THE SPIRIT OF RACING:  JOIN THE CLUB!

The Rosamond Tribune 

October, 2000

When you think of Willow Springs, you think of racing.  Not just any old racing, but some of the fastest racing ever seen in America.  Willow Springs International Raceway is also known as the "Fastest Road in the West," and for good reason.  It has the highest cornering speeds and quickest average speeds of any course this side of the Big Muddy (that's the Mississippi to most of us).  With it's 150 mph Turn 8, tricky Turn 6, and technical "Rabbit Ear," racers of all kinds have to be skilled at some of the highest speed maneuvering possible, no matter what kind of vehicle they're in.

Track owner Bill Huth has said that when it comes to racing, four wheels is the ultimate.  Maybe that's true for ultimate cornering speed - the fastest lap times at Willow are definitely set by cars - but for a select group of racers, four wheels is two too many.  And while Huth is right about four wheels being the ultimate way to get around a racetrack, he also loves to watch the ballet of the two-wheeled vehicles that compete every month at Willow Springs - the racing motorcycles.

Each year, Willow Springs  Raceway is the site of several national motorcycle races, such as the Formula USA series, the American Motorcyclist Association's AMA Pro Racing, and the Western Eastern Roadracing Association's 24-hour motorcycle endurance race.  But each month, the track hosts motorcycle roadracing hosted by Willow Springs Motorcycle Club.  The WSMC is a motorcycle roadracing organization based at Willow Springs International Raceway,  It has a wide variety of classes, ranging from those that let national-caliber riders test equipment and hone their skills to those that let novice racers earn their wings.  The club, which was formed in 1991, has been geared to include to broadest spectrum of riders, from beginners to experts, with a level of racing that's right for just about any rider.

At the top of the heap is the Toyota Cup Grand Prix Formula One event.  This class lets riders build motorcycles to the limit and beyond.  There are very few rules about engine and chassis modifications in this class.  Some of the machines are producing around 170 horsepower at the rear wheel, and weigh only 300 pounds!  This kind of acceleration can only be handled by expert riders, which is why the racing in this class is so close and so exciting.  Top local riders in this class include Chuck Graves, Jeremy Toye, Vince Haskovec, and Curtis Adams.  Watching these men ride their machines side by side down the front straightaway at over 150 mph is breathtaking, especially when one of more of them have to let up for Turn One, which is taken at 100mph!

At the other end of the spectrum are the novice classifications, which include lightweight (0-500cc), middleweight (500-750cc), and heavyweight (750cc and over).  New riders who wish to take up motorcycle roadracing can attend the Willow Springs Motorcycle Club New Racer School.  This school is held each and every race weekend, which is usually the third Sunday of every month.  New racers learn to prepare their motorcycles, and are given two full days of lessons on track procedures, both in the classroom and on the racecourse.  If all goes well, the new racer's first race is that very Sunday.  There are usually a lot of last-minute changes and frazzled nerves to go along with a first race, but after it's over, huge grins can be found under the new racer's helmets.  It's an accomplishment that few people will ever reach, and definitely a story to tell one's grandchildren!

The WSMC doesn't just cater to those on brand new machinery, although there's plenty of that to go around.  The club also has several vintage classes, with a great variety of older superbike-style motorcycles that date back over twenty years.  Spectators can watch racers campaign classic four-cylinder, air-cooled Kawasakis, Suzukis, Hondas, and Yamahas, bikes that were at the top of their class when new.  These machines can still scream around a racetrack, and watching their riders battle elbow to elbow is a real blast from the past.  To a motorcyclist, there's nothing quite like the howl of the classic UJM inline four - unless it's the sound of a pack of them at full throttle down Willow's back straight!

Earlier this year, the lightweight classes seemed to be pretty well nailed down by racer Tony D'Augusta, a fine rider who works hard at his craft.  D'Augusta, on a Yamaha FZR400 production racebike, had the points lead well in hand in April, 2000 and seemed like a sure bet to win the series championships in both the 500cc stock and modified classes.  But that month, another WSMC member decided to try these classes, moving from the 600cc class to the lightweight category.  Racer Jodie York, also on an FZR400, showed up that month and hounded D'Augusta in both classes.  York took two second place finishes in April, and returned in May to defeat D'Augusta twice for a pair of victories - the first time in WSMC history that a female racer has won two production races on the same day.

York repeated her winning ways in June.  But the tables were again turned in July by the appearance of Joe Hammond, who holds the #3 plate overall from 1999.  Hammond is one of the fastest riders to ever have circulated Willow Springs Raceway on the Yamaha FZR400. which has proven to be the machine of choice for riders in the lightweight production classes.  He immediately moved to a position of dominance, taking the wins in both classes and sharing the podium with Jodie York, who still placed a solid second in each class.  York took the points lead in both classes that month because of her strong performances in the year's previous events, though, and served notice she was there to win not only some races, but some championships.  No one who watched her race was prepared to argue the point, either!

In August and September, Hammond's performances remained consistent, while York's continued to improve.  York has shown herself to be the master of the holeshot, streaking off to a commanding lead at the race start.  Hammond's years of experience at Willow and the sheer amount of time on his FZR400 continue to give him an advantage, and he has so far managed to catch and pass York in every race.  But York is a student of the sport, and her lap times have decreased with every outing.  She's talented, aggressive, and capable of doing whatever it takes to win.  Spectators have commented on more than one handlebar-to-handlebar entry into Turn One, with York and Hammond practically swapping paint until one or the other gives way at the last instant.

Despite Jodie York's determination, Joe Hammond's experience, and Tony D'Augusta's consistency, it's still way too early to call this championship.  York is in the points lead, but Hammond is making up ground quickly.  And D'Augusta still has a shot if either of the other contenders has a mechanical problem or fails to finish a race in either class.  It's this kind of competition and dedication that gives club-level racing its character and its color, though.  The national level races, like the AMA Superbike race held on October 1st at Willow Springs, are great for showcasing the latest machines and top riders.  But the true spirit of motorcycle roadracing is still found at the club level, where fierce competition and strong camaraderie can both be found in good measure.

If motorcycle roadracing sounds exciting, that's because it is.  And you can be part of that excitement just by showing up on the third Sunday of the month at Rosamond's own Willow Springs International Raceway.  For just ten dollars, you can meet the racers, watch as much racing as you can stand, and learn all about motorcycle roadracing.

For more information, just call the club at (661)256-1234, or go to the club's website, at www.race-wsmc.com.  We'll see you at the track!