YS. The Magic of Muscle Memory (an excerpt)

This is a very short excerpt from the book Racing the Gods, due to be released May 1st. This story has been edited slightly to make it a stand-alone version.

The American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) held an annual event in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, that was rare in that it was a road race in the original meaning of the words – a race on roads, not on a closed track. Racing on actual roads has a certain romance to it, probably because it was the true origin of road racing. There’s also the legendary TT Races at the Isle of Man. The word was that the 1998 event was going to be the last one because development was pushing into the area. I was invited to join a group of racers from WetLeather who were planning on making the long trip from the Pacific Northwest to take part.

The AHRMA program has classes for old bikes, from 20 years old back to the 19-teens. They also provided a few classes for more modern motorcycles. It sounded like fun, but my vintage race bike, the 1974 Ducati Sport, wasn’t running. Not to worry, my WetLeather pals said. Some calls were made, word was put out and, presto, I was loaned a 1967 Ducati single-cylinder race bike for the 250cc Grand Prix class. It came complete with a race van and a few boxes of spares. The only problem was it was in Carson City, Nevada. I had to get to Nevada, drive the race van with bike to Steamboat Springs, race, drive back to Nevada, drop off the van, and then drive home, a round trip of just under 3,000 miles. A piece of cake; I’m in.

I drove south from Oregon and my girlfriend drove northeast from San Jose. We rendezvoused in Carson City, where we left our vehicles and picked up the race van and bike and headed east on U.S. Highway 50, the historic route of the Pony Express. Two days later we were in Steamboat Springs.

There were two Saturday morning practice sessions for bikes in the Vintage 250cc GP class. The track wasn’t too difficult and the first session went OK until I came in at the end. I coasted into the pits and jumped off the bike to push it back to my pit spot. The bike wouldn’t push — the rear brake was locked up. I got it loose enough by jiggling the brake lever, got the bike back to our pit and on the stand, and watched in amazement as my hands took over.

I had raced and maintained Ducati singles for three years when I first started racing, but switched to racing a twin in 1976. I had once been very familiar with the singles, but I hadn’t done any actual wrenching on one since 1975. That was 23 years earlier, yet my hands knew exactly what to do, a fraction of a second before my mind had fully grasped it. I didn’t need any mental search to try to remember how to pull the rear wheel out, for example – all the knowledge about the Ducati singles I learned from 1973-1975 was suddenly there, in my hands.

The rear wheel was off in a few minutes and the brake hub out of it. It was hot! I had to use rags as hot pads to handle it. The return springs that were supposed to pull the brake shoes away from the drum when the brake lever was released looked wrong – too weak. As the hub cooled I rummaged through the boxes of spares and found a pair of springs that looked right. The brake shoes were popped off, the stronger springs installed, and all the moving parts given a coat of grease. I got the rear wheel back together and reinstalled in the bike just in time for the second practice session.

The second session went better. The bike was quite a bit faster when the rear brake wasn’t constantly trying to slow it down.

Now it was time to relax. have lunch and wander around looking at all the cool old race bikes: Norton Manxes, BSA Gold Stars, Matchless G50s, even an MV Agusta or two. My race was scheduled for 2:30.

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