Wuz the late Ron
Grant robbed of victory?
Ron Grant on the 1968 TR500 Daytona Suzuki
Harley-Davidson's Cal Rayborn won the national points race again as he did in 1968, but it
was far from being the
easy victory of last year. The four-speed Harley 750-cc sidevalvers were, indeed, one of
the favorites. But the AMA rule
change which allows five-speed gearboxes made the Japanese Yamahas, Kawasaki and Suzukis a
much greater threat, as they could be tuned for great peak power, yet have an extra gear
to cope with the narrower power band.
Harley-Davidson obviously was nervous. In contrast to the
of 1968, the factory conducted engine development in great secrecy this winter, testing
new heads, megaphones,
high dome pistons and double throat carburetors. The horsepower tests, conducted on a
showed a significant increase over last year. But actual conditions at Daytona with fully
assembled engines were some-
thing else again. Speeds of all machines were down and Harley was really in trouble!
Rayborn's machine, at 144.764 mph, was the only four-stroke running in the fastest 14 on
the qualifying oval, a
disappointment compared to 1968 when Roger Reiman's bike topped 149 and the first dozen on
the starting grid
seemed dominated by the orange and black Milwaukee racers.
The outlook for Yamaha seemed very bright as, first, Bobby Winters topped 149 mph. Speeds
above 145 mph were
also posted by the Yamahas of Ralph White, Mike Duff, David Lloyd and Rod Gould, fourth
ranked 250-cc rider in the
FIM world championship of 1968.
Ron Grant's bike was the fastest of the 500cc Suzukis at 146.412. He was extremely happy
with his machine as it
had arrived from Japan only a week before. Its speed was up about 10 mph over last year.
Best of the Kawasaki
500 triples was Dick Hammer's at 144.694 mph.
Then, late in the afternoon, activity in the pits stopped. Everyone swiveled with a slow,
reverent 360 degrees as
Canadian Champion Yvon du Hamel, a lonely, sunlit speck on the vast grey banking, became
the first man to top
150 mph (150.501) in qualifying. His 350-cc Yamaha, sponsored by Canadian distributor Fred
Deeley Ltd., had noth-
ing special going for it in comparison to the others, save for meticulous assembly and
blueprinting by tuner Bob Work.
The Harley camp groaned, realizing they would spend the remaining three nights without
sleep. The engines were
torn down and reassembled again and again, then tested on a lonely road out in the Florida
flatlands. None of the
measurements seem to match specifications, and these were more critical than the tuners
had dreamed. Carburetion
was a shambles. False plug readings abounded. Changing megaphones to straight pipes and to
seemed to make no difference.
On Sunday it was raining, but it seemed that the race would run anyway. But, after
practice, a large contingent of
riders convinced AMA officials that racing in the rain would be too dangerous because of
the gigantic rooster-tails
thrown by the 150-mph bikes, and the constantly changing surfaces in the in-field turns.
So the race was delayed for
one week. Much has been made of how the week-long delay benefited Harley, but the facts
were claimed at the time to
not bear out such a statement. The claim was made that two-strokes are quite skittish on
wet surfaces, and lose traction without warning. The Harleys, it was claimed, as well as
the other four-strokes, have heavier flywheels and may be accelerated in the wet with
Several Yamaha riders, including du Hamel and Gould, admitted that they probably would not
have finished in the
rain, for their clutches already were slipping from the feathering necessary to exit from
turns during wet practice.
So Harley had time to recover its lost performance, and the Yamahas had time to replace
clutches...and they would run on dry pavement. The Suzuki 500 probably did not suffer from
these concerns to the same degree.
The first laps of the 200-miler had all the close-in excitement of a scratchers race at
Brands. The lead changed an
incredible 17 times in 19 laps. Du Hamel picked up early lap money, followed a few feet
back by Rayborn, Gould, and 19-year-old Ron Pierce, on another fast running Yamaha. Both
Gould and Rayborn drove to the front and switched places with du Hamel until the 10th lap,
when Pierce drove around the whole bunch of them. While attempting to stretch his lead,
Pierce went down on an oil slick from Dave Scott's crashed Yamaha and broke his fairing.
Du Hamel led again, but was passed by Rayborn. The tiny Canadian's machine began
showing signs of ignition failure in the 20th lap, and he pitted. His
machine would not restart so he was out for keeps. Back in the pack, several favorites
dropped by the wayside with assorted mechanical woes.
Hammer's Kawasaki got no farther than one lap, then seized a piston. Takeshi Araoka's
Kawasaki also retired
somewhat later. Dick Mann rode with his usual great style after a poor start, then lost a
gas cap from his Yamaha and
could not get under way again after a pit stop. Ralph White's Yamaha also died during a
gas stop. Don Vesco
suffered similar heartbreak after an exciting ride into 4th place. It was theorized that
some of these failures may
have been due to gasoline spilling onto the cylinders during refill, causing sudden
contraction of the barrels and resul-
tant partial seizure, ring damage and loss of compression.
In the Harley camp, Roger Reiman, who had dropped his bike in practice and damaged his
clutch casing, retired
with a foul smell after his clutch fried. Fred Nix's bike/running too lean in the rear
cylinder, melted a piston. Walt
Fulton, one of the best road racers Harley has, yet on the slowest H-D, was running
steadily at least, in contest with
teammate Dan Haaby.
The trio of Suzuki 500s fared half bad, half good. Jimmy Odom ran well until a slack chain
mangled the rear
wheel sprocket. Art Baumann and Ron Grant linked up and "freight-trained" into
the top four, then. Art had to pit
with broken expansion chambers. Grant then picked up 2nd spot as Gould, farther and
farther behind Rayborn,
pitted. Grant placed 2nd at the finish, but only after he met with near-disaster in his
scheduled gas stop. His pit atten-
dant failed to tighten the gas cap and, when gasoline sprayed from the tank as he left the
pit apron, he fell. Fortu-
nately, he was far enough ahead of 3rd place Mike Duff to push the Suzuki back for more
gas, restart, and recapture
Rayborn finished at an average speed of 100.882 mph, slower than last year's winning
record. Mert Lawwill, running
on the same lap as Yamaha rider Duff, had inherited 4th. Another lap back, Englishman.
Gould finished 5th after three pit stops. Bart Markel-oblivious to the fact that his rear
brake disc had broken off completely-vindicated his unusually
conservative tactics by coming in 6th, the first time he has even finished. Most of the
Triumphs and BSAs were
noncompetitive, as these companies have been well out of the hunt since 1967 when Gary
Nixon won Daytona.
Thus it was somewhat amazing that AMA No. 1 Nixon motored to a 9th place finish, his
engine sounding very
ratty. Best of the BSAs was Eddie Wirth's, and while Eddie is not a road racing specialist
by any means, he rode
smoothly to finish 20th. Best of the Kawasakis was the 500-cc Three of Dave Simmonds,
17th. Also on the same lap and placing 19th was Bill Manley's 500. It was not a bad
performance, considering that the
Three has only been in production a few ' short months.
In terms of national points, Rayborn's 1 st place gives him a great start on the AMA
season. Markel's prudence
paid off well, giving him a nice bonus as he enters the summer season of half-mile
nationals-his strongest card. Both
Nixon and Lawwill also will be very much in the fray.
l. Cal Rayborn, Spring Valley, Calif... H-D
2. Ron Grant, Brisbane, Calif. ....... Suz.
3. Mike Duff, Toronto, Canada ..... Yam.
4. Mert Lawwill. San Francisco, Calif...H-D
5. Rod Gould, Oxfordshire, England ... Yam.
6. Bart Markel, Flint, Mich. ......... H-D
7. Tom Rockwood, Gardena, Calif. . . Yam.
8. Peter Kellond, Vancouver, Canada . Yam.
9. Gary Nixon, Baltimore, Md. ...... Tri.
110. Dan Haaby, Orangevale, Calif. ..... H-D
Average speed: 100.882 mph
Ron Grant pulled off 2nd in the race - a great effort - if the
race hadn't been delayed a week, maybe Suzuki would have won.