Dee, Russ and I had been at the Barber Vintage Festival, at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, in 2011 and had a great time. When we heard that Pat Slinn and Cook Neilson would be there this year, along with Ducati’s Vicki Smith and other Ducatisti, we wanted to go. We contacted Dee’s son Russ to see if he could again come along for support and he agreed. Off we go!
I began trying to set up some autograph sessions for my book “Racing the Gods,” thinking a story mostly of 1970s racing might be a good fit for the vintage racing crowd. We were unable to get a slot in the Barber Museum’s schedule but Brian Slark, the museum curator, suggested arranging something with the American Historic Motorcycle Racing Association (AHMRA).
AHMRA was putting on several vintage events, including road races, a cross country competition, a motocross event, and a trials meet. In addition to the AHMRA racing there was a Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club show, and seminars about many different topics: the naked Britten, modern oils for vintage bikes, understanding vintage motorcycle suspension, and vintage performance enhancements. There was a “fan zone” featuring a wall of death cylinder, KTM demo rides, a Motorcycle Classics show featuring Norton, a swap meet, and many vendor tents. There’s always the attraction of the world’s largest motorcycle museum.
One of the major happenings was “Brittens at Barber.” Nine of the ten V1000 motorcycles the late John Britten ever made were gathered at the festival, along with the Britten family and racer Andrew Stroud. New Zealander Stroud won the World BEARS (British European American Racing Series) Championship on a Britten in 1995, and topped the Battle of the Twins race at Daytona four years running, 1994-1997. Here’s a link to a photo by Vicki Smith of the Britten bikes in the Barber Museum workshop: http://photos.ducati.net/Motorcycles-Vickis-View/Barber-Vintage-Britten/. More about the Brittens later.
In short, there’s a lot going on, and the festival is quite popular — the event draws in not only competitors and crews and bike show entrants, but also spectators, to the tune of over 69,000 attendees over the three days this year.
We took our remaining 26 copies of the book “Racing the Gods” with us.
Based on the amount of books sold and signed at the Sacramento Mile and at Laguna Seca’s combined World Superbike and MotoAmerica races, we thought it would be enough. We were wrong.
It’s amazing who you meet if you happen to be at the right spot. For example, while waiting to see Josh Hayes at Laguna Seca we met Wayne Rainey, Randy Mamola, and Cam Beaubier (now the 2016 AMA Superbike Champion). See the page WX. Meeting old and New Friends at Laguna Seca. At Barber we were given a spot under the Vanson Leathers canopy in the middle of the paddock’s lower level, a very high traffic area (a big thank you to AHRMA’s Cindy Cowell and Matt Silva of Vanson Leathers). We set up the table Friday afternoon and immediately sold two books. A good start. While sitting and waiting for more customers an older man came up and began chatting. Dee thought he looked familiar.
“Are you Nobby Clark?” she asked (Dee had been at the AMA Hall of Fame ceremony when Nobby was inducted).
“Yes,” he said as he dug out a business card. I’m impressed; this guy tuned for King Kenny Roberts. I then looked at the back of his card. Um. Now I’m really impressed. He chatted with me for a while, and sat down long enough for a photo with us. A very nice guy.
Traffic was pretty steady and by the end of the day’s 2-hour session I had signed 9 books, not bad.
A bit later in the afternoon Malcolm Smith, co-star of the movie “On any Sunday,” had his own autograph session for his recently released book “Malcolm! The Autobiography.” Dee bought one of his books and I gave him one of mine. We didn’t work in the same medium (him dirt, me pavement) but I enjoyed him in the movie “On Any Sunday” many times.
Friday night at the hotel lounge we ran into a gang of Ducatisti, including Vicki Smith, Cook Neilson, Reno Leoni, Rich Lambrechts (creator of Deja Blue), Pat Slinn (a mechanic for Mike Hailwood and others), Greg Pullen (author of “Ducati and the TT” and other books), and Roy Thersby (part of the Ducati F1 race effort). Pat, Greg, and Roy came all the way from England, by the way.
Some of the folks at the lounge. Cook is choking Rich Lambrechts while I crack up over something Vicki said. Photo by Dee.
Saturday autographing was even better than Friday and by the end of the afternoon’s 3-hour session we had only one book left. Former AFM club racers Mark Homcheck and Willi ‘Stilam fasst’ Scheffer dropped by about the same time. We had a mini-AFM reunion. In fact Mark Homchick is considering organizing the 2017 So Cal Retired Road Racers Reunion at Barber. I like the idea.
Saturday night we went to the ‘fly on the wall’ event organized by Vicki Smith. An empty chair was put at the main table for the late Phil Schilling, and people shared their memories of him. I knew Phil through racing but there were folks in the room who knew him much better than I did. Cook Neilson worked with Phil at Cycle magazine for over 10 years as well as on their racing team. Alyn Flemming, Phil’s widow; Mark Homchick who raced Yamahas that Phil tuned and was hired by Phil at Cycle magazine; even Phil’s nephew all were there. There were many stories about Phil giving freely of his time, talent, and treasure, some of which I heard for the first time. It was truly a loving tribute to a dear man. Godspeed, Phil. In spite of the solemn reason for the occasion it was fun. Like an Irish wake we talked about the good times in our lives that involved Phil and it became a happy party with lots of laughs.
The final book went quickly on Sunday, leaving us time to watch the races and just wander around. The paddock at Barber is on a hillside, with pit spaces on four levels. The Vanson Leathers vendor site was on the bottom level, near one end of the race control building. On the other side of the building was the “Brittens at Barber” tent. Nine of the ten Britten V1000 machines were present at the track, some coming all the way from New Zealand, and two of them were taking part in the vintage racing. In case you don’t know, the Britten was an at-the-time innovative 1,000cc V-twin practically hand built in John Britten’s home workshop in New Zealand.
One of the V1000s was being raced by New Zealander Andrew Stroud, who was a national champion before he was asked to ride the Britten. Dee managed to get Stroud’s autograph on one of the DVDs being sold in their tent. We just happened to be at the tent when the yellow and black Britten, number 4, ridden by Stephen Briggs, was being warmed up before a race. Dee took a video of the bike getting warm. I think this will get loaded properly. Let me know if it doesn’t work.
I mentioned that Dee’s son Russ was part of our team. Russ knows a lot of AHRMA racers from his own involvement in race events at Willow Springs Raceway, including racer and free-lance journalist Wendy Newton (Helmets and Heels). Russ told Wendy I was at the track and she contacted Antonio Valverde of the cable network Univision. They asked to interview me. Sure!
Wendy started with Antonio filming. She had a some really good questions, one being about track safety. How could tracks reduce risk, and who should pay for the modifications? There are many ways to reduce risk although it can’t be totally eliminated. As for paying, I gave the example of John Ulrich’s fund (http://actionfund.roadracingworld.com/) originally established to fund the purchase and installation of air fences that provide more protection from hard objects than the traditional hay bales or walls of old tires. Contributions came in from racers, crew members, families, fans, sponsors and racetracks. By sharing the costs this way much more can be done than by expecting the tracks or the promoters or the competitors to shoulder the entire burden.
She asked about women road racers, did they run into any “this is for men only” attitudes? During my time in racing I never noticed any, in fact it seemed that the club riders encouraged women racers. Of more concern than their gender was their ability. As long as they could handle their bike there was no problem.
Wendy made the comment that racing is dangerous and club racers spend their own money, sometimes lots of it, to go racing. Why? I tried to explain, as best I could, how it feels when everything is going perfectly. The way it feels to be going through a turn at top speed, your tires clawing for traction, easing on the throttle toward the exit just enough – not too much! – to get a good drive out of the turn, the sound of the engine revs slowly rising. The adrenaline maxes out your senses, pegging all dials at 11. Time slows down, your senses expand, and you can feel every pebble, every little dip in the track, through your hands, feet and butt. The light is even different. It’s magic. The body produces endorphins, which are natural opiates. The endorphin afterglow lasts for hours. It’s addicting, so we keep doing it.
It seems that some people need this occasional shot of adrenaline more than others. There are few situations in our modern life that require this sort of state, so we create them. Not only motor racing, but skydiving, hang gliding, tackle football, white water kayaking and many more high-risk sports do the job.
Then Wendy and Antonio traded places and he asked me a few questions about Latinos in road racing. I had to think about the AFM racers I knew and at first drew a blank. I did mention a couple of pro racers from the late 1960 to 1970s, Gene Romero and Dave Aldana, who were Latino, and they were very good. Romero, who was affectionately called “Burrito,” was the Grand National Champion in 1970. Both Romero and Aldana are in the AMA Hall of Fame.
As for club road racing, I allowed that I raced in California so there must have been some Hispanics in the club, but nobody paid attention to that. We were more interested in questions like what’s he riding, is he in my class, can he beat me? The color of the skin didn’t matter. I finally remembered one – Rudy Galindo was Latino (I think). He was the AFM #1 for a couple of years in the early 1970s and had earned a pro license, so he certainly was no slouch on the bike.
We talked for quite a while, so I doubt much of it will be broadcast. Antonio said it would be part of a piece about road racing airing in November. Wendy promised to let me know when it will air, and I’ll tell you.
We stayed an extra day and spent some time on Monday visiting the Barber Museum. It is amazing. It claims to be the largest motorcycle museum in the world, with over 1,500 motorcycles from all decades. The oldest one in the collection has a wooden chassis and wheels and is steam powered. The newest is the Motus V-4 sport tourer, or maybe the Kawasaki Ninja H2R/H2 pair. We didn’t have enough time there. We did find Deja Blue, a very faithful replica of Old Blue, and Dee got a shot of me admiring it. Dee and I are considering making the Barber Vintage Festival an annual event, even if we are not promoting the book. There are few better ways to spend time.