Racing Barber Motorsports Park

Challenge and reward, part 1.

This was the GPz’s status six days and 2,160 miles from Barber before practice started. Serious delays for valve-train parts put us months behind but Xceldyne saved the day with custom valve-spring retainers.Ienatsch Collection

Carry Andrew called from Van Nuys, California. “Nick, the GPz is not done but it’s close. Needs tires, bellypan, number plates, steering damper; it’s got no seat. Should I bring it or finish it over the winter?”

The Barber Motorsports Park AHRMA Finals were four days away. I'd won at Barber on this GPz (owned by my brother-from-a-different-mother Chris Carr) four years ago when Stewart Anderson was fettling it, and I was eager for a reunion. The little Kawasaki had been forlornly gathering dust since then, so Chris sent it to Carry's Hyper-Cycle shop for a refresh. Lengthy delays for cylinder-head parts put the project late.

Racing’s primary challenge is time, and not just lap times.

leading at AHRMA
Running in front in 2015… Could we repeat four years later?Ienatsch Collection

“How does it run?” I asked over the phone.

“I don’t know, didn’t have time to start it. Got the plug wires for the Dyna ignition this morning. What do you want to do?”

Standing in the Yamaha booth at the AIMExpo, I could imagine Carry and his wife Nancy poised next to the Hyper-Cycle truck, ready for the not-so-glamorous drive to Birmingham, Alabama. My schedule involved flying to Philadelphia and driving to Barber with Brian Smith to race the Speedwerks NSR250 and, I hoped, Chris’ GPz. I didn’t know what to say, and then Carry helped me with the decision.

“I’ve got Patty coming to help in the pits.” That meant that former Suzuka 8-Hour mechanic Patrick Cunliff’s talented hands would be in the mix.

“Bring it,” I answered.

The Thursday before the Barber Motorsports Park AHRMA Finals began. Pictures tell this story best:

clean cyclinder
For all of us playing the vintage game, Millennium Technologies should be on speed dial. Carry had Millennium replace the steel sleeves with aluminum, Nikasil them, and then bore the cases to better fit the cylinder’s new sleeves.Ienatsch Collection
crank and gearset
Tom Malaska did the transmission work for Hyper-Cycle, as well as the valve/spring/retainer head work. Those are Carrillo rods that will hold Wiseco pistons. This engine came from the salvage yard in pieces—welcome to vintage racing.Ienatsch Collection
Patrick Cunliff
Patrick Cunliff (Patty) hit the ground running and it was a full sprint—in a 99-degree record-setting heat wave. It was miserable, but Patty didn’t seem to notice. We assessed the GPz, and he dove in. Priority number one was to get it running. Number two was to get it through technical inspection. Somewhere on that priority list was a few laps of practice, but time was against us again because the GPz had been sitting idle for too long.Ienatsch Collection
Speedwerks Honda
The Speedwerks Honda was the usual Steve Long perfection, and we sweated through two practices on Thursday to relearn Barber and meet (but hopefully not “meet”) the new pavement. It was smooth and grippy, prompting me to wish for significantly stiffer suspension on the street-based NSR built to Supersport rules. More on the NSR next week, this week is all about the challenge the GPz presented because the Honda was perfect after Brian slapped on some numbers.Ienatsch Collection
Patty has an uncanny ability to get a lot done in a very short time. In the first two hours he had safety-wired the entire bike, including the grips, bled the brakes, glued wires in harnesses, and tightened all the nuts and bolts (the oil cooler was about to fall off and the Keihin carbs had finger-tight bolts) of a bike that has been sitting for four years.Ienatsch Collection
Wiring harness
Gluing wires into harnesses comes from experience, and Patty’s experience includes time with the Corona Extra Suzuki AMA team run by Landers Sevier here in America and at the Suzuka 8-Hour. Guys like this just “know things,” and racing the GPz was beginning to look possible.Ienatsch Collection
My primitive mechanical skills were tasked to change tires on the Dymag wheels so Derek of Stickboy Racing levered on some gorgeous Dunlop slicks, the usual 120-17 up front and a 160-17 rear. This is the same Dunlop compound that has served me so well on the Spondon TZ750 and it's been nice to finally get a consistently excellent tire under all my racebikes.Ienatsch Collection
treaded Dunlop GPAs
If you race on a 160 rear, Dunlop has multiple compounds for you to try. But guess what? Slicks aren’t legal in Vintage Middleweight Superbike so I pulled the wheels again and Derek traded me treaded Dunlop GPAs for the slicks. Did I mention it was 99 degrees? Note to self: Read the rule book and save a gallon of sweat!Ienatsch Collection
brake pads
Patty’s intense inspection uncovered that the rear Brembo brake pads were worn down to the metal. Miles at Street & Competition didn’t have any, Chris Jensen had some at home in New Jersey, and most people had never even seen them. So we decided I’d just leave that rear brake pedal alone—while trying to beat guys like Paul Germain and Harry Vanderlinden…Ienatsch Collection
Dyna 2000 ignition
With tires in place and fuel in the tank, it was time to fire the Kawi for the first time. Carry set the timing on the new Dyna 2000 ignition that he had grafted onto the GPz to allow adjustable rev limiters and timing choices (with valuable help from Dyna’s Larry Nelson), working with Dyna coils and plug wires.Ienatsch Collection
ignition installed
After the ignition was buttoned up, the plan was to get two or three heat cycles into it, then change the oil and retorque the cylinder head before the bike spun its first lap. Good plan, no? Remember this adage: “Man plans, and God laughs.”Ienatsch Collection
Carey with GPz
Moments after the GPz lit, oil blew out the countershaft cover in a beautiful stream of lubrication.Ienatsch Collection
Countershaft leak
For some reason, this cover was different than the cover on the old engine, so a not-so-quick cover change by Carry Andrew cured the problem as time ticked along and the sun punished us all.Ienatsch Collection
carb fix
Oil issue fixed—let’s try this again. Ignition on, gas on. Wait! Fuel was streaming from the crossover tube between carbs three and four. “Yeah, those O-rings don’t like to sit dry,” Patty mused.Ienatsch Collection
carb crossover
Carry and Patty broke the carbs apart and massaged the dry O-rings and added ThreeBond sealant because nobody in the paddock had the thin, tiny pieces of rubber, even Miles at Street & Competition—and that’s sayin’ something. Now the carbs had to sit so the bond would dry. Meanwhile, Thursday was grinding on, and our practice chances were dwindling.Ienatsch Collection
Speaking of Street & Comp, I was visiting Miles a lot on Thursday. He had front number plates that Patty massaged to fit the rear of the bike. I could have mounted them, but they wouldn’t have been perfectly even like Patty’s. Some guys have a touch and I felt like a fingerless piano player next to Cunliff’s mastery. That’s Nancy Andrew in the 99-degree background; she’s a mental-health counselor and that helps explain her 40-year-plus marriage to Carry!Ienatsch Collection
Meanwhile, Patty reported that the shift lever could not be flipped to race pattern and since I’ve already crashed two bikes in my life due to shifting the wrong way, I decided to change the NSR to street-shift also. Small brains crave simplicity; all of Thursday night I muttered, “Speed. Up shift. Slow. Down shift.” I had visions of going the wrong way and either crashing in front of 700 racers at Barber or lunching Carry’s engine. The Dyna 2000’s rev limiter won’t work when you mechanically over-rev the engine by shifting the wrong way.Ienatsch Collection

Friday at Barber was more of the same fire drill:

You can, and should, ridicule me for the rest of my life over this bellypan. Necessity is the mother of “it’s all we got,” and this galvanized oval bucket was the best solution Chris Jensen could find on a Birmingham Thursday night.Ienatsch Collection
bucket bellypan
Patty mounted the galvanized bucket bellypan with a hose clamp around the headers and zip-ties along the sides; the GPz blushed in embarrassment.Ienatsch Collection
chopping a bucket
Patty, when you were standing on the Suzuka 8 Hour podium, did you ever see yourself chopping a bucket that’s so hot you can barely touch it in the shade? Cunliff’s got an infectious never-say-die attitude, highlighted at Suzuka when he bribed guards at the paddock with two cases of Corona beer so he could break into the team garage at midnight (by somehow climbing into the ceiling and removing tiles to lower himself into the work space) to brainstorm a problem that had the Corona GSX-R on three cylinders. He solved the riddle, fixed it, and Gobert and Furgeson finished on the podium. He brought that determination to Barber.Ienatsch Collection
seat foam
Another lost part was the seat, tailsection, and number plate assembly we ran four years ago. Chris Carr yanked the seat off one of his streetbikes and ran it down to Birmingham. It was stock and hugely non-race-ready—similar to the feeling of playing a guitar with winter mittens on. I untacked the seat cover, measured, marked, and then Brian helped me carve.Ienatsch Collection
Dale Quarterley
Dale Quarterley magically appeared with an electric carving knife and ran me through the procedure of cutting the foam down to size. “Not bad,” Quarterley said, the highest praise I’ve ever received for mechanical work.Ienatsch Collection
GPz ready to race
Final call for our final (and only) practice came Friday afternoon, and Carry fired the bike. It was 99 degrees, humid as Hades, and there were no practices scheduled for Saturday or Sunday—racing only. It had been a mad two days of frantic problem solving, but we were rolling. I vowed to be a good boy and break in Carry's engine right by varying the revs and not asking for too much in terms of load and rpm. We still didn't have a steering damper, and the beer bucket dragged in right-handers, but by the fourth lap I was smiling. And then, in an instant, bam! The GPz's weekend was over.Ienatsch Collection

Part 2 next Tuesday!