Al Porter with his 1962 BSA Gold Star, which took Best of Show at the Motorcycle Classics Bike Show West at the 3rd Annual Bonneville Vintage GP September 6, 2008
The 3rd Annual Bonneville VintageGP presented by Motorcycle Classics has come and gone. With the help of absolutely perfect weather – blue skies, low winds and highs in the mid-70s – it was a perfect weekend for vintage racing. All told, about 250 AHRMA competitors made the trek to the Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah, for two days of vintage racing, many of them showing up early so they could get a chance to take their bikes out on the famed Bonneville Salt Flats during the BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials that were running before – and during – AHRMA racing at Miller.
Race organizer Tom Kullen hasn’t received a head count from the Miller folks, but we’d guess around 2,500 people made it through the gate to take in the racing and other events going on, including the Motorcycle Classics Bike Show West classic bike show. We had 40 bikes in the show, ranging from Joe Cash’s 1939 Triumph 3T to Paul Shea’s 1984 H-D Classic. Best of Show went to Al Porter for his drop-dead gorgeous 1962 BSA Gold Star, while People’s Choice fell to Bob Jones and his 1947 Indian Chief restored by famed Indian restoration expert Bob Stark.
1977 Ducati GTL500
Interesting entrees included a 1977 Ducati GTL500 showing just zero miles on the clock; we never did catch up with the owner to discover the bike’s story. Given the little twin’s reputation for questionable quality (some would tell you it’s the worst bike Ducati ever made), the mileage could be real. The bike that won my heart was John Stoddart’s 1983 Ducati MHR 900, a nice original with 20,000 miles showing and ridden to the show by Stoddart. Now that’s livin’ the classic life! Stoddart’s Duc garnered our award for Best European Street, 1965-1985.
Probably the oddest bike of the lot was Gordon Lyman’s little Centaur folding scooter. Marketed from 1960-1965, these odd little bikes fold up into a box that looks suspiciously like a beer cooler, an appearance aided by slab-sided plastic body panels. Powered by a little Clinton single, the kind usually reserved for lawn mower duty, it was too cool and almost absurdly retro. Period literature claimed a top speed of 40mph, but I bet it’s terrifying to ride at anything over 20mph.
Nira Johnson with his Triumph drag bike
The biggest surprise of the show was Nira Johnson’s circa-1959 Triumph drag bike, a machine he campaigned regularly from 1963 to 1969. Nira’s bike was clocked at 127mph on the Flats in 1967, but two years later he loaded up and moved from California to Pennsylvania, retiring from racing for good. But he never sold the bike, keeping it around if only because, as he told us, “my family never gets rid of anything.” As it turns out, Nira has recently passed the bike along to Rodd Lighthouse, who met Nira when he was five and remembers growing up with stories of Nira’s racing exploits. Rodd plans a sympathetic restoration of the bike, limited to getting it running and safe, but preserving it’s time-honored and weather-beaten patina. We’ll be following this bike as it progresses, you can be sure.
Getting ready for the CB160 Le Mans start
The B160 boys and girls were on hand, giving a good show and performing their CB160 Le Mans start on Saturday and Sunday. The Le Mans start is a hoot, as some 30 riders sprint across the track, jump on their bikes and then burp them to life before ripping down the front straight. Read more about the CB160 crowd here, and check out the killer CB160 that Ron Mousouris built for Guy Webster here.
Racing action was excellent, with only a few missed turns. The ambulance only came out once, on Sunday, when Craig Breckon high-sided his Honda Ascot in the “Attitudes” on the back side of the track. “I came through the Attitudes and he’s laying down in the dirt, face down in the run off, and the next corner workers were waving red flags, so I had to get off right away. He got his bell rung pretty good,” Kullen said of the wreck, which cracked Breckon’s helmet. Better that than his head, which we can confirm is pretty thick! Breckon’s okay, and he's looking forward to his next round of racing at Barber in October.
Former World Superbike Champion Doug Polen shows his stuff
Big fun was watching former World Superbike Champion Doug Polen launch down the straight on his Ducati 1098, pulling the front wheel skyward as he peeled off the kind of lap times AHRMA racers can only dream of. Polen raced in Battle of the Twins and put on a good show, although his bike crapped out during one of his demonstration runs.
Saturday night saw all the racers gathering on the east porch of the grandstands for an awards banquet and BBQ, and thanks to the good folks at Works Performance Shocks (who donated a set of their excellent shocks), Z1 Enterprises (who donated a grab bag of accessories, tools and manuals), Dunlop (a new set of tires, any model or size), Metzler (a new set of tires, again any model or size, plus a 2007 Superbike World Championship Yearbook ) and Condor (a cool Condor Pit-Stop/Trailer-Stop), some racers finished the evening with bigger smiles than a few beers could ever plaster on their faces. This was some seriously sweet swag, and the guys and gals there knew it.
Perfect weather, great racing, classic bikes on parade, there really wasn’t anymore a bike guy or gal could ask for. We’re looking forward to repeating the recipe again next year, as the presenting sponsor of the 4th Annual Bonneville VintageGP, likely around the same time in early September. Next up is the last AHRMA event of the year, two days of great vintage racing during the 4th Annual Barber Vintage Festival at the incredible Barber Museum and Motorsports Park outside of Birmingham, Alabama. We’ll be holding our next show there, the Motorcycle Classics Bike Show East, plus running our annual 29 Dreams charity ride, so get signed up now to be a part of the action. – Richard Backus