2008 Motogiro America

Famous Italian event makes it to America

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Bikes make the start at Cannery Row in the inaugural Motogiro America.

Peter Cervantes

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Translations from Italian can be tricky. This holds true for industrial design, food, fashion and motorcycle events. In the heyday of Italy’s Motogiro — the mid-1950s — the whole country turned out for the festive long-distance races. Local priests blessed the motorcycles and riders, and favorite riders and marques were cheered on by the crowds along the road.

Americans are generally more skeptical of such carryings-on — although vintage motorcycles, like sidecars, do tend to elicit smiles from most of the observing populace. But California’s central coast, site of the inaugural Motogiro America, presented quite a mix of logistical issues. In June, wildfires had closed roads planned as routes for two days of the five-day rally. California State Highway 1, the gemstone of coastal macadam from Carmel to Lucia, was out; as was Carmel Valley Road, slated for the return route from Paso Robles to Monterey.

Ducati’s Bologna-based marketing maven David Gross had enlisted Burt Richmond and Diane Fitzgerald, aka Lotus Tours of Chicago, to get the inaugural Motogiro America off the line. They enlisted some local talent, namely Patrick Hayes and California Giro chief Harley Welch, to chart the course, and Bob Coy to set up timing and scoring groups, plus a crew of two dozen volunteers for flagging, medical corps, chase trucks, mechanics and assorted helpmates. Oh yes, and a vintage bike show, the Moto Concorso, which fell to Lorin Guy and Hans Mellberg of the Ducati Vintage Club.

The whole deal looked shaky. Burt and Diane looked apprehensive. Then, as if by divine providence, Highway 1 through Big Sur was re-opened after three weeks of yeoman work by firefighters. Huzzah!

And they’re offDay 1 served as a shakedown run in the Monterey-Salinas foothills, preceded by a morning lap of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. It was here, in the same turn where Casey Stoner would come to grief a few days later during the Red Bull MotoGP, that Dave Roper would spin his 1953 Moto Guzzi Airone (the day after his 60th birthday), and leave a few patches from the seat of his Aerostich suit on the racing surface.

Not to be outdone, 1972 Imola 200 winner Paul Smart — on a Ducati Hypermotard — opted for a quicker second lap, and was summarily asked to leave the premises by the corner worker at the Corkscrew. That incident, with the descriptive help of fellow guest rider and ex-Cycle editor Cook Neilson, would become more dramatic in the ensuing days.

As it turned out, Highway 1 through Big Sur was clean and virtually free of four-wheeled traffic. San Francisco’s Dave Miller, the Moto Guzzi/Vanson Leathers/Motorcycle Classics-sponsored rider in the event, was especially excited because the magazine’s custom Vanson leather jacket showed up at the Hyatt Regency just in time for the first day, although a last-minute carburetor overhaul made him 15 minutes late for the start on Day 1. Miller teaches motorcycle restoration at the City College of San Francisco.

While most of the 80-some registered riders puttered peacefully down the coast, absent was the guest of honor, Giuliano Maoggi, winner of the 1956 Motogiro d’Italia. His loaner Ducati 175 SS had tied up early on the first day, so the Italian hero was consigned to auto passengership, though he would find another ride. Maoggi, by the way, is 82.

The road goes on forever and the party never endsFor Day 2 it was down the coast, through Big Sur — the charred underbrush apparent in spots, but the visible trees still standing — and up the steep climb over the coast range to Mission San Antonia de Padua. Despite the ascent from 65 degrees F on the coast to a sweltering 95 F at the mission, all the vintage bikes made the section. More than a few of the riders were bushed.

Country roads led the traveling circus into Paso Robles for the second nightly segment of socializing, eating, relaxing and/or repairing motorcycles. The care and feeding of the old bikes is obvious in the rounds of shared information, parts, tools and mechanical assistance.

Dave Miller and the Moto Guzzi/Vanson Leathers/Motorcycle Classics-sponsored bike hadn’t been without troubles. “We had a few problems, just as I was leaving for the start,” he said. “I was late for the start. I think I hold the record now for a carburetor overhaul in the parking lot. But, I was 14 minutes late. I made up the 14 minutes; I was haulin’ buns to the first stop. The rest of the day went fine. The second day was fine, when we came down the coast. That was just fun.”

Day 3 ended worst for former Ducati racer Frank Scurria, who hit a pickup truck on a rural road outside Paso Robles. Quick responses by local medical crews, including ER doctor Rushdi Cader and nurse Marina Emmons riding in support, got him stabilized and to the hospital. Frank wouldn’t walk away from this one, but he was still breathing. (Check www.MotorcycleClassics.com for updated info on Frank’s condition and how to help.)

Day 4 poured the procession down the daunting patchwork of Santa Rosa Creek Road to the coast, a short southern stretch of Highway 1 and back up through the southern end of the Santa Lucia Range into Atascadero. Most of the old iron was still running, although a Parilla 175 and NSU 125 were on the ropes, and a pair of the few 2-strokes entered had expired, including Rick Snyder’s Yamaha 180, which had been in second place. Motorcycle Classics’ Dave Miller was still running, although, not without issues: “What little suspension I had at the start is gone,” he noted.

Day 5 sent the puttering entourage back to Monterey, via the foothills of the headlands of the San Joaquin Valley. Temperatures stayed in two digits, and a swell time was still being had by most. Vintage road-racing ace Dave Roper was still humming along on the Moto Guzzi Airone: “I believe it’s the oldest motorcycle in the event,” Roper said of the 1953 Guzzi. “I’ve done three two-day giros on the East Coast. This event is great; very well organized, the route sheets are superb, the roads are superb, a couple long straights to connect the good bits, but that’s inevitable … and there have been some really good bits. The food has been great; the whole thing has been wonderfully done.”

Guest riders in the Touring included the exemplar of earlier Ducati heroics, Paul Smart, plus Phil Schilling and Cook Neilson. Cook and Phil echoed the thought. “The thing that has impressed me the most is that these guys are making it up as they go along to a great extent, because of the fires,” Neilson said. “And what they did to get us all past that was amazing.”

Paul Smart was obviously having a good time. “I’ve kind of been promising to go to the Motogiro in Italy, and it ended up being the first American Motogiro,” he said. “I’m just thoroughly enjoying it, really good fun, (meet) new people, make new friends, that’s what it’s all about.”

What about those alleged antics at Laguna Seca? “I think that got a little bit distorted,” Smart said. “I was trying to wind Mr. Neilson into having a little bit of a rush around, and I got one quick lap in. The bike makes quite a bit of noise, and as I came up the steep hill the guy ran out on the track with his arms out and stopped me. He told me off in no uncertain manner, suggested I was ruining it for everybody else and it would be better if I went somewhere else.”

Dave Miller was also still smiling. “It’s been a ball. I’ve been learning a whole lot from the guys who do this regularly; it’s quite a science, the timekeeping,” he said. “So far I’ve accomplished my goals: I haven’t fallen down, I’ve ridden back every day, and I’m still having a good time. It’s wonderful, this whole event; I’m truly having the time of my life.”

And the winner is…Stephen Flach on a Honda 160! “I know,” he said, “I can’t believe it. I just … I don’t know, I’m still in awe.” Save for one day, Flach held the lead from the start. The victory won him a trip to the fabled Milan Motorcycle Show, a fitting award for a guy who’s never been to Italy. “I kinda feel bad I didn’t win on an Italian bike, so maybe next year,” he said. “I’m looking for a Motobi, just to be in the spirit of it.”

The inaugural Motogiro America goes into the books as a roaring success. The 2009 event will again coincide with the MotoGP races at Laguna Seca, scheduled for the July 4th weekend, although it’s not decided yet if it will come before or after the GP. If the weather repeats this year’s conditions, the Motogiro promises another harmonious brew of Italian style and passion with American spirit and enthusiasm. MC 

Motogiro and the Monterey MeetThe Giro Motociclistico d’Italia was first run in 1914, setting the pattern for the more widely known auto race the Mille Miglia, begun in 1927. Like its predecessor on the Isle of Man, where bikes first ran in 1911, the Giro (Italian for “turn”) was a long-distance race for production motorcycles on public roads.

The Giro disappeared during the World War II years, but was reborn in 1953. Following Italy’s recovery from the war, the Motogiro became the premier showcase for the vigorous competition among Gilera, Mondial, Benelli, Ducati, Morini, Parilla, MV and Moto Guzzi, who pitted their design and engineering skills against each other in hopes of reaping the rewards of victory on the showroom floors. These were the glory years of the Giro, when Italians turned out by the thousands to celebrate their favorite brands and the brave riders aboard. Winning the Giro put competitors into the realm of Grand Prix riders as public heroes — running flat-out for 250 miles on a 125 wasn’t for weenies.

The end came in 1957. Following the deaths of drivers and spectators at Le Mans and the Mille Miglia, Italy banned racing on public roads. The Giro format lay dormant for nearly a half-century, until it was revived by Ducati and Dream Engine in 2001 as a rally for pre-1958 machines up to 175cc. To expand interest, the organizers added a Taglioni Memorial class for larger bikes of the 1960s and 1970s, and a non-scoring Touring class for contemporary bikes.

The inaugural Motogiro America came about following a conversation between Laguna Seca general manager Gill Campbell and classic bike aficionado and former Lotus Tours owner Burt Richmond. “Two years ago, Gill said to me, ‘You’re a motorcycle guy. How can we expand the draw of people to the Monterey Peninsula so the MotoGP is more than a two-day speed race?’ I said we need a vintage show, an auction, and if we can pull it off, a vintage rally to precede the GP,” Richmond says. Next, Richmond spoke with the heads at Italian marketing firm Dream Engine and Ducati creative director David Gross. “They thought it was great, and said they’d been thinking of doing something like this.”

That ultimately led to Richmond and Gross co-founding the inaugural Monterey Motorcycle Meet (or simply, “The Meet”), a week-long event incorporating the Motogiro America, the Moto Concorso bike show (which drew 132 entries — they’d only anticipated 75) and the Mid America Motorcycle Auction, finished off by the Red Bull MotoGP at Laguna Seca. The inaugural Motogiro America was sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission, Ducati, Piaggio/Vespa/Moto Guzzi and Genuine Scooter Company. The considerable groundwork for laying out a course fell to local California Giroisti Harley Welch, who runs the Giro d’California, Carl Liebold, Patrick Hayes and Jim Hunter.

The addition of a Super Sport (250cc max, pre-1969) grew the Vintage to 50 entries, with another 38 filling the 70s Sport, Scooter and Touring classes. The start, lunch and finish checks included ability tests (coned sections with prescribed time limits) to serve as tie-breakers. The Super Sport was included to avoid ignoring non-conforming vintage-type bikes, such as Spanish 2-strokes of like design that were made after 1957.

With an entry fee of $2,500, the Motogiro America is no poor folk’s entertainment. But when you factor in five days of great riding, lodging, excellent food, mechanical/medical support and damn good company … it begins to sound a bit like a bargain, eh?

— Tod Rafferty and Richard Backus 

Frank Scuria Benefit FundFrank Scuria was one of the original Ducati single racers in the early 1960s, and was a 250 and 350cc National Champion and Sebring winner (they named the “Sebring” model after Frank’s win), and created the Ducati 350cc single; Frank made one from a 250 and was winning races all over the West Coast. The factory made some inquires and sent people to see him, and the 350 Ducati was born. Frank raced for Bob Blair and Berliner, Jack Krissman, Orin Hall and others.

Frank, 69, was seriously injured during the Motogiro America in a collision with a pickup truck near Paso Robles, Calif. He received prompt medical attention from a crew of experienced personnel riding support. He was transferred to Twin Cities Hospital, stabilized further and airlifted to Stanford where he remained on a respirator for nearly three weeks. After overcoming several infections, Frank recently underwent extensive surgery for numerous broken bones in his arms and leg, and he faces a long period of recovery. Tod Rafferty spoke with Frank in mid-October, and reports Frank is currently in physical therapy. "I'm walking a little bit, and they say my recovery is coming along," Frank says. If you want to help, please send a check in care of his sister, Carol Scurria, 158 Oakdale St., Redwood City, CA 94062. Paypal contributions are being handled by Vicki Smith (veloce916@aol.com); put “For Frank Scurria” in subject line.

Dan Bockmier is helping raising money for Frank with a limited edition DVD he’s put together of the inaugural Motogiro America, including road footage, the Moto Concorso, plus bonus footage from the Moto Melee 2008. You can see a flyer for Dan’s DVD at http://www.bockmier.com/motogiro/mga08dvd.jpg. Contact Dan at: dan@bockmier.com 

You can also monitor his condition by logging on to the Ducati Forum at Steve Allen's Bevel Heaven website. Click on the "Ducati Forum" link in the left pane, then scroll down to the third button on the forum main page, "The Rumor Mill." Click on "Frank's Place" at the top of the resulting forum page to follow Frank's progress.