Mr. Tate goes for vintage glory, Part 2

Words: Larry Tate   Photos: Richard Seck


The VRRA paddock at Shannonville – grass-roots racing.

Photo: Betty Boop

I often wonder after competing in a race weekend, that if I had known ahead of time everything that would happen that weekend, would I still have gone out? I guess not knowing must be one of the draws …

Regular readers of CMG’s racing stories will no doubt realize that in CMG terms, “glory” is mostly reflected in how little hospital time is required and how small the repair costs are. I’m more than pleased to report that after my first weekend as a CMG-sponsored rider (hey, I got two new Arais, which is nothing to sneeze at!) there was no hospital time and minimal expenses – a couple of hundred bucks out of my pocket is remarkably cheap for a racing weekend.

The weekend in question was the Quinte TT at Shannonville – the first of four events put on by the Vintage Road Racing Association (VRRA), which runs races featuring bikes from the dawn of time up to 1989. Fortunately for the riders, said bikes are split into “periods” or age groups, so that in general the machines compete against relatively equivalent hardware.

If it were a horse, it’d be champing at the bit.

Photo: Dave Leonty

For the 2006 season, I’m running my “50-yard paint job special” (AKA a 1977 Suzuki GS550) in the Period 3 Lightweight class. Period 3 mostly meaning up to 1982 models, with Lightweight class referring to the bike displacement … not my riding talent (although certainly the latter could be reasonably argued).

An added draw to the Quinte round of the series – for more than 30 teams this year – is the Friday endurance race. In the past few years there have been two-hour endurance contests at Quinte and Mosport, the original and still biggest VRRA event, but this year for reasons far too complex to deal with here the Quinte endurance round stands alone.


My “contract” with CMG Racing Support is strictly to run the Period 3 Lightweight class, but endurance racing is my favourite style, so it was a no brainer to try and assemble a team and pit crew and have a go at additional CMG glory in Friday’s endurance.

Overflowing catch tank = bad.

Photo: Betty Boop

My friend and competitor Ian McQueen of Wolf BMW again agreed to make up the team, while Ms. Betty Boop of Soapbox fame and a couple of other friends served as pit crew. We had all we needed and we were off.

Friday began with a school for new racers in the morning, followed by the endurance race after lunch. While the classroom session of the school was happening, Ian and I ran a few laps to make sure the “50-yard paint job special” bike was running okay after Ian’s work on it over the winter.

Standing around looking at the bike (a big part of any race weekend), someone noticed with horror a small pool of oil beside the rear wheel. God, the CMG curse has struck already!

A quick trace reveals oil on the swingarm, dripping down from the catch tank. Turns out that this is overflowing because there’s too much oil in the engine. Right, let’s drain the oil and refill the right amount. Unfortunately, that involves removing the 1,927-piece (approximately) exhaust system and spring retainers …

This mission was finally accomplished, and I just got one run on it before the race started, all was well. Phew.


A 1:26s lap, judging by the posture.

Photo: Flair Photo

Our strategy (since the bike is so inherently slow) was to run an hour non-stop, then a quick fuel-up and rider change for the second hour. Since Ian was still recovering from six broken ribs received only a few weeks prior, he elected to start the race, allowing him to come in early if the pain was too much.

As it turned out, he held up well and simply due to not stopping we were well up in our class order after his hour. Fuel stop perfect, and off I go.

An endurance race is really different from a sprint, in that you are passing and being passed all the time and have no idea what that means for position since you don’t know who’s pitted when.

Normally I just find a pace and keep at it (especially when you’re feeling exhausted after, oh, 10 minutes or so into an hour’s stint), but occasionally you get inspired. In my case, an EX500 and an RZ350 passed me, and for some reason I got blood in my eye and went back after them. Eventually, I re-passed the RZ for good after several exchanges, and almost caught the EX, but he pulled off for a pit-stop before I got the chance.

Should’ve topped up that battery too.

Photo: Betty Boop

The time sheets say I was doing some 1.26 lap times during that chase. Before and after that I was doing 1.30-1.32s. So why couldn’t I do 1.26s all the time? Sigh … that was the fastest I went all weekend. I have to say it was also by far the closest I came to crashing, with the bike bouncing madly about enough to seriously un-nerve me more than once. Which unto itself was a good reason for not sustaining the 1.26s for too long. Good time to thank Avon for the tires – superb grip in the face of ham-fisted abuse.

Toward the end, I must admit to sneaking a look at the time clock occasionally, hoping things were almost over. When I finally saw 1.55 (an hour and 55 minutes), I figured all right, only three laps left! This was too much for the CMG curse and about 40 seconds later, at the T-10 hairpin (which is the farthest point from civilization on the track) the fecking bike quits like somebody had turned off the ignition …

My race was done.

Eventually the crew showed up with a truck, and when we got it back, quickly diagnosed a dead (7.5 V) battery. ARGH. Thank you, total loss ignition system and an old Canadian Tire battery (hey, it came with the bike). Oh well, nothing that can’t be fixed with a new Yuasa battery.

The next morning you can imagine our hilarity in discovering that we were not only listed as the winners of the P3 Lightweight Class, but the first P3 bike in all classes! We also managed a fourth overall in a field of 20 bikes (11 of which were faster and newer P4 bikes) … and we didn’t even finish.

Now is that a CMG moment, or what?


I can almost smell the fear.

Photo: Betty Boop

Having had about as much running around to figure out the track as required during the endurance race, I opted to skip the morning’s practice and cadge a ride on a sidecar, before the start of my heat race. The opportunity had been offered by rig-rider Paul Whittaker, with wife/monkey Marie standing aside for the moment and giving me some basic instructions with a knowing smile on her face.

Paul took me around for a couple of laps, but after one and a half my arms were cramping up worse than after an hour on the solo machine. Got a LOT more respect for sidecar monkeys now, I’ll tell you.

Relieved to be back on two wheels, I get a terrible start on the heat race when new-for-2006 starter (and Soapbox regular, TK-4), bastid that he is, surprises the hell out of me with an instant flag and I’m about two rows back where I should be going into the first corner.

I bang and push as hard as I can for five laps, when a red flag comes out to stop the race for an accident that needs cleaning up, but ends up with the race being called.


I think I’ll check that brake lever just one more time …

Photo: Betty Boop

Come Sunday we’re cheered when Soapbox regular Shaman joins us, he now being the moderately proud owner of Mr. Seck’s old ZX-7R. It’s Shaman’s first motorcycle race, and he does the CMG curse proud when his front brake lever falls off on the fastest straight on the circuit, wondering what that thump on his leg was until he reached for the lever at the corner …

Miraculously he made it around okay, thereby cleverly avoiding the hospital part of the CMG tradition. Hey, the marshals even found the lever, and Ian had a spare bolt that fit, so he was okay to race later. LOTS of silicone on that nut, I noticed … He tells me the CMG stickers will be off before he comes out again.

Come the finals I’m dismayed to see that I’m gridded right beside ridiculously fast teen Chris Van Tilborg on his CBX250 Honda single (sigh). Although I get a pretty good start (in spite of Mr. TK-4’s fast flagging), Chris jams the CBX inside me on the second corner, and three turns later proceeds to out-drag my GS550 down the back straight.

Toasted by a 250 (far left) – Chris and his CBX blow Larry and the GS away.

Photo: Betty Boop

I’m starting to wonder how come I have a seriously tired engine in spite of the new rings, ignition, and exhaust valves? Although I have some fun with a couple of RZs, I only manage 12th out of 25 entries.

Somewhat dejected, I’m tempted to hit the beer cooler in favour of having a go in my “bump” class – the Period 4 F3 or Lightweight group – for fun. Then I notice that my friend (and another Soapbox regular) Malcolm Lake is gridded just ahead of me. I’m thinking that if I can get a really good launch I can seriously get in Mal’s way for a couple of corners and just p*ss him off enough to have some fun.

Sadly, TK-4’s flag came even faster than before and I missed my chance to jump in front of Malcolm. Corners 1 and 2 were seriously fun – honestly, I love the crowded track you get after a sprint start, don’t ask me why – but I couldn’t quite jam Malcolm without being seriously rude to somebody else, so prudence and politeness (don’t snicker) took over and I just got in line.

Ian indicates where he thinks the power is escaping.

Photo: Betty Boop

I stayed within a few bike lengths of Malcolm for a couple of laps, then he got his head together (as he told me later, he was in la-la land for the first little while) and started using his relatively new EX500 horsepower to pull away. At that point I looked back and saw nobody, looked ahead and saw nobody, so I just rode around until … another red flag!

I set a personal best this weekend by being out for every single red flag. Nothing quite like being seriously overheated, sitting on a parked overheating motorcycle in 30-degree temps, wearing full race gear, wondering if the thing will restart. Or if you’ll even have the jam left to push it hard enough to try. Ah well.

Last year at Quinte – on the same bike – I won the heat race and just missed third in the final by half a bike length. Granted, that was on the short and much tighter Nelson Circuit, while this year the track chosen was the longer and faster Pro Circuit (you don’t even want to think about the club politics involved in this one), which, for my bike at least, sucked.

Larry demonstrates his punishing between-races fitness regime.

Photo: Betty Boop

Although the little bugger handles and stops quite well, it simply doesn’t have the horsepower. Might be good at Ste-Eustache (the next stop on the calendar), and it should be okay at North Bay in September. As for Mosport … I did well there last year, but it was raining and that tends to even things out. In the dry, I’m toast.

It’s looking like a tough year in Period 3 Lightweight.

Anybody got a race-prepped 1982 GPz550 they don’t need for the summer? Or better yet, just 20 horsepower I can borrow? Sigh.


Avon Tires for the sticky rubber.

Wolf BMW for their bike preparation services.

Flair Photo for their fine photos.

Betty Boop and Dave Leonty for all t’other fine photos.

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