2010 Catalina Grand Prix

After a 52-year hiatus, motorcycle racing returns to Catalina Island, California

| March/April 2011

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    Thad Wolff (center) waits for the start of his race.
    Photo by Joe Bonnello
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    Photo by Joe Bonnello
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    Riders parade through downtown Avalon prior to the races.
    Photo by Joe Bonnello
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    Wolff taking the hole shot at the beginning of his race — he rode on to a 1st place finish in Premier Open Twins A.
    Photo by Joe Bonnello
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    “Real” Catalina Scramblers were based on single-cylinder Gold Stars, but don’t tell that to Wolff!
    Photo by Joe Bonnello
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    Dimitri Coste (1st place Premier Open Twins B).
    Photo by Joe Bonnello
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    Larkin Wight (7th place Vintage A).
    Photo by Joe Bonnello
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    Lovely little Triumph Cub entered by Mitsuhiro “Kiyo” Kiyonaga at The Garage Co.
    Photo by Joe Bonnello
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    Close up of Dimitre Coste’s Triumph.
    Photo by Joe Bonnello
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    Jim Gibson working his way to a 1st place finish in Vintage A.
    Photo by Joe Bonnello
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    Offroad racing icon Malcolm Smith took 7th place in the 60+ race.
    Photo by Joe Bonnello
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    Race heaven: Start/finish line for the Catalina Island Grand Prix, the port town of Avalon in the background.
    Photo by Joe Bonnello

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Editor’s Note: From 1951 to 1958, Catalina Island, a small, 76-square-mile spot of land 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, hosted some of the most legendary motorcycle racing ever held in the U.S. in an event called the Catalina Grand Prix. California native Thad Wolff grew up riding and racing dirt bikes in the L.A. area. He went on to a successful career in AMA road racing, including racing in the now-legendary ABC Carlsbad Superbiker events, the start of today’s on- and offroad Supermoto, in the early 1980s. Good as he is riding a bike, Thad also happens to be pretty good with a wrench. Yet while he had a number of builds under his belt, prior to 2010, Thad had never really gotten into Brit bikes, something he kept telling himself he ought to do. As fate would have it, when the return of the Catalina Grand Prix was announced, Thad was putting the finishing touches on his first-ever Brit-bike build, a 1958 BSA Super Rocket modified for scrambles duty. As someone who’d grown up hearing tales about the original Catalina Grand Prix, Thad knew he couldn’t miss what might be a once in a lifetime event, and with his BSA freshly prepped, he also knew he had just the bike for it. What follows is Thad’s account of the 2010 Catalina Island Grand Prix.

When I found a 1958 BSA Super Rocket earlier last year, I thought it would make a cool street bike that would look the part with chrome upswept straight pipes, big knobbies and of course that neat Catalina Scrambler logo on the tank! The bike was almost finished when it was announced that racing was coming back to The Island. Was this meant to be, or what?

As soon as I found out about the plan for a 2010 Catalina Grand Prix, I went straight to the garage, stripped the lights off, put on longer travel Honda forks with Race Tech innards, Works Performance shocks, a 21-inch wheel, Dunlop knobbies, a 58-tooth sprocket and number plates. Now I had a Premier Open Twins Catalina racer! Oh yeah, and one thing all you Brit purists will cringe at: I used the rear brake crossover shaft to bring the shifter over to the left side of the bike. I’ve spent my whole life shifting on that side, and this old dog doesn’t want to learn that new trick.

As the race date drew closer, rumors were flying and no one knew if it the race was really going to happen. Everyone who’d pre-entered had their fingers crossed, and everyone else started thinking they’d missed the boat not entering on time, worried they’d be standing on the side watching everyone else race their way back into history. But the race was on.



Three days before the race, I showed up at the dock in Long Beach to load the bike into a container to ship it to the island. The helpers took one look at my Vintage BSA with its beautiful chrome tank and asked if I could load my own bike. I did, and I was a bit worried walking away from my racer; it looked like a sardine in a can with all the other bikes.

That left three days to wait before reuniting with my bike at the impound lot just outside the town of Avalon. The last afternoon at home, my wife, Jody, and I rode down to the beach and gazed across the water at the island. We’d seen it thousands of times, but this time was different.



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