2009 Bonneville Vintage GP

Classics at the track

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Classic motorcycle racing at the 4th Annual Bonneville Vintage GP at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah.

Photo by Richard Backus

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Quick. What’s one of the hottest vintage motorcycle racing venues in the U.S.? Mid-Ohio? Willow Springs? Barber? If you didn’t answer Miller Motorsports Park, that’s only because you haven’t attended the annual Bonneville Vintage GP.

Now heading into its fifth year in 2010, the Bonneville Vintage GP at Miller is hands-down one of the highlights of the vintage motorcycle racing season. Organized by vintage racer and classic bike nut Tom Kullen, the event has quickly become a favorite of American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) racers across the U.S., who stream in from both coasts and every state in between to race their vintage Hondas and Harleys at the Miller track, as they did for the Sept. 4-6, 2009, event.

Classics on track

Located just outside Tooele, Utah, and about 30 minutes west of Salt Lake City, there’s no denying the Miller track is a bit off the beaten path. Built in 2006, the track was the brainchild of the late Larry H. Miller, owner of the Utah Jazz basketball team and a successful line of car dealerships. Miller’s success allowed him to indulge his passion for cars (he put together one of the world’s foremost collections of Shelby production and race cars) and racing, and led to the construction of the Miller complex.

The Miller track is actually two tracks in one, with a 4.5-mile road course that can be split into two courses. The Bonneville GP uses the more technical East Track, which runs racers through 14 turns and just a little over 100 feet of elevation change. That latter figure is pretty modest, but the racing gets fierce through those 14 turns, especially the back three esses, or the “Attitudes” as they’re called by the racers, where the elevation changes come as quickly as the turns before riders head for the final two turns, “Wind up” and “Release.” Those turns play out pretty much as they sound, the riders winding up their bikes as they push out of the former before seemingly slinging out of the latter, a 50-foot wide, 9-degree banked sweeper that spits them out onto the main straight. Very cool, and very fun to watch.

Upping the fun-quotient this year was four-time World Superbike champ Doug Polen, who competed in Saturday’s Battle of the CB160s LeMans Start exhibition race, in which riders dash across the track to their waiting bikes, jump on and then bump start them before blasting off toward Turn 1. It’s become a hallmark of the Bonneville Vintage GP, and it’s a huge crowd pleaser.
Polen competed against 36 other riders, and while there was plenty of good-natured betting against him, he sailed to victory. He did get some stiff competition from veteran CB160 racers Mick Hart and Tim O’Mahony, however, with Hart challenging Polen for the lead every step of the way. Polen loved it, telling us later, “The best thing was being able to ride that bike at its limit, being able to go half way around the track flat out. I never had to lift it once — that was great. The worst moment was going down through 36 different guys into Turn 1.”

Classics on display

This was Motorcycle Classics’ third year as presenting sponsor for the Bonneville Vintage GP, and our fourth to host a classic bike show. While we’ve always had an excellent turnout of cool machinery, this year’s show knocked the ball out of the park, with 63 fabulous bikes sharing space in the MC tent in the east paddock.

Bikes entered included a wild 1958 Maico Typhoon with enveloping bodywork, a trio of Velocette Venoms, numerous Ducatis, Moto Guzzis and Nortons, an Allstate, several Honda CB750s, a Yamaha TZ750, a few specials, plus more Triumphs than you could shake a stick at, the featured marque in celebration of the Triumph Bonneville’s 50th anniversary.

Trophies were awarded in five categories: Best American (1983 H-D XR1000), Best European (1958 Maico Typhoon), Best Japanese (1974 Honda CB750), Best Triumph (1965 Triumph TRW military) and People’s Choice.

Picking the category winners was far from easy, but the crowd didn’t seem to have any trouble picking their favorite for People’s Choice, Bill Eley’s breathtakingly beautiful 1967 Norton Atlas Café Special.

That we had so many bikes on hand was certainly thanks to the Utah British Bike Club (which pulled out the stops in getting the word out to its members and other classic bike fans in Utah to make the show), and club member Ken Wheadon, the moving force behind making the show happen.

So even if you missed it this year, the good news is, it all happens again Sept. 3-5, 2010. We’ll be there, and you should, too, so you can witness first-hand what AHRMA racers already know — the Bonneville Vintage GP at Miller is classic racing at its best. MC