Rooster Racing Goes to Spa

An underdog’s story

Rooster Racing GSXR Slabside Spa 2019- Timo

When you have a gift for getting the very best from a GSXR1100 engine the easy thing to do would be to just build them for other people and never leave your workshop. If that was what Don Hill at Rooster Racing did, I wouldn’t have a story to tell and the lives of an eclectic group of people that came together to form the Rooster Racing family at Spa would be significantly more ordinary.

oldskoolsuzuki.info first featured a story about Don Hill and Rooster Racing earlier this year. I knew then that there was something special about Don’s ethos towards the engines and the bikes he built. I also recognised that Don chose the riders he built them for very carefully too. I said I would return and find out more about Don’s work later in the year. At the that time, I never imagined I would get to know Rooster Racing quite as well as I have nor could I have known just how involved I would become in Rooster Racing’s fortunes. What I have learned since then, has only gone to reinforce my view that Don Hill and Rooster Racing are true unsung heroes in the growing world of post classic racing.

Race day minus – 3 months

My tale begins with an engine failure. The engine was the 1216 bandit engine in my own GSXR1100 slabside race bike. It was the first race of the 2019 season in April and I had spun a shell on the 3rd lap of my final race. Head in hands,with a full season ahead of me, I contemplated my next move. After a couple of days I got a call from Don. “what are you doing about your engine, apart from crying?” he asked. “I’m going to strip it and survey the damage”, I told him. “Bring it down to me”, he said reassuringly. “I’ll rebuild it and blueprint it so that it won’t happen again”. I politely declined, knowing that my budget wouldn’t stretch to a Don Hill Rooster engine. Don, then made me the sort of offer that I could not refuse. The engine was out and I was on my way down to Don’s days later. It felt like Jimi Hendrix had just offered to play at my garden BBQ for the price of a beer and a burger.

When I arrived at Don’s he was preparing his own 2 bikes for the 4 hour endurance race at Spa at the beginning of July. This made his charity seem even more generous. Both race bikes were undergoing a full rebuild and repaint. In typical Don style he was doing everything himself. It was a mind blowing amount of work for one person to be doing. He was also fabricating his own speed fuel loader for the endurance race. Once again Don’s approach was to avoid expensive costs, he couldn’t cover by fabricating parts himself. My mind boggled at what Don had already done and what he still had to do.

Rooster Racing GSXR engines

Despite everything Don had going on, in the 2 hours it took me to drive the van home, Don had stripped my engine and sent me a list of parts I needed to source. Over the next month or so I sourced the parts and in the meantime, Don also ported my cylinder head and fitted new Hyabusa rods, new cams and some trick timing that necessitated pocketing my wiseco 1216 pistons. When the engine was complete Don almost apologetically said it’s not a full Rooster build but it will be good for a slack 150BHP. I remembered that Don’s engines routinely and reliably knocked out 165-170 BHP. Just knowing he had built it, gave me a newfound piece of mind that I had never enjoyed building my own engines.

Rooster racing 1216 GSXR engine

Race day minus – 1 month

Don and I kept in regular contact over the next couple of months and he would regularly send me updates on the Spa race bikes. I would admire his work and give him encouraging words. He was working round the clock, alone, often into the early hours but in typical Don fashion the finish and the high quality of what he was producing never faltered.

Rooster Racing Harris tank

I worried about how hard he was working and about how my own engine build might have distracted him and used up valuable and limited Rooster bandwidth. I told him I was worried about how much he had on and offered my support in any way I could. I think Don appreciated my concern but he had seen my engine building skills and probably considered my direct involvement a distinct handicap to the cause.

I was going to be riding from Edinburgh to Switzerland the week before Spa for a work thing, so I had agreed with Don that I would tag a few days at Spa on to my trip and cover the race and the Rooster Racing team’s fortunes for oldskoolsuzuki.info

Race day minus – 14 days

A couple of weeks before Spa Don sent me pictures of the bikes completed and ready to go. I felt a great sense of relief that he had completed the bikes. I had become emotionally invested in Don’s fortunes. It was at that point that I realised that the bikes and their prep were only the first hurdle for Don. After that would come the logistics of getting the bikes, and all of the equipment to Spa too. I marvelled at the ambition of the man. Despite the fact that he had bitten off, what looked like more than he could possibly chew, he never faltered.

Rooster racing Harris Race bike
Rooster racing GSXR1100 slabside race bike

Race day – minus 5 days

On my last night in Switzerland I was packing up my panniers in my hotel getting ready to set off for Spa the next day and I got a message from Don asking me if I was still coming to Spa. I cheerfully replied that I had my press pass and I was due in Spa a couple days before race weekend. Don then then dropped the bombshell. “I need you to do me a favour” he asked. “sure” I causally replied, still packing my stuff. ” need you to manage one of the 2 teams.” Don said. ” I wouldn’t trust just anyone, but I would trust you if you were up for it” Don followed. What could I say? I had promised Don my help and here he was asking me for some. I didn’t hesitate and I said yes. Don explained that he had planned to manage one of the teams himself and his friend Keith would manage the other but he had realised that he really needed to focus on the bikes and if I managed the other team it would take a lot of pressure off.

I had the next couple of days to think that over. I reassured myself that although I was a novice racer, I had 25 years of management experience and that had to count for something. At the back of my mind was the nagging fact that I knew next to nothing about endurance racing and the rules that governed it. It was going to be a steep learning curve. I contemplated how hard Don had worked to get to Spa and I felt the weight of responsibility for supporting Don and the team.

Race day minus 2 days

I arrived in Spa and got set up at my chalet. I was staying with two friends Scott and Kat in a chalet we had rented together. Little did I know that I would spend virtually no time with my friends or at the chalet. My work with the team began on the Thursday with the setup of the garage. Either side of us were much larger and clearly better funded and equipped teams. They all had team uniforms and custom built team transport. In contrast we had a rented Luton van and the clothes we came in.

Spa 4hr Endurance race 2019
Spa 4hr |Endurance race Spa 2019

Rooster racing had entered 2 bikes into the 4 hour endurance event at Spa, Bike 81 was a GSXR 1100 powered Harris and Bike 82 was a GSXR1100 slabside. Both engines were box fresh builds and they were about to be mercilessly thrashed for four hours.

Rooster Racing Spa 2019
Rooster Racing GSXR1100 winged hammers oldskoolsuzuki.info

Don was keen to be left to concentrate on the bikes and I had to quickly figure out what the key deliverables were for team manager. Fortunately, Don was there to keep me right and I would soon be joined by Keith who would be managing team 82 and had managed the Rooster team at Donington previously.

I found out when I arrived that I would be responsible for team 81 on the Harris. The 3 riders were:

Angus ( Goose) Green of IG classic Superbike series fame. Howard Selby 80s and 90s TT competitor, Scottish Champion and 90s European 600 Supersport European Champion and Gordon Grigor, 80s TT racer and UK endurance champion

Rooster Racing Harris Spa 2019

Team 82 managed by Keith my counterpart, were riding the GSXR Slabby 1100 and the riders were:

Adrian (Mole) McCarthy, Scottish PCS champion, Gordon Murray Scottish PCS Champion and Timo Monot TT and Classic TT competitor with recent top 10 finishes under his belt.

Rooster Racing GSXR1100 Spa 2019
Team Rooster Racing Spa 2019

So, it’s safe to say the teams riding experience and skills were something I shouldn’t have to worry about. It quickly became apparent that the organisers at Spa were not going to make team sign on and rider registration easy and this is where I would start to earn my share of the team catering. Team sign on was open and I and after an hour wait in the 30 degree sun and a 200 man rugby scrum through a single door, I successfully signed both teams on.

This is when I experienced my first managerial perk; The company bike. The sign on location was inexplicably 2 miles away from the garage and a lack of any clear information on the event would necessitate multiple visits to the sign on point for clarification sessions.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20190705_083205-e1564129661476-498x1024.jpg

Race day – minus 1 day

It was now Friday and the rest of the team members were all present and accounted for. Keith my team 82 counterpart and I read the rules through together and made sure we knew where everyone needed to be and when.

Control and distribution of the correct passes and wristbands for each team member was my first task. We quickly learned it was better to have no pass on your vehicle than to have the wrong pass. I won’t bore you with the details, but the rider’s passes were labelled “Guest”. It took us a while to figure that one out and the catering vehicle pass was for a different car park some distance away.

I had to make sure the members of the team who would be in the box and on the pit wall had the correct combination of passes too.

In charge of the pit wall was Keith’s younger brother Kev and Don’s daughter Georgie. They were the real brains of the operation and while Keith and I held the titles of team managers Kev and Georgie were more often than not giving the whole team valuable direction.

The mechanics were led by team principle Don and consisted of Mel, Billy and Twig, our stand man.

Team Rooster racing Spa 2019

The wonderful Julie Harrison was responsible for feeding us all and we were very well looked after with regular buffets and hot meals. We were all so busy that most of the time we just ate on the hoof.

I also had a very willing assistant in the form of Lewis, Howard’s 13 year old son. He definitely had his eye on the company vehicle from the off which he enjoyed using on the regular missing rider missions that I sent him on.

Missing rider retrieval missions were a large part of the job on registration day and throughout the event. I would round up the 5 riders and one would be missing. We would find him and turn around and a different rider would be missing. This happened every 5 minutes for the course of the day but we finally we successfully registered the riders, got our rider 1, 2 and 3 arm bands, completed scrutineering, for bikes, riders and rider’s equipment. We then attended the compulsory team briefing. Failure to attend would result in penalties. We were now cleared to race.

The whole time Keith and I and the 6 riders were doing this Don and the other mechanics were working non stop on the bikes in preparation for practice and qualifying.

Team Rooster Racing Spa 2019

Keith and I put up some white boards and marked out the key times for Practice and Qualifying with the rider order. Kevin and Georgie had defined the pit board signals and we would test these out during practice.

The plan for the bikes was to use practice and Q1 to set the bikes up based on feedback from the riders after practice and then make adjustments in time for Q2.

There was a lot at stake in qualifying because there were more teams entered than would be allowed to start the race on the Saturday. At the same time Don’s orders were clear the race was the important part. He didn’t want anyone binning it during qualifying. To endure is to finish. At the same time, we had to make the cut.

The bikes were prepared, and the riders were ready. It was time for practice and Q1. As the riders left the garages, we crossed our fingers. As they returned, they gave their feedback and Don and the Mel made quite a number of adjustments. For most of the riders it was the first time they had ridden these bikes. Every other garage around us was similarly engaged in repair and adjustment in between practice sessions.

Gordon Murray Team Rooster racing GSXR1100 Spa 2019
Howard Selby Team Rooster racing GSXR1100 powered Harris Spa 2019
Angus Green Team Rooster Racing Spa 2019

During Q1 Bike 81 had developed an intermittent misfire and we had only a short period of time before Q2 to resolve it. Don and Mel set about stripping the bike and quickly discovered a crack in one of the dyna coils. We then discovered the spare coils were back in the UK. As team 81 manager it was my job to find replacements, which we did. Both Gordie and Mole had their own bikes with them for the CSBK race on the Sunday. So we stripped the coils from Gordie’s bike knowing that the we could return them in time for his race. It was close though, too close for comfort. Don was literally tightening the seat unit as the last call for Q2 came over the tannoy.

Don Hill Rooster Racing Spa 2019

We made it! Angus came back in from Q2 with a thumbs up. Both teams had qualified adequately in 36th and 40th out of 64 teams. We used qualifying laps to calculate fuel use and ensure that we could allow enough fuel for 14 laps with a 2 lap margin in case a rider missed the board.

Don Hill Rooster Racing Spa 2019

During qualifying we practised our pit wall routine by asking riders to acknowledge the board with a leg movement. Our garage and pit wall position were at the far end of the pits and right in the braking zone of the start finish straight. This proved to be the worst place in the world to demand the rider’s attention, let alone ask them to take their foot of the peg.

We experimented with count down boards, black flags and fuel calls but we were just too close to the braking zone to get consistent results. Team 81 and 82 boards also looked too similar and this was causing confusion. In the end, after a rider meeting Georgie and Kevin came up with a simple way of differentiating the boards for 81 and 82 and with the riders feedback we agreed to only use the pit board when it was time to come in. (keep it simple) No other signals would be issued. Riders would look for the board at the beginning of the straight, if it wasn’t out, they would get their head down. If it was out, they knew they had to come in on that lap. If it was moving up and down, they knew they had missed the first signal and they had to come in immediately. We only had a 2 lap buffer so if they missed that, it was over.

That evening there was a mandatory twilight session so that each rider could practice a couple of laps with lights on. We decided we would use the sessions and change of riders to practice our pit stops and rider changes. We made up a large pit lane board so that riders would see our box and we marked the box with the front wheel stop position. We practised signals from the pit wall to team managers so that we knew when riders were coming in. We would have just over 3 minutes from the signal before the bike would arrive.

Adrian McCarthy and Don Hill Rooster racing Spa 2019

The routine involved the rider stopping and cutting the engine, the stand going on. The rider would get a tap on the shoulder from the stand man and then dismount. Don was first in flipping the gear change to the rider’s preference (road or race) after Don was clear, the fuel team would move in and refuel, with everyone else clear. Once the refuel team were clear, the next rider would mount the bike, the stand man would drop the stand, tap the rider’s shoulder and the rider would start the bike and off they would go. It’s amazing how easily things can go wrong in the heat of the moment. If a team got it wrong, it could mean a penalty on race day or worse still, injury for a team member or rider. The pit lane was busy with other bikes and other teams. My principle roll in all of this was install the discipline of the routine and make sure everyone knew the routine and was in position at each stage. Each time I got the message from the pit wall I would give the pit team and the rider the call to stand by and then watch for our bikes coming in. It didn’t take us long to get into a rhythm and by the 6th practice we were looking slick.

It was late and I decided not to ride my KTM back to the my chalet as it had developed a blown exhaust coming up through France and would likely wake the dead so I borrowed an air bed and sleeping bag from Rene, who was there for the track day and I slept on the garage floor. The team next door was working on into the night, but I was dog tired and soon passed out. Tomorrow was race day!

Race Day

I went back to my chalet early and showered and reported back to the garage early. The race was going to start at 6pm that day and Don and the mechanics were hard at work preparing the bikes when I arrived, as was every other team in the pit garages. Even Timo was hard at work cleaning the bike.

Timo Monot Rooster racing Spa 2019

I made sure I had all of the riders’ arm bands safe so that I could issue them in the correct order when the race began and made a few cheat sheets up for the front of the garage with key info.

Don, Keith, Georgie, Kevin and I discussed strategy for the first rider change, taking into account that the start would involve a couple of laps for the setup of the grid. We opted to bring both bikes in consecutively after just 11 laps and then at 14 lap intervals thereafter (all going to plan) What this meant was that the as soon as one bike had pitted we would have around 4 minutes before the next bike would pit. In that time the fuelling team would need to have refilled the fuelling tank and be back on point at the front of the garage. It was going to be tight.

Rooster Racing Spa 2019

The weather had been glorious up until this point but as the race start at 6pm loomed so did some very menacing clouds. As we approached the start some rain had begun to spit. There were a lot of nervous faces around, with the exception of our team which had a total of 4 Scottish riders. Scottish riders are used to rain. Mole looked positively happy and rubbed his hands with glee.

The mechanics and the number 1 riders made their way to the start line with the bikes. At Don’s request, I taped the starting grid positions to the top of the tanks to make sure that the bikes could be placed correctly on the grid. The last thing we wanted was a stop and go penalty over the wrong grid position. The start would be a traditional endurance start with the bikes on one side of the track held by the mechanics and the riders lined up on the opposite side. When the race starts the riders must run the width of the track mount the bike, start it and take off.

Don Hill Angus Green Rooster racing Spa 2019

I didn’t see the start as I was back at the garage nervously making sure that everything was in place for the first stop. I could hear the klaxon sound and I could hear the roar of the bikes as they took off. The race had begun!

Each manager was assigned a pit marshal who stood opposite the garage and watched every stop to ensure that the regulations were met. Each time a pit was completed, and a rider change was made Keith and I would sign off the change with our respective marshal. Each rider was required to do at least 2 sessions.

News was coming in of parts of the track being quite wet. It’s a long circuit at nearly 4.5 miles and while it was dry at the garage, we heard that there were some very wet spots at the far side of the track. By the end of the first rider session by Adrian for 82 and Angus for 81 we had moved up the standings to 18 and 24. It was a great start, but Angus had to be helped off of the bike. He had pulled both hamstrings when he lost his footing running to the bike at the start.

We swapped riders and refuelled both bikes back to back. the changeovers and pit stops went exactly as rehearsed and Gordie for 82 and Howard for 81 were away.

My attention now turned to Angus, there was a lot of bruising and swelling on the back of his legs and he was in a lot of pain. We organised some ice and I began to worry I would be one rider short. Angus and I decided we would wait until 15 minutes before he was due to ride again before making an assessment. I called upon my Marshal and asked him if he would object if I changed my rider order. I was relieved when he told me I could put the riders out in any order. This gave us the option of leaving Angus until last. Howard and Gordon Grigor agreed that they would be happy to reshuffle.

We were an hour and a half into the race when our second change came in and our positions remained in and around the top 20. Our strategy to do both bikes back to back gave the fuel team virtually no time to refill and be back on point for the next rider but Mel, Billy and Twig never gave us a worry and they did brilliantly. In between changeovers I was in constant contact with the Kevin and Georgie on the wall as they were keeping count of laps and times. Keith my fellow manager was monitoring live lap times on-line and keeping us all informed of progress.

Our 3rd riders Timo for 82 and Gordon Grigor for 81 both got away well with a faultless changeover and pit stop. Gordie Murray reported that the clutch had gone on 82 the slabby. He was forced to clutchlessly change gear. There was no chance to stop we simply had to carry on and hope that it would hold out. Mid way through Timo’s stint we got the shout from the pit wall that 82 was coming in for an unknown reason mid-session. When Timo pulled in, we quickly learned that the quick change gear lever had lost its R clip. No doubt clutchless gear changes may have been a factor. Quick as a flash the pin was replaced, and Timo was off, but we had worked our way up to 11th overall prior to the gear change issue and the stop cost team 82 six places.

I had been timing the rider pit stops with Lewis’s help mainly to get the exact time they went out and came in. I was using this to get an idea how long each rider would take to complete the 14 laps and then make the in lap. This gave me the ability to predict when the next change would be. As Angus’s next ride approached, I asked him if he was going to be able to ride. To my surprise and delight he said yes, he was going to give it a go. So, Angus and Adrian were back out and we had six changes and 4 more changes to do. Both bikes were going well but the slabby clutch was a concern and so was Angus’s injury. Team 81 was sitting in 16th and team 82 in 17th

All around us bikes were coming in smoking or leaking or both and some had already been retired. The pit lane was a constant hive of activity all closely monitored by a line of eagle eyed marshals. Race bikes take a punishing at the best of times. Tuned to the point that makes them highly strung and delicate they are normally thrashed for 10 laps at a time, allowing for checks in between. Endurance racing was a bigger test. These same highly tuned bikes were going to be run flat out for 4hrs and over 350 miles. All around us the thrashings were beginning to take their toll.

Each time the riders came in they looked sweaty, wide eyed and exhausted. Spa is a long track with 20 corners. Doing 14 flat out laps of this track was physically demanding in the extreme.

Remarkably, despite his injury, Angus was doing well, he was putting in decent times and it looked like he would complete his stint. Adrian was putting in great times too and both bikes were well placed. We had to make a decision on how we would split the last two sessions as we had calculated there would not be enough time for a full 14 laps each for the last 2 riders in each team. Both teams took a slightly different approach but team in team 81 we decided to split the last 2 sessions equally so Howard and Gordon Grigor would do 11 laps each.

I was relieved when we got our last riders out, but it was clear from the times we were putting in that we were in with a real chance of a top five finish in our class. I signed my last pit stop record and my Marshal extended his hand and congratulated me on a well-run pit.

As the pit crew relaxed slightly knowing that our last riders were out, all we could do was watch the times and hope the final session would go without incident. It was at this point that Don turned to me and said ” I think we should try a 12 hour race next time” I think he was serious. I just laughed nervously.

When the race finished, it was confirmed that team 81 had a podium finish with 3rd in the open class. Team 82 had managed a fourth place finish in the open class, despite the unscheduled stop for the gear change fix. We worked out that had it not been for that extra stop Rooster Racing would have been celebrating a second and third in the open class.

It had been a long hard 3 days and all of a sudden it all felt very worth it. I took the time to shake each of my fellow team members by the hand and I could see in every set of eyes I met there was the same look of elated happiness that I was feeling. The whole team made its way to the podium together for the presentation.

When we got down to the podium, we noticed that we had lost Howard and my last find the missing rider mission of the weekend began. I delivered Howard to Don and the rest of team 81 just minutes before they stepped out on to the balcony for their podium moment.

Team 81 Rooster racing Spa 2019

Kevin, one half of our pit wall brain trust began chanting “Rooster, Rooster Rooster, Rooster” within a couple of seconds most of the crowd joined in. There it was, the defining icing on the cake, Don, Angus, Gordon and Howard standing up on the balcony holding their trophies while the Spa crowd chanted the team’s name Rooster, Rooster, Rooster.

We moved the bikes back up to the garage and the beers and the whisky began to flow.

Team 81 Rooster racing Spa 2019

We arranged the bikes for a series of photo shoots and Rene, who had now become an honorary member of Rooster racing family, took everyone’s camera and or phone and took a series of group shots with the entire team while he wobbled precariously standing on a chair.

Team Rooster racing Spa 2019

As the beer began to take the edge off of a tense day, I looked around me at my fellow team members, most of whom had been strangers only 2 days earlier. Now we were a team, galvanised in the heat of battle and righteous in victory. We felt like a team that night and we celebrated as a team. Even Don was smiling. If you know Don, you will know this is rare. There had been no egos just a group of people working together to make the race team work.

Team 81 and 82 Rooster racing Spa 2019
Left to right Gordon Grigor, Howard Selby, Angus Green, Don Hill, Adrian McCarthy, Gordon Murray, Timo Monot
Rooster Racing Spa 2019
Team 82 Rooster racing Spa 2019
Rooster Racing Spa 2019

I looked at the 2 bikes that just four hours ago had looked so pristine. They were filthy covered in oil and rubber. They had survived. They had endured and this was the ultimate testament to Don’s work and the efforts of our six riders. With very little money and a hell of a lot of hard work and talent Don had single handily created the opportunity for this moment to take place. His engineering had been tested and found to be of the very highest order. His choice of riders had also been rewarded.

Rooster racing Spa 2019
Rooster racing GSXR1100 Spa 2019

Some time ago Don had decided he would build 2 bikes to take part in this event. He put the riders and the team together and he hand built the bikes. The choices he had made, the sacrifices he had made, and all of his hard work had been rewarded. I knew Don well enough now to know that he always had a point to prove. The point being that you don’t need a mega budget and celebrity riders to get a result, but you do need a talent for building fast reliable bikes and a nose for the right kind of riders and people. While we all celebrated our shared success that evening and our own part in that success, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that there was one man who was pivotal to that success and that was Don Hill. This had been his vision from the start and our success represented a very personal struggle fulfilled.

Don Hill, Rooster Racing, Spa 2019

I was honoured to have been able to take part and I was grateful to have been allowed to share in the success and I knew everyone else in the team felt the same way.

The evening ended with a country music rendition of ice ice baby by Gordie on the guitar. I’m still trying to forget that bit but I know I will not easily forget how special my time was with this wonderful group of people at this amazing race track.

Go winged hammers! Go Rooster Racing!

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Oldskoolsuzuki meets Don Hill at Rooster Racing

Rooster Racing Don Hill

At the end of January I got a chance to go and visit a man who has probably forgotten more about building and tuning 90s GSXRs than most of us will ever know. His name is Don Hill and he owns Rooster Racing.

What made this opportunity to visit Don’s workshops special was that it’s not something he offers very often. He is almost adverse to attention and publicity, preferring to hand pick the people he builds bikes for. The reason for Don’s approach became clearer as the day wore on.

Don Hill rooster racing Donington endurance legends oldskoolsuzuki
Don Hill and the Rooster Racing team at Donington endurance legends 2018

Don Hill

I first became aware of Don’s work when my friend Adrian McCarthy (AKA Mole) told me he was going to be one of 3 riders racing Don’s Rooster Racing GSXR powered Harris at the 2018 endurance legends event at Donington. When I was there, I got a quick look round the bike in the pit garage. The build quality and the finish were something very special.

That same year I started my own race career ( if you can call it that). Racing at Eastfortune on my home built GSXR1100 Slabside. I quickly learned that 3 of the fastest GSXRs in my post classic senior class were all built by Don at Rooster Racing. I would like to say that’s why they were so much faster than me but the truth was that was entirely down to me. With Don’s Slabside based 1216 engines routinely and reliably knocking out over 160 bhp, I can’t see my home built Slabby getting close even if my riding skills improve.

Adrian McCarthy's GSXR1100 Don Hill Rooster racing
Adrian’s Championship winning GSXR1100 slabside built by Rooster Racing

I got chatting to Don in the pits at Eastfortune last year between my races. I had been suffering from some fuelling problems and Mole and I and the rest of the team had been struggling to solve the problem. Don turned up and took around 2 minutes to sort it. We chatted again after my last race and he agreed that I could come down and learn more about what he was doing and write something for OSS.

Rooster Racing

There were two main reasons I was intrigued to know more about Don’s work. Firstly, I was impressed by the performance and the reliability of the engines he was building. Secondly, Don’s talents don’t stop at engine building and tuning. He fabricates the frame and swingarm modifications, builds his own exhausts systems and as if that wasn’t enough, he produces the most amazing paint work too. There aren’t may people who can single-handedly build a race bike to such a high standard. I just needed to know more.

Mole was going down to Don’s to pick up freshly painted body work and wheels for his 2019 wet bike. So I hitched a lift down to meet Don on his his home turf and learn more about the work that he does.

When we arrived Don took us into his main hanger size workshop, he put the heating on and then presented us with us with tea and bacon butties. I liked him already.

While Mole and Don talked I had a wander round looking at some of the motorcycle exotica that peppered the workshop.

Don Hill
Don and Mole talk shop

GSXR Engine tuning

Don was in the midst of building a new Machine shop for his gas flow bench. The flow bench was situated in another location until Don has completed the extension. Don promised me a return visit when all of the work was complete so that we could do a more detailed feature on it.

,We talked about his fastidious approach to head work. He will routinely spend 200 man hours on a head between porting it and gas flowing it. When we talked about costs, I quickly worked out that he probably ends up earning about £3 an hour on a head. It was at this point that I started to realise Don was an out and out perfectionist. He was not motivated by cost or profit. His motivation was quality. This was not Don’s day job either.

Don explained his method of gas flowing a cylinder head. Don would always gas flow with the carbs on. Not any old carbs but the actual carbs that were going to be used on the bike. He acknowledged that everyone had their own approach but this was his. Engines were built to each racers specific requirements. Those requirements often came down to where the bike would be raced and how and where the rider wanted the power to develop. No one engine would be the same.

Rooster racing
Don explains the varying engine characteristics that he has tailored for different racers

GSXR frame fabricaion

Don had a GSXR slabside that he was mid way through building for a racer from the ground up. This included all of the frame and swingarm mods and a very trick aluminium breather tank.

Rooster Racing GSXR
Ground up Rooster Racing GSXR Slabside race bike

GSXR exhaust fabrication

Don then talked us through the exhaust systems that he builds to go with his engines. He talked about about the importance of narrowing the headers at the manifold and ensuring that the pulses from the matched cylinders worked in unison at the collector box. I was out of my depth but I nodded like I understood.

Rooster racing hand made GSXR exhaust
Rooster Racing’s hand made exhaust systems
Don Hill Rooster Racing exhaust
Don explains the virtues of collector box configuration

Rooster Racing paint

Mole’s freshly painted body work and wheels were laid out for collection and they were perfect. Don was clearly a man of artistic talents too as he explained his love for ornamental wood carving and shared some pictures of his work. Looking closely at the paint work than Don had completed for Mole, it bore all of the hallmarks of a perfectionist, just like everything else that Don put his hands to.

Don Hill Rooster Racing
Mole inspects his new paint job by Don Hill

Quality and integrity are inseparable

As the morning wore on and Don and I talked some more I realised what a rare individual he was. When I say this, I mean Don seemed to be able to bring the the same methodical, well rehearsed quality, to everything he did. There was also something unique about the way Don viewed the bikes and the riders that he worked with.

When he built a bike for someone he maintained an genuine ownership like concern for the bike and the rider’s fortunes. This was the reason Don chose those who he built for so carefully. He had to be sure that they the rider would be prepared to do things Don’s way. He doesn’t build parts of bikes, he builds a complete performance package. The performance came from each part of the bike working in unison.

Mole was a trained motor mechanic and was no stranger to building his own machines. He had won a number of championships on his own builds but since meeting Don he now deferred to Don on all major decisions on race bike performance. As Mole put it “when Don tells you to do something you don’t argue you just do it”

Rooster Racing Don Hill
Rooster Racing’s Harris Endurance bike

I left Don’s workshop with a deep respect for his skills and his ethos. Don understood the high stakes for a racer, having raced for many years himself when he was younger. Racers had partners and families to provide for. The performance, reliability and ultimately the safety of the machines Don built meant more than just winning. Lives were at stake and that responsibility was something that weighed heavily on Don’s conscience.

I concluded that Don was a man of great skill, who would always put quality first. He would never be afraid to walk away if he felt that his approach was unwelcome, unappreciated or compromised. His commitment to that approach and his integrity left me feeling that I could implicitly and completely trust Don. I can’t think of a more important time to trust someone than when they’re building you a race bike.

Oldskoolsuzuki will return to Rooster Racing later in the year. In the meantime, don’t call Don, he’ll call you.

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R.I.P the original winged hammer

 

It is with a very heavy heart that the OSS community mourns the loss of our friend Pete Boyles AKA Pete750ET.

Those of us who have been involved with the site from the early days will will remember both Pete’s Earlystock racing career and that of Runt racing with great affection and the OSS team chant;  Go Pete Go! and Go runt go!

At the time, we all followed the antics of Pete and Runt racing with great pride and great enthusiasm. With the help of the OSS collective brain, Pete was able to take his humble 750ET to another level.

Anyone who knew Pete will know what a genuinely lovely guy he was. Pete visited us on the stand at Donington in 2017 and he was as enthusiastic about OSS bikes then as he ever has been.

Pete was my inspiration for starting the winged hammers team and I will always regard him as the original winged hammer.

Rest in peace friend.

OSS salutes you.

Members pay your respects here

It’s never too late to be what you might have been- A winged hammer’s tale.

From time to time we lift a story from our forum and put it here for the wider world to enjoy. This is one of those occasions. Mole is one of our winged hammers and if you ever found yourself wondering whether it was too late to take up track racing or thinking you needed mega-bucks just to get started, Mole’s story should provide some inspiration.

What started as a bit of laugh has seen Mole win his local class championship and this year, Mole will take on both Donington’s classic endurance round in May and Spa in June.

This is Mole’s story, so far…

 

 


This is how it all began. It was Christmas 2012.

I had a perfectly mental, tuned GSXR thou and I got talked into going racing. After all, I was 46 and if I didn’t do it now, I never would. My mates were racing in the Post Classic series and, if I wanted to take them on, I needed a pre ’88 bike to do it on.

I got £1200 and the horrible 750 Slabby streetfighter you see below for my pride and joy(oddly I don’t miss it).

It was standard apart from the Blandit 600 wheels, carbs and a really loud,rattly can. The weird seat unit looked ok but weighed a ton. The brakes were knackered and the motor was seized.


I had 3 months to turn it into a competitive race bike.

Not having a clue about racing didn’t help. I looked on the web at racing Slabbies and dreamed of world championships. I looked at frame mods as I had heard that the standard frames were far too flexible. I got some 6mm alloy plate and a length of 40×20 box section and made up some bracing. I don’t have the capability to alloy weld so I taped them onto the frame and took it to the local blacksmiths to get welded up. I bought an aftermarket fairing on Eblag then realised that it didn’t meet the catch tank regs so pop riveted a bit of caravan onto the bottom. I made a couple of brackets to fit R1 calipers to the Slabby forks,fitted clipons, an R1 shock, an 1100M back wheel, painted it matt black and poured diesel down the plug holes. After a couple of days it was turning over and running on a set of VM29s that I already had.

I was ready for action.

Season 1

As I said, I didn’t have a clue about racing. My mate Iain P was coaxed into helping me. He was in strong disagreement that the best way to find the limits of adhesion was to lean more and more till I fell off (both left and right). But that’s what I did. My first race was at East Fortune. I did a 1:17 and fell off. The bike felt horrible, Skittish and downright dangerous in the damp with road legal tyres as we weren’t allowed wets. Not helped by the fact I was running them at road pressures of 36 front and 42 rear. When I asked someone about it they pissed themselves laughing and told me to try 31 front and 28 rear. What a difference that made!

There were 15 riders in our class and by the end of the season I was down to a 1:08 and finished second in class.

Season 2

Second season and I had made a few changes.

I bought another fairing and took all the bodywork to my mate Wee Stuart the painter and told him to paint it the same colour as the car I was getting sprayed. The car looked better! I got dogs abuse all year about that colour. Luckily enough I crashed it at the last meeting of the year so it would need painted again. It got a Gsxr600 K1 front end with a ZX9 wheel, fireblade calipers and a shortened random, and much more sociable, end can. All much cheapness as money was tight. Best buy was the Taiwanese rear sets. £36 and made from an alloy I had, and have never since, encountered. They crash really well. When bent double they can be hammered straight again and again. I decided to go with no proper seat as comfort is the last thing on your mind when racing.

It was tight that year, but I won by a handful of points.

Season 3

Season 3 and I have a target on my back!

The team: Jools-Team principal- cook

Iain P-Crew chief- Prophet of Doom

Me- Ballast-Talent(depending on results)

The big change for this year was my mate Andy Fyffe bought me a set of PFM discs. He has the superbike ones on his Harris Magnum4 and swears by them. He’s not wrong., Combined with Bendix carbon matrix race pads, they are like hitting a skip!

I bought a second hand stainless race pipe and can, some cheap chinese levers, a kid on seat and new paint.

A proper race loom was made up and doubts were cast as to the longevity of the still original de-seized motor(as can be seen by the amount of oil on the tailpiece)

There was no way I was going to win this year after a couple of crashes(silver Gaffa tape is my new best friend)

As luck would have it, Andy Lawson who was sure to beat me, went off to do the Manx (and won his class) so that left me winning by a handful of points again this year(2014)

Season 4

First major revamp. I bought a load of Gsxr bits from someone who was moving class to supertwins. The package came with a blown 750m motor with a lightened and balanced crank and a Wiseco 771cc kit. It had dropped a valve and destroyed the head and piston but the cylinder was untouched and came with a new piston kit. Also in package was a low mileage 750m motor and a Dyna 2000 ignition set up. Because I’m a slack arse, I decided to put the complete 750m motor into the bike along with the Dyna ignition and find another head, to get ported, for the trick motor for a later , more points demanding stage in the championship. The Prophet of Doom was in total agreement, much to my surprise,but only because he doesn’t like change. A new swoopy slingshot body kit was purchased. Again only because it was £100 cheaper than a Slabby one. At least the people that make “race” fairnings reckon that you will need a full belly pan for a Slingy. Painted it myself this time. Looks fabulous from a good few feet away. Changed to 36mm CVs( forgot to mention that the year before I had the VM29s bored to 33 at the back to match the fronts). The 36s used less petrol which worried me.

I put Hyperpro springs in the forks which greatly improved the handling. Unfortunately this meant I started having ground clearance issues. I moved the pegs up and back a little, made a new link pipe for the exhaust to tuck it in and cut holes in the fairing where the bulges for the engine cases were.

Halfway through the season is when the electrical gremlins joined the team. The bike would seem fine for about 8 laps of the 10 lap races then start misfiring. We kept finding dodgy connections (caused mainly by using those shitty blue connectors). We would think it was sorted but it would do the same thing again. We changed the plugs, the coils, made another loom and even tried a better fuel tap in case it was petrol starvation. Nothing seamed to make a difference. It was at one of the spark plug changes (last race of the weekend) that a rogue (and tiny) nut had found its way down the plug tube so that when the plugs were taken out, it fell in. The motor sounded terminal on startup so the bike was put in the van. The trick motor was put into service by using the head from the standard motor. That’s when I noticed the tiny square nut embedded into the edge of the combustion chamber.

The rules were still the same regarding tyres. Road legal only. No wets. We were running Pirelli diablo supercorsas in the dry and Michelin pilot road 3 touring tyres in the wet.

I’ve ridden bikes all my life and most of it in Scotland so riding in the rain doesn’t bother me. This worked well in my favour as it was wet a lot that year. I won the championship by a fair bit and went the whole season without crashing.

Season 5

 

The class was beginning to dwindle with only 8 bikes left. The racing was still good though. My main rivals Gordon Murray on his VFR and Gordon Castle on a very well put together Gsxr 750 were always right with me. I was still having ground clearance issues because the bike was handling so well. The NRC casings were getting scuffed as was the fairing although I had pulled it in as much as possible. I made up brackets to move the top mount of the shock back and down which meant I had to take more meat off the linkage to allow more height. They look dodgy and I meant to get them welded onto the frame but never did and they haven’t moved. I should still get them welded on.

Deek had joined the team as pit crew and moral prevention officer. Mostly he noised up the competition.

At the Bob Mac Memorial classic races that year I did my best ever lap of 1:03.7. This was only possible because of the perfect weather conditions and having a couple of world class riders to chase. I never beat them but they dragged me along a full second faster than I had gone before.

Wet tyres were allowed! They are epic. If you have never tried them you wouldn’t believe how grippy they are. I prayed for rain and did my rain dance every meeting.

The gremlins were still on board. I was over riding the bike when it was stuttering on the last laps and ended the season with a couple of crashes. The bike was fast though and I could build up enough of a lead to still finish 1st or 2nd. I managed to win my fourth consecutive title. Just.

Season 6 2017

I had been warned not to run the number 1.

What do they know!

Over the winter I had bought another motor that had just been built by a renowned tuner. It had Wiseco high comp pistons and a ported head. Unfortunately for the guy his fuel tap had not shut off and filled the cases with petrol resulting in a big end failure. We made an engine up from all the best parts we had. It’s a total screamer. New paint and another end can and we were ready.

First race of the year and the bike died after 3 laps. When the race was over it started and ran perfectly back to the pit.

We checked everything we could think of. I was told the Dyna 2000 ignitions were bomb proof and no way it would be that. I didn’t have another one anyway.

The class was only 5 strong and we were out with the CB500s. It meant we only got 2 clear laps before we were in traffic. That worked in my favour as the bike was still playing up and I managed to finish 2 of the races.

I was convinced that it was a fuel starvation problem so for the 2nd meeting i bought new Mikuni RS34s and fitted a Pingle tap. On a sneaky test ride along the back roads the bike felt great and never missed a beat. At the meeting on the practice session the bike ran perfectly. However when the call went out for qualifying it would not start. No spark.

One of my rivals lent me his spare Dyna ignition. That was the problem all along. I had to start at the back of a 36 strong grid (30 pizza bikes and then the post classics). By lap 5 I tried to take the lead and crashed. Bugger! It had ripped all the controls off the left side of the bike. We had enough spares to sort the bike and hammered straight the unbreakable Taiwanese rear sets. 2nd race and the gear linkage snapped on lap 2 and in 5th gear. I finished the race but burnt out the clutch slipping it out of the tight corners. I didn’t have a spare clutch so I roughed up the steel plates. It was better but still slipping. 2 distant 5th place finishes.

I could still win the championship (theoretically) if I won every race.

At the 3rd meeting everything went perfectly. I won all the races and my nearest rival had a DNF. It was on.

Last meeting of the year. First race. Pole position. The lights went out and my throttle cable snapped.

Fixed the cable by soldering a new nipple on. 2nd race. 2nd lap and the cable snapped again.

It was over.

Won the last 2 races but finished a distant 2nd in the championship.

Good riddance number 1 plate.

Roll on 2018.

Mole.

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