IENATSCH TUESDAY: Vintage Fever

One Month Away from the Phillip Island AMCN Classic…with a nasty Yamaha TZ750 waiting.

Phillip Island crowd at AMCN Classic

The on-track action at the Classic is the most hotly contested vintage racing in the world, but off the track has huge pull too. Tens of thousands of fans attend the Phillip Island race where carburetors outnumber fuel-injection units, the timing of points is still a necessity and truing spoked wheels remains an annual maintenance task. (Kids: sorry for all the confusing new words, maybe you can Google them!) (Photo by AMCN)

The AMCN Island Classic vintage race was the brainchild of the late Ken Wootten, the editor of Australian Motorcycle News (AMCN) circa 1994. Wootten’s vintage-racing idea morphed into a team-challenge event, pitting Australia, England, New Zealand…and then America and now Ireland…against each other in four six-lap races around Phillip Island. Next month I will join the American team at the 23rd AMCN Island Classic on a 1983 Spondon TZ750 built by Rusty Bigley and Kurt Lentz.

Gulp.

Rules designate bikes from the 1972 to 1984, but calling these vintage bikes is akin to NASCAR calling its vehicles stock cars. Harris frames are the popular choice of the English team that won last year's Classic, and they fill them with Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki and Kawasaki four-stroke mills. Engine size must be 350 to 1300cc, and if you've tuned into the Classic news you know how trick these machines are: hand-built, stuffed with modern goodies and tuned to the ultimate edge. Two-stroke machines also compete but the lion's share of attention and podiums has gone to the big four-stroke Formula One bikes.

What have I gotten myself into?

Eight riders from each country will be chosen to race in the Classic, two races on Saturday January 22, 2016, and two on Sunday. We also get to enter other non-team-challenge classes, plus practice on Thursday. Our American team is heavy on the two-stroke TZ750 weaponry, with a handful of CMR-chassied four-strokes along plus a pair of hot Kawasaki KZ Superbikes. The 40 bikes that will start the Classic are horsepower-stuffed machines that want to be wheelying, sliding, bucking and generally misbehaving in manly ways. It would be tempting to think a light, well-ridden 600cc four-stroke or TZ350 two-stroke could play giant-slayer in this company but that temptation would be ignoring two things: Phillip Island's big-speed layout and the insane talent racing in the Classic.

Phillip Island 2015 winning English Team

2015 winners: England! (Photo by AMCN)

For instance, Jeremy McWilliams is heading the English team. Isle of Man legend John McGuinness rides with him too…Aussies have Marty Craggill coming out of retirement to join the likes of Cam Donald…New Zealand is captained by Graeme Crosby! They've been out testing all year, according to reports, and exemplify the vintage fever that has been across the pond for decades. It would be akin to us having AMA national Superbike champions on the US team. Duhamel and Russell, you ready?

Jeremy McWilliams race action

Jeremy McWilliams at speed. (Photo by AMCN)

The US team faces several difficulties that must be overcome with money because just getting bodies and bikes around the world is an expensive undertaking. The sanctioning body helps the American team with shipping costs but airfare, entries, tires, fuel, room and board all add up.

TZ750  cylinders
TZ750 cylinders

These are cool pics in a few ways. First, the “Carruthers OW#1” note on the TZ cylinders reflects Rusty Bigley’s deep TZ reach, and second, the “after” shot shows the quality of Millenium’s work. Millenium stepped up to help our small team get these 30-year-old bikes right. (Photos by Millenium Technologies)

My portion of the team consists of me, Rusty Bigley, Kurt Lentz and our Spondon TZ750. Bigley and Lentz went to the Classic in 2013 and this year we approached N2 Trackdays and StoneCastle Financial for help defraying the costs; both groups have a strong interest in vintage racing here in the US with AHRMA and stepped up to help us get to the Classic. Thanks for the much-needed help!

Rusty Bigley, Kurt Lentz, and Nick Ienatsch

Smart journalism says, “Shoot the photos first,” and this shot is 30 minutes after I met Rusty Bigley (right) and Kurt Lenz at NJMP last September, about an hour before I realized my dream of riding a prepped TZ750 on the racetrack. (Photo by thesbimage.com)

Scott Rehl with luxeStar VIP is not only racing another TZ750 at the Island, but helped with our travel plans and offers packages to anyone interested in attending this amazing event; e-mail him at scott@luxeStarVIP.com for more information. If you can make it, plan on hanging at the American team garage because we are going to have a blast…one last-minute entry was my friend Carry Andrew on his trick Z1, making the upcoming weekend even better.

TZ750-in-crate

Crated and ready! Bigley’s friend Larry Dinmore drove it from Pennsylvania to the port in San Francisco, where it was loaded in a container and then onto a ship. The AMCN Classic organizers help with the shipping and we’ll meet the Yamaha at Phillip Island next month. (Photo by Rusty Bigley)

The growing interest in vintage racing here may spur future sponsorship to allow some big-name American riders to try the Classic, but right now it’s a group of enthusiasts who love the bikes and Classic so much that they just can’t miss it (please see their thoughts below). I am among that group: a bunch of “age appropriate” club and national racers who are driven to ride cool bikes at one of the most iconic tracks in the world. If one word describes what ties the American team together, it’s “passion”; we have no young “hired guns” on our team, we are made up of riders who love these bikes and love racing.  If American does well, we’ll do it with guys like Pat Mooney leading the charge. He’s 55.

Cam Donald leading Shawn Giles race action

Two more superstars: Cam Donald leads Shawn Giles last year. This is no vintage parade. (Photo by AMCN)

I’m 54 and my vintage racing fever is simple: I graduated high school in 1979, smack-center in the heyday of the Classic’s chosen era. In 1980 my dad bought the new GS1100 four-valver and I bought a GS1000S, commonly referred to as the Wes Cooley Replica. We rode those Suzukis all over the western states and I cross-countried to visit my grandparents in Wisconsin twice. Our Suzuki interest came from my dad’s previous bike, a GT750 (he had a Kawasaki H2 before that) and that ownership began at State Sport Suzuki in Salt Lake City and a salesman name Kenny Archibald.

1980 Wes Cooley Replica motorcycle

My ’80 “Cooley” on the bench this summer getting some love.

Archibald hooked us on Suzukis and my first motorcycle was a TM125 bought in 1976 (I was too short for the new RM model). Archibald made buying Suzukis a lot of fun (and he did the first rolling burnout we’d ever seen) and my dad and I owned seven of them between 1976 and 1984; I worked at this Suzuki dealership as gofer and then flat-rate service mechanic from 1981 to 1984, when I left for California and my new job at Motorcyclist Magazine. I still have a Cooley and the same 1000 Katana. The MCN Classic designates motorcycles from 1972 to 1984, the years of some fond motorcycle memories for me, years of riding innocence with my dad, Marvin Jensen, Mitch Boehm and the Salt Lake Motorcycle Club.

I’ve written about my first encounter with a TZ750 earlier in this blog, and mentioned that I own a street-legal 1979 model that has been features in a lot of magazines. And now all that seems to serve as navigational arrows pointing me to Rusty Bigley, his Spondon TZ and the Phillip Island AMCN Classic. It combines the challenge of racing with the passion I have for this big stroker, plus the memories of the ‘80s bikes that shaped my life. I’m honored and thankful to be on the American team with special thanks to TZ wizard Rusty Bigley.

The American Team:

Dave Crussell wheelying race action

Dave Crussell, USA Team Captain: TZ750…seen here wheelying at the Isle of Man. _"I started racing in the late nineties. Being a "mature" rider at that point I started racing older machines. In 2000 I took my first trip to Phillip Island to campaign my 1972 Kawasaki H2R. This was pre-International Challenge but still a huge event. I loved the people and the intense competition. Since then I have been back to the Classic six times, three with the US team and three times on my own.

After riding a variety of ’70s Kawasakis from 250-1000cc bikes, I discovered the TZ750. And after winning many US titles, I went searching for more competition, internationally. I am riding a TZ750 at the Classic, the same bike I ride at the Isle of Man Manx, and I am looking forward to competing with the best riders riding the best classic motorcycles in the world.”_ -Dave Crussell

Pat Mooney race action

Pat Mooney: Harris FJ1340…seen here on a Manx Norton "I'm racing a Harris Replica Yamaha FJ1200 and I'm 55 years old. For me racing the event should be fun. Learning a new, world class race track and being up against guys who have out-qualified Valentino Rossi on that same track will be a huge challenge! Representing the USA against such a deep field of talent will be fun too. Going down there will give me a chance to see a part of the world I've never been to as well. Plus, I like racing old shit :)." -Pat Mooney

Nick Ienatsch race action

Nick Ienatsch: Spondon TZ750, Rusty Bigley and Kurt Lentz tuning, seen here at New Jersey Motorsports Park, AHRMA 2015. "We're taking the same bike we raced in New Jersey as described in an earlier blog, but will be fitting race tires from Michelin or Pirelli, rather than the track-day/street Dunlop Q3s we used at NJMP.  Our Classic effort is helped by support from N2 Trackdays, StoneCastle Financial, Millenium Technologies (cylinder refresh and plating), Jon Cornwell of Ohlins and Gustaffson for the custom shorter windscreens. Rusty and Kurt have gone through the bike and I'm beyond excited to ride it again. I regard the TZ750, and this one in particular, as the ultimate roadracing motorcycle, or possibly the second-most ultimate to a 500GP machine. No nannies, no extra weight, no silly extra piston strokes ☺. I'm hoping to race it with Rusty in AHRMA again next year, and can't wait to ride Phillip Island…though I must admit to being nervous about learning to ride upside down! (Southern Hemisphere humor)" –Nick Ienatsch

Dave Moss race action

Dave Moss: Yamaha TZ750, seen here on Dave Crussell's TZ. "I watched Sheene and Roberts and listened in awe as the TZ750s screamed by. Now I get to race the same bike at the iconic Phillip Island track as a member of Team USA. This isn't a bucket list thing, it is an honor. On top of that I get to help riders with set-up and help them get the best out of their bikes at this incredible event. If anyone was to ask me how I felt about all of this, I'd reply (as a racer) with one word: 'Impatient!'." -Dave Moss  www.feelthetrack.com

Scott Rehl race action

Scott Rehl: TZ750 "My personal take is that racing my TZ750F is giving me the opportunity to race a motorcycle from a period when privateers had a close to 50/50 chance of beating the factory guys, on bikes as close to factory as you could get out of the box, on tracks around the country and the world, when racing was not a commercialized entertainment package. It was a man's sport, with major risks, demanding absolute concentration and skill, built on an almost undefinable quality that all racers contained individually and shared collectively.

This trip for me is a chance to not only race on a signature famous track, but to race against heroes and friends in a community that values speed, effort, and camaraderie. Make no mistake - we're going to run for the top of the box - but to say we were there and we gave our best, is a big part of it for me.

All that - and I love two-strokes! Let's smoke it up!!! -Scott Rehl

Ralph Hudson: XR69 Replica "_At age 64, I'm fully aware that the road ahead is shorter than the path behind. I feel the need to do as much as I can, while I still can! I

have been to Phillip Island twice before with bikes that were not very

competitive. This time, I have an XR-69 replica that I hope will keep me

in the hunt for at least some mid-pack finishes. The track is world-class and Aussies are terrific hosts! The camaraderie shared with racers from all over the planet makes for a

truly incredible experience!”_ -Ralph Hudson

Roger Baker ready for race action

(Photo by Phillip Veneris)

Roger Baker…Roger will be racing Ed Hazaar's KZ1000. Hazaar is seen here at last year's Classic. "What racer would miss a chance to ride Phillip Island?!?!?! And racing old bikes makes it even better because we actually have to RIDE them! No mamby pamby traction control or auto blippers. These are real carbureted bikes like God and nature intended!!! As for cool stuff, when I first tried to go racing at Willow Springs in February 1993 I made it through new racers school and got my novice license only to crash in someone else's oil on the warm up lap of what would have been my first race. So as fate would have it, my very first race turned out to be the AMA "Team Challenge" at Laguna Seca which was open to novice racers and which if I recall correctly was also contested by a Mr. Nick Ienatsch. P.S. I currently race a TZ 250 and am looking forward to riding Ed's KZ." -Roger Baker

Carry Andrew and his motorcycle

Carry Andrew: Kawasaki Z1 "In racing, everything changes constantly. New challenges lead to new experiences. Having an opportunity to experience something new related to racing is the kind of excitement most of us dream of. For me this is an orientation trip, to understand and evaluate while having a grand time spinning laps on a storied racetrack. Where it leads from here, only time will tell. For this trip, I am riding a 1970s KZ1000 that I raced in anger when I was young. By chance this motorcycle made its way back to my stable. After revamping the old horse, I look forward to some meaningful excitement while racing it at a faraway place. I am grateful for the opportunity." -Carry Andrew

Joe Weir's Suzuki XR69

Joe Weir: Suzuki XR69  "My name is Daniel "Joe" Weir, everyone calls me Joe, hence the company name Joe's Signs. I currently live in Portland Oregon. This will be my third time going out to PI because I'm completely addicted to racing and there is no track better than Phillip Island! I am racing a CMR- framed XR69 powered by a 1260cc Suzuki GS based motor. I also ride a 1982 Katana 1000 at AHRMA in the Superbike Heavyweight class. Looking forward to racing and representing Team USA!" –Joe Weir

David Hirsch headshot

David Hirsch: Suzuki GS750ES (ex-Ottis Lance AMA Superbike) The people at the Island Classic are fantastic and the Phillip Island circuit is great! I enjoy rebuilding and riding the bikes I raced when they were new. Designing and building a part is much more satisfying than bolting something on that someone else built. As far as the crazy part goes; I come by it naturally. I'm 55 years old, retired from law enforcement. -David Hirsch

Eirik Nielsen XR69 Replica

Eirik Nielsen: XR69 Replica with Yamaha FJ1280

Mike Studzinsky: Yamaha TZ750

Lorraine Crussell: Honda CR160 bored to 200cc

Brian Filo: Replacement Rider, raced in Classic last year

Jon Munns: CMR FJ1200

Dave Crussell race action from Isle of Man

Final Great Shot: Team USA Captain Dave Crussell at speed at the Isle of Man…on a Yamaha TZ750!

Vintage fever is building…

More Next Tuesday!

Photo #1

Phillip Island crowd at AMCN.AMCN Photo

Photo #2

Winning English Team.AMCN Photo

Photo #3

Jeremy McWilliams.AMCN Photo

Photo #4

TZ750 cylinders.Millenium Technologies Photo

Photo #5

TZ750 cylinders.Millenium Technologies Photo

Photo #6

Kurt Lenz, Nick Ienatsch, and Rusty Bigley. (left to right)thesbimage.com Photo

Photo #7

TZ750 crated.Rusty Bigley Photo

Photo #8

Cam Donald leading Shawn Giles.AMCN Photo

Photo #9

?80 ?Cooley? on the bench.

Photo #10

Dave Crussell.

Photo #11

Pat Mooney.

Photo #12

Nick Ienatsch.

Photo #13

Dave Moss.

Photo #14

Scott Rehl.

Photo #15

Roger Baker.Phillip Veneris

Photo #16

Carry Andrew.

Photo #17

Joe Weir's XR69.

Photo #18

David Hirsch.

Photo #19

Eirik Nielsen's XR69.

Photo #20

Dave Crussell at Isle of Man.