E-Tech / Bob Hartman

Senior Citizens Racing Vintage Motorcycles

The senior class, part 1

We asked for racers 65 years old and older to meet us at the podium and 23 riders arrived. Some were busy prepping bikes, some didn’t hear the call (old-age joke in there somewhere…), and many of them participated in our questionnaire. Over the next few weeks we’ll post their insights on racing as a senior citizen, living the saying “Old Racers Rule.”

The motorcycle industry worries about the aging demographics of riders in America, but in the world of vintage motorcycle racing we celebrate it.

At the New Jersey AHRMA round Cycle World had the chance to assemble this "Classic cass" of racers. We asked some questions about racing "beyond your youth," believing that the best advice comes from riders who have been there and done that.

My hope is that the information our senior class provides will motivate you to come back to racing or begin racing with one of America’s vintage groups. Apparently, aging happens no matter what you do or how hard you try to stop it, so this group of people has decided that time spent roadracing is a great way to age. You will find inspiration and information in their words.

There is no other group of people I’d rather spend time with and you’ll see why below. They are funny, insightful, experienced, sincere, friendly, and often heroic.

My Advice

I’m a very, very young man, a mere 57 years old, so my advice doesn’t carry the gravitas of the senior class, but here it is: My father-in-law Gene Perez was extremely active and athletic all his life but had the ability to realign his priorities as he aged. He wouldn’t quit a sport, he would simply reset his goals to real-world expectations. I have borrowed his perspective.

For instance, if I can’t be happy until winning the MotoAmerica Superbike national championship, then it’s possible that I will never be happy again and might injure myself on the way to this arguably unrealistic goal. But, following Gene’s advice, if I decide that I’m happy vintage racing as long as I’m enjoying the ride, then motorcycle racing continues to bring me joy.

The definition of joy differs for everyone, but for this gang of racers it means competing on bikes they love against people whose company they enjoy. Racing with AHRMA mixes the social nature of enthusiastic motorcyclists, the precision of machinery, and the athleticism of physical and mental competition.

Risk, Expense, Commitment

There is risk, expense and commitment in this endeavor. Here is how the over-65-year-old racers at the NJMP AHRMA round put these three issues in perspective. This is Part 1.

John Rickard
John Rickard, Age: 71, #864Etech

I race a Norton Dominator 88 in Classic 60s and a Yamaha SR500 in Vintage Superbike Lightweight. I have two SR500s: an A bike for racing and a B bike for experimenting, backup, and rain; the B bike has narrower treaded 18-inch tires. I like the Yamaha two-valve, single-cylinder engine—it’s my poor man’s Matchless G50. The Norton was raced in the 1960s and has some minor provenance. This is the Norton’s first year back on the track and it has had problems. It should be dependable by AHRMA’s Talladega race and should race at Barber.

This is my 22 year of racing—all continuous. All racing has been vintage road racing. I’ve been riding for much longer though there was a break for raising children. Right now I just occasionally cruise on the street, in part because all I have are old bikes and they aren’t always roadworthy or trustworthy. Also the high-traffic areas are busier than ever.

In 2017, I raced at six AHRMA race meetings only with the SR500. Because of hurricanes shortening race programs at Talladega and Barber, I only ran 10 races. This year I have attended five meetings so far and plan to be at two more, running the SR in two races per meeting. The Norton has tried to race and should be successful at two meetings, four races.

Fitness is important for my endurance and to move on the bike for an entire race. I’m generally active, my weight is correct for my height, I ride a road bicycle regularly (which I really enjoy and is good exercise). I live in a rural area so I have low-traffic roads for riding. I seem to be getting kinda stiff because I’m not getting my boot toes back on the pegs like I could last year. I may raise the saddle some more. Diet-wise, I try to eat mostly vegetables and fruit. It is hard to not put on weight at my age.

Developing and preparing my own racebikes is 50 percent of my enjoyment of racing. I make my toys and I play with my toys. I can build a fast, reliable vintage racebike but it may take a couple of development seasons. I have retired a bike that I enjoyed for many seasons, even through occasional problems. It is a Triton, a Norton featherbed frame with a 650 Triumph engine that I destroked to 500cc. It was a good racebike.

Beating riders who corner faster than me is my biggest challenge. Usually these are younger riders and they move up out of my classes to faster classes, thus solving my problem. Slower cornering is typical for older racers.

Converting an old streetbike to a racebike can be expensive, but not as expensive as buying a new bike and converting it to a racebike. However, developing a vintage bike takes lots of my man-hours. Practice day and racing entries are hundreds of dollars per race meeting, but I’m over 70 so I get one race per day free. I travel in a small motorhome and camp at the track. For long trips we often camp at Walmarts. I pull an enclosed single-axle trailer.

My significant other is my crew chief! I don’t want to go to the track without her. We regularly talk to folks who aren’t familiar with motorcycle roadracing and they think it is a dumb thing to do. Our pitch is that roadracing is much safer than riding on the street because there are no inattentive drivers, no cars pulling out, no opposing traffic, and flag persons give advance warning of problems. That logic seems to work.

A broken collarbone and concussion in 1999 are my worst crashing injuries. Important lesson: I have crashed more in practice than in races, so I always try to not be careless. First laps require extra concentration as does the first session on the track.

The answer to why I race has changed over the years. Early, it was to get my homemade racebike to finish races and finish higher in the standings. Once I got some wins, I put pressure on myself to win more. AHRMA racers have become my peer group so I love the social aspect of racing. I have a vague goal of not trying to race so hard while enjoying my friends and the travel more. The travel that results from far-away races is a serendipitous benefit.

My best advice: Unless you are a former star pro racer, be humble because your competitors on the track are faster than you think. I'm no longer compelled to always race hard. It's self-preservation of an old man.

I don’t know if I recognize any particular mistakes Senior racers make because putting on leathers and a helmet removes senior-ness; I can’t recognize the seniors!

In my opinion, slower lap time classes are the best to start in. The modern bike classes are fast and discouraging. Classes with few entries will attract those who think getting an award is the point. Racing with others is really fun, so classes with plenty of entries seem to me to be good choices.

Marrae Haynes
Marrae Haynes, Age: 69, #8REtech

I’ve been riding for 57 years, racing something for most of that time. I took some time off for raising my kids—five of them by myself.

Right now I’m racing four classes with AHRMA: Lost Era Sidecar, GP500, GP350, and E-Supersport. Last year I competed in all 10 events which have two race days each, and ran two or three classes per event; this year is about the same.

I believe physical fitness and diet are incredibly important. I work out daily, go to kung fu classes three times a week and eat natural/organic balanced foods. I’d say the biggest challenges for most seniors are the simple challenges of aging and accepting changing limitations.

On the money side: I race 10 weekends and, with the support I’ve organized, my out-of-pocket costs average about $800 to $1,000 per weekend including transportation (cheap!). I’ve spent $50,000 on the bikes over the last 10 years, including the cost of four racebikes. I prepare my own bikes.

My family approves and thinks it’s great. My wife, Mabel Chin, is the monkey on our sidecar rig and we’ve won several championships together.

My worst crash was a 100-plus mph get-off in Battle of the Twins at Road America in 2014 due to a failed oil line. I only ended up with a separated acromioclavicular joint in my shoulder and four dislocated ribs due to good protective riding gear.

I roadrace because it requires passion, total presence, total commitment, and total focus. Nothing else exists in those moments. Not to mention it’s a ton of fun.

I’d advise new or returning racers to start with a bike that makes sense for their goals and budget, and take a school from a racing organization or recognized school. Pay attention in class, leverage what you learn, and always race the track. Wait for the corners to come to you.

If I see one mistake older riders make, it’s getting in over their heads on a bike that is too big/fast for their current skill set. I encourage them to race in a class that makes sense, floats their boat, and they are comfortable in. Realize that unless you’re extremely experienced and talented to begin with, you will probably get your rear end handed to you for a good portion of the first year.

Remember to always have fun and enjoy the people you spend time on the track and in the paddock with—it’s a great family always willing to welcome new members.

Frank Camillieri
Frank Camillieri, Age: 79, #33FEtech

I started racing in 1963 with AAMRR and the AMA, retired in 1973, and then started vintage racing in 1997. My current stable of racebikes includes a Yamaha YA6, Yamaha TA125, Yamaha AT2, Yamaha RD200, Yamaha SRX6, Honda MT125, Yamaha TD1C, TD2, Can-Am 400, but they are not all race ready! I race in the ULSV, LWSV, F125, Singles, GP200, and SuperMasters classes.

I do all my own preparation and make most of the frames. I compete in six or seven race weekends per year. I should exercise but I don’t—I only eat food.

Keeping up with the young racers is my biggest challenge. My annual racing budget is probably in the thousands, I don’t keep track of it. I’m old enough that I don’t pay entry fees for the USCRA and get one race free with AHRMA.

My wife loves going to the races with me, my son races, and the rest of the family just thinks I'm a crazy old guy.

I dislocated my shoulder once and have been knocked out a few times. I don’t seem to break bones. The mistake I see senior riders make is not giving up racing when they start to be a hazard on the track. I recommend new or returning riders to try the smaller classes like F125 or GP200.

I sometimes ask myself why I race when I’m hot and tired, but then I have a good race and forget about retiring. My advice to those interested in roadracing: Don’t be afraid to try it. Roadracing is more fun than an old guy should be allowed to have.

Herb Haigh
Herb Haigh, Age: 69, #75HEtech

I have been street riding and touring since well before I had a license, and although I have been involved in professional racing teams for some time, this is my first season as racer.

I race a 1972 BMW R75/5 in Novice Historic Production Heavyweight. I’ve raced 10 races so far this year with plans for six more. I don’t do much prep work on my bike other than check the tire pressure and change the fluids.

I have had a bike continuously since being a teenager, with occasional time-outs for medical attention when I survived and the bike didn’t. My wife made me promise that this is a one-year exception from medical attention. There have been times in my life when riding has been sparse but far more years of 15,000 annual miles or more, including a lot of miles in Europe where I keep a bike.

On the physical fitness side, I try to maintain the same weight and measurements I had in high school. As much as I dislike it, I lap swim regularly for exercise. My legs won’t run anymore. Wondering how long my legs will last is my biggest challenge. Since this is just my first season I am still making all the rookie mistakes with things like body position.

Having just begun, I am budgeting $15,000 a year on a five-year aggregate which is based on 10 race/track weekends (two race days per weekend) a year minimum. I’m not sure what a crash does to my plans, but I have the best wife and pit mom in racing. She writes checks liberally, rolls the bike in and out of the pit, and helps pack up. The rest of my family thinks it’s “cool” and concedes that they are partially responsible for the fact that I lost my mind a long time ago. I don’t talk about my roadracing a lot with the grandchildren, which is appreciated by their parents.

My worst injury is a sprained wrist at GingerMan Raceway.

I didn’t know what riding motorcycles was about until I rode on a track, unrestrained by the rules of the road and experiencing total focus. Just the bike and me, in total focus doing the best we can as one. There’s nothing like it anywhere.

Be prepared to have the time of your life while uncharacteristically spending large sums of money. Don’t think about anything but Novice Production for at least two years. Think about custom leathers. Spend money on suspension and brakes before the engine, if not all at once.

Remember that happiness is not around the corner. It is the corner.

Bill Doran
Bill Doran, Age: 66, #56Etech

I’ve been riding for over 50 years and haven’t missed a season of racing in the last 25 years. I run two bikes, a 1995 Honda RS125 in Sound of Singles 3 and a 1968 Yamaha YCS1 in 200GP. This year I’ll compete in 14 races, the same as last year. I do every bit of bike prep in-house, including crankshaft and engine rebuilds, with my Doghouse Racing teammates.

Physical fitness is critical for me; at 66 years old my workouts allow me to race competitively and my racing keeps me motivated to work out. I enjoy cycling, dirt bike riding, kayaking, and yoga. My diet has been primarily plant-based for over 40 years.

The costs and time away from home are the biggest challenges for me. I spend about $4,000 to $5,000 per season for seven weekends. My wife approves because she knows how much roadracing means to me.

My worst injury has been both collarbones, years apart. That leads me to my advice for new or returning racers: Take your time getting up to speed. Crashing really does suck!

I see some senior riders start with a bike with too much horsepower for their skill level. I’d point them toward 200GP on the vintage side and Sound of Singles 3 on the modern side; race a bike that fits your body size. Race a bike you love and can afford to maintain.

I love the sport and nothing else makes me feel so alive. It keeps me focused, motivated and in shape.

David Roper
David Roper, Age: 70, #7Etech

I’m currently racing a ’70 Harley-Davidson ERTT 350 Sprint, ’67 H-D CRTT 250 Sprint, and a ’46 Moto Guzzi Dondolino in four different AHRMA classes: Class C Foot Shift; 200 GP, 350GP, and 500 Premier. I started riding bikes in 1967 and first raced on Memorial Day weekend in 1972. I don’t think I’ve gone more than five months without racing since then. I’ve been fortunate to race and win all over the world, including the Isle of Man.

For fitness, I don’t do any routine workout but try to incorporate exercise into my life. For instance, I do my shopping by bicycle and take the stairs rather than the elevator. While not a strict vegetarian, I eat a largely plant-based diet with the occasional fish or fowl, almost never red meat. I avoid sugar and salt. I don’t know how important this is for racing, but it suits me.

I largely prepare my own bikes but get others to do specialist work; I also race other people’s bikes prepared by them. The biggest challenge I have: It seems that someone keeps raising the footrests every year!

How much I spend racing per year is a subject I try to avoid, but it has to be in the $10,000 order of magnitude.

Those I’m close to generally approve of my racing, with some apprehension. My parents are both gone, but they thought that I was nuts while feeling somewhat proud.

My potentially worst crash was at the Isle of Man where I dislocated my right hip and fractured my left fibula. It could have easily been fatal, but instead I won a race at Steamboat Springs, Colorado, 17 days later! My most recent crash at Willow Springs International Raceway on April 29 has been one of the longest to recover; my right knee still causes me a fair amount of pain.

I do this because I love pushing the envelope, testing myself, chasing things. There’s a social aspect to it also, seeing friends around the country and the world who I don’t see otherwise.

I encourage others to do it! Take a school. Sneak up on it. My advice is to prepare a bike that you love, and then find a class it fits in. Don’t worry about having the trickiest, most competitive bike initially, but rather the most reliable. Get track time and improve your skills, then you’ll have a better idea what your bike needs to be more competitive.

It’s not for everyone, and if you can’t afford to crash, you shouldn’t be out there. However, it’s very challenging, lots of fun, and very rewarding.

Michael Dixon
Michael Dixon, age: 66, #839Etech

I race a highly modified 1970 Yamaha XS650 that I prepare myself in AHRMA’s 750 Sportsman class. I’ve been riding for 54 years and roadracing with AHRMA for 20 years; I try to make as many races as possible, usually about 10 or 12 per year.

I believe physical fitness is critical in racing, and if you’re an older rider, it is even more important. Diet is my major hurdle; as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize that eating like a 20-year-old won’t get me into my leathers! Eating sensibly is very important.

My biggest challenge after racing so many years is fighting complacency. I have to remind myself to concentrate and focus on riding the best race I can.

Getting started, building a bike, buying good leathers, helmet, and gloves can be very expensive. I started in a pair of used leathers, a bike that was given to me, and then gradually built the bike and improved my riding gear as I could afford it. I couldn’t even guess what my annual budget is. My worst racing injury was broken ribs and a collarbone.

I am very fortunate to have an understanding wife who goes to all of the races with me and supports my racing 100 percent. The rest of my family doesn’t necessarily understand the racing addiction but realize it’s a big part of who I am.

Roadracing keeps me young. There is no experience I’ve ever had that compares to sitting on the starting line with 10 or 12 competitors who you know and trust waiting for the green flag—it’s an amazing feeling.

I sometimes see new racers being impatient and wanting to be competitive before they are ready. My advice is to start simple and ease into it… Get your riding style and equipment in order and then gradually increase your speed on the track until you are competitive. Race what you know and what you can afford… Start out simple until you find what you like. Have fun!

More next Tuesday!