Focus, Relax, Look Ahead: Vintage Motorcycle Racing

Editor Richard Backus takes the AHRMA vintage road race school.

| January/February 2012

So you say you want to go motorcycle racing? If you’re looking to test your skills on the track, there’s probably no better place to start than in vintage motorcycle racing, where the speeds tend to be lower and the options for what you can ride a whole lot broader than any modern race bike series.

Working my way through Turn 1 of Miller Motorsports Park’s East Course, a double-apex left-hander with a nasty little off-camber at the exit that’ll send you scary wide if you don’t clip it just right, race instructor Andrew Cowell’s mantra — focus, relax, look ahead and look through the turns — is echoing in my head. Cowell’s instructions make perfect, almost intuitive sense, but it’s hard putting them to work as a rush of unfamiliar inputs stream into my brain, bullying rational response into submission and replacing it with something akin to sheer terror.

Burying my suspicion that I’ve been set up, I follow Cowell’s advice as best I can. After a less than perfect execution of Turn 1 — OK, a pretty poor one — I emerge from the other side in one piece, tuck my head down behind my little Honda CB160’s plexi fairing and nail the throttle. As quickly as the turn unsettled me, it’s behind me and I’m blasting down to the next set of turns. Cool. It works. Welcome to vintage road race school, AHRMA style.

Learning to race with AHRMA

Organized in 1986, the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association is the largest and most active vintage motorcycle racing organization in the U.S., with close to 5,000 members. Yet it wasn’t until 2010 that AHRMA held its first race school, during its season closer at Barber Motorsports Park. Traditionally, vintage racers have sort of trickled down from other sanctioned race series, but with the broad pool of riders drawn to vintage motorcycle racing, AHRMA saw the need to give aspiring vintage racers an AHRMA-certified entry onto the track. That first class was a hit, so AHRMA expanded the school to seven classes during 2011.

An AHRMA member since 1995, instructor Cowell is active in AHRMA’s Vintage Superbike Heavyweight and Battle of Twins series, racing a Moto Guzzi Le Mans and a Ducati 748. With 20 years-plus racing experience under his helmet, he’s learned more than a thing or two about how to get around a track safely and competitively, a fact amply illustrated during the class I took during the 2011 Bonneville Vintage GP in Tooele, Utah, last September.

Getting schooled

The race school lasts only one day, but it’s a long one. My pre-class instructions are to be at the appointed classroom at 7 a.m., sharp. I am, and so is Cowell, eager to get going as we gather in a large room overlooking the start/finish line at Miller.

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