From: (Flash - DoD #412)
Subject: Team Casual
Date: 25 Aug 1995 19:19:41 GMT
Summary: Flash from the Past
Keywords: racing, Ducati, BMW

Team Casual

David Braun

Copyright © 1995 - David A. Braun
All rights reserved.

My friend John (BIG John, 'cause he was) came by my house one day on his new Ducati 900SS. It was beautiful. It was sexy. It sounded like nothing I had ever heard. He said, "Let's go for a ride."

John and I had been for a ride together only once before. I had just finished restoring my little R26 "Thumper" and he had just gotten a new ten gallon Heinrich tank all painted and striped and mounted to his pristine R69S with a freshly restored Steib sidecar. Me on the fresh little 250 and him on his restored classic with chair seemed to make an almost even match for a ride.

We went up into the hills to the west of Nashville and tooled around at a sedate pace which suited us both just fine. At some point, he rounded a right hander a bit too fast and the chair, to which he was not quite yet accustomed, lifted. This startled him, causing him to run wide, off the road. Being off the road was a fight for control and an attempt to stop simultaneously. A wire fence loomed and he almost had the rig stopped before they hit it straight on at what I thought was a rather slow pace. However, physics thought it was a bit quicker than it looked and Big John rolled forward over the handlebars and fetched up in a ball on TOP of the fence on his back.

I pulled up on Thumper and set her up on the centerstand. (This was before I got a sidecar.) Running over to John, I couldn't help but laugh as he was stuck on his back to the single strand of barbed wire topping the fence by his leather jacket with his arms and legs windmilling around trying to get loose. After getting him unhooked, we reviewed the situation with him in a rather foul mood and me still stifling my laughs and chortling at the comedy I had just witnessed. There was a minor scratch in the new tank, enough to spoil his day, but not the tank. We cut the ride short right there.

The day that John showed up at my house with his new Ducati, more than a year after our BMW ride, just didn't "feel" right. So I declined his invitation.

Several months later, I was off on a ride by myself, tooling around the countryside in the hills fifty miles or so west of Nashville when I stopped at a little country store for a Coke and some gas. While I was drinking my Mountain Dew ("coke" is a southernism for soda pop of any sort), I heard a song off in the distance. Around the curve and over the hill came a Ducati. John pulled up and grinned. After he topped up his tank and put some gas in the bike, we went for a ride together.

He showed me a few roads I hadn't known about in that neck of the woods. These were the roads of which motorcyclists dream. We were on a road running along a river. There were virtually no other vehicles on it. The center line was dashed. The slightly worn asphalt surface was clean and its ribbon bobbed and weaved over the dips and curves in the landscape under a blue sky and the summer sun. On this road, John pulled over and offered to swap bikes.

From the time I had bought "the Beast" used (with about 9,500 miles on the clock) to that day (with about 75,000), no one but me had ever sat at the controls. I hesitated. Looking up the Road, down the Road, up at the Sun, at the Beast, and at the Ducati... I said, "OK."

A few miles down that dream road on that dream day I pulled that dream bike over and stopped. "John," I said, "we've got to swap back." "Is something wrong?" he asked with a look of concern from atop my R75/5. "Yes. If I don't get off this thing NOW, I'm gonna have to have one," I responded. Too late. I was hooked. As Webb Wilder sings, "One taste of the bait is worth... the pain of the hook."

Years passed and oceans of water went under (and over) the bridge.

An ad appeared in "Motor Cycle News" offering a race-prepped Ducati 900SS (big bevel) for sale. A few days after a brief phone conversation with the seller, a couple of pictures showed up in the mail. The next weekend, Princess Bud Thang and I jumped in the pick-up and lit out for Bumfuck, Mississippi, a point about half-way between New Orleans (where he was) and Nashville (where we were).

We met in a Holiday Inn parking lot. He and a friend unloaded the bike from the back of a van. I thought it was gorgeous. Bud liked it, too. It was DEFINITELY a race bike. Paul and his friend coaxed the motor to life pushing it and bumping it off with its slick tires on the gravelled lot. Then I got on it and rumbled to one extreme of the lot. With a roar from the open megga, I lit out for the opposite corner, across the gravel. I hit second gear and then ran out of space. Feathering the brakes in the gravel, I brought it to a stop with a grin on my face so wide I thought the top of my head would fall off.

With poker faces, we hammered out an agreement on what-all was included with the bike and at what price. Money and boxes of parts changed hands. The four of us, using Paul's ramp, pushed the Duc into the back of my Tonka. With a handshake and a smile we parted ways, both feeling richer for the deal we had just made.

Arriving back in Nashville, we didn't even stop at the house. Instead we went straight to my pal Edward's. A week or so previously, I had said something to him about me getting a race bike. He wanted me to get another BMW and he would be the tuner. I said something about Ducati and he said that we weren't "plugged in" to the whole Ducati scene as we were with BMW and it would be "harder." As we pulled up his driveway, he was coming out of the house with a grin on his face. "Looks like we're gonna race a Duc!"

We unloaded it and rolled it back down his driveway to the street. The thing had no kickstart (not even a shaft to which a lever could be attached). It ran total loss electrics (the generator and whatnot were in a box in my truck). We didn't really know how to mess with bump starting a bike with a wet clutch. Eventually we got the clutch freed up, gave the Dell'Ortos a couple of squirts on the accelerator pumps, and pushed it down his street. Chuff... chuff... pop... pop... rrrrrrRRRRRRROOOAAAAR! Damn it was loud! 1080cc through an open megaphone exhaust. Some of Edward's neighbors came out to see what the racket was. After riding it down to the end of the block and turning around (which, due to the bike's "long legs" required backing up), I roared back up his drive into the shop in his garage and shut it off.

That short excursion convinced me of one thing... I needed to DO something about the clutch. The boxes of spares included an assortment of clutch springs and spacers. But, besides that, I needed work. Princess Bud bought me a pair of those hairpin-shaped spring-loaded hand exerciser things. I took one to work, which I kept by the phone and left one at home on the table between the sofa and the teevee. I did ten reps on each hand every time I used the phone at work and for every commercial on teevee. After a while, I bumped it to twenty.

The ad had said the bike was "race ready." Paul had said that the motor had only a couple of hours on it since the last valve adjustment. We went over it all and didn't find anything that needed attention... with one small exception. Edward rammed a piece of parachute cord through and old tennis ball. The cord could be tied to the rear shock and the ball shoved halfway into the exhaust. This would keep road mulch from finding its way up into the engine whilst trailering down the road to Talledega Grand Prix Raceway.

Because the Duc had 12:1 compression I found out was that small local airports WILL sell you 100 Low Lead Avgas into a couple of five gallon cans. Edward, Bud, and me all loaded up into his car with my trailer and bike and headed down to Alabama after work one Friday night soon thereafter. We got a motel in Oxnard that first trip down, since we arrived late and didn't know the lay of the land. Watching the motel teevee that night before retiring we saw a very unsettling news story on CNN. At some car rally in Chile, a rally car had lost it and rammed into the crowd of spectators. Then, the driver backed up, and as a body rolled off the hood, he craned his neck so he could see around the big broken place in the windshield and re-entered the race. Five killed. Between the haunting images of the rally deaths and my own excitement and butterflys, I did not have much restful sleep.

In the morning, after breakfast, we arrived at the track and unloaded. This weekend there was a riders' school as well as regional sprint races. I paid for a WERA membership, riders' school, and one race (B Superbike). The riders' school class was interesting and informative... and THEN we got out on the track. We had to wear our "Asphalt Academy" t-shirts over our leathers to let the others on the track know that we were in drivers' ed.

Getting out on the track was a blast. I had raced before, years ago, and so it was nothing "new." But... there is nothing like it. You devote one hundred percent of your attention to going fast. There are no police nor idiots in cars to worry about. There is no speedometer, only the tach and the traction. Everyone is going in the same direction as fast as they can. You can drop in behind the guy that just passed you and follow his lines until either he gets away from you or else you decide on the place and execute the pass. Or else you come up on slow riders and dust them without a backward glance. Wide open throttle, or full on brakes. How close to The Edge do you dare to get?

We were called in after a while for another classroom session. Then we went back out on the track. About ten laps later, at the end of the back straight (running clockwise that weekend) as I down shifted for the drive out of the corner, the motor blew. Shit. I've ridden this thing all of about forty-five minutes, not even in anger, and the motor is toast. WERA was kind enough to refund my race entry fee and graduate me from the Asphalt Academy without having actually raced (since I HAD raced before).

We watched a few of the sprint races and then headed for home. On the way home, I asked Edward how we had looked and sounded on the track. He said that you KNEW without looking where we were because it was the ONLY thing out there that sounded like THAT. He also said that every time we came down the front straight, by the pits, most heads would bob up... something about the difference between the zzip, zzip, ziiip of the Japanese multis and the oooOOOOOAAAAHHHHHHHHHrrrrr of the Italian Big Twin hit a chord. My pal Edward also told me that astride the Duc, I looked like a cockroach on a match stick.

It didn't take long to get "plugged in" to the Ducati scene. I obtained a Darmah head and valves from Reno Leoni. I obtained much machine work and pistons from Syd Tunstall. Edward and I (mostly Edward, since he was self employed as a piano tuner/rebuilder) massaged it back into shape. We learned all about left hand, fine thread, half thickness cam nuts. We learned about the valve keepers that have every bit as much to do with zero clearance desmo as the shims themselves. We learned about losing the timing alignment and trying to line up by the dots by rotating the engine (can't). We learned about desmo, Imola cams, big bevel gears and all sorts of hitherto archanery such as positive stop and degree wheels. We learned HOW you need to grind a box extension for a 3/8 drive to get a torque wrench on the stud nuts. We found Eurosport Ducati in Oregon and bought not only parts, but posters and gee gaws, too.

Meanwhile, I raced a BMW R80G/S in a couple of races at Indianapolis Raceway Park in C Production, against the Hurricanes. I needed some regionals under my belt before I could race in a national. I passed them in the curvey bits and they flat disappeared down the straights.

The next trip to TGPR we camped out at the track. Break-in and practice got about two hours of time on the motor. (I brought the R80G/S, too, which I crashed that weekend... but that's another story.) At one point during practice, some idiot decided he was going to experiment with lines. I was following the "normal" line coming up behind him when he went so deep into a turn and slowed so much that I thought he was broken and exiting the track. Suddenly he made what appeared to be a left turn in front of me. I braked as hard as a could and tried to steer around him as he straightened up to continue down the track. We smacked fairings pretty hard and the bars began to oscillate in my hands. As the bike careened off my planned line and toward the edge of the track, thoughts of, "Oh shit! First it blows up and now I crash it before I even get to race it," went through my mind. But the thing slowed and the tankslapper never appeared and we made it 'round the corner to continue on. I was HIGHLY impressed by the chassis design. Later the next day in the WERA B Superbike race ... we finished tenth out of thirty-five. HOORAY! I got a point!

A friend of mine from England, whom I had met en route to the Isle of Man. came over for a month. He and I had both been working a lot of overtime and each had enough comp time to take a month off. Ray raced Ducatis in England. He had a couple of singles and a twin for racing as well as another street bike. His REAL Hailwood replica was responsible for our meeting in the first place. (But that, too, is another story.) Ray was friends with Steve Wynn and, as such, had a Hailwood Replica with body work pulled from the same moulds as Mike's race bike. Not that imitation crap that came from Italy.

Ray and I planned to cruise around on my pair of R80G/S's. But first, we were going to run the six hour WERA national endurance race at Talledega. We loaded up the race bike and hot footed it down to the track a week before the race so that Ray and the "new" motor could get some track time. They were running the track counter-clockwise that day. We got in a few hours and Ray had some good suggestions on minor mods to make to improve handling. He felt quite good about the motor.

Creative Princess Bud Thang had some t-shirts made up for all of us. The graphic was a Ducati in pink and aqua featuring my number 412 (which came from my initials DAB). The legend said "Team Casual." And we were.

Ala-godamn-bama, June 1987. It was HOT. Damn hot. It was 106F in the shade (no shit). Ready, Set, GO! Vroooom! Race race race race. Pit. Change riders. Drink Gatorade. Repeat. Doing nicely. We were running between third and sixth in our class after ~4hours when... RED FLAG!

The ambulance had left the track. HOT. Damn hot! ~45 minutes later... Start up. Hot lap. ~5 minutes on grid whilst marshals sort out mature even tempered gentlemen aboard sane sedate steeds.

Ready, Set, GO! Vroooom! Turn 1. Turn 2. Turn 3... I am being very careful about the revs since this is MY area of the track. i.e. I have TOOORQUE and advance thru pack in the twisty bits while they have TOP END and pass me at the end of the straights. As I said, I am watching the tach. I got a nice start and was ~6 / 35 as we go from turn 2 to turn 3. I passed a couple in between the turns on the inside. The tach was at about 6500 when the motor said, "Tinkle. Tinkle." I grabbed the clutch and, freewheeling, entered the turn. YIKES! I could not take my hand off the bars to signal "SLOW" because I was doing all I could to stay uprightish, honked over with a blown motor. My left hand was busy keeping the clutch disengaged while my right hand was busy applying hauling in the reins. I exited the track wide taking five poor unfortunates with me. (Hey, that's racing... I think only one fell down.) They were all gone by the time I pushed the bike up against the fence and turned around to look at the carnage I had created..

Later, after the race was over, applying a plug wrench to rear plug did nothing. YIKES! Applying a LOOOOONG cheater to plug wrench did nothing as well. More YIKES! Later later, after we got home, I found that the con rod had bent to go with deja vu from the last engine kaboom. At that point, I decided that I was out of time and money for this endevour.

Later later later with parts in hand at university prof's office, him with a PhD in material science... He says, "Either these valves were made of the wrong material or else improperly heat treated. I see no evidence of excessive rpm, the heads just came off the stems at the welds. It is difficult to tell exactly what failed (the weld or the metal near it) with just a visual examination."

Two piece welded valves have no place in racing motors.

The head has a very munged combustion chamber and the sparking plug is mated for life. There is a valve head firmly embedded in the area between the spark plug and the scarred, oblong, torn up valve seat. The top of the piston (VERY nasty scars) has a very neat hole that looks like it was drilled by a 0.250 inch drill... The plug that was punched out (by the cap-less valve stem jammed in its guide) was located in the sump when we split the cases. Only the veriest tip of the conrod was bent (~20 degrees) and the bottom end still felt good. But, this is DUCATI; meaning pressed crank, no "easy" fix. To cut my losses, I decided to part out the scooter. Actually, I just about broke even on the cost of the bike and the repairs by parting it out. (There's money to be made if you ever find a wrecked Duc.) And I would have come out ahead if Steve Wynn hadn't ended up with the pair of 900SS heads (but that's another story). As a bonus, I made a friend half a continent away when he bought the leftover odds and ends in response to my Internet ad on

Some day I'll take that Darmah head, which I saved, and have it hot dipped or bead blasted. Then I'll set it on my desk to remind me of the time I went crazy and raced a Ducati.

They say that "experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted." While that rings true to some extent, I don't buy the whole thing. Someone somewhere once said, "The worst regrets we have are not for the things we did, but for the things we did NOT do." I don't regret a minute or a penny of it. Princess Bud Thang recalls, from time to time, her favorite image of my pal Edward... pushing the Ducati down pit road at Talledega, turning new and different shades of red, sweating, with his tongue hanging out, cussing, as we tried to start it. That is, somehow, a fitting image.

"It ain't braggin' if ya really done it." - Dizzy Dean
"Far away is far away only if you don't go there." -O Povo,Fortaleza,Brazil
David A. Braun - - DoD # 412