The Inaugural Concours de Competition

The Concours de Competition at the Barber Motorsports Park is a new kind of motorcycle show, one where vintage race bikes are put back on the track.

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by Raul Jerez, Highside Photos
David Rutherford on his BSA Gold Star gets tight with Michael Hodgson Jr. on the Rickman Honda 750.

It isn’t often that David Rutherford is invited to a new type of motorcycle event.

He has road-raced for decades, toured in the U.S. and Europe extensively on a variety of sport bikes, raced flat track occasionally, run the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb six times, raced the Baja 1000 and the Baja 500 several times, and has ridden the course at the Isle of Man. When he was approached about participating in a “new” kind of concours event he was somewhat skeptical. The idea of standing around next to your motorcycle was not exactly his kind of event.

The promoter invited him to apply to run in the Inaugural Concours de Competition at Barber Motorsports Park. David knew the facility well since he had raced there during the annual Vintage Festival with AHRMA for the past 14 years. The museum at Barber Motorsports Park is world-renowned for the largest, and arguably the best, motorcycle collection in the world.

The Concours de Competition was the idea of longtime motorcycle enthusiast and racer Ron Raven. The premise was simple: Race bikes were meant to be seen and heard at speed on a track. Collectors of race bikes generally retire the special ones and they become static displays in homes, offices and garages. Once their competitive careers are over, they tend to be fawned over in a safe environment as fear of damage and lack of parts prevents them from being run on a track. Raven wanted to get them back on track in a moderately safe environment so they could be used, and appreciated, for what they truly were — mechanical art in motion.

Working with WERA

The inaugural Concours de Competition took place on June 29 at the Barber Motorsports Park. Raven enlisted two partners: WERA Motorcycle Roadracing working with the Barber Museum. The event ran in conjunction with WERA’s Sportsman round at Barber Motorsports Park that weekend. WERA and the Barber Museum had the ability to give the event its unique twist: To get into the Concours judging round, the contestants must first have made several laps at speed on the track. The bikes would be judged on a combination of preservation, track performance and educational exhibits.

Bikes that raced from the mid-1950s until 1989 could enter the Concours de Competition. The “go” class was limited in order to provide adequate track time and safety. Collectors wishing to enter sent an application with a photo to the museum. If accepted, the promotor paid the fees for their entry, rider and crew. There was also a concurrent Concours d’Elegance “show” class for vintage road racing bikes up to 1989 located in the same paddock, but the “show” class did not go out on the track.

Evelyne Clarke, CEO/owner of WERA said, “From their earliest years in the 1970s we have always had classes available for “vintage” bikes to preserve the heritage of the sport. Of course, those “new” bikes back then now run in our vintage classes. This is a chance to get the bikes that are the history of our organization back out on the track for our current members and the public to enjoy again and see the history of this sport.”

Jeff Ray, Executive Director of the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum added, “One of the guiding principles Mr. Barber set when founding the museum was that the bikes displayed had to be capable of running. These machines were not meant just to be static displays of engineering art, but rather were to be seen and heard as they were designed. There is a reason the galleries overlook a world class racetrack.”

Most of the team that created the Concours. From left to right: Evelyne Clarke, CEO WERA Roadracing; George Barber, founder of Barber Motorsports Park and Museum; Ron Raven, organizer; Jeff Ray, executive director of the Barber Museum; Brian Slark, museum restoration specialist and chief judge; Guy Reynolds, museum lecturer and second judge. Missing from photo are Mitch Cato, tech inspector and Bill Wilder, paddock marshal.

Unique trophies for the winners of both classes were designed and made by the Barber Museum in its extensive restoration workshop. The “go” class trophies were mounted on pieces of the racetrack which had been removed for repairs. It was generally agreed that there may not be any cooler trophy in the world. As Jeff Ray put it, “Nobody can buy a piece of this track, but somebody will have a chance to win one today.”

David’s bikes

David applied to enter three bikes in the event: his 1959 BSA Gold Star 500 in the “go” class; and his 1965 BSA Trackmaster 750 Pikes Peak bike and a 1986 Harris SRX 600 in the “show” class. He occasionally races the Harris, so it was conveniently safety wired and ready for tech inspection, if needed. The Pikes Peak BSA, although still bearing dirt from its last visit to the mountain, was retired and was purely there for show. The main bike of the day was going to be the Gold Star. It was last raced in earnest at Mid-Ohio several years ago, but transmission woes had sidelined it. In preparation for the event, David swapped the standard transmission for a special RRT2 (close ratio racing) box. This was just the chance he wanted, to take it out onto the track for a few laps without trying to squeeze the last tenth of a second to gain another position. This was a day where he could let it run, enjoy the ride, put it on display and talk about it to the spectators.

The day began by setting up the tents, bikes and displays. Just prior to the first track session David put the Goldie on the rollers to start it, pulled in the clutch lever, and promptly snapped the aged and well-used clutch cable. With a little help from the organizers and the tech inspector, the Harris SRX was substituted into the “go” class and the Gold Star was now “show” only. WERA provided the Concours entries two 15-minute sessions in the morning to try to get the minimum number of six laps completed to qualify for the judging round later in the afternoon. David and the Harris SRX completed five laps in the first session.

However, when word got out that the Goldie was not going to run, the museum’s Jeff Ray arrived at David’s pit. Taking the broken clutch cable, he returned to the restoration workshop and had a new one made! The replacement cable was installed between the qualifying sessions, and the Goldie was now ready to go out. The ever-patient organizers and tech inspector approved the switch back to the “go” class, and the big, deep bass sound of the open megaphone BSA 500 single echoed around the track for five laps.

Now David had a dilemma. Neither bike had the required six laps in to get to the judged event in the afternoon. But the six laps “racing exhibition” was still to come and he could get the needed lap then, but he would have to finish and ride back to the paddock to qualify. It was clear to David that this was the day to ride the Gold Star at speed again, so out it went and five laps later he rode it proudly back to the paddock.

Now it was up to the judges. The chief judge, Brian Slark, restoration specialist at the museum, has seen nearly every kind of motorcycle produced in the last 50 years. He has taken apart many of those and has an eye for originality. He has been called upon to be a judge in major concours across the country. For this event, the organizers had specified the bikes could either be restored to the condition they were when new or to some point in time in their race history; or, they could be preserved as they were when they last competed. The Gold Star was in preserved condition and presented as such. “It is very tough to decide on a winner today since there are so many different eras and manufacturers present,” Brian commented.

The judges looked, asked questions, moved on and circled back to check their notes. The owners’ displays that showcased the bike or rider’s history were also checked. Some displays were very elaborate, while others were quite simple. It was clear that all three criteria were being examined. Five of the bikes in the “go” class were eliminated for either failing to make the minimum required laps or arriving back in the paddock on the crash trailer.

The show

Soon the announcement went out to bring certain bikes and their stands to the officials’ tent. The Gold Star was on the list! First up was the “show” class. Third place went to Bill Brown for the ex-Rich Arnaiz 1987 Yamaha FZR750 which had won the AMA National at Elkhart Lake in 1989. Second place went to the 1976 Kawasaki Lester Wheels endurance racer, winner of several WERA 24-hour races in the late ’70s. The winner in the “show” class was Jim Hinshaw’s 1970 Kawasaki H1R which was still in original condition. It had patina so deep it was measured in inches rather than millimeters. The displays documenting its history racing around the world made the story of the bike come to life. Jim was warmly congratulated for remembering a bike is original only once and keeping it that way preserves its history.

The go

Next it was time for the “go” class winners to be announced. Third place went to Mitch Cato’s 1988 Yamaha FZR400 which sparkled when parked under an unbelievable pit display, but it was the display on the track that set it apart. This little bike showed everyone else the way to the checkered flag while clearly showcasing everything it had. Then the Gold Star was called, second place in the class and David was given a trophy with a piece of the track. The largest piece of the track went to Doug Bowie who rode his beautifully presented 1985 Ducati F1-750 Montjuich. Doug rode every lap of every session at speed with that big twin barking out its deep notes.

There was still one award to go. The judges could select Best of Show from either class. They chose Michael Hodgson’s 1976 Rickman CR Honda 750. The bike was stunning, it was beautifully presented, and it was ridden wonderfully for every lap of every session.

David was, as British aficionados say, “Over the moon.” “Where else in the world could you break a clutch cable on a 1959 DBD34 Gold Star 500 before the first qualifying session, have a replacement fabricated and back on the bike before the second, and go on to compete and have a place on the podium? Unbelievable! Only with the generosity of the Barber Museum folks. The opportunity to ride a valuable classic bike at speed and on a challenging track, without fear of some over-zealous rider punting me into a gravel trap for a plastic trophy, and to be in the presence of genuinely unique and special machines was a perfect day. I only hope to have the opportunity to do this again. The Concours de Competition is a unique, special event. Cheers to everyone who made it happen.”

The 2nd Annual Concours De Competition Et D’Elegance takes place July 4, 2020. If you would like to enter next year’s event watch or the Concours de Competition Facebook page for the procedure to apply to participate, or contact Brian Slark.

Author’s note: Ron Raven is a lifetime WERA and AMA member. He ran his first WERA race in 1975 (when it was still the Eastern Roadracers Association) in the “Thumper/Vintage” Class. He raced in various small bore and vintage classes 1975-2006 and ran in the national endurance series from 1980-1983. Since retiring from competition, he has sponsored several vintage class awards. He created a series of vintage handicap races which paid cash prizes at selected WERA and AMA VMD events. He organized the Concours de Competition. MC

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