Tendering a cracked rib, Wes Orloff gives the Team Momba Kawasaki a shakedown during practice at VMD.
Classic bike fans have been attending Vintage Motorcycle Days (VMD) for the past 12 years, and in that time it’s evolved into the biggest classic bike event of the year, with an estimated 60,000 bike fans converging on the site July 28-30, 2006.
Held at the Mid-Ohio racetrack in Lexington, Ohio, VMD includes a huge swap meet populated by some 900 vendors. There’s also the track itself, buzzing with classic bikes and racers vying for honors in one of 13 different AHRMA heats held each day.
Mixed in for good measure are an auction tent, bike shows, a factory demo ride area and literally thousands of classic bikes just running around, checking out the scene.
There’s also the paddock, where racers set up shop to get their bikes ready for the track. That’s where we discovered Team Momba, without question the most inspired group of lunatic classic racers we’ve ever met (or is that classic lunatic racers?).
Following last year’s event, members of Team Momba (Mid-Ohio Motorcycle Build Attempt) hatched the outrageous plan to build a bike on-site, get it through tech inspection and race it on Sunday. And if that doesn’t sound challenging enough, they decided to build the bike almost exclusively from swap meet parts.
Planning for the project started in January, when the 14-strong team decided to focus on building a machine for the middleweight superbike category. They did their homework, checked AHRMA rules, and zeroed in on a Kawasaki GPZ or KZ550.
But almost unbelievably, as Team Momba descended on VMD and as swap meet sellers poured into the area, there wasn’t a GPZ or KZ to be found. Pondering their options, someone in the team suggested a Kawasaki LTD, which used the same engine as the GPz and KZ550. It was a good idea, and in short order they had a candidate LTD550.
Over the next two days, team members and brothers Chad and Ryan Shields put 101 miles on a pair of pit bikes, running back and forth between the Momba pit and the swap area, picking up all the little bits they’d need to make the bike work on the track.
Team members Wes Orloff and Leah Bober, both Harley Davidson engineers, directed the build, simultaneously preparing themselves for their own races. Incredibly, by Saturday afternoon the bike was prepped and running.
If you think about this for a second, it’s truly crazy. Team Momba took a bike with no known history, that had been left to fate in the middle of a muddy field, and prepped it for racing. Team members went through every piece of the bike, and even then it was a coin toss if it would actually hold together.
The truth came on Sunday morning as Team Momba prepared for their practice session. A paperwork error meant that Motorcyclist editor Mitch Boehm, who’d been pegged to ride the bike in Sunday’s race, wouldn’t be able to give the bike its shakedown on the track.
The first laps on the bike fell instead to Orloff, who crashed his Buell in Saturday’s Battle of the Twins race. Orloff fired it up, roared out onto the track and gave it some head. It was, as Orloff agreed later, amazing. Three days ago, this bike, built in a tent, didn’t even exist. And there it was, tech inspected and on the track.
Sunday afternoon’s heat came up fast, and Team Momba’s bike was out on the track, this time with Boehm taking the Kawi through its paces. Built in two short days, it was underdeveloped, but there it was, dicing it up in the middle of the pack even as one cylinder was dropping out thanks to a fouled plug.
When the checkered flag dropped, Boehm was still in the race. He didn’t win, but he came in seventh, a respectable mid-pack finish.
The bad news is, if you missed the build, there won’t be another. Orloff says that for now, the team’s happy to just live with the memory and call it good. However, the Momba Kawi still lives, and if you’re lucky you’ll see it in action at this year’s second annual Barber Vintage Festival at the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.
These guys may be crazed, but they know what they’re doing, and they proved it at VMD. Like we said, Inspired Lunacy.
For more information visit www.teammomba.com.