Legacy Racing, Part II

Our Associate Editor goes vintage racing at VIR

I felt like a rock star, flying from Los Angeles to Virginia with just leathers and helmet in hand, the race bike ready and waiting for me at the track. Buff Harsh, the current proprietor of Todd Henning Racing, had brought his own CB350 vintage racer all the way from Atlanta to Alton, Virginia for me to ride during the August AHRMA event at Virginia International Raceway. After my successful AHRMA debut at Willow Springs (which you will read about in the November 2009 issue of Motorcyclist), Harsh was eager to see how I would fare against the larger grids that the East-coast events typically attract. Was I game? You better believe it. I'd gotten a taste of AHRMA action in southern California, and I really enjoyed the atmosphere, old bikes, and the surprisingly fierce racing.

Harsh and I were also honored to have my father, Todd Henning, in our pit. Dad raced with AHRMA for more than two decades, until a serious crash at Sears Point in April 1999 ended his racing career. This would be his first time back at the racetrack and his first time watching me race his bike. I tagged along with dad at the races throughout my childhood; now it was Dad's turn to tag along with me. He's pretty much always cheerful, but the energy surrounding the track had him livelier and brighter than I've seen him in years.

The American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (www.AHRMA.org) hosts events across the country, but this was the club's first time racing on Virginia International Raceway's South Course. It's a spectacular track, set among rolling green hills in the state's southwest corner. Getting there takes patience and a good sense of direction, as the course is only accessible via a labyrinth of winding country roads. Stepping out of the rental car's air-conditioned cool and into a steamy southern August afternoon, the humidity was stifling. I'm going to wear full leathers in this weather?!?

The AHRMA atmosphere is one of pure amity and friendship; it's far too easy over eat on Friday night, with so many BBQ invites. Dad was a prominent club member, a skillful tuner who helped many, many racers, and also an intense competitor. When he got hurt, the club rallied around him, offering emotional (and financial) support. It was so great to see him back in the pits, meandering among the camps and getting reacquainted with old friends--and making new ones, too.

Practice on Friday started out rocky. Minor mechanical problems and annoying fluid leaks plagued the bike for the first few sessions. Bob "Rabbie" Demetrius, the man to beat in the Sportsman 350 class, was on track and Dad's stopwatch confirmed that he was going fast. We were all frustrated that I was losing valuable track time, but when Harsh finally got the bike straightened out, I rode hard and managed to quickly whittle my lap times down to a competitive number. Needless to say, we were all pretty excited by the prospect of racing up front with the current titleholder--who also happens to ride a Todd Henning Racing Honda.

Saturday was race day, and overnight a flock of butterflies had moved into my stomach. I was entered in races five and six, back to back. The flag dropped in Sportsman 350 and "Rabbie" charged off the line. Pushing through the rest of the class going up the straight, I dropped in behind him before Turn 1 and followed for a few laps. His lines were solid, and his corner speeds were way up there. I could see why he was class champion. It was going to be hard to get around him. On the third lap I pulled a draft going up the hill into the back kink and showed Rabbie a wheel just as he was about to tip the bike in, forcing him to back off for just a moment as I slipped past. Still hard on the gas heading down the hill, I eeked out a lead and built off it with every remaining lap. I kept my head down and rode the wheels off that old Honda, and when the checkered flag dropped, I'd taken the win.

I was floored--so were Dad and Harsh--but we didn't have time to celebrate. It was first call for Race 6, so I rushed to the pits to top off the tank and chug some fluids before heading back to the grid. I forfeited my warm-up lap--the bike and I were both plenty warm! Just like Dad did when he raced, I'd bumped up into the Sportsman 500 class too, which was gridded immediately behind the purebred race machines of the 350 GP class.

I got a fantastic start, pushing through both classes and diving into Turn 1 well ahead of the crowd. I rode unchallenged for several laps, when a wheel suddenly appeared inside of me in Turn 10. Although I was already leaned over the curbing, the rider forced his way past me. It was Dave Roper, the legendary American road racer, aboard his ex-Cal Rayborn factory Aermacchi. Roper worked his way forward to join me ahead of the pack, and now he wanted to race. Race we did, drafting down the front straight and barreling into Turn 1 side-by-side, rubbing elbows at the exit and swapping the lead several times a lap. My Honda had motor on Dave's Aermacchi, but his precision and smoothness enabled him to repeatedly pass me. In the end I took the win, but Dave certainly made me work for it!

It was good, close racing, and both of us trusted the skill and control of the other (I remember watching Dave and my father race in the same manner). Afterward, Dave came over to recount the excitement, and later joined us for dinner--a perfect example of the camaraderie that typifies the AHRMA spirit.

The next day was similar to the first. Rabbie put up a good fight, but we had our jetting and gearing dialed and again took the win in the 350 Sportsman race. Race 6 saw another epic battle between Roper and myself; this time, I had the foresight to mount cameras on both bikes.

Overall, it was a fantastic weekend for Todd Henning Racing. Harsh was happy to see his bike do well, Dad was beaming, and I experienced some of the best racing of my life. Hopefully we'll have similar success at Miller in September, and if things pan out, we'll be at Barber in October too. Check back later to read all about it!

Special thanks to the sponsors and suppliers that helped put us on the podium:

Avon Tyres
Avon AM22 and AM20 vintage-spec race tires.

Buchanan's Spoke and Wheel
Expert and timely wheel building and truing.

DID Chains
Racing chain.

Hi-flow racing petcocks.

Race Tech
Track-side tuning and advice.

Fuel line, exhaust wrap, jets, and various other last-minute essentials.

Syed Leathers
Top-notch custom road race leathers.

Todd Henning Racing (Buff Harsh)
Engine preparation, numerous parts, and loads of advice.

Traxxian Dynamics
Initial fork rebuild and setup.

Vintage Brake
Brake shoe re-lining and drum arcing.

Works Performance Shocks
Race shocks.

father and son
When I had technical questions, I'd ask dad. It was great having him there to advise and encourage me.Buff Harsh
Practice Group 2 motorcycles
Ariels, Indians, Hondas and Harleys: the AHRMA paddock has them all. Practice Group 2 waits for the track to go green.Buff Harsh
motorcycle mechanical problems
Minor mechanical issues caused us to miss the first two sessions of Friday's practice. With everything finally sorted out, the author heads out for some much-needed track time.Buff Harsh
vintage bike racing
Funky ergos, fade-prone drum brakes and skinny tires are just a few of the things you have to look forward to when racing a vintage bike.Buff Harsh
CB handling power
I was actually pretty impressed with the CB's handling and power. Tuner Buff Harsh had the engine and suspension dialed, allowing me to focus on my lines.Buff Harsh
Bob Demetrius
The author stalks 2008 class champion Bob Demetrius early in Saturday's Sportsman 350 race.Buff Harsh
Ari Henning racing
Next lap, same turn, the author takes the lead.Buff Harsh
racing with Dave Roper
Racing with Dave Roper for the overall lead (we were in different classes) was fantastic - the most exciting race of my life.Buff Harsh
motorcycle racers
"Old age and treachery will overcome youth and ability"? Maybe on equal machinery, but I had one important thing going for me: horsepower.Buff Harsh
tight turn on motorcycle
VIR's tight and technical, 1.65-mile south course is perfect for slower vintage machines. With drastic elevation changes and an inclined, 300-foot front straight, getting your gearing and jetting right is crucial.Buff Harsh
Motorcycle parts
Motorcycle partsBuff Harsh
Duane Harper
Duane Harper celebrated his 75th birthday by racing his 1977 MT125 in the 125 GP class. Ten years after he donated, Duane is still proud of his "454 Todd Henning Medical Fund" contribution sticker.Buff Harsh