Sunday, November 9, 2014

Mentor and Machine

I knew I wanted to do it, hell I will go so far as to say I KNEW I was going to do it, just didn't have the foggiest notion as to how. I was still fairly ignorant to the internet at this point and it's not like rural northern New York is a repository for racing knowledge other than the roundy round smash 'em up car stuff. Enter Fate. Late one afternoon as I was heading home from a ride on my 1979 CB750 (F model, the only cool one) I spotted a two-wheeled conveyance in driveway repose emblazoned with a FOR SALE sign. I passed by. I knew from my quick glance it was a mid to late seventies Japanese bike, and I remember seeing lots of cooling fins on the motor. Air-cooled? Two-stroke? I had to know.

I pulled over and attempted a U-turn, nearly washing the front end out on some gravel on the side of the road, but managed to keep it upright and headed back in the direction of destiny. I arrived, (in more ways than one, only I would not know that until much later). This was what I saw (reasonable facsimile):

Image and video hosting by TinyPic A 1976 Suzuki GT500, two-stroke twin cylinder! I have been enthralled with two-cycle engines since the first time I rode a clapped out RM125 dirtbike as a teenager. I will never forget the abject terror when the front wheel went airborne as the motor came on the pipe, sending the gas tank square into my testicles as I scrambled to keep from flipping over backwards. It was love. Now here was a 500cc two-stroke twin for sale. A firebreather for certain.

I stood looking at the machine, which was in reasonably good shape for a (at the time) 23 year old motorcycle. A strip of black duct tape on a tear in the seat, small rust spot on the tank, little dry rot on the tires, nothing I hadn't dealt with before. "Well, what do you think? Not as nice as the Honda you are riding, but not bad?" I looked up from the diamond in the rough I was quickly falling in love with to see who had spoken. It was Phil.

Phil Lee was known as the best lawn and garden repair guy in 3 counties in Upstate NY. He also loved motorcycles, almost as much as he loved to talk. I had been previously warned about his propensity for chewing the fat, told not to stop there unless I had several hours to spare. I would not be deterred. "It looks good. What are you asking?"

"$375, and it's worth it. Runs good. You know they used to race these back in the day." My ears perked up at that statement.

"They did?"
"Yep, somewhere around here I have some tuning articles from when Ron Grant used to run them."

Four hours later I had read every one of those articles, knew who the hell Ron Grant was, had seen pictures of Phil's old race bikes and heard what would end up being only one tenth of one percent of the stories that wonderful man had to tell. I was also the proud owner, (well one third owner being that my swim coach gig wasn't particularly lucrative) of a 1976 Suzuki GT500. More importantly I had wheedled the promise out of Phil that I would only buy this bike contingent upon the requirement that he help me turn it a real road racer. He thought I was full of shit. I knew better. I rode my Honda home that dark night grinning from ear to ear like a fucking madman, eyes watering in the cold air.

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