20th Annual Corsa Motoclassica Report

Tod Rafferty
by Tod Rafferty

Vintage Racers vs. Wind (and Oil) at Willow Springs

“Fun on Old Wheels” is the motto of AHRMA (American Historic Motorcycle Racing Association), and fun was being had at the 20th-anniversary Corsa Motoclassica last weekend at Willow Springs International Raceway, despite the traditional crosswinds at the high-desert track. Veterans of Willow are more or less accustomed to the steady sandblasting, while some of the younger folks huddled over their gearing options, cursed the wind, and wondered why they weren’t home watching Supercross.

Yoshi Hosaka of the Garage Company in Inglewood, CA established the annual gathering 20 years ago, and has watched it grow incrementally.

This year’s event drew quite a few of the old hands – Marty Dickerson (88), Tony Murphy, Frank Scurria, Gil Vaillancourt, Virgil Elings, Walt Fulton, Fred Mork, Dave Roper – a Who’s Who of Back Then. The average age is about 55, which pegs all-around moto-head Thad Wolff as the median member. (And now likely the youngest member of the Trailblazers Hall of Fame).

Gil Vaillancourt (left) and Thad Wolff consider strategies for the latter’s ride on the former’s Norton Manx in the 500 Premier class.
Ed Milich explains his tardiness to tech scrutineer Cal Lewis, who is basically the ringmaster for the whole circus.

After adding more ballast to the EZ-Up covers, activities got underway with morning practice, rider’s meeting and demonstration laps on some of the older and/or least common/most valuable machines on hand. In the latter category was Virgil Elings’ ex-Mike Hailwood Honda RC 181 GP bike from the mid-Sixties. The 500cc Four just needed some exercise, as did Virgil in his tattered Team Buzzard leathers.

The Honda was a bit reluctant to clean out, after a long rest and maybe tired valve guides. But it made a real good noise for all to hear.

The Garage Company-sponsored motorcycle show began filling up quickly during practice. Like AHRMA itself, the show is a mixed bag – restored vintage bikes, customs, cafe racers, bobbers, real racers, etc. Not a concours, in other words, but a show rewarding equal parts originality, workmanship and style.

Best of Show went to the 1938 Norton International owned by Bob Ives.
Peter Hipp’s 1965 Honda 305 Scrambler.
The 1953 Ariel Square Four bobber, from Frank Rositani, is a crowd favorite.
The 1962 Tohatsu 50 was an award winner.
The 1971 factory BSA Triple, for which owner Roland Pagan posted documentation of authenticity as Dick Mann’s Daytona-winning bike.
The tidy Aermacchi production racer was awarded Best something, but the reporter lost his notes.

AHRMA runs a class spectrum of old and new – antiques, ’50s and ’60s racers, ’70s street bikes, a Honda 160 class, modern Twins, a new Triumph spec class, and electric bikes. Most classes are combined, using phased starts and a view to relative closing speeds, rider skills and overall safety. Most of the time it works smoothly.

The Beverly Hills Ducati issues a door-closing move in Turn 4.
It’s always good to see and hear old Boxers on the track.
Thad Wolff also rides in the Triumph Thruxton Cup series.
Ed Milich rides a couple fast Guzzis and a quick Ducati Darmah.
Not often you see a woman roadracing a Harley flathead, even in Louisiana
Evenly matched old Honda Twins provide much of the racing excitement.

The races did go smoothly until the 500 Premier/Sound of Singles event at mid-afternoon. A railbird with binoculars watched the booming old Nortons, BSAs, Velocettes and Matchlesses snake up the hill to Turn 4, an up-downhill buttonhook called the Omega, and down into 5. “OH SHIT!” he snapped. “Wolff is down … Roper’s down…”

Then the SoS class launched, and the acronym couldn’t have been more accurate. Wendy Newton had taken the holeshot, and she saw the waving yellow flags and debris in turn 5 and slowed. Seeing no more flags on the downside of 6, she came back up to speed, hit more oil and high-sided. She came down hard, and was apparently struck by another rider.

Check out last year’s AHRMA Moto Corsa Classica

Investigation revealed a strip of oil stretching for more than half the track, deposited there by a bike near the back on the warm-up lap which had been out only to scrub in tires. The machine came into the pits, wasn’t checked on the pit lane, and the spillage went unnoticed. The race started and the first indication of the danger came when Wolff crashed. A series of things had to go exactly wrong, and they did. Serious questions are being asked.

Wendy Newton had a good start on her Yamaha 450, a former Roland Sands supermoto project bike modified for roadracing.
Newton’s crash resulted in four broken ribs, a vertebrae, partially collapsed lung and broken wrist.

The collective carnage put racing on hold for more than an hour, as volunteers deployed to spread oil-soak on the track and set to sweeping. Following the delay, the remaining races ran without incident.

Sunday’s races were much more pleasant, with milder winds, warmer temperatures and oil remaining in their proper containers. Thad Wolff overcame a sore hand from his Saturday crash to take the win in the 500 Premier class on a Norton Manx.

The AHRMA program also included a nod to the future by including the eMotoRacing class for electrically powered bikes. The eMotoRacing was established by avid racer and solar power advocate, Arthur Kowitz. The zero-emissions bikes demonstrate the excitement of eSuperbike technology. Too bad for Kowitz that he was unable to run the custom, carbon fiber streamliner bodywork for his heavily massaged Brammo due to high winds, as well as an intermittent electrical gremlin that spoiled his chances of winning during the weekend.

Author’s note: Murmurs have been heard among even the faithful of possibly moving the annual vintage races to a different location. Willow Springs is within easy reach for most of southern California, and is a fast and semi-technical track. But it’s not much fun in dodgy weather conditions. Chuckawalla has been mentioned, and Buttonwillow, the proximity of which would shorten the ensuing haul to Sonoma Raceway for the AHRMA event the following weekend. While vintage enthusiasts clearly hope to see the Corsa Motoclassica continue into its third decade, perhaps the time has come for a change of venue. Just sayin’.

Scroll down for more photos and captions. For complete race results, go to www.ahrma.org.

In honor of the occasion, Elings squeezed into his more-than-20-year-old leathers. An accomplishment in itself.
Rusty Lowry displays both color-matched leathers and two suspension sponsors on his Harley Sprint.
Walt Fulton from the Streetmasters school rode a Harley/Aermacchi Sprint to a race win.
The ex-Hailwood 500cc Grand Prix Honda was widely ogled.
AHRMA tech inspection, where past, present and future come together. Ralph Wessell of Florida on his Indian had the only entry in the Class C Handshift class.
Tod Rafferty
Tod Rafferty

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  • Jerrett Martin Jerrett Martin on May 01, 2015

    That's not Dick Manns 1971 Daytona winner. Dick rode the new lowboy style frame. It was sorta last minute switch. The bike at Willow was a neat bike and did have a factory motor, but it is not the Daytona bike. The motor from Willow was sent to Daytona and intended for Mann but he used the new lowboy bike. The bike displayed at Willow had many inaccuracies. The biggest being thag the bike from Willow had a highboy tank. As mentioned its a neat bike, but it's not the one. It's unfortunate that it is being paraded around as the real deal. The actual bike belongs to a private collector in Texas. Last year I escorted the bike to Dick Manns residence and spent a day with him and the bike. Daytona tech sheets verify the Texas bike as authentic and it still has the stickers exactly as they were photographed in the 1971 winners circle. See the images below for verification.


    Also there is not a Thruxton Cup race in AHRMA. Its the Thruxton transatlantic challenge.

    • Tod Rafferty Tod Rafferty on May 04, 2015

      Yes, this one does appear to have a North lowboy frame, and Daytona engine apparently certified by Doug Hele. But the tank, wheels and a few other bits are not original. It's a bitsa.

  • Huskyfrk Huskyfrk on May 01, 2015

    how is Mz. newton doing ?? full recovery we hope ??