The American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association – or AHRMA – organizes all forms of racing and, as a nonprofit, is more focused on participants than spectators. The group promotes stand-alone events, but its national headliner is AHRMA Classic MotoFest, a three-race series that includes roadracing, motocross, cross-country, flat track, and trials.
From the spectator perspective, American roadracing has always been the weak sibling in the two-wheel motorsports family. Most of us grew up on dirt track, motocross, and TT scrambles, where the action is up close and continuous. Roadracing is the more cerebral production, best enjoyed from a picnic setting while riders sail swiftly through the countryside. Civilized, you see.
The 2022 AHRMA Classic MotoFest season began in January at Daytona and was followed in May at Heartland Motorsports Park in Kansas. The Laguna Seca round profiled here, held July 15-18, brings a large turnout, especially among roadracers who get few chances to compete on California’s premier track.
In order to fill the grids and offer a venue to a variety of amateurs and club racers, AHRMA stretches the “Historic” in their name to include machines that are closer to contemporary. You’ll find classes like Next Gen Superbike (for mid-’80s Fours and Ducati Twins), Thruxton Cup Challenge (for 865cc Triumph Twins and Harley-Davidson XL883/1200 Sportsters), Vintage Superbike (Pre-’83 Fours), BEARS (Pre-’69 pushrod Twins, with pre-’86 Sportsters allowed), and Sound of Singles.
In other words, AHRMA has a class for just about every motorcycle available. Covering dirt and pavement classes, the entries at Laguna topped 1,000, and the roadrace pitlane garages were full of eager participants.
Sadly, the number of vintage Harley and Indian flatheads in the pits continues to dwindle with each passing year. This year, only two Class C Handshift Indians rolled up to the line: Gary Roper’s 1926 chassis with a 1936 Scout engine and Ralph Wessell’s 1937 Scout. They finished 1-2 on Saturday and Sunday and did likewise in the Pre-’40 Class, with Beno Rodi third on a 1938 Norton.
Roper’s Indian is a showcase of incremental development over time. It required some massaging to get the seat, footpegs, and handlebars in the right configuration to fit his 6-foot-1-inch body.
“I had to fabricate the rearsets with a brake rod to the 350 Honda rear hub,” Roper told us. “The front brake is a ’50s BSA single-leading shoe, and I had to adapt the brake plate to the trailing link fork. I put some extra leaves in the spring, and the fork works really well.”
The Scout engine holds S&S flywheels, Carillo rods, Bonneville cams, and stock valves. It makes 37 hp and 47 lb-ft of torque when measured at the rear wheel.
“The head and most components are close to stock,” Roper explained. “The Amal concentric has been modified for better fuel flow, and I use a digital temperature gauge that flashes a red light at 500 degrees. Today it ran real cool at 350.”
The Scout’s generator has been replaced with a total-loss electronic ignition and a Bosch coil. The 3-speed gearbox is controlled by a sidecar clutch and deft hand coordination to change gears. Sometimes it’s preferable to simply avoid a gearshift.
“I’m not getting enough engine speed going up from Turn 5, so I just leave it in 3rd,” Roper related. “I noticed that Ralph (Wessell) was pumping the clutch, but in practice I was gaining on him on the hills. I’m still not good on the line in the Corkscrew. A lot of people go way out wide, but I just stay in the middle.”
Absent an old-style Indian vs. Harley match in Class C, the American component was left to three entries from Milwaukee’s Italian cousin, Aermacchi. When Robert Aegerter’s 350 Single seized in practice, the contest came down to the matching models of Walt Fulton and Dave Roper in the 350 Grand Prix class.
Note: Gary and Dave Roper are not, so far as they know, related. But Dave said he subscribes to the wandering gene theory.
“We may be long-lost cousins,” Dave said. Although, Gary adds, “We’re still not sure which one is lost.”
Both Aermacchis were built and fettled by Sacramento’s Karl Engellenner, noted maestro of Italian engine performance tuning. Fulton said the engines only differ by one-tenth of a horsepower.
“The bikes are almost identical,” Dave Roper said. “Different forks and shocks, but otherwise they’re the same.” Both frames were built by longtime Harley chassis wizard Jim Belland.
Roper, a veteran vintage rider from New York who had just turned 74, was slightly disadvantaged by the fact that his racing gear was still sitting at the JFK airport.
“It never got on the plane,” he lamented. “The airline guy said it would be delivered today [Saturday].” His kit arrived in time for his last race on Sunday.
Roper did look a bit lost in too-large leathers borrowed from AHRMA Dirt Track Director Richard Brodock, an unfamiliar helmet appropriately lettered ISLE OF MAN, and a pair of loaner boots. But the makeshift outfit didn’t seem to slow him down, as he and Fulton circulated with similar lap times.
Walt Fulton, 74, is a former pro racer who, with partner Nancy Foote, runs Streetmasters Motorcycle Workshops at Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, California.
“It’s always fun to race with Roper,” Fulton said. “I’ve beaten him on occasion, but if you pass him, he gets mean. I just hang back in his shadow, bide my time, and wait for the opportunity.”
Fulton admits that weighing about 20 pounds less than Roper is an advantage and that a hip replacement a couple years ago made him more comfortable on the bike.
A glance at the two Aermacchis after practice showed Roper’s front tire scrubbed right to the shoulder, while the extreme outer edge of Fulton’s tire was unused.
“I like to hang off a bit, just to give myself a little margin of safety,” Fulton explained, contrasting his style with Roper’s middle-of-the-bike posture
“I touch my knee every couple years,” Roper half-joked. “I know it makes intellectual sense, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. And the Aermacchi has plenty of ground clearance anyway.”
Roper noted that Fulton is a smart rider who often waits to the end of a race to make his move. “Walt is a great guy and an excellent rider,” Roper praised. “He’s one of the few people to beat Cal Rayborn heads-up in a roadrace.”
Roper led most of the 350 Grand Prix race, but sure enough, Fulton got a good drive out of the last turn on the last lap and stole the win. Pulling in, Roper noticed oil on his right boot and the side of the engine. Engellenner pulled the head and cylinder to reveal a stud had broken inside the case.
In the Formula 500 class, Roper rode Tom Marquardt’s 1976 Yoshima/Honda CB400 Four and had a good dice with Andrew Mauk on a 1969 Honda CB450 Twin, only to get nipped at the line once again.
Roadracer and AHRMA Chairman Brian Larrabure was pleased with the outcome at Laguna Seca.
“In my opinion, the West Coast was treated to the best of what AHRMA has to offer, whether it was bikes ripping it up on the motocross, flat track, and cross-country tracks; riding slow and precise in the trials; or screaming down the Corkscrew on a vintage or modern roadracer.”
Few in attendance could quibble with his assessment. The many forms of good vintage racing in one location are hard to beat, and AHRMA has managed to maintain a friends-and-family vibe over the years. The appeal abides across the board, for former pros, amateurs at every level, and an ever-eager batch of novices. They were all out to have fun and go faster without falling down.
The AHRMA season winds up with Alabama’s Talladega Grand Prix, Sept. 26 to Oct. 2, and the finale at Birmingham’s Barber Motorsports Park, Oct. 6-9. For more on the organization, visit AHRMA.org