Team Obsolete's Rob Iannucci is not your typical flag-waving Harley-Davidson fanatic. One of the pioneers of vintage roadracing in America, and still one of the sport's greatest global benefactors, he got his start racing British-built Matchless G50s. His remarkable collection-numbering nearly 80 racebikes, some the most historically significant and valuable in the world-is mostly European. There are plenty of G50s, of course, plus BSA twins and triples, AJS Porcupines and 7Rs, and enough factory Benellis and ex-Agostini MV Agustas "to grant him honorary Italian citizenship," says his friend Stu Carter. There's even a breathtaking Honda 250 six hidden in the Brooklyn, New York, warehouse where he houses his stash. But even amongst such exclusive company, Harley-Davidson's brutish XRTT roadracers hold a special, almost sacred, place.
"The XRTT is such a purposeful machine, built with such straightforward, pragmatic engineering," Iannucci explains. "It's a relic from another time in America, when we were a country that turned out Liberty ships one-a-day. The guys that built and raced these bikes had a lot of heart-and a lot of smarts-and achieved some truly amazing results."
No one embodied that against-all-odds spirit better than the late, great Calvin G. Rayborn II, regarded as perhaps the best pure roadracer America has ever produced. Stories of his riding prowess are legend, and many claim that to see him ride was to see the very laws of physics upturned. "If you believe the stories-and I choose to believe them-Rayborn had near-superhuman qualities," Iannucci says. "He could sit on a dirt-track motorcycle, with both feet up on the pegs, and have a completely casual conversation. His innate sense of balance was that good."
Rayborn began club racing in the early '60s, turned Pro in '65, and won his first roadrace in '66. Shortly afterward, Harley-Davidson race boss Dick O'Brien signed him to the factory team. Rayborn's legend was cemented in '68 when he rode the desperately outdated KR750 flathead in the Daytona 200. Not only did he win, he lapped the entire field, which included former World Champion Phil Read. He won again in '69, this time besting a field of cutting-edge Japanese two-strokes. His obsolete Harley was the only four-stroke to qualify in the top 10.
Perhaps his finest moment came in '72 when, in defiance of his employers, he and tuner Walt Faulk traveled to Britain and dominated the annual Trans-Atlantic Match Races. Riding the notoriously unreliable iron-head XR750, Rayborn won three of six races, out-riding the UK's best on tracks he had never seen before. Later that same year he won two AMA Nationals on the new-and-improved, alloy-barreled XRTT. His last victory at Laguna Seca was Harley's final AMA Grand National roadrace win.
A true working man's champion, Rayborn remained fiercely loyal to O'Brien and Harley-Davidson, even as his career stats suffered. How many races and championships might he have won on more competitive machinery? It looked like that question would be answered in '74, after Rayborn made the difficult decision to leave The Motor Company. Tragically in December of '73, Rayborn was killed racing a Suzuki in New Zealand at age 33, leaving the true measure of his talent one of motorcycling's greatest unanswered questions.
Iannucci's own XR750 saga started in the late '70s, a few years after the Rayborn era. Working as Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney at the time, Iannucci was one of the country's earliest vintage racers. He'd already founded Team Obsolete, and spent his spare time building and racing Matchless G50s all along the eastern seaboard. When he heard about the AMA's new Battle of the Twins class, he decided immediately to take part, using the Harley-Davidson XRTT as the basis of his team's effort.