Now that I’ve had a chanced to recover from my trip home from the Island (and mowing the lawn for the first time in two years yesterday – bad, bad move) I can reflect on some of the highlights of an awesome 5 days of the Island Classic.
1. American invasion. Pictured above is one of my new best friends from the other side of the Pacific, Ottis Lance. Ottis comes from Texas and, like all Texans, he is bigger, brighter and crazier than any other 3 people combined. “The Otter” as his nickname goes, has raced in the AMA but not recently. His bike, a rat trap of a thing if ever there was one, is a 1980 model GS1000 Suzuki with a 550ES fairing on it to try and protect the rider a little. Prior to it being run at the IC, it had sat in Ottis’s shed for 27 years, yes, that’s right, the bike was last started in 1986. Getting the call-up late for the USA team, Ottis didn’t even get the chance to prep the bike before it was loaded into a shipping container on the west coast and shipped to Melbourne.
He did, however, realise that he wasn’t going to be able to run the bike on its existing 18″ wheels and nearly 30 year old slicks so he contacted Kosman, a very well-respected wheel fabricator, and ordered two new 17″ wheels. However, by the time the bike was due to ship they hadn’t arrived and didn’t arrive at all, in fact, until Thursday morning last, the first day of private practice. Imagine the chagrin when it was found that the wheels didn’t fit, despite him having provided all the correct measurements and specifications. Panic stations. To get some practice at least, Roger Gunn made his GS1000 available for Otter to ride in one session and then the business of solving the problem, if it could be solved, began. From Roger it went to Robbie Phillis who dobbed in his fabricator friend, Scott Owen (who I mentioned yesterday).
Scott was a racer but has had to stop racing because of a serious road accident a couple of months ago. While test driving a Ford GT40 (a real one), his right foot got caught under the accelerator pedal and he crashed the car into a pole, severely damaging the car and himself. With on-gong spinal injuries and leg injuries, he is sort of mobile but severely limited in movement and dexterity. Nevertheless, and being unable to kneel down at all, Scott lay down on the concrete floor and set to trying to get the Kosmans to fit. It turned out that the brake mounting plates were fouling on the wheels and that the spacers were also wrong for both the front and the rear wheel. Nothing the guys did could seemed to work. So, after four hours of wrestling, and having the track staff kick us out at 1800, Scott went back to his workshop in Melbourne and spent till 0100 fabricating new brake plates and spacers.
Back at the track on Friday morning, he spent another half a day fitting the new parts, sourcing new braided brake lines and then sorting through a myriad of other problems, fuel feed, loose chain, kill switch dramas and so on.
So, was it worth it? Hell, yeah. In the four International Challenge races, Otter finished in the top ten in all four and was the highest placed American rider in each of them. Imagine what he’ll do next year when he has a competitive bike!
Otter is “old skool” racer. The bike isn’t pretty, has standard footpegs, not rear-sets (actually it hasn’t any more because they are ground away) and standard handlebars, sit-up-and-beg, Graeme Crosby-style. But can he ride? He rides the wheels off the thing. He’s mates with Kevin Schwantz; somehow that just doesn’t surprise me at all.
So that was the highlight for me. Next time I’ll look at some others, and there were plenty. Thanks for reading and I’ll catch you next time.