Louis Guanella Oakland 200-Miler And National Championship

By Chet Billings

From the November 1940 Issue of Motorcyclist magazine

Word that the Oakland Speed way 200- mile national had been sanctioned spread almost as by magic. Before the boys on the west coast had a chance to double check the sanction, word arrived that the eastern contingent was on its way.

Those who were to condition the track had to work hard and fast to get the speedway in shape so the first arrivals could practice. Babe Tancrede, Ben Campanale, Jim Chann and young Billy Huber came in one flurry and in the next came Witinski and Mel Rhodes. Those names added a lot to the interest that grew by leaps and bounds on the coast.

The track turned out better than it has any year thus far. Riders could go almost anywhere on it that they wanted, and that part which followed the usual grove was very smooth. One corner a lone gave some trouble. It was the hangover of someone having put oil in that turn which left the surface softer and with a tendency to wrinkle with use. Many times during the practice period this section was worked again but even on the day of the race it continued to be a tough spot.

Last year Ed Kretz set a lap record of 39.13 in the time trials. And inside the first week of practice word traveled a long the grapevine that riders were getting under that mark. Of course such statements are always taken with a grain of salt because it is almost impossible to time with a hand watch at Oakland and get the same answer as does the electric timer. Then, too, enthusiasm for a certain rider or machine seems to cause fingers to be restless and often in the past the most remarkable times came out of the pit timers.

However, with the track better, and with machines always undergoing a certain amount of grooming in the direction of speed there is that first time for higher speeds. On top of that some of the boys have ridden Oakland enough times that they are getting better and faster on it.

Despite the late start on the track most of the entries got in a lot of practice. In fact some rode so far they blew up their jobs and rebuilt them before the day of the race. Everyone knows that tires need to be worn in for additional traction and just about every starter had a goodly number of miles on his tread.

The boys had tried all the possible gear combinations so that they could use one for qualification and another for the race.

Campanale was getting down so low in the turns he was wearing off his foot rests. Pee Wee Cullum on a 21-inch Velocette was at one time turning 8,000 r.p.m. down the straight as he played up and down the scale of gears.

Triumph has several machines on hand, with oldtimer Al Chasteen herding one of them in and out of the turns.

Friday before the race was a busy one for officials. A technical committee was selected, composed of Fred Ludlow, Hank Syvertson and “Red” Fenwick. The A.M.A. checking system was to be used for the first time on the west coast and all the details of that were gone over for the “nth” time. There was one checker and caller for every two men in the 25 to start. Others were to time and check pit stops. Others were to pass the information at 20-lap intervals to the announcer and thus to the crowd. A spare electric timer was tuned up. The weather man received his twentieth call. So it went far into the night.

Several days before the race it rained hard in Oakland. That storm moved southward and hit Los Angeles with its full fury on Friday night. So, the wires buzzed between L.A. and the Bay District as the Southern contingents were advised that all was clear up there and to drive on up.

By Chet Billings
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