“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.
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).
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 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.
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 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.
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.