This weekend, a motorcycle race was held on Catalina Island for the first time in 52 years. We charged Hell For Leather reader Bryan “Woody” Wood with documenting his experience racing a 1971 Husqvarna CR400 there. So here you go, the 2010 Catalina Grand Prix from a racer’s perspective. — Ed.
Though the Catalina Grand Prix doesn't go right through the center of town like it used to, the locals were gracious enough to allow each race a parade lap. I shot some really horrid video, that I urge you not to watch after eating because it will make you dizzy and you might loose you lunch. Best I can recall we went out from the pits behind the fire station, down Tremont to Sumner to Crescent to Metropole to Country Club and across the golf course to the hills.
The best seats in the house, if you’re a drinking man, are the stools at The Locker Room at 124 Sumner street, across from The Hotel Atwater (not to be confused with the Atwater Hotel). I don't think there is another bar in this country where you can watch Travis Pastrana ride a warm up lap right outside the front door. Also, right next to the door are a dozen or so black and white pictures from the 1950s era races. Plus the have a great selection of beers on tap at reasonable prices. This is about as close to a locals bar as it gets on the island, so there are always old timers willing to bend your ear and tell you how things used to be.
Great picture attached of an old timer pointing out a Triumph like the one he used to ride, maybe he used to be a Checker too?
Here's some pictures of the Yamaha John Stein from Motorcyclist magazine rode. He finished first in class, but then he was the only one in that class. He was turning respectable lap time though, considering what he was riding. His best lap time of 11:43 would have put him mid pack with the much newer Vintage and Classic classes. Yoshi (from Garage Company) seems to have fallen off the radar as far as the scoring goes, I think he was just out there having fun. He was wearing a helmet more suited to polo than motocross.
Of course a possible once in a lifetime event like the revival of a race last held 52 years ago pulls all the wierdos and freaks out of the woodwork, as well as the old times who want to give it one more go.
Dimitri Coste had to be one of the most stylish guys there with his white leather/checkered outfit and #132 custom Triumph with tri-tone metal flake seat. I only have this on picture, and he's stepping on my bald head as I work on my bike.
Dave Terrell seemed to think this was a perfect chance to reenact "The Great Escape" and prove Steve could have done it on an actual German bike with his camo painted #201 50s era BMW.
One gentleman (Johnny Johnson), seems to have ridden his #203 XL500 dual sport to the race directly from the pages of Dr. Seuss.
These two guys brought flat track bikes, the red one looking like a Trackmaster frame to me, and the other one being a #196 1929 hard tail Harley ridden by the same Homer Knapp who rode it inthe 1950s races.
John Munns #188 seems to have taken an CL160 ex-roadracer and done nothing but fit it with knobbies to make the starting grid. I'll say one thing about this bike, I hope he didn't land any jumps nose first cause thet tank looks hard.
My #169 1971 Husqvarna CR400 nose to nose with #198 60s Triumph of Michael Butler Sr. which is nice enough to bolt the lights back on and sell, and claim "low hours, only ridden on weekends".
The #129 Cheney framed Victor of Vincent Balch.
The Maico framed #144 Honda XL350 of John Rice, who came out of retirement only to be beaten by Preston Petty one more time. Petty was riding a DKW, but I never got close enough to get a picture of it, or have hime sign my Preston Petty brand toolbox/number plate.
#200 was another Triumph twin that I would call too nice for the dirt, this one belonging to John Langford. I also saw a Yamaha R5 based flat track bike out there with twin right hand expansion chambers so low there's no way he was jumping it, but didn't get a photo.
And lastly the Bultaco of Robbie Cadwallader, so clean (even after the race), it looked brand new.
Well, there was a big pro race, and Travis Pastrana was out there having a blast riding a KTM, I think. In the end though he DNF’d, just like your truly, but he sure looked better doing it. He had bike trouble after an hour or so of hard riding. The real story was Kurt Casselli who, until his bike broke on lap 5, was turning times 30 seconds faster than anyone else on the course. The eventual winner Kendall Norman never got within 20 seconds of Kurt's fastest time. With their average laps being about 9 minutes, thats a whole lot of time. But as the say, to finish first, first you must finish, and the blistering pace Kurt was running was too hard on his bike leading to a blown motor.
So, how did my race go? Well I was going great right until it went bad. Getting there was no problem. There was no traffic on the way to Long Beach for a change, and we ended up hanging out at the bar waiting for the boat with Travis Pastrana and Roland Sand's replacement rider (Roland was home sick as a dog). Friends of mine were waiting at the island having gotten in that morning, and they called with updates as to what was going on there. They even stood in line and had my bike gassed up for me when I got there.
Since everything in Avalon is less than a 1/4 mile from everything else, we dropped our bags at the hotel on the way to check-in and got there by quarter after 8pm. My friends assured me check-in was opened till 9pm, well the door was opened, but that's it. I had hung loose and rolled with the lack of details coming from the organizer since May, but now I was pissed. Unfortunately there was no one there to get mad at. I hear Travis Pastrana had the same problem. We both had to go back at 6am.
Next came getting the bike running and ridable. Everything had to be shipped with no gas in the tank and I hadn't touched the bike in more than a week. The last thing I had done was try to fix the drippy petcock with a little RTV goo on top of the rubber gasket. It worked, it stopped leaking, but it stopped everything else too. Never have I worked so fast to rebuild and clean a petcock as I did with one finger stopping the flow from the tank and a race to ride in less than a hour. Once we had gas, the bike should run, and it did eventually. There is lots of money to be made selling Mikuni carb kits at huge markups to guys with old bikes in the pits before races. One more time like this one, and I'm going to pull an Elvis and put a bullet in this bike.
The parade lap turned out to be the best part of the whole weekend for me. If I had managed to finish the race I wouldn't be saying that, but I never even finished the first lap. I had a great start and was better than mid-pack in my class for the first few corners. But then came a steep uphill, and by the time I got there 2 or 3 guys were already blocking parts of it. I made my best effort, but the bike was on its way to going over backwards before I made the top of the hill. I got the bike down with help from course workers, but it was hot and wet and it never fired up again. I even changed plugs with the tools in my handy Preston Petty toolbox/numberplate, but by then I had worn myself out kicking and three attempts at push starting it had failed. My best guess is that the bike had gotten so hot running before the start the flywheel had loosened up, and the points had gone out of time.
Things could be worse. In 2006 at the last Elsinore Grand Prix that ran down main street I had about a dozen friends in from as far away as Connecticut, and my soon to be in-laws watching and I broke the connecting rod clean in half. Same bike, same motor by the way. This isn't typically the case with my 1971 Husqvarna CR400. Typically it runs like the piece of agricultural equipment it is: "Reliable as a tractor, Strong as a tractor, Plows like a tractor". I think that was their slogan at the time.
I'm beginning to see an inverse relationship to how good it looks and how well it runs, which led me to coin these rules, which I may have stolen somewhat from Super Hunky and I apologize:
Here follow Woody's Rules of racing dirt bikes:
1) If it works, don't mess with it, just ride it.
2) If it breaks, it will always be at the biggest race of the year when all your friends are in from Oshkosh to see you race.
3) If its a once in a lifetime event, forget it, the bike is going to break in the least fixable/predictable way.
4) If you do make sure everything is working perfecty and unbreakable before the race, you will crash 100% of the time.
5) None of these apply to pros who have a staff to take care of these things.
6) When all else fail apply cold beer directly to the mouth.