A Year of AHRMA Road Racing on the Randakk’s Cycle Shakk sponsored Honda CB900F by Dennis Parrish

Dennis Parrish AHRMA 2017 Season

I’ve been supported by Randakk’s Cycle Shakk racing my two early ‘80’s Honda CB900Fs for several years with AHRMA.  I have done well with them over the years, winning several Formula Vintage National Championships and regularly finishing second nationally in Vintage Superbike Heavyweight.  For 2017, I thought I’d focus on racing the CB-Fs in Vintage Superbike HW and using a ’73 Kawasaki Z1 in Formula Vintage.  The Hondas have been reliable after a couple of years spent debugging weak spots after I modified them for vintage road racing.

The first race weekend of the ’17 AHRMA season was in Georgia at Roebling Road in late February and the second race event was a month later at Carolina Motorsports Park in South Carolina.  Driving to the east coast twice in a month is a whole lot of driving when you’re starting out from Albuquerque, New Mexico!  My “more reasonable” plan was to drive the 1,641 miles to Roebling Road, race, drive a hundred or so miles to Charlotte, North Carolina and then fly home for a month.  I’d store my rig in Charlotte and return in mid-March.  All I’d have to do is get in the rig and drive to Kershaw, South Carolina for race weekend #2.

That was the plan, anyway.  Every part about the plan worked, except the piece about racing the Honda CB-F!  Once I arrived at Roebling Road – a beautiful, green, sunny place – one minor detail disrupted the original plan.  The CB-F wouldn’t stay in 5th gear at all! I took it out for the first practice and every time I shifted it into 5th , it’d instantly shift itself back into 4th so it wasn’t race-worthy.  That meant the CB-F went on display in the pits because it was only good for looking at.  Thankfully I’d brought the Z1 along and it was eligible for the same class as the Honda CB-F.  Having the Z1 saved the day, or at least the Vintage Superbike race.

Honda CB-F Kawasaki Z1 Kawasaki KZ650 pit

            My pits at Roebling Road with the Z1, CB-F & KZ650

When I flew back home after racing at Roebling Road, I decided to “upgrade” the CB-F since the engine had to come apart to fix the transmission.  I started gathering parts, including a lightened crank, new camshaft grinds, new valves and a reworked cylinder head.  The parts began making their way to New Mexico as I flew back to Charlotte where I raced the Z1 in place of the Honda in the second AHRMA event, and then drove back home the 1,664 miles from South Carolina.

Honda CB-F Engine Rebuild Dennis Parrish

CBF Engine Rebuild Underway

I spent my time after the Carolina Motorsports Park event rebuilding the CB-F.  This meant skipping two AHRMA rounds in California at Willow Springs and Sonoma during April.  When the CB-F rebuild was completed, it sounded great…especially with the rev’s rising and falling instantly with the lightened crank.

AHRMA had scheduled two events on consecutive weekends in the beginning of June, and they were my next opportunity to race the CB-F.  First up was Gingerman Raceway in New Haven, Michigan followed by Road America near Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.  I had to reconfigure my trailer to stuff all the race bikes plus a pit bike in there – six bikes in total – but managed to make everything fit and headed off to Michigan, 1,450 miles away.

Dennis Parrish Bikes

The five race bikes lined up to load in the trailer

I arrived to beautiful weather and scenery.  I unloaded the bikes, and everything ran well during Friday’s practice.  The CB-F felt slower than the Z1, which surprised me since I’d spent so much time and money trying to make it faster.  When I looked at the lap times I was even more surprised!  The CB-F was more than 1.5 seconds per lap faster than the Z1.  That’s 15 seconds ahead of where I’d be on the Z1 in a 10 lap race on the short Gingerman track, and that’s huge!  I was very pleased once I looked at the numbers and realized how easy the CB-F was to ride quickly.

Dennis Parrish Bikes Race Day

My pits at Gingerman

The Friday practice day closed out with some wind and rain but it was dry when Saturday arrived.  My fingers were crossed that it would stay that way.  Saturday morning practice rounds went well, and when the Vintage Superbike HW race was called I rolled out on the CB-F hoping for good results.  I got an okay start, but struggled with clutch chatter off the line and was running in 3rd or so once the first few corners were done.  I kept on running in 3rd, thinking about where I could improve my lines when the bike coughed and quit running right after the exit of a corner.

I had enough speed to coast to the next flagging station and rolled off the right side of the track after slowing down.  I wanted to lean the bike against something instead of just dropping it on the ground, and the tires around the corner station looked like a good bet.  As I rolled to a stop at the flag station, I was engulfed in a dense cloud of smoke.  The bike was billowing smoke from the front of the engine.  Not good!  I couldn’t see anything drastically wrong, (like a gaping hole in the cases with important parts sticking out), but the smoke continued and the corner worker was getting ready to spray the bike with a fire extinguisher.  I told him it was just oil burning off the header and collector of the pipe which had been wrapped with heat tape and was saturated with oil.  Slowly the smoking dissipated as the pipe cooled.  The corner worker was relieved and put the extinguisher away without making a bigger mess out of my bike.

I was in the next race too, as I had planned on participating in four different races that day.  The bad part was that I was stuck in the infield of the race track and had to make it back to the pits to get on my KZ650 for the next race.  I had two choices.

The easiest one was to wait at the corner station for the crash truck, ride back on the truck & trailer to the pits and miss my race.  The sweaty option was to run in full leathers and racing boots carrying my helmet and gloves back to the pits, get my KZ650 and get out there for the race.

Running has never been fun for me, especially in leathers.  However, not racing is worse than running, so I ran.  I barely made it back and was the last guy to go out for the warmup lap, which earned me a stink-eye look from the starter.  I was sweating so much in my helmet I was worried I wouldn’t be able to see!  Thankfully the sweat just ran out of the bottom of my full-face helmet, and racing blew lots of cooling air through my leathers.  The race wasn’t much to talk about, and when I got back to the pits after finishing my race, the crash truck still hadn’t arrived with my CB-F.  When it did arrive, I set it off to the side and didn’t touch it for the rest of the weekend.

Because AHRMA’s Road America event was the following week near Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin it was just a short drive of 275 miles from Michigan.  The only ‘bad’ part could have been driving through the Chicago metro area.  I decided to avoid it by driving further south and west than I needed to in skip the thrill of driving an RV & trailer through Chicago in the dark.

The RV Park by Road America

The RV park by Road America

I pulled into the RV park Monday morning and was pleased to find a mostly empty park-like location for me to spend a few days.  The plan had been to explore the area on my XR650L pit-bike taking short day trips around Wisconsin.  However, since most of the bikes needed attention, I spent four days doing maintenance.  The KZ650 was leaking gas from the petcock, the CB350 had a flat rear tire and 4 or 5 broken spokes, the primary CB-F had sent out a large smoke signal at Gingerman to let everyone know it wasn’t going to finish the race and the back-up CB-F was an absolute bear to start.  Only my Z1 seemed to be okay.

I removed the tank and seat on the CB-F and saw a 2” hole in the cam cover near the front right over the top of the cam chains.  I pulled the cam cover off and poked around.  It turned out a short 6mm bolt holding the upper cam chain tensioner had backed out and been sent blasting around the top end by the spinning cams and chains, finally picking the front of the cam cover for an exit path.  Great… The good news was that there didn’t appear to be much damage.  The confusing part was that I KNEW I had torqued AND loctited that bolt down.  I decided since the primary CB-F was out of service for Road America that I’d pull the magneto ignition, coils and wiring harness off that bike and install it on the backup CB-F, which had a different ignition with fixed timing.  I suspected that was why it was hard to start.  When I finished, I chose not to start my race bike in the middle of the RV park because of those pesky noise rules.  I was able to finish performing maintenance on the rest of the race fleet over four days.

I moved in to Road America Thursday afternoon and picked a wonderful shaded spot to set up my pits.  After setting everything up, I thought checking out the new ignition on the CB-F would be a good idea.  It started easily and ran well around the pits.  Everything seemed fine with it plus the rest of the race bike fleet.  Friday arrived, but this time when I went to start the backup CB-F, I couldn’t get it going.  I missed the first practice session but was able to run the CB350, KZ650 and Z1 in each of their sessions.  I tried again to start the CB-F for its next round of practice, but again it refused to start!  I chanted a relaxing mantra of curse words and decided not to spend any time on troubleshooting it.  I ended up running the Z1 – just like every single previous race – in place of the CB-F.

 

Dennis Parrish Bikes Chicago

My pits at Road America

The race weekend went less than spectacularly from a race bike perspective.  The CB350 ran fine in its races on Saturday but didn’t finish on Sunday due to a shifting issue.  The KZ650 didn’t finish either race on Saturday or Sunday because of an apparent fuel starvation issue, but ran fine in both practice sessions on each day.  The Z1 ran fine all weekend and made up for the other bikes by winning twice along with 2nd and 3rd place finishes.  The CB-Fs were good for nothing except looking at.  Sunday after the races finished, I loaded up and drove the 1,394 miles back home.

Back home, I took a good look at the primary CB-F as I had month to repair it.  I tore the engine down completely to replace both cam chains as the small 6mm bolt had run between the cam chains and their sprockets making the chains suspect.  Two new chains went in, along with installing the 6mm cam tensioner bolt that had come out with RED Loctite.  Everything else looked good inside, and I re-installed the magneto ignition I’d moved to the other CB-F.  I now had two good race bikes to take to the next race.

Millville, New Jersey was the next ARHMA round and New Jersey Motorsports Park is a mere 1,996 miles from my door.  I was excited to go to a new track that I’d heard many of my fellow racers praise.  I loaded the Z1, the CB-F and my Grom pitbike in the trailer and hit the road.  After a few days of driving, I was there.  I will admit driving an RV dragging a trailer through unfamiliar urban Philadelphia and New Jersey is far scarier than anything I’ve done on a racetrack in recent memory.  New Jersey Motorsports Park is a very nice facility.  I spent Thursday afternoon exploring it on the Grom plus visiting friends in the pits.  I was looking forward to the race weekend.  I’d parked in a corner near where I thought we’d be entering the track and set up my pits.  It was pretty quick since I only had two race bikes instead of five like the last event.

Dennis Parrish New Jersey Motorsports

My pits at New Jersey Motorsports with the CB-F in front and Grom in back

Friday morning arrived and the weather was okay with a few clouds in the area and intermittent drizzling rain.  The track was mostly wet to very wet depending on the time of day.  There were many crashes from the wet surface and it seemed every practice session ended with a red flag.  AHRMA officials had been watching weather radar and cancelled further practice around 2pm.  I was skeptical, but decided to stick the two race bikes in the trailer to keep ‘em dry just in case.  I figured I’d gotten about twenty total laps on the track on Friday and still didn’t know where I was going on it.  As I was pondering how I was going to figure out the track, the skies turned black, the rain poured and all of a sudden the AHRMA officials seemed to rival Einstein with their brilliance.

Saturday dawned on a wet track but the weather had improved markedly with only broken clouds.  It appeared the track might dry out over the course of the day.  I went out for practice on the Z1 and when I came in, I found oil weeping on the right side of the engine.  I rode it back to my pit, got on the CB-F and went out for its first Saturday practice session thinking how lucky I was that I had a second bike and lamenting the wet track.  At the end of the front straight running near redline in 5th gear, the CB-F made a sound like stepping on a bunch of eggshells and quit running.  I pushed my bike through a gate and back to my pits, which were about as far away as they could possibly be…from where I broke down.

Both bikes were now broken.  The CB-F was terminal but the Z1 just had a small oiling problem.  I found oil above the head gasket and toward the middle and rear of the cylinder head on the right side.  The only thing around that area was an oil galley plug, so I cleaned it and sealed it with some RTV.  It was blessed by a tech inspector when I showed him the repair and explained my logic.  Since practice was now over I’d have to wait until my race the next day to see if it was fixed.  When my race was called after lunch I went out on the Z1.  On my sighting lap I saw water on the track in several locations but overall the track was mostly dry.  I gridded and when the race started I was cautious into the first corner because our sighting lap didn’t cover that part of the track.  It was wet on the entry and inside, but not soaking.  I made it through there successfully and rode with the group of racers I was in, hitting patches of water every turn or two.  The surface was sketchy and I wasn’t having any fun.  The race lasted about three laps before several racers who weren’t having any fun either managed to fall in wet patches.  After three or four bikes littered the outsides of a couple corners, the race was red-flagged and I pulled into the hot pit.  Curious to see if my shade tree fix had cured the leak, I looked down at the right side of the Z1 and saw oil on the side of the cylinder head and cylinder.  This meant I had run out of working motorcycles…

I retired from the grid and went to my pits, choosing not to finish the race on a bike that was leaking oil.  Since I had already broken the CB-F I had a choice to make – stay and watch the races, or pack up and head home.  I was successful as a spectator for about 45 minutes before I decided watching wasn’t near as fun as racing.  I packed up and headed home, 1,996 miles to the west.  Doing the math, I drove over 1,300 miles for each race lap I got to run that weekend.  A couple of days later I was home and after spending a few days feeling frustrated I unloaded the trailer and got to work doing repairs.

First I completely tore down the CB-F.  It had broken the cam chain, bent 8 valves and broken two valve guides.  Luckily I had all the parts I needed so I started replacing the guides, cutting new seats, replacing bent valves and broken cam chains.  Both CB-Fs had been having intermittent carb overflow problems so  I tore both sets of smoothbore carbs completely down and replaced many o-rings.  On the backup CB-F I installed a new magneto ignition that I hoped would resolve the hard starting.  When I was done, both bikes fired right up and seemed to run well.

Valve train rebuild Honda CB-F

Valve train carnage on the CB-F

Almost a month had passed since my fiasco in New Jersey and it was time for the AHRMA round at Utah Motorsports Campus in Tooele, Utah.  I didn’t have time to resolve the issues with the KZ650 or CB350 so only the two CB-Fs went in the trailer along with the Z1, which had received new head gaskets to fix the oil leak.  This was the closest race to me all season – only a day’s drive away!  I left Thursday morning and a mere 11 hours later was in the paddock setting up my pits.  Friday was a full day of practice followed by racing on Saturday and Sunday.

Friday morning brought wonderful racing weather with warm blue skies and a little breeze.  I fired up the primary CB-F and took it out for practice where it ran well for both practice sessions in the morning.  The afternoon session started off fine, but the CB-F started running poorly and got worse in the space of a single lap.  I was able to limp it back to the pits, and parked it.  This is where having the Z1 available usually saves the day!  Alas, that wasn’t going to happen today as the Z1 still had that pesky oil leak.  Running it up and down my 15mph street isn’t the same as running it at race pace, and it was sidelined with the same problem it had in New Jersey.  That left the backup CB-F with the new ignition and new o-rings in the carbs.  Unfortunately, practice was over so I had to wait until Saturday to see how the backup CB-F behaved on the race track.  It had run fine at home and around the pits but it hadn’t been run at race pace yet during 2017.  My fingers were crossed and I was worried about another early return home from the races.  I’d patched the Z1 leak but it wasn’t a permanent fix, so that race bike was a little ‘iffy’ for the weekend.

Dennis Parrish Utah Motorsports Campus

My pits at Utah Motorsports Campus – a.k.a. “Miller”

Saturday arrived and I took the backup CB-F out.  It ran and felt fine though it was setup with a little softer suspension than the primary CB-F.  I felt good about the bike but had a pretty bad head cold, generally felt lousy and was concerned about doing well.  The first race up was Vintage Superbike HW.  I got a not-so-terrible start and was in 3rd for a bit until I was passed by a KZ1000 and dropped to 4th where I happily finished.  Formula Vintage was a strange race as there were only a couple of entrants.  Everyone else had equipment problems – the scourge of vintage racing – so all I had to do was circulate the track a few times for a win.  After not racing the CB-F since 2016 it was nice to be back aboard.

Sunday was pretty much like Saturday.  I was still sick and felt lousy, but managed to do okay in both races.  In Vintage Superbike HW my chattering clutch prevented me from getting a great start and I entered the first corner in 2nd but after a few laps was shuttled back to 3rd which is where I finished.  This time the Formula Vintage race had a full contingent of people show up so I assume that repairs were made overnight on their bikes.  I got another adequate start and was 2nd into the first corner and stayed 2nd for the full race without getting challenged or challenging anyone.  Thankfully the race weekend was over and despite bike and body issues I had managed to get some decent finishes.

I drove back home and slept in a real bed for a couple of nights before heading out to Talladega Gran Prix Raceway in Munford, Alabama, 1,317 miles away.  I was still fighting my head cold.  About 3 hours from arriving at the track I had vertigo so bad I had to exit off the interstate and sit in a Walmart parking lot for 3 hours waiting for the vertigo to subside.  It improved enough to drive safely, so I continued on to Munford and Talladega – the little one…  I arrived Thursday evening near sundown and was never so happy to quit driving and go to bed.

Friday dawned and I got up not feeling any better.  I ran the CB-F all day in Friday’s practice sessions and didn’t want to switch bikes.  The simpler I could keep things the better.  Iwas happy when practice was over so I could quit riding.

Honda CB-F Talladega

My CB-F at Talladega Gran Prix Raceway

Saturday showed up and in the morning rider’s meeting AHRMA officials announced that Hurricane Irma was due to arrive in the area Sunday morning.  Sunday’s races were therefore cancelled and all of Saturday’s races would be double points.  Getting home sooner sounded pretty good.  The first race for me was Vintage Superbike HW, and I got a decent start going into the first corner in a group of 3 or 4 other racers.  We settled out and I was running 3rd behind a Moto Guzzi and ahead of a CBX that had beat me at Road America.  I enjoyed this race a lot as we were constantly trading positions.  I ended up 3rd and was pretty satisfied with that.  If I’d finished 2nd OR beaten the guy on the Guzzi, I’d have mathematically clinched the National Championship for the Vintage Superbike HW class with AHRMA.  I felt crummy enough that I chose not to race in the Formula Vintage race as I’d already clinched that National Championship so I packed up and started back home.

The next AHRMA event was in four weeks at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Alabama.  My two bikes survived the last couple outings so there wasn’t much needed other than routine maintenance.  I headed out on Monday to drive the 1,275 miles to Barber.  Thursday was practice, and I took both bikes out.  The track and weather were both cold, causing both bikes to slide around a bit until the tires warmed up.  Both bikes ran fine, but I chose to stay on the CB-F for both races because it’s a little bit more stable and has better brakes than the Z1. Saturday dawned more gray and cloudy than I hoped.  I wasn’t in the first couple of races, and hoped the track would warm up a little before I headed out for my first race, Formula Vintage.  When my race was called I was gridded on the front row but I got a bad start and ended up pretty far back, around 10th or so.  I didn’t make much headway, and after a few laps the race was red-flagged due to crashes.  There was a mass re-start with about 40 bikes, and I was very cautious with my start and the first few corners as I’d been taken out a couple times at Barber already and didn’t care to repeat that experience.  The race was uneventful for me, and I finished way back in 10th – not a good finish.  The Vintage Superbike Heavyweight race was after lunch, but the weather had continued to worsen.  There was heavy cloud cover and intermittent rain.  I was on the front row but got another poor start.  I ended up around 8th after the first couple of corners and rode around without making much headway until it started raining a harder.  I slowed and rode cautiously until the race ended, finishing 6th.

Honda CB-F Barber Vintage Festival

My CB-F on track in the rain at the Barber Vintage Festival

AHRMA officials announced that due to Hurricane Nate hitting the area on Sunday that all of Sunday’s races and other events were cancelled.  That made TWO AHRMA races impacted by hurricanes!  I packed up that afternoon and headed back to New Mexico, arriving home with a total driving miles of 17,163 and clinching both the Formula Vintage and Vintage Superbike Heavyweight AHRMA National Championships.  It felt good to finally park my rig and stay home for a while.  To tell the truth – I still haven’t unloaded my race bikes from the trailer!

I’ll get on that soon, though.

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