Suzuki Snapshots

Kris (Krash) Larivee Pics April 2003

Frank "Krash" Larivee managed a 2nd and a 4th place at this meeting. Well done.


The Hard Way (always).

Posted by Krash on May 12, 2003

The racing season began in Canada two weeks ago with a free "test" day at Shannonville Motorsports Park, Ontario. It's a good way for the racers to shake the dust off their leathers and get the frost out of their bones after being snowed in all winter, without the pressure of actually racing. Not to mention getting new bikes and engines and suspensions sorted out for racing the following weekend. I arrived Saturday evening and was greeted heartily by my racing compatriots. Other than the "winter fat" many of us seemed to be carrying and some new racebikes, it felt as if nothing had changed. One of the racers put it best when he said, "We are home". These were the people who knew too well the racing obsession, men (and a few women) who would stuff you into a corner to make a pass one moment, then be lending you parts and wrenching on your bike the next. Ever watch two racers talk about racing? They use their hands as much as their mouths, (which are usually in a wide grin), mimicking the movements and feedback from the motorcycle. It's a language few that haven't raced would understand, learned only through experience. Until you've chattered the front end through an 80mph corner, had the back end step out when you gassed it early, or heard the shusshing sound of leather on pavement and been wondering when you were going to stop, praying you weren't going to hit anything, it's all just words. We were home, and what a great home it was.

It was a cold night spent in the uninsulated enclosed trailer I haul the bike in, but so much better than sleeping in the tent, (thank god for sponsors!). The morning was grey and threatening, but that's Shannonville, we were lucky it wasn't snowing. I pulled my leathers on early, newly repaired by John Bickle from my 90mph get off in Florida, to keep warm. The two-stroke began it's sweet and smoky cacophony with just a few prods. Soon we were out on the cold track, warming our tires and sussing out our lines on the Nelson circuit, a short course comprised of several tight, 2nd gear right handers. The type of track that rewards rider skill (and cojones) as opposed to sheer horsepower, where you are constantly turning, shifting and setting up. My kind of track.

Two sessions into my day, things went south. I kicked the bike over to head out for the next practice, nothing. 10 kicks later I was working up a sweat in my leathers and helmet, starting to swear profusely. The bastard wouldn't fire for anything. I enlisted the aid of a gentleman to pushstart the beast I was beginning to hate, but to no avail. Off came the helmet and gloves, and open went the tool box. I tore into all the wiring and ignition components I could get my trembling fingers on, from the kill switch to the pick-up coil and brain box, ground wires and spark plugs, but I was pissing in the wind. The patient is dead doctor, and so was my day.

I drove home like a maniac, stopping only briefly to declare to customs that I had nothing to declare except my undying frustration. I had less than 4 days to find out what was wrong with my ignition, fix it or get a replacement, or my hopes for a championship bid would get off to a terrible no points start. Long time readers of my exploits will know this type of situation is par for the course in my life. If it wasn't for bad luck......

Things went from bad to worse as Phil (my long suffering tuner) and I troubleshot the silly machine into the late hours that Sunday night. We did discover one thing in all that time, the bloody ignition was deader than Lee Majors' acting career. A quick call Monday AM to the people at Pro-Flo (manufacturers of my very expensive racing ignition) yielded much sympathy, but no help whatsoever. They were no longer making that ignition and no spares were available, tough crap buddy, but thanks for your 500 bucks. A decision had to be made, and fast, as half of Monday was already gone with the wind. Go back to points and battery ignition, in a total loss set-up? Add all that weight to the bike and have to worry about continually checking points gap and battery charge? Or go down the darker road of the Suzuki Pointless Electronic Ignition (PEI), with it's teeny pick-up coils and heavy Kokusan rotor outboard on the left side of the crank? This option would require a switch of the entire bottom end, as the T500 cranks are not the same as the GT500. I had a GT bottom end that was running good two seasons ago. I knew all the gears were there and the crank was good, but what about the crank seals? If they were bad after sitting a couple years I would be royally screwed. Hello Rock, my old friend, greetings Mr. Hard Place, you both look well.

Unable to bring myself to add a battery to a racebike, I opted for the PEI system, knowing full well this decision might lead to me watching re-runs of CHIPs this weekend and lamenting what might have been. To complicate matters, I had minor surgery on the middle finger of my right hand that Monday (an extension was added so the officials could see it as I went by the tower!), leaving me with one good hand and one swollen, useless one. Not good for swapping out motors and re-assembling them. I soldiered on, trying not to bleed on too much on the bike. As the sun came up on Tuesday morning, I left the garage, BOTH hands puffy and bleeding, but the engine was out of the bike and apart, the GT bottom end cleaned and ready for the ported race barrels so lovingly prepared by Eric at Sundial Moto Sports. I had just enough time to close my eyes before the alarm clock told me it was time to go to the day job. Oh hell.

Tuesday night in the shop had the GT bottom end mated to my top end and mounted in the frame. And there was actually spark coming off the pick-up coil! As long as the black ignition module proved to be good, I would have spark. Whether the crank seals were good was anybody's guess. Eric was over-nighting me a set of external coils, as I didn't have any of the correct resistance to run with a self generating system like the PEI. I still had to assemble the clutch and various other components, but I couldn't see straight enough to put the discs back in properly, so I decided some sleep was in order.

Wednesday was nearly a bust, my right hand so swollen that I couldn't even think of turning a wrench, the doctors fearing infection. I tied up as many of the loose ends as I could one-handed and went to bed early. Tomorrow was make or break day. If I had the energy or the right, I might have said a prayer.

Thursday dawned and my hand was feeling better, but the rain was pouring down. I thought of the leaks in the trailer roof I hadn't had time to fix because of all this ignition nonsense, shrugged my shoulders and went to work. Four hours and several curse words later the bike was done. I had spark, a fully assembled motor and clutch, but would it run? First kick, nothing. Well I did empty the float bowls of fuel. Second kick, nothing. Well, the motor had just been torn apart and put back together. I paused for a moment to elevate my throbbing hand and check to make sure both choke levers were engaged. It had to go, it just had to. Third kick....the beast awoke, crackling away merrily on the stand. There was some dampness in my eyes, but that was just from the two-stroke fumes. I put my helmet on and took it out into the pouring rain. Several illegal runs down the road had me convinced the seals were good, and that I was going racing.

The Hard Way Pt.2
The trailer was loaded and off I went into the pissing downpour.  I got five miles down the road before I realized I had forgotten my sleeping bag, blankets and pillows.  Not good for an excursion into the Great White North.  The trailer was re-loaded and off I went into the pissing downpour, for the second time.
I breezed through customs and arrived with daylight to spare (it wasn't raining at the track).  Unloaded the bike and tried to set up the canopy for the first time this year.  The blasted thing is a maze of numbered poles, velcro straps and plastic feet.  Of course I didn't bother to save the directions.  Not a pretty sight.  The night was cold and damp, and at some point it started raining.  The wind picked up and I could hear the canopy flapping about.  The veteran racers tell stories about the tornado that ripped through here several years ago, toppling bikes, turning canopies into kites and flipping over at least one camper trailer.  I shudder with visions of it happening again, roll over and try to sleep, something I haven't gotten much of lately. 
Late Friday morning the rain stops and the track dries up enough to ride.  I want to get as much out of the paid practice as I can.  The tech inspector makes a comment about my bike being dirty, but I think the look I gave him said it all.  The temperature is still quite cool, leaning out the two-stroke's jetting enough to make it run a bit crisper, but any advantage in engine performance is negated by the lack of grip the cold track provides for the tires.  Even the hotshoes are tiptoeing around.  There are many new riders this year, which provides for some interesting moments.  It's very gratifying to slide up along the outside of a modern 1000cc bike on my little half-liter vintage wreck and pass it, even if the ego-bruised little bastard comes howling by on the next straight.  The only really hairy moment comes when I try to reach for the brake and my bandaged finger can't get over the lever.  By the time I start breathing again and get my eyeballs popped back into my head I've slid my way around the corner and I'm already halfway to the next one.  I make sure to get my fingers on the lever early.  The only other bitch is getting my glove on and off, a genuinely excruciating experience.  My practice day ends a bit early when I find a leak in my gas tank.  I epoxy it, but it takes the rest of the day and night for the stuff to set, as a result of the cold.
A relaxing evening, if somewhat chilly, is spent with the other vintage racers.  I haven't seen them all winter, and I'd forgotten just how much I missed this great bunch of people.  I'd still come to the racetrack to compete, even if I didn't have friends like these, but it increases the gratification tenfold having them there.  I don't think that kind of camaraderie exists with the modern classes.  Besides, the vintage guys are treated like the red-headed stepchild of racing at these RACE events anyways.  Simply because we can't afford to, or choose not to ride the most expensive, modern equipment.  That only increases the bond between vintage racers.  Another factor that brings us closer is that we all tend to stay at the track.  When the pros head out to their hotel rooms to watch cable, we sit by the campfire and tell lies about how fast we are.  All part of the experience.
Saturday dawns, cold, but sunnier.  I am awakened by the loudspeaker announcing 15 minutes to rider's meeting.  Oh well, I didn't want a shower this morning anyways.  I throw my jeans on, which are very cold, and bang my finger on the way out the trailer door, leading to a long string of curse words, I even invented a few new ones.  What a lovely start to the day.  I purchase a hot chocolate, that I am inclined to dump into my jeans to feel some warmth.
Morning practice goes well.  My first race of the day is Club Cup, where I will be running against 1000cc four-cylinders and other more modern machinery.  The only rules are: Twin shock, air cooled.  Anything else goes.  I have been a consistent top ten finisher in this class, and I'm hoping to better that this weekend.  The T500 works well on tight tracks like the Nelson circuit at Shannonville.  Unfortunately we only run this configuration once a year, so I plan to make the most of it.  I've had to draft a friend to stand at the pit wall with my kickstart lever.  The transmission is hard to get into neutral, adjust it one way and the clutch slips, go the other way and it creeps on the line.  Luckily, I manage to find neutral coming around the final corner on the warm up lap, and paddle my way to grid position, in the middle of the pack.  There are over 20 bikes on the start line, all of different vintage and performance levels.  I grin inside my helmet, it's gonna be a fun race.
The light is red, motors scream, transmissions clunk into first gear.  Light goes green and I dump the clutch, expecting a great start, like always.  What I get is a front end gone suddenly light and a wheel pointing decidedly skyward.  Clutch back in and try again.  Another monster wheelie, but I'm so pissed I go with it, carrying the front until I bang second, another brief wheel stand and I bang third and throw it into turn one, a very high speed right hander.  This season I avoid the mistake that gets many riders (including me) off the start, which is shutting off for the first turn before up to speed.  I keep the throttle pinned and bang fourth gear, passing two riders on the outside.  Turn two comes zooming up, down into third gear, keep the revs up or it'll drop off the pipe, brake hard enough to slide the front and force it into the corner.  The bike pitches and slides a bit on the greasy tar strips the racetrack sees fit to use to repair cracks, but before I have time to crap myself I'm off to the next turn.  I'm running third in the amateur ranks at this point, with a KZ750 twin ridden by a maniac, and a GS750 in front of me.  Two laps into the fray we get the red flag, which means I go back to the middle of the pack and restart the whole thing, watching the ambulance cart off another victim.  This start is worse, I bog it off the line and have to play catch up.  I run around in fifth for most of the race, swapping spots with somebody on an Aermacchi.  He slides around me in the corners and I outpower him down the straights.  We get caught up to John Crossley on the last lap, a big man on a big bike (GS 1000S) and get by both of them.  The next short straight Crossley comes by like a friggin' rocket, brakes early.  I have a decision, stuff my way past him, risk taking both of us out or sit tight and finish behind him.  Before I have a chance to decide the Aermacchi jams his way up the inside of me, forcing me wide, with two corners left to go.  Two voices start screaming inside my brain, let him go, save it for the Supervintage race, and the other one, get that bastard!  Unable to find a middle ground I stay right on his ass.  I look to the outside in the final corner, a 2nd gear right hander lined with haybales.  I'm chattering the front and sliding the rear.  I gas it as early as I dare.   I crashed here last year, just missed breaking both legs on the wall, so I know how little traction is available in that corner.  Still, I'm on the gas before the Aermacchi and coming by.  I'm tucked in as far as I can get, "under the paint", so to speak.  It's a photo finish with the Aermacchi getting me by the width of a tire.  I end up sixth, not bad.
I've got the pole for the Supervintage Heavyweight race because of my standing in the points last year.  Long time readers of my exploits have heard me bemoan this class before, sticking a 500cc bike against 750s and 900s.  I'll whimper less about it this time, because I knew the tightness of the track would help to level the field a bit.  Toivo Madrus and his "Yamando", a 750 kitted XS650 in a Norton frame sits next to me and to my surprise on his left is a 1982 GS750, a bike 10 years out of class!  Not to mention the fact that it's the same guy that centerpunched me last season, dislocated my shoulder and wrecked my bike, then didn't have the guts to apologize for knocking me down.  He looks at me and I give him the one-fingered salute and he quickly averts his gaze.  I don't have any time to protest his illegal bike in this class, so I'll have to race him for now.
I get a better start this race and ride as hard as I dare.  The GS 750 and Toivo's Yamando are in front of me.  I spend the race following Toivo, but unwilling to make a brave move on Saturday's heat race, I decide to save it for Sunday.  The GS750 is later disqualified after several others protest (I didn't get there first), so my third place becomes a second.  Not exactly the way I want to move up in the standings, but I'll take it.  Sunday is another day, and I'll be pulling no punches.


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