The Story of a Norton Commando Racing Motorcycle Rebuild
On Friday April 25, 2003, I received a must lusted-after Norvil dual-disk brake kit and calipers. Thanks to Norvil and Phil at Fair Spares America.
I stayed up until 3:30am rebuilding the suspension to suit the Norvil disk, and finishing safety wiring the bike.
On Saturday April 26 I awoke at 530am to head up to Sears Point raceway, at the south end of California's Napa Valley wine growing region. This was practice day.
Naturally I did not complete everything before going to bed at 3:30am for a restful 2 hours. So, after arriving at the track, I spent about 3 hours bleeding the brakes, attaching the exhaust pipes, and finishing various bits of race preparation.
At 11am I took my first run on the track with the bike!
On every lap I keep looking for the "meatball flag" along with my number, indicating that I had to pull off the track due to an imploding bike. But lap after lap, old Norton kept on running strong, and I was pleased as punch to complete the session of 8 laps without incident.
I spent the rest of the day in practice sessions, getting faster, and fixing various bits that loosened up.
Sunday April 27 dawned clear and warm, and at 7:15am I was driving over the Golden Gate Bridge, looking over San Francisco and Alcatraz island as the sun rose. I was chatting on my mobile phone to my Grandfather in the UK getting some advice on sorting a nagging carburation problem I was encountering at 3/4 throttle in the lower gears.
After a good practice session, we settled back to wait for my race. It was race #9, so we had to wait some time. The Vintage race was the 5th race in the afternoon after lunch.
5 of us lined up for the Vintage race. We started in waves, with 3 classes of modern bikes before the Vintage boys took off. 450s went first, then 250s, then 500 twins, and then time for the Vintage boys. We all revved up, and when the green flag went, I slipped out the clutch. However, it was my first race start with the bike, despite some practice on the hot pit lane, and I'm afraid I was a bit jerky. After a bit of a wheely, I backed off, almost stalled, and then got onto the gas and up into second gear.
It was a drag race up through the first corner, a sweeping, fast left hander, and into turn 2, an off-camber uphill right hander. Amazingly I out-dragged the field and was first into turn 2. I managed to lead the field for about 6 laps. However, as the fast 450s came by to lap us (remember, they started about 1 minute before us), I got caught up in traffic, and a Bultaco 2-stroke came by me on the entrance to turn 6, the Carousel. I followed Charlie on his Bultaco for two laps, and analyzed where I could get by him. Then, on the last lap, I held back behind him through the downhill Carousel, and as we were exiting, I wound it up, got some speed up, and passed him on the inside as we exited the corner onto the straightaway.
It was then tuck under the big bubble and don't miss a shift down the straightaway into the hairpin at turn 7. Brake late and keep speed up through the right handed double apex corner. Upshift once and again into top gear through the fast S bends of turns 8a and 8b. Keep it tucked in and open the taps fully for the blast down the gently sweeping left of turn 9. A bit of brakes and then pitch it into the fast (between 80 -100mph) turn 10 right hander. So far, so good. No sign of the Bultaco's front wheel.
Brake deep into the turn 11 hairpin and get ready for the final sprint to the finish line. Oh no, I missed a shift! Horror! However, I had pulled about 1 second on the Bultaco, so I could get back into gear and on the gas, and I managed to cross the finish line first.
And that is the story of how my 7 months of intense labor and expense resulted in a race win in our first race out.
Many thanks to my family for all their support during this time. Thanks also to Bob Raber and Les Emery and Frederick Gillott for all their sage advice.
See you at the track.