YB. Stories From The Lap Times

Posted May 22, 2015

I was the editor of the American Federation of Motorcyclists (AFM) newsletter, The Lap Times, for three years. It contained the usual stuff one would expect for a racing club newsletter: race results, club meeting minutes, schedules and locations of races and meetings, proposed rules changes, current class standings, etc. All the normal club stuff. We also managed to publish reports on every AMA road race National event, noting how well club members did.

lap timesWhen I assumed the role as editor I asked, no pleaded, for members to contribute. Few did, but I had a small group of regulars who would contribute articles and/or photos. Virginia Aldrich wrote some articles and penned the cartoon “Roadracer Rat,” Curt Relick did a column called “Pit Tips,” with rumors and reports he got while circulating in the pits, Bob Bakker did a column he called “Sidecar Slants” that presented the sidecar racers view of how things were going. These two columns and Roadracer Rat appeared in each issue.

There were many others who occasionally would contribute articles and/or text, too many to mention. Most of the stuff was specific to the late 1970s, but some of it is timeless. I’ve already cribbed the interview with Pat Hennon and the four articles on the history of the AFM from old issues, and here’s some more. Who knows, there might be more in the future.

 
 

HOW I DID IT
by Dan “Crash” Craddock

People have been writing in, asking about the secret of my success in the Big Time World of Motorcycle Road Racing. Well, these constant queries (both of them) have finally gotten so numerous and persistent that I am, at last, going to reveal this heretofore well kept secret. Yes, that’s right – the very clever methodology known only to Kenny, Gary, Pat, Gene, etc. and of course myself, “The Great Pumpkin,” otherwise known as “Crash Craddock” – will be revealed at last.

The principles involved here are so simple and basic that I could probably state it in one concise phrase. In fact, I think I will state it in one concise phrase, namely: “Meticulous Attention to Detail.” There. That sounds so easy I wonder why I have had such a massive amount of trouble with it.

Of course, even in a top-flight, number one, all pro road racing effort like mine there will occasionally be a minor error or slip-up in an otherwise carefully organized and perfectly executed plan. Last year’s 200 mile endurance race at Sears Point is an example of the type of problem to which we are all vunerable.

First of all I had planned brilliantly. I was going to stay concealed in the pack for the first 180 miles or so, to let the show-offs and front runners build up a false sense of security. At that point I was going to strike like the adrenaline-crazed miniature dachshund , my team mascot (I can’t afford a greyhound), pulling past then one-by-one with tremendous daring and skill. Then before they would have time to adjust, I would be safely ensconced in the lead and the race would be over. Well, it almost happened that way.

There I was, 177½ miles into the race, safely hidden way, WAY, in the back and ready to make my move. I dive through turn 11, cranked the throttle open , waved to my pit crew who had been furiously gesticulating and cheering me on for the last ten laps, and started to boogie. As I leaned the bike over in turn 3, however, it sputtered a little and died, exactly as if it were out of gas. It fact, it was out of gas.

I realized that this was what the pit crew had been waving to me about. I had assumed they were just drunk and abusive as they usually were by this time on a race day. I had simply forgotten to refuel during the 100 mile break. One little detail overlooked in an otherwise carefully organized and beautifully executed plan,. And I paid the price of a basically undeserved failure.

I remember one other time (actually I remember thousands but I don’t want this to be longer than War and Peace), when an almost certain victory was cruelly plucked from my feverish grasp by my having overlooked, once again, a minor detail. We had a new Yamaha TZ700 more-or-less race-prepped and almost ready to go, and were in the process of finishing up a couple of final, minor adjustments in the pit area at Sears Point.

A few things had come up at the last moment (namely a cute little blond from Marina del Rey), necessitating an expenditure of Time and Bodily Energies that possibly could have been applied elsewhere, like on the race bike prep, but these things will happen. Anyway, there we were, trying to locate the foot pegs for the TZ – they had, sometime during the previous week, been detached by an obviously demented person following some convoluted path of logic known only to himself and his gods.

Even more amazing of the why of their removal or the where of their present location was that no one had noticed their absence until I tried to put my feet on them in the hot pit area where we started to warm up the bike. I almost put my chin through the gas tank, which might have been all right for the streamlining but did nothing for my bicuspids, molars, canines, or wisdom teeth (yes I do have my wisdom teeth, believe it or not).

Since we had, at that point, been called to the pre-grid, I was seriously considering strapping on a couple of metal flat-track shoes and racing the world’s first catamaran water-pumper. Suddenly Greg, a part-time AFM corner worker, part-time racer, came up with a pair of passenger pegs loaned to us by some naive young spectator who owned a decrepit Bultaco Pursang. We got them on with racer’s tape and safety wire, and pushed the bike out onto the track.

Although we had been a little too late for practice, or even for the warm-up lap, I thought that the Improvising Nature of a Professional Road Racer such as myself, and of my friends who are quick with tools and other peoples bikes, had seen us through. But when the flag dropped and I started to roll, I realized that we had overlooked just one other small detail: the last course the TZ had run had been Ontario (or was it Bonneville?), which has slightly different gearing requirements than Sears Point.

I kept slipping the clutch and slipping the clutch while people all around me were accelerating and up shifting and zipping away from me with incredible ease and rapidity. Some were even shifting back down already for the right hander at the top of the hill while I was still slipping my clutch in first – all very disconcerting, even for The Great Pumpkin.

Now Sears Point is a fascinating and challenging course to compete on with everything working in a smooth harmony of man and machine. But when some perhaps normally insignificant problem, such as incorrect gearing arises, the track can become an unconquerable foe, bent on devastating you mentally, physically, and emotionally. I guess that is why the TZ and I ended up trying to climb one of the hills just off the track in the back sweepers. I probably would have made it too, with the speed I was going when I finally shifted into second, if I hadn’t hit that Bultaco.

I’ll never forget the look the fourteen –year-old kid on board was wearing when he looked up and realized that fate was throwing us and his foot pegs together again. All in all it was very, very sad and did nothing for the public relations of the AFM or of road racing in general. I was just thankful that some fourteen-year-old kids have quick reflexes and are great jumpers, of we could have had a nasty incident. And the kid did take it very well.

So we sat there at the top of that lonely hill, the Young Kid and the Hardened Pro, communing silently with the gods of motorcycle racing, perhaps wishing that we had never, ever, seen of heard of motorcycles, and perhaps crying a little. And the Young Kid asked me what it all meant, my constant effort to manage to control all the variables, not too overlook any of the many details, and to be lucky. And I told the Young Kid that I didn’t know and he handed me the rest of my fairing and I tossed what was left of his foot pegs to him as he walked off into the gathering dusk, leaving me there with that damn motorcycle.

Respectively submitted, Dan “Crash” Craddock, aka The Great Pumpkin.

 
 

An example of VA’s Roadracer Rat cartoon

RoadracerRat

 
 

AFM RACER AT THE ISLE OF MAN – a lap times interview

Isle of ManThe TT races have just finished for 2015, so I thought it is a good time to re-publish this article. This interview was in 1977 with Rich Arian, who was then the owner of Vanguard Engineering in San Rafael CA, and a strong AFM supporter. I shortened it a little from the original, taking out some irrelevant material. My questions are labeled LT and Rich’s answers are Rich.

LT: Tell me all what happened at the Isle of Man.
Rich: All what happened? (Laughs) It was a lot of fun disaster! No, it’s really great. We went over there — we built a 500cc Honda here, the one that ran at Ontario, but then we modified it per their rules.

LT: This is a production bike?
Rich: Yes, it’s a production machine to the ACU production code.

LT: I hear they’re even more relaxed than the AFM production rules.
Rich: Well, it’s different. They insist on high performance tires, you’re allowed a racing gas tank and seat, any kind of handlebars — we had clip-ons — and we had a racing fairing as well. It ends up looking not much like a production bike except the pipes that stick out. Essentially the stock exhaust system is what we ran. We cut them up and tucked them in as much as possible, that sort of thing. We had an oil cooler on the bike.

LT: What sort of program were you in that got you over there? This is like every racer’s dream. How did you pull it off?
RicYeah, I know. I’ve been thinking about this ever since I got into bikes a long time ago. I had some friends who were there who helped. One of my customers has raced over there a number of times. The bike was something I did with him. The Production Race, the way they’ve done it this year and last, is a two-rider event. It’s 377 miles – ten laps. It’s 37.75 miles per lap.

LT: So you need to trade off?
Rich: Yeah, you’re allowed to do a maximum of three laps and a minimum of two laps per turn. I stayed with a family over there on a farm on the island. The guy is absolutely an incredible TT guy. He used to ride the TT and is a hell of a supporter of it. He supplied me with a car so I could drive around and try to learn my way around. It’s really neat.

LT: What was the track like? Is it tough to learn?
Rich: It really is. They figure a good top-notch rider, if he really concentrates, in about three years he’ll have it fairly well down. That’s going back to the races three years running.

LT: How does it compare to the Sunday Morning Ride or some of the street “racing” people do around here?
Rich: Well, it’s similar in some ways, yet it’s a lot faster. Certain sections, like between Stinson and Pt. Reyes Station, are similar. But it’s a lot faster and mostly blind curves.

LT: Lots of blind curves!?
Rich: Mostly, because the track goes around the island. The track is incredible. They’ve smoothed out a lot of it; there are a couple of areas where you jump. Ballaugh Bridge it’s, um, you know — it’s indescribable, it really is. I’m going back! As far as I’m concerned it’s road racing at the ultimate. It’s really incredible. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

LT: What sort of speed do you see?
Rich: On our bike we got up to just under 130 mph. It’s flat out, a lot of it is. There’s only four sections that you get down to about 30 mph, low gear and slip the clutch sort of stuff. There’s three of four towns you go through. It’s all public roads, they close the schools and everybody comes out and marshals.

LT: What’s it like on the island during the TT?
Rich: Incredible! People are great. They love it. Everybody closes up to watch the races, to help out, whatever. It’s an honor. As you get older, say you’re what they call a corner marshal. You earn your way up to the better turns. When I finally stopped at Bungalow, at the top of the mountain, essentially, I was talking to one old guy who must have been about 70 who said he used to race years and years ago, and now he just goes out to marshal and had worked his way up to here. He’s been marshaling for the last 25 years, he’s got a good turn, and he loves it. Rain or shine, they’re always there with a hot thermos of tea for anybody who stops.

LT: What happened to your bike?
Rich: I’m not really sure. It started tightening up. It’s a very demanding track for a motorcycle. Before I crapped out, you have an uphill stretch of about two miles that’s flat-out in the sense of speed, not that it’s a straight line. There’s not many straight lines there, and some of the surfaces are very, very rough. You stand on the pegs so you don’t get yourself beat to death.

LT: Do the Manx really support the race?
Rich: Yes, they really do. You know, over here if you’re one of the top five or so riders [in the country], people come up and want to touch you, that sort of thing. Over there, you could be Joe Blow coming in last and getting lapped in the first lap, but if you’re in the race these kids still come up and want autographs. It’s really neat, the atmosphere is really nice. And you’ve never seem so many motorcycles! They say they usually get between 20 to 30 thousand motorcycle spectators for the TT. They were lined up — there’s a promenade down on Douglas — it must have been two or three miles long and they were lined up thick. All immaculate, and they’re all cafe racers. I must have seen two choppers while I was there and one of them was a 50cc bike. You can’t ride them over there with the turns, you kind of get stuck when you have to corner (laughs).

LT: Quite a switch from Daytona, I guess.
Rich: It really was. They’re all cafe bikes, there’s British, Japanese, German, Italian bikes — you’ve never seen so many Laverda threes in your life! I told Unmacht [a Laverda three cylinder owner in Marin] that and he almost turned green. Over there they are really common and everybody loves them.

LT: It sounds like you had a great time.
Rich: Oh, it was super. It really was.

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