Team Wildcard Racing
The following is my story of how I got involved in motorcycle racing and is in diary form. These are basically just notes to remind me - a sort of blow by blow account of all of it, including the boring bits.
First season 2002
It is Nov 2002. A friend of mine has just asked me out of the blue if I would be his passenger for side-car racing next season. Tim has been racing for twenty odd years, all old classic and vintage stuff, he even got a 5th place on the Isle of Man GP this year, although he has never raced sidecars before. Well, I couldn’t say no could I? Later that day I remembered the couple of times the previous year when I had gone to watch Tim race and ended up marshalling. I particularly remembered the several really bad accidents involving sidecars. I suddenly regretted my rash show of bravado and felt decidedly shaky. Tim told me a couple of weeks later that he had the loan of an Ariel outfit for the season and so it was all on. By Christmas the plot had thickened. Tim has a Rudge 250 sport that he used to race but now has too many other bikes to ride. He told me that as I was coming to the meetings anyway, I might as well race the 250.
And so the story begins: I was lucky that I had Tim to explain the ins and outs of the official bit, mind you I still got quite a few things wrong. First step was to join the VMCC because you have to belong to a club before you can send away for your ACU racing licence. The VMCC have their own racing section and it was their meetings that we were going to enter the coming season. Once joined I could send off for my ACU racing license. To get a racing license you have to belong to a club as I said, you have to have a medical and to start off as an intermediate novice as I am you need to have a full bike license. Once this was in motion I could spend a bit of time looking for the clothing etc. that I would need to race. You have to have a one piece leather race suit of at least 1.2mm thick leather. I managed to find a good as new suit for £225 and spent another £20 getting it altered to fit perfectly. A fully approved ACU gold stamped helmet cost £185, gloves £35 and some second hand racing boots £20. The suit was fully armored except for the back, and so I brought a separate back protector for £30.
During this time the ACU sent back my application form for the first time as the club had forgotten to sign it. I sent it back to the club to sign and send on only to get it back a couple of weeks later as by this time my credit card had expired! After putting in the new details and sending it off again, I finally received my license at the end of Feb. That was actually quite a moment for me, to hold my racing license in my hand brought reality one step closer. I told my mate Phil about what I was going to be getting up to. Now Phil is a hard core biker who originally built my chop and has built lots of specials. He immediately offered his services as a spanner man, which I knew was going to make the whole thing much more possible. Early Feb and I go up to Tim’s place to have a quick look at the Rudge and then take it home for the season.
I borrowed a trailer from a mate and set off for the nether regions of mid-Devon. The bike is in the shed with stuff piled on it and looking a bit sorry. We spent a while clearing a space and then took the engine out and I took a few notes about timing and other spec. and what needed doing before the start. Then the bike was on the trailer and I was away. It was yet another moment (there have been several already) to see the bike in my garage, and to actually sit on it. I had quite a list of jobs to do. These included setting up an oiling system for the valve guides, lapping in the head and valves, new cables, new chain and sprockets, new oil pipes and petrol line, setting the timing etc. It must be said at this point that this was the first British bike I had ever worked on.
Very different to the big Jap fours I was used to. I phoned Phil and arranged for him to come over that coming weekend to look over the bike with me. I had done the engine and put it back in by the time he came, so we decided to do the timing and fire her up before doing the other jobs. The night before we did the timing we had a couple of beers and watched this side car racing video I’ve got. I suddenly had another reality check, a bit of a panic, and I thought I was getting into something I couldn’t handle, and may well lose my bottle. It was bad and it pissed me off. The next day we did the timing, filled the oil tank and cranked the oil around a bit and wheeled her outside to the lane beside my house. Tim had given me instructions on how to start her- petrol on, tickle the float, push start in first or second, clutch in, drop the clutch and keep pushing for a few seconds then clutch in and vroom she fired up first time! It was amazing. After a couple of minutes warm-up I jumped on and away up the lane. It took off like a rocket. You could tell you were on a real racer. I barely stopped in time to turn around at the top of the lane. Back to let Phil have a go and that was it.
All the worries of the night before vanished in a cloud of castrol R40. It felt good, really good. I knew then and there that I was going to go out on the track and have a great time. It lifted me up. Me and Phil hugged. Phil was hooked. I knew he would be too jealous to watch me race while he stayed in the pits. He went home after that weekend and joined the VMCC and by the next week he had had his medical and we were sitting in my front room filling in his ACU application. Feb 14th. I am on a coach to London and the mobile rings and its Tim and he says that I must send in to register the Rudge because he has heard that the 250 class is over subscribed this year and it will be on a first come first serve basis. After I put the phone down I was really worried, I would be gutted if I missed the chance to race.
Then it hit me. My genuine reaction was panic at the thought of not being able to do it. I knew for a fact then that I was 100% committed to do this. As soon as I got back I sent off the reg. Form, and found out the next day that I had got most of the information on the form wrong and had to send a covering letter the next day! The following weekend Phil came over again. I rigged up the valve stem oiler and we did a couple of other things and then tried in vain to start her for most of the day. We redid the timing, stripped the carb, realized we were bumping in the wrong gear, all in vain until we finally remembered the valve stem oilers. I hadn’t restricted the pipes enough and they were pumping gallons of R40 straight into the head. Well, we got there eventually, although we only had enough time to run the bike up the road and back. It is amazing just how much time you can spend getting a bike race prepared. The Rudge wasn’t far off ready anyway, yet I have still managed to spend countless hours working on her. It is now the middle of March and I think the bike is just about ready. I was sent my racing number last week. 54.
I have put the numbers on the bike and it looks great and it feels good to have my own number. I have sent off the money for the first race and we are going up to practice at Mallory with Tim a week on Wed. Got my second hand racing boots through the post last week and they are fine. I am now fully kitted out for racing and so is Phil. Had to buy 50 litres of Methanol for practice. I had a hell of a job finding any but in the end I got some through a racing fuel supplier. Very expensive so I hope that Tims mate is there on race days to buy it off because apparently he is quite cheap. Sent off for a couple of rear sprockets to be made for the Rudge a couple of weeks ago and they arrived yesterday and I have fitted one and it is fine. Spent this morning lock wiring the nuts and bolts. I am getting very excited now.
I keep wondering just how good or bad I am going to be. So now it’s the weekend before practice and we fired up the bike on Sunday and warmed it up before running up and down the hill a couple of times, only to find oil blowing out everywhere and getting all over the back tyre! Had a bit of a panic for a while but I think we have got it sorted, although there is no time to test it now because Tim is picking the bike up tomorrow. We reckon that the catch tank breather was way too small and was causing crank pressure and oil was coming from the crank baring as well as the catch tank. We bored it out and put an air pipe in so hopefully that should sort it. I think there will be quite a lot of oil leaks anyway, but hopefully they will stay away from the back tire.
We are off tomorrow and it has just started raining for the first time in three weeks! Up to Tim’s early in the morning and we set off for Mallory, arriving at lunchtime. As we got there we could see a load of classic cars out for practice , it was very exciting! Got our passes and in to the pits! Primed up the Rudge and had problems starting. After close inspection I noticed that the piston was cracked. Tim said to take it out anyway but we said no and took the engine out in the pits and inspected the piston and it was cracked right through to the gudgeon pin so that was the end of that. Went out on the outfit! Very fast, very scary, and extremely hard work. I found it really hard to pull myself over from one side to the other on the tight hairpins, really exhausting. I actually fell out the back of the platform on the way through the bus stop and just managed to hang on to the rear grab rail as Tim gunned it down the main straight.
I was flapping about on the tarmac and hanging on for dear life while Tim was oblivious to the disaster unfolding next to him. I could see gerards - the long flat out right hander - fast approaching, and knew if I didn't make it back on the platform and over the back wheel in time then we would both be off on the grass. With a Herculean effort I managed to flop the top half of my body back onto the platform like a seal struggling out of the water onto the rocks, and just clambered over the back wheel in time to enter gerards. When we finally returned to the paddock, Tim turned to me to ask how I got on, and was amazed to see me with my new leathers all torn up and one boot worn through. “what happened to you?” he asked in all innocence. . I must admit I was quite glad when Tim’s brother said that he wanted to do the next couple of races!
All in all we had a great day out even if it was disappointing not getting the Rudge out on track. On the way home Tim phoned Mervin Stratford to see if he would sell his bike to us! Needless to say he wouldn’t, but he did send down a Honda piston and a set of instructions for fitting it. We also picked up a load of Tim’s old spares when we got home. Two days later we had the Rudge running again on a standard piston which we had to do the valve cutaways on ourselves as well as some other profiling. We decided to run with that for Mallory as it was only a week away by this time. Feeling as ready as we could, I hired a van for the weekend and we set off on Friday lunchtime with the bike loaded up along with a box of spares, a tool box and all our camping gear.
We were the first to arrive at Mallory and we had to wait over an hour for the track to re-open so that we could go in! It took us an hour to put the little tent up because it was so windy and cold. We managed to stay out of the pub until 7pm but that was the best we could do. Tim had met Eddie at the track earlier and they had gone off to look at a monster Vincent outfit to buy, so we had arranged to meet them in the pub later.I was feeling a bit nervous and stuck to my plan of only having one pint of shandy for the whole evening while Phil was in the more fortunate position of sinking several beers that night. We met up with Tim and Trevor and the others later on but by this time we had watched a great video in the pub showing all the top crashes at Mallory and so by the end of the evening I was feeling even more unsure than before.
I was grateful to get back to the van for a good nights kip. Unfortunately I hadn’t realised just how cold it was going to get and I spent most of the night awake and shivering. I was glad to get up at 7am and I am sure Phil was too. Strangely enough I had lost all my worries overnight and was now feeling fine and ready to go .We got the Rudge out of the van and gave it a once over and then put it in line for scrutineering and went to grab a coffee. Had a bit of a shock when the scrutineer said he couldn’t pass the bike because of the lack of a rear chain guard! In our rush to get the Rudge ready we had completely overlooked this crucial piece of kit.
The old bodge-it mentality kicked in as we brought a plastic number plate and cut it to size and drilled it, and with the help of a couple of cable ties it was back to scrutineering this time to be passed. Next step was up to the officials office to book in and to pick up the transponder for the day. These are the little gizmos that you fix to the bike and they are used by the officials to give an accurate readout of your lap times and speed for any given race. Then it was back to the scrutineers to have leathers, gloves, boots and helmet checked.We started the Rudge and with a last handshake it was off to the pit exit for practice. Somehow or other I had managed to get my timing a little out and I arrived at the pit exit just as the marshals shut the gate for first practice and so I had to wait at the gate for 15 minutes until we were finally let out. I couldn’t stop the engine as I wasn’t sure if I could start it again on my own so it was a long 15mins.
Second practice was for the bigger bikes and that was a little worrying but as soon as the gate was opened I was off - and stalled it just outside the gate! A quick word with the marshals gave me permission to bump start the bike on the exit lane and join the track for the practice session. Mind you this was easier said than done but I eventually got it going and did at least two laps before end of session! The bike didn’t feel too hot I must admit, but at least I got out and ran it. It was not long after this that my first race came up and I was fifth on the grid so I got to the pit exit on time this time. The rules state that you go out from the pit and do the rest of that lap to line up on the grid, then when everyone is in place you do another warm up lap and line up on the grid again. You then wait for the checkered flag to start the race and off you go! It didn’t take long for me to realize that the Rudge was not going very well at all.
It was coughing and spluttering to start with and this got worse and worse as the race went on. The bike also started shaking really badly and I was tempted to retire from the race but I decided to keep going, if only for the practice. In the end I came in 17th out of 30 starters but I must say that there were 10 dnf’s so I only just avoided being last. The good news was that I did have a successful finish within the allotted time behind the winner and this counted as a successfully completed event and so I had my ACU card signed. Only nine more to go. We looked at the bike to see if we could make it go better for the second race and were shocked to find that three out of the four engine bolts had sheared and two were completely missing. The engine had moved so much on it’s mounts that the timing was way out.
Frantic borrowing by Tim from other racers found us enough engine bolts to put it back together and it was off on the second race. Unfortunately I only managed to complete one lap before the bike died and I was left stranded at the hairpin. I sat out the rest of the race with the marshal and eventually got the bike back to the pits . What had happened this time was the tappet adjusters had worked loose and one of the push rods had jumped out. By this time I had learnt that you need to do everything up really tight! I had also noted that the bike was still running poorly. We did change the plug cap and fit the exhaust better and then it was time for the last race of the meeting, the novice race. Because of my poor performance in the first two races, I had the pleasure of being first on the grid for this race.
The bike was going slightly better this time, at least it wasn’t coughing and spluttering as much, however it was still very slow. I did feel that I was in a proper race for the first time that day though, and really enjoyed the whole thing. I even passed somebody! When I pulled into the pits all I could do was say to Tim “ tell me I didn’t come last “ Well I didn’t come last, and due either to some computer error or else the strange logic of the handicap system which as yet I haven’t figured out, I was given first place! This earned me 15 points! Driving back from Mallory we had plenty of time to discuss preparation for the next meeting.
I needed to make the Rudge go better and quicker. Phil had been offered a Bantam to race by Tim’s brother Trevor, and he needed to get that down to us to work on as soon as possible. We had four weeks before the next race at Lydden which sounds like a long time but goes really quickly. Luckily for Phil, Tim was going to see his brother the next week and so the Bantam arrived and Phil could get to work on it. He also had to register the bike for racing with the VMCC and get his own racing number, which turned out to be 196, one below Tim’s. I stripped the Rudge engine and tried to lap the valves in a bit more (with Phil’s help ) but the seats were pretty shot and it was not perfect. I also got a different barrel and had it bored out to take the new piston from Mervin . It was slightly tricky to fit due to the smaller gudgeon pin size but we had a little bush made to fit the small end of the con rod and eventually got the motor back together in time for Lydden. I hired a van to take us and the two bikes to Kent for the weekend and off we went.
……… a long time has passed since I wrote the above, but I will try to re-cap as best as I can. Lydden was a disaster for me and I only got one practice lap in before terminal engine failure. I think it was at this meeting that me and Phil were up most of Sat. night trying to straighten my valves with a hammer on the frame of an agricultural trailer! This set the scene for me for the rest of the season and the whole of the next one, being dogged by constant engine and gearbox problems.. The last race of the first season I came 17th again and I vowed that could never again happen, it was too embarrassing ! Before the start of the next season, Phil was offered racing no. 53, one away from mine, and he jumped at the chance and so now we have team numbers.
Third season 2004
By the end of the third season I had finally got some reliability and things were starting to come together. I finished my last race to date in fourth place with points for third. I get extra points for the rudge because it is rigid, girder forks and this puts me at a disadvantage against other more modern bikes in my class.All this time, Phil had been going from strength to strength wringing more and more speed out of the old bantam. During our three seasons of racing our times have been extremely close, with the rudge usually finishing just ahead, but this trend was reversed on our last meeting at Cadwell where Phil got consistently faster times than me. We are hoping to enter both bikes for the 250 race next year, and finally get to race each other on the track. I am also hoping to finish building a new rudge 250 for testing next season. My son Jedd has been coming to all the race meetings with us this year. He happily sleeps in the van and roughs it with the rest of us. We hardly see him on race days, he just looks after himself and hangs around with his mates.
Terrible news. We lost Tim on the IOM this year. He was riding a 350 aermacchi in the junior classic and lying third at the end of the last lap when a tragic accident took his life. It came as a terrible blow and is bringing tears to my eyes writing this now. His funeral was held in his paddock and we had the honor of starting his race bikes and giving them some welly as they carried the coffin in and again on leaving. My little rudge joined in for the first part until it threw a push rod. How fitting! I have now brought the rudge for 2500 and I am going to get Tim’s name written on it before the start of next season.
Tim was one of life’s great people, and we will miss him terribly , and we have both decided that it will be Tim’s memory that will spur us on for all the years of racing to come. Phil has been given the bantam and has a few more ideas for even more speed next season. We have both learnt a great deal in the last three seasons, I have particularly learnt a lot about single engines cirra 1937! We soon realized that racing wasn’t as easy as we thought but I think we are starting to get the hang of it now.Just found out that I have been placed eighth in the 250 championship this year! That was better than I could have hoped under the circumstances, and I am really happy with that. It is now the beginning of November and I have just returned from a days drive picking up a load of 250 Rudge parts to add to the collection.
Next Sunday me and Phil are going to the AGM with the aim to vote on a few issues relating to neat seasons racing. So here we are again, it is near the start of the 2007 season. I missed out last season but I finished 9th in the 250 championship after a very bad start and two missed meetings. We have already been to practice and the two Rudges are going fine although the two bantams blew up. Both suffered from heavy detonation with mine blowing a huge hole in the piston. Turns out it was all down to a change in fuel! That was an expensive lesson to learn. Last season I got both the Rudges up and running and Phil raced my one. He won the 175 bantam championship last season and has been offered a ride for the season on a fast 125.
The result of this is he is going to ride my 125 as a spare for the season and I will ride his bantam. Sounds like it will be an exciting year! So it is now Jan. 2008 and before I tell you about the coming season I thought I would recap on the 2007 season. I raced Phil’s 175 bantam all season and only had two dnf’s. I managed a couple of third places and even beat Mike Powell once! This was enough for me to win the 175 Bantam championship, which means that Phil’s Bantam has won it twice in a row. I finished 5th in the overall Bantam championship. I had some success with the Rudge as well, with another third place, finishing 6th in the 250 championship.
The promised 125 never materialized for Phil so he raced my Bantam for the season which was a struggle for him as it isn’t as fast or reliable as his. Never mind, he still managed to finish 9th in the championship. At the end of the season he was offered the number two Bantam to ride next year, and this time it is happening because he has already got the bike! So on to this year then. I forgot to say that at the end of last season I brought a BSA C15 racer from one of the club members who finished 2nd in the championship on it in 2005.
I have spent all winter stripping the bike down and getting to know it. By tomorrow it will all be back together again and ready for testing. We are going for a track day on the 2nd Feb to Cadwell Park to test my C15 and Phil’s new Bantam and also take my NC30 out for a blast. I haven’t even looked at the Rudge yet but I have a few repairs to do to it as well as a general strip and rebuild before practice in early March. The second Rudge that I so painstakingly built hasn’t really turned out to be useful and I am thinking of breaking it back down for spares!
Good news! We contacted an old friend Chris Wickett and he has jumped at the offer to race with us next year. He will be riding my spare Rudge. So Team Wildcard members have grown to three and with that, the story on how we started racing has come to an end. All updates from now on will be done on the blog. Thanks for reading this, I hope it might inspire some of you to start racing as we did twenty years ago.