This past weekend, myself, Matt, and a several others from the Wheels Through Time crew headed up to the Antique Motorcycle Club of America’s Annual National Swapmeet in Wauseon, Ohio for a weekend of fun with friends and family. Wauseon is a "must do" for us every year, as its one of the biggest and best antique motorcycle swapmeets you’ll find anywhere.
We arrived on Thursday morning after a quick ten hour drive and immediately began unloading the truck and trailer. This year’s theme at the meet was "Bobbers", and both Matt and I decided to bring a couple of our favorites for the show. We had a full trailer heading up, as we’d also be bringing a few other scoots to get around on, as well as our new 1929 H-D 750 Overhead Valve racer that we’d be racing on Friday night.
By mid-Thursday morning, the fairgrounds were filling up with vendors, and both Matt and I were out looking for parts for current and future projects. This year, over five hundred vendors turned up for the meet, which usually means one thing……good shopping. As we’re currently working on more than 10 machines in the restoration shop, we needed to find several pieces and parts at the meet that’d allow us to move forward on each of those. By about one o’clock that day, I already had a great head start, with several perfect parts for the ’36 Knucklehead I’m working on. Matt also was having a great time, as he found a headlight, front fender, trim, and floorboards for his 1941 H-D flathead he’s got on the lift in the shop.
One of the best things about Wauseon is that you get to catch up with friends who you don’t get to see as often as you like. I was fortunate this year to catch up with many old buddies that I hadn’t seen in a long time. My friend Mike Lange made the drive from Wisconsin. Mike and I have traded lots over the year’s we’ve known each other, and he’s also made me a few parts that are impossible to find, that always seem to work perfectly. I also got to see my dad, Bernie who came down from Chicago for the event. We hadn’t seen each other in several months, and he made it down just in time to see the unloading of one of my newly completed projects — the VEL, a bike that I built in his honor.
One of the highlights of the meet this year was the 1/2 mile flattrack races. There’s always 10 or 12 different classes of racing that evening, but my favorite, and the one that the crowd always seems to love the most, was the boardtrack class. This year, there’d be more machines competing than ever, and I knew I’d have some stiff competition to place in the top few spots.
The machine we brought for the races was a new one to the museum collection — a 1929 Harley-Davidson DAR 750c.c. twin-port overhead-vavle boardtracker. We finished it just a few days earlier, with the help of Moe and my friend Brian Haenlien of Acme Cycles in Michigan. We were all a bit nervous, as the race drew closer, but the bike seemed to be telling us we need not worry, as it performed flawlessly through the initial practice laps. We really worried about the gearing on this one, as it was apparent that the bike was set up for long distance, mile-track racing, and the little Wauseon track was only about half that. But it had plenty of power to pull out of the turns and get up to speed on the short straight-aways.
In the heat race, we ran up against a few problems. Almost immediately, I noticed the bike was low on power. On a rare occasion, I could turn my head and see smoke coming out of the pipes. I ended up limping it around for four or five laps, and when I came in, Matt, Moe and Brian were trying to figure out what went wrong. We immediately began preparing for worst case scenarios, but hoping for the best. Come to find out…the only problem was that the rear plug wire had come off! A potential disaster averted. We popped it back on and were ready for the main event.
We got the bike back to the pits and all relaxed a bit before the big race. We all were very impressed with the machines performance, and figured that nothing needed to be changed. The bike had plenty of power to pull away from other bikes on the straights, but to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t all that confident in the bikes cornering ability (or was that my cornering ability?) I knew that a lot of my competition would be going fast, and I just hoped that I could keep the pace. With fourteen bikes on the track, there’s a lot going on, and one slip up could cost you a half lap or even worse, the whole race altogether. Remember…no brakes, no clutch…which means virtually no room for error.
When it was time to race, I could feel the adrenaline running through my veins. Its not too often that you get to jump on a 70+ year old, one of a kind machine, and twist the throttle all the way around the track. As the race official signaled us to go, the guys gave me a push, and off I went.
As we made our way around the track for the rolling start, I knew the bike was running great, and when I took a look ahead, I noticed that no one was ahead of me. I was right up front.
The race official dropped the green flag and we were off. The bike was strong on power, and was able to easily compete with the bigger 61", 74", and larger machines on the track. I had a few laps shoulder to shoulder with my friend Frank Westphal, who’s as competitive a guy as you’ll ever meet.
As the checkered flag waived, I crossed the finish line in fourth place. A personal best! It was a great reward to a hard week of preparation.
The rest of the swapmeet was a blast, but I don’t know if anything compares to getting out on the track on that one-of-a-kind racer. I had a great crowd behind me all the way, and the help of my son and many of my friends to make it happen.
Keep an eye out for this one at the races next year….I’ll be gunning for first.
For the full story on the Wauseon Vintage Flat Track Races, visit www.bikedays.com