The big Honda of Baker-Garoutte had electrical problems that lost them 15 minutes in the pits. They finally got going again by wiring the battery directly to the coils. The question of whether the battery had enough juice to get them to the finish became moot when at a later pit stop a shop rag, apparently intent on suicide, jumped into the drive chain as the rider tried to exit the pit. It got wrapped around the countershaft sprocket and pushed the chain against the crankcase hard enough to cause a small crack. The crack gushed oil and that was it for them.
The big Suzuki of Waugh-Eagan-Ulrich was capable of doing 2:16 lap times but they were caught out by their rear tire. The big motor would spin the rear tire which caused rapid tire wear and eventually forced a rear wheel change. They finished 6th overall with 145 laps completed in spite of their tire problems.
Another brother team, Gordon and Robert Seim, ran away from the other 250cc bikes on their CanAm. They crashed once and got back up and made one unscheduled pit stop to replace a loose handgrip but still finished 7 laps ahead of the 1976 class winners, Curt Relick and Gary Saunders. The Relick-Saunders RD250 Yamaha was second in class in 36th overall. They had no problems at all but, as Curt put it, “Seim just kicked our ass.”
The top team in the 550 class was Dennis Smith and Ken Farmer on a 550 Suzuki. They took 21st overall, but the CB550 Honda of Jeff Loughridge and Wendell Philips was close behind in 22nd overall and on the same lap.
As the checkered flag waved the race ended and confusion began. The P.A. announcer said Klinzmann-Emde were the winners with Vance and me in second overall, but it was made clear that it was an unofficial estimate and results wouldn’t be ready for at least a half an hour.
When the results from the scorer’s lap charts came out it had Cooley-Murphy listed as the winners with Klinzmann-Emde in second. After the Mack Cycle team protested the results attempts to straighten things out at the track only resulted in hot tempers and yelling. The race director cancelled the trophy presentation, declared the results provisional, and took the lap charts home for more careful examination.
There were no transponders in the 1970s. Scoring was done like this: each team had an official score keeper. The scorers were stationed in a spot where they could see the start line and a large digital clock. Each time their rider crossed the start line the scorer would look at the clock and write down the time. If everything was done correctly the number of entries on the score sheet would be the same as the number of laps completed.
The Yoshimura team of Cooley and Murphy’s score sheet had 153 times entered and the Klinzmann-Emde score sheet had only 152 entries. The Mack team, however, had a score sheet they kept in the pits that showed they had completed 153 laps and they pleaded with the race director to look more closely. He took the score sheet from each team and calculated the lap time for every lap for both teams by subtracting adjacent time values on the sheets.
He discovered that the scorer for Klinzmann-Emde had missed them once. When the lap times were calculated it showed most of the Mack team’s non-pitting laps were around two minutes fifteen seconds, but there was one lap that on paper took them about four and a half minutes to complete. So what to do? The Mack Cycle Center team had won on the track but lost one lap on the score sheets, which were the official record of the race.
The discrepancy in the Mack Cycle Center score sheet was discovered Tuesday night but it was not until Friday that a Yoshimura team representative could be contacted. When shown all the score sheets and calculations the Yoshimura team graciously agreed to go along with what really happened on the track instead of the entries on the score sheet. Good for them!
Below are the official results: the top ten overall with the top three in each class.
1977 Ontario Six-Hour Results
Position: Team: Laps Completed: Bike
1. Dave Emde/Harry Klinzman 153 Mack Cycle Center Kawasaki Z1
2. Wes Cooley/Tony Murphy 153 Yoshimura Kawasaki Z1
3. Keith Code/Reg Pridmore/Cook Nielson 147 Racecrafters Kawasaki Z1
4. Paul Ritter/Vance Breese 147 Euromart Ducati 750 Sport
5. Dain & Alan Gingerelli 146 Rustan’s Yamaha RD350
6. Terry Waugh/John Ulrich/ Pat Eagan 145 Waugh 884cc GS750 Suzuki
7. Kevin Burke/Bill Mehnke 143 GS750 Suzuki
8. Larry Cochran/Doug Hehnke 143 GS750 Suzuki
9. Scott Clough/Bob Crossman/D. McClanahan n.a. RD350 Yamaha
10. Dennis Rogers/Bob Tigert n.a. RD400 Yamaha
(tie)10. Stan Smith/Mike Velasco n.a. CB400 Honda
Six hours of racing is hard on a motorcycle. All sorts of things can happen; mechanical failures and/or crashing riders. Of the 87 entries there were 51 listed as running at the end of the race.
One note of interest: there was a tie for tenth place. This doesn’t mean that the two bikes crossed the line at the same time. It means that the score sheet for both teams had the same number of entries and the same clock time as their last entry. The clock showed hours:minutes:seconds so the two had to be less than one second apart. Hey, less than a second difference after six hours of racing is a tie as far as I’m concerned.
1977 Ontario 6-hour Results by Class
Open Class Top Three
1. Dave Emde/Harry Klinzman Kawasaki Z1
2. Wes Cooley/Tony Murphy Kawasaki Z1
3. Keith Code/Reg Pridmore/Cook Nielson Kawasaki Z1
750cc Class Top Three
1. Paul Ritter/Vance Breese Ducati 750 Sport
2. Kevin Burke/Bill Mehnke Suzuki GS750
3. Larry Cochran/Doug Hehnke Suzuki GS750
550cc Class Top Three
1. Dennis Smith/Ken Farmer Suzuki GS550
2. Jeff Loughridge/Wendall Philips Honda CB550
3. Eric Boff/Oscar Jackson 455 Honda
410cc Class Top Three
1. Dain Gingerelli/Alan Gingerelli Yamaha RD350
2. Scott Clough/Bob Crossman/Dave McClanahan Yamaha RD350
3. Dennis Rogers/Bob Tigert Yamaha RD400
250cc Class Top Three
1. GordonSeim/Robert Seim CanAm 250
2. Gary Saunders/Curt Relick Yamaha RD250
3. Mark Appel/Frank Rogers CanAm 250