It’s fair to say that all competitive motorcycle racing relies on both a riders skill and their bravery. The ability to suspend one’s natural aversion to real and present danger and to focus only on the task in hand, are essential.
Pushing your machine and your body to the very limit of their capability and beyond is the difference between competing and just turning up.
Despite a life long love of all things two wheeled it took me a long time to get round to witnessing my first proper road race close up. It was the 2016 Isle of Man TT , arguably the Daddy of all road races. It’s an experience that changed my perspective on motorcycle racing for ever.
There I was sat on a grass verge, aside a quiet country road lined with trees and a stone wall on the other side. The tarmac was close enough to touch. The sun was shining and the birds were singing in the trees and hedgerows around me. An otherwise perfectly normal and perfectly sublime summer’s day in the country. Then, all of a sudden; Boom! With a sudden explosion of noise, adrenalin and jaw dropping speed, Michael Dunlop had just passed mere feet from my face on his way to a 133mph average speed lap record.
I sat for a moment suspended in absolute disbelief at what I had just witnessed, with only a slight whiff of burnt fully synth in the air to bear witness to the fact that something had happened . Had that really just happened? My hand was trembling slightly as my mind replayed the scene over again and over again: A guy on a bike? At that speed? On this road? I kept picturing the suspension bottoming and the whole bike squirming in protest. He was on the very limit!
I had seen many track races over the years with bikes and riders on the very limit but that’s not what was blowing my mind here. The thing that I couldn’t reconcile was the context in which I had witnessed this riding style. Balls out riding on a normal country road. A country road I had ridden myself the previous day.
I spent the next week on the Island trying to get my head around how a road racer is possibly able to suspend their state of fear. On a race track you have gravel traps and large run off areas, but here there was nowhere to go. My own fear for their safety mixed with my fascination for what they where doing and how on earth they were able to do it. I couldn’t understand it yet but I knew I was already hooked.
I’ve since come to better understand, after speaking to a lot of people including some road racers, that what sets road racers apart is that they don’t see things like we do. The phrase ” being in the zone” is used to describe focus around a lot of menial activities these days but for the road racer, I think, it describes perfectly the mind set that is required. The ability to achieve a state of sublime concentration that enables remarkable performance, while suspending all other distractions or concerns. I get it now but my utter respect and admiration for road racers remains undiminished. They know the risks and yet every year, talented road racers put their skills to the ultimate test and sadly some pay the very highest price in the pursuit of their craft.
In late 2016 oldskoolsuzuki launched the Winged Hammers race team. Not really a team more of a really cool badge and a dedicated board on our forum. The idea was that if any of our members were competitively racing, in any discipline, on an oldskoolsuzuki machine, we wanted to create a OSS race team livery for their bikes. The Winged Hammers were born.
We quickly had track racers, drag racers, straight liners, world wheelie championship competitors and land speed record holders displaying the OSS race team livery on their bikes, but for me, the proudest moment of all was when the Winged Hammer emblem appeared on race bikes at the 2017 Classic TT on the Isle of Man.
Not long after the 2017 Classic TT I asked our two TT Winged Hammer teams to give me an account of their 2017 TT campaign and here they are, in their own words. Our very first Classic TT Winged Hammer was Geoff Martin.
First of all there have been some low points to 2017 We lost Gavin Lupton after a crash at the Dundrod 150 just before the classic TT. Gavin had tried Dean’s water-cooled GSXR 750 at Oulton a few weeks before the Dundrod 150 and was very enthusiastic about riding it at the TT. Unfortunately it was not to be. Gavin later succumbed to his injuries while we were at the classic TT.
We decided to take the bike anyway and it was agreed that Gavin’s team mate Dan Hegarty should ride it as a tribute to Gavin and he did him proud finishing 12th with a fastest lap of just over 120mph.
Bellow are two pictures at Oulton of the bike and Gavin riding the bike.
This picture is at the IOM with Dan Hegarty on the bike at Greeba Castle.
My bike, the blue/white one, was ridden again by my Good friend from Ireland Dennis Booth. Dennis had a good fortnight finishing 20th winning another silver rep on my bike and not quite beating his best lap of last year of over 115mph but still not bad for a 53 year old . Both bikes ran well without any real problems. Dennis is looking forward to next year already.
Sadly as we now all know Dan Hegarty himself tragically lost his life in November racing in Macau Grand Prix. Dan was well known to many at OSS as he had hosted our 2016 dyno day. R.I.P Dan and Gavin.
Our second Classic TT winged Hammer in 2017 went to Billy Bennet. Here’s billy’s TT story.
My friend Forest Dunn who does the Irish road racing circuit as well as the TT messaged me about 6 weeks before the classic saying he had an entry and was looking for a bike. I had done some spannering for him before and I had my 750 slabbie track bike that had lain idle since Donington in May.
The bike had been originally hastily put together for Donington so we sent it to Stuart Young in Scotland. Stuart Young got to work refreshing the engine and getting the paint sorted and I had to sort out getting the front end to resemble something eligible!
We managed to get everything done just in time for practice week. The bike went on the dyno in the morning and was on the IOM ready for practise that evening!
When I turned up half way through practise week with my luggage full of spares, Forest had already had teething problems with a slipping clutch, the bike dropping to three cylinders, and the carbs needing further tweaks. My first day there we spent all day on the bike before practise we realised the HT leads were old and perished so put a set of Dyna coils on and that sorted the spark, we scrounged new frictions and steels from a friend in the paddock and serviced the master and slave cylinder for the clutch(prior to my arrival forest had ditched the cable conversion and borrowed a master from the generous Mark Stokes at Funky Monk Racing. Forest had also put fully synth oil in it! I think that’s what caused Initial clutch slip)
We took the bike for a sneaky road test and everything seemed to be OK. However on Thursday night’s practice the clutch started slipping and on the second lap the bike cut out at the bungalow. Forest did however do a 108 average on the first lap from a standing start! We were buzzing about that and forest came in saying the bike was handling like a dream. It seems the bike cut out because he caught the choke lever with his knee slider Velcro.
Well come race day we’d put two washers behind each clutch spring-no more slip. We’d had a crack in the exhaust welded up, changed settings on the carbs, welded up the airbox space in the tank to help fuel starvation issues and had generally been working flat out to make the bike race ready. On Tuesday we came 30th overall and 12th in our class, with a best lap of 110.8. I think this was a massive massive achievement all things considered. The rider was happy and I was happy.
As the bike owner and mechanic it was overwhelmingly stressful sometimes. You worry about the rider who is your best mate, you worry about your bike coming back in one piece, you worry that your bike prep is absolutely spot on and you want to do a good job. Then there are late nights, the expense, the worry of sleeping in a van with the fuel cans and spare tyres. These are all forgotten every time you see that average speed go up and your rider come back in with a smile on his face.
The enjoyment of seeing those things and watching the live timing make it all worth it. Nothing beats seeing an old oil boiler built on a budget being mercilessly thrashed round the mountain circuit like it was meant to do, almost brings a tear to my eye!!! Haha
At OSS we are immensely proud of all of our Winged Hammers. They fly the oldskoolsuzuki flag on behalf of us all. They do the things that many of us can only dream of doing. That said, there are few that would deny that the road racer is a very special bread of racer and seeing our Winged Hammer emblem at the Classic TT is my personal highlight of 2017.
May 2018 bring all of our Winged Hammers the success that they deserve. Go Winged Hammers!
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If you are interested in becoming a member of the team contact Katanamangler, after registering on our forum.