That’s Racing

Challenge and reward, part 2.

Could the GPz be resurrected to make Saturday’s race after blowing up during Friday practice?Etech

From last week's Part 1: Racing Barber Motorsports Park: "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."_

Cresting the hill two corners from the finish line, and the explosion of unmuffled exhaust sounded like a rifle shot. My hope of a dislodged header pipe was ruined the same instant I thought of it because exhaust gases were exiting the head gasket of the number one cylinder. A massively blown head gasket let blue smoke stream out the left side of the engine.

Carry confirmed that the weekend was over for the GPz. “The head gasket is special, it comes with the Wiseco kit, and I only had one.”

blown gasket
Five days later, a teardown at Hyper-Cycle shows a blown gasket due to a variety of issues in the brand-new engine, but mainly the fact that we did not retorque the head after the initial heat cycle because things were crazy! We were so busy putting out fires that our basic plan of an oil change and cylinder-head retorque never happened in our pell-mell rush to fire the bike and make the final practice.Carry Andrew

Nancy Andrew, Carry’s wife, had been intrigued by our small team’s (Carry, Patrick Cunliff, and me) easy-going attitude during a trying Thursday and Friday, and remarked on it again after the head gasket blew. “Why aren’t you guys throwing things?” she asked.

Carry and Patty felt bad for me, but there wasn’t an iota of anger in my soul because I have crashed and blown up my tuner’s motorcycles, and they have always supported me 100 percent. No, I haven’t crashed Carry’s bikes (yet?), but Steve Biganski, Steve Johnson, Doug Meyer, and Dave Schlosser (and Freddie Spencer, when I crashed at his school as an instructor!) have all shown me grace when I’ve failed, and those men’s lessons have stuck with me. This is motorcycle racing and s—t will happen. I’ve never seen cussing and jumping around help the situation. When Carry tried to apologize, I told him, “No need to apologize. It’s made a fun story, and we knew going in that the GPz was going to be a challenge. It’s gonna be good someday, but not this weekend.”

Carry Sends A Text

The paddock had quieted down after Friday final practice; Brian Smith and I were getting dinner ready when Carry sent a text. “Hey, what about the old engine I brought to return to Chris? What’s its story?”

The GPz had been passed around since I last raced it four years ago, and I had no idea. I texted owner Chris Carr and he wrote back, “It’s the same one you raced here… It’s pretty tired but probably runs.”

I forward Chris’ words to Carry and he wrote back, “Should we swap motors?”

Man, what do you say to that? Ask Patty to continue to work his ass off in 95-degree heat swapping in an engine that we know almost nothing about? On race day? With no practice available? What about the clutch? Against a strong field of experienced racers on bikes that had probably run all weekend?

“It’s up to you and Patty,” was my answer.

My experience has rarely seen something like this work because there are a few hundred things that could go wrong with the most careful engine change in an air-conditioned shop with all the time in the world; when you factor in the unknown status of the engine sitting forlornly in the back of Carry's box van and the time constraints and the 95-degree weather, it would be stupid to even try it. But then again, it's similar to what we all say when contemplating a lottery ticket purchase. Somebody's gotta win it.

Saturday Is Race Day

Only Brian knew how much I wanted Carry and Patty to swap in the old engine. I'm not a big fan of practicing, but Lord, do I love to race. I love sitting on the paddock hill at Barber waiting for the green flag to wave the racers onto the course, rolling downhill and bumping the bike to life, and turning onto the hot pit to start the warm-up lap that leads to emotions, tests, and trials that can't be duplicated anywhere else. I love first turns! I would get this experience on the Speedwerks' Honda NSR250 and said a little prayer that the GPz would give me another chance to live life fully, but I was loathe to ask Patty for even more effort.

At 7:30 on Saturday morning I cautiously peered around our neighbor Bob Robbins’s motorhome toward Carry’s pit area and realized I was literally holding my breath. The sight was like a dream, a happy dream, because Patty already had the tank and seat off the GPz and work was in progress. You know puppies that can’t wag their tail fast enough? That was me! Joy filled me, and it was the joy of being in the fight, of hitting back, of trying to make things go our way.

I’ve written before about my racing priorities: I don’t need to win, but I’d sure like to be in the hunt. Patty’s storied history displays this spirit, and he was on the gas, knowing that the Vintage Middleweight Superbike was the 12th race and would probably run at about 3 p.m. Time was not the issue, but wasted time was. Would this engine even run? Hold its oil? Actually allow the GPz to roll along the pavement?

Pictures tell the rest of the weekend’s story.

air-cooled GPz
The air-cooled GPz is relatively easy to swap but it was amazing how quickly Patty and Carry got the old engine into the frame. It was like a good NASCAR pit stop: Hands working quickly with no missed steps. “What can I do to help?” asked the journalist. “Stand back a little bit more.”Nick Ienatsch
Dyna 2000 ignition
Patty had time and worked methodically, swapping over the Dyna 2000 ignition and the trans cover behind the countershaft sprocket, plus the breather cover on top of the valve cover.Nick Ienatsch
two-stroke Speedwerks NSR
An ironic twist: The two-stroke Speedwerks NSR needed almost no attention all weekend, while the four-stroke caused all the trouble! What’s the lesson? Could be that the four-stroke engine design is just an inefficient fad, doomed to failure in the face of light, powerful, efficient, fuel-injected two-stroke engines? Smiley face here!Etech
NSR’s fuel petcock
On Thursday morning the NSR’s fuel petcock was seeping so Steve Long next-day-aired a petcock to Barber that arrived at 9:30 Friday morning. That’s how Long works—not only has he won championships as a rider, but he knows what it takes to succeed as a builder and tuner.Nick Ienatsch
makeshift fluid dam
Remember how a fuel leak caused my massive highside on the TZ750 at NJMP two months ago? Well, I remember it! Before the replacement petcock arrived, Chris Jensen gave me a sheet of fluid-absorbing towel and we safety-wired this makeshift fluid dam into the rear edge of the NSR’s fairing in case the dripping petcock became a streaming faucet in Thursday’s last practice.Ienatsch Collection
No gearing or jetting changes needed on the NSR; Long had it right from the first bump-off. The Speedwerks owner couldn’t make the trip to Barber due to a “minor issue” (his house burned down and only heroic acts got this NSR and a few other amazing bikes pushed out of harm’s way in the nick of time). Long trusted me and Brian with his NSR, complete with tire warmers, tools, sprockets, premix oil, and a fuel-oil mixing bottle. Our constant attention on the GPz made me doubly grateful for Long’s race-weekend expertise.Etech
Shorai lithium-ion battery
Carry drastically improved the GPz’s ignition system in the rebuild and it was my first racebike with a Shorai lithium-ion battery that utilizes its own charger. This Shorai/Dyna electrical combination was flawless and saved us approximately 12 pounds—most of it with the Shorai, but also because the Dyna allowed Carry to remove the entire stock wiring harness. Even little things like the Dyna rotor are lighter, and “lighter spinning parts are always better,” says Carry Andrew, an AMA national champion tuner.Nick Ienatsch
Dale Quarterley
Dale Quarterley has caught the AHRMA bug and beat Joe Weir and Carry Andrew in Vintage Heavyweight Superbike’s Saturday race, running very quickly on his sleeper GPz1100. In a magical AHRMA time-warp story, Dale won the Superbike championship at Loudon back in 1983 on this model of bike, tuned and co-owned by Alan Veracka, who was in Dale’s pits at Barber.Nick Ienatsch
FJ1200-powered CMR-chassied bike
Dale Quarterley and Carry Andrew have teamed to compete on the American team in the Phillip Island Classic, bringing this FJ1200-powered CMR-chassied bike to test at Barber. Dale claims to have aches and pains, but you wouldn’t know it when you see him ride. Still fast, still fun to be around.Nick Ienatsch
GPz smoking
With an hour before the race, the GPz fired to life with a smoke-filled snarl but wouldn’t stay lit. Nor would it stop smoking. Carry and Patty pulled the carbs and bench-synchronized them, finding that the slides were so high that the idle screw wasn’t even touching. Back on the still-smoking bike the engine stumbled Carry and then me around the paddock. It was running and responding better to throttle, but was it raceable? “First call, race 12.” Time to find out!Nick Ienatsch
I’m thankful when practice and talking and waiting and watching are finally over and it’s time to race. This is the magic, the time when all distractions are forced out of our minds by minor and major actions in the future moments, balancing risk and reward while searching for more speed and flaws in ourselves and our competition. Practice is like going to a prom with your sister; racing is like a prom with the head cheerleader who thinks you’re cute. The old engine held together, smoking through both Saturday and Sunday races. Third place on Saturday, second on Sunday. It accelerated, but not very hard!Etech
Smith and I entered eight races and came home with seven podium awards, another great adventure, and, of course, more good reasons to enjoy a celebratory vodka and a few delicious donuts.Nick Ienatsch
Carry Andrew and Patrick Cunliff with Nick
Carry Andrew (center) and especially Patrick Cunliff put in huge efforts over the weekend and against all odds gave me a GPz to race. Chris Carr has collected seven AHRMA #1 plates on this Kawasaki (including eight wins in 10 races in 2011) and it’s an honor to put a leg over it—huge thanks to CC for the friendship, support, and opportunity. The bike returned to California with Carry, and this winter should see it thoroughly finished in typical Hyper-Cycle perfection. The NSR went back to Speedwerks for a winter rebuild.Etech
gpz turning
Upon returning to California, Carry did a dyno pull on the engine that Patty swapped into the bike on Saturday morning and it put out 60.4 horses, a bit on the low side for the class but still enough to fight for the podium.Etech
Andre Hauer and Harry Vanderlinden with Nick
Both these guys (Andre Hauer in red shirt, Harry Vanderlinden in the middle) were my competitors in Vintage Middleweight Superbike, but were the first to offer help and parts during our GPz struggles. That’s AHRMA. Average age of racers in this picture is 62 years old. Calling all elder ladies and gentlemen: AHRMA is a great place for us to race.Nick Ienatsch Collection
George Barber
We end this story with a heartfelt, “We love you George Barber!” Just visit his track and you will agree.Etech

**More next Tuesday! **