"I cannot do this," I told myself as I wrestled the big Ducati through the Pomona Half-Mile's rough and rutted turns. Thrown in at the deep end, out in practice for the Open class of Gene Romero's West Coast Flat Track Series, I tried to stay out of the way as the other, more experienced riders dive-bombed under me going into the corners and slingshot past me on the straights. I don't think I breathed once my first two laps.
And then a magic thing happened. Realizing that the bike was never going to turn with the throttle closed and the tires plowing through the ruts, I grabbed a big handful mid-corner, the rear wheel stepped out, the front pointed straight up the track and suddenly everything was right in the world!
I won't pretend that I set a new track record-or even went fast enough to make the field-but for the first time in my all-too-brief dirt-track "career," I felt like I knew what I was doing. And that I might actually be worthy of writing about this bike I was allegedly "testing."
For as long as anyone can remember, AMA Grand National Dirt Track racing has been the sole property of Harley-Davidson and its iconic XR750. Sure, King Kenny Roberts (Yamaha), Ricky Graham and Bubba Shobert (Honda) won championships on rival brands, but they're the exceptions to the rule. Not since the early '70s, when guys like Gene Romero himself were riding BSAs and Triumphs, has Harley had any real competition.
It wouldn't be accurate to say that's about to change, but the wind is starting to blow in a different direction. And the bike shown here is at the forefront of that movement.
Most race fans know Larry Pegram as a roadracer, and well they should, as he won three rounds of the 2009 AMA American Superbike Championship aboard the Ducati 1098R featured on the previous pages. But he cut his teeth in dirt-track racing, winning more AMA amateur titles than anyone else in history and three Grand Nationals aboard Harleys and Hondas tuned by the legendary Skip Eaken. More recently he rode a Lloyd Brothers Racing Aprilia at select races, but his primary focus was roadracing, and Ducati wasn't keen on him riding another brand. Which got him thinking...
Look ma, no brakes! View over the high and wide Vortex handlebar is sparse, with only a th
This particular Ducati GT1000 came with twin shocks, but was modified to run only one, lik
The stock-framed GT1000 Larry Pegram rode at Springfield (top) and the "framer" he rode at
"I missed dirt-track-my last year racing full-time was 1992," Pegram laments. "Ducati gave me a Hypermotard with the two-valve 1100 motor, and the power pulses felt just like a Harley. So I thought, let's build one."
Pegram enlisted the help of the Lloyd brothers, David and Michael, who bought a wrecked GT1000 with a salvage title for $5000 on eBay. Measuring the stock chassis, they realized the numbers weren't too far off, so rather than building a custom frame decided to tailor it.
After modifying the swingarm to clear the spec 19-inch Dunlop (nee Goodyear) tire, they lowered the rear of the bike, determined the correct leverage ratio, made new shock mounts and bolted up a fully adjustable Penske. Those changes kicked out the steering head, so they made up some new bearing races to bring it back in as far as possible without the front tire hitting the forward cylinder head.
Removing the cross-bracing let the frame flex more to cope with rough tracks, while relocating the battery and electrics above the engine increased forward weight bias to give the front tire a better bite. The front end consists of a Honda CBR600F4 fork bolted to adjustable Baer Racing triple clamps, while the rear brake was liberated from an Aprilia campaigned in the AMA MotoST series. A custom gas tank, seat and foot controls, AirTech fiberglass tailpiece and Performance Machine aluminum wheels completed the chassis.
The stock 992cc V-twin already made decent power, so Pegram's engine-builder Dave Weaver just flowed the head and installed a set of Ducati Performance cams and high-compression pistons. That boosted output to 94 horsepower at the rear wheel-slightly stronger than a good-running Harley. "The difference is an XR motor lasts one weekend, while this thing will go thousands of miles," Pegram quips. "It's a lot cheaper, too," adds David Lloyd, who's a big proponent of production-based engines. "It costs $25,000 to build a competitive XR, whereas we've got less than half that in this bike."
Pegram debuted the Ducati at the Springfield Mile last Memorial Day weekend, and still remembers the reaction. "When we unloaded it people were laughing, but they stopped after I transferred directly from the heat race."
Unfortunately, the main event didn't go as well. Pegram ran just outside the top 10, but the bike lost power as it got hotter. A red flag due to rain gave him a second chance, but the bike blew an oil line and he crashed unhurt.
A conflict with an AMA roadrace meant Pegram couldn't compete in the second Springfield Mile on Labor Day weekend, but he did take part in the Indianapolis Mile the same weekend as MotoGP. For that the Lloyd brothers got serious, hit up Ducati for a second engine (which came from one of the Hypermotards used to make Terminator Salvation) and had Vintage Motorcycle Components build a custom frame, tilting the engine up and moving it forward to put even more weight on the front end.
Pegram found the "framer" handled even better than the stocker, and ran as high as fourth in his heat race before falling while challenging for third. That put him on the third row for the semi, and the best he could manage was fourth-one position away from making the show.
So what next? The Lloyd Brothers would like to contest the entire 2010 AMA Grand National Championship, but finding funding is proving more difficult now than it has in the team's five-year history. They need a top rider who can win races, but none of them want to get off their Harleys because they get parts allowances and contingencies. "That's too bad, because if this thing wins, it would be the best thing to happen to dirt-track racing in years," says David. "I ask guys, 'Do you want to be just another rider to win on a Harley, or the first to win on a Ducati?'"
Pegram is also keen to do more dirt-track races, but would like to pick and choose which events he competes in-and may not even be available for those. "I'd like to go to a few of the good tracks, but if I'm in the hunt for the Superbike title, I wouldn't be allowed to. So hopefully, I won't be allowed to!"