WHEN ATCs RULED THE TRACK
WHEN ATCs RULED THE TRACK
Editor’s note: In nearly every issue we feature a cool project or race machine built by a reader, engine builder or a top pro racer. Some of those projects have been assembled by the legendary Mickey Dunlap and his company, Four Stroke Tech. Not only has Mickey been a top engine and machine builder for decades, he was an accomplished racer. Mickey was the number-one rider way back when factory salaries first hit the ATV scene and machines barely had suspension. He dominated the ultra-popular, 200cc four-stroke class all while banging bars with the likes of Curtis Sparks and Jimmy White. Recently, Micky sat down and started reliving those memories of life on the pro race circuit in the early 1980s. Over the next few months we are going to bring you those stories, along with some vintage photos and a glimpse of what his race machine looked like back in the day.
IN MICKEY’S WORDS
I only rode a three-wheeler once before bending the front end on a borrowed Honda 185, so it got front forks for my first MX race. Then, by the time my first Supercross race came around at the Kingdome, the owner put a rear shock on it. Next year came the 200X, and I got a little closer, but the stock motor wasn’t enough at the Kingdome qualifier.
I gave Powroll a call on Monday morning and asked them if they had any performance mods for the 200X yet. I told them I know I can beat Team Honda if I had just a little more power. Next thing I know I’m driving in a snowstorm heading south to Oregon. I spent about three weeks at Powroll before we headed back up to Seattle to the Kingdome! That’s where the war was on! No low fender, no cut tank, just some wheel spacers and horsepower!
I won and Powroll was pumped, then I was on the road to Oklahoma City the next week with a full ride from Powroll paying for everything! Lucky for me I grew up racing in the mud, and I knew you always have to be prepared for anything. Sure enough, right before the main event it started to rain—and rain hard! Clay tracks don’t mix well with too much water too quick, so I threw on my stock balloon tires and it worked! I won again.
After I got back to Oregon from Oklahoma, Powroll got a call from 3-Wheeling mag wanting to do an interview/photo shoot, so we ended up taking the bike clear down to the frame to paint it blue with white fenders (Powroll colors), then headed to SoCal to do the shoot at Saddleback Park. A day or two later we were back on the road to Houston for a Supercross race. Because I did little or no riding and too much sitting behind the wheel, I got tired in the race and got arm pump bad, dropping back to second.
By the next race at Santa Cruz I was back on track, and Powroll got me another 200X, so I had the second bike to ride during the week. Because I rode at 4000 feet of elevation in Bend, Oregon, they built me a 218cc motor to offset the power loss. So since I had two bikes, I thought I might as well race two classes. I won the 200 class, but the 250 class was a bit harder to do well in, so I knew I needed a holeshot in the main. I don’t remember what place I got in the heat race, but it was good enough to get me on the front row. Well, I got the holeshot, but as you may have seen on the Santa Cruz video (search on YouTube), not everyone followed me off the line! I timed it well, but my brother in-law (Tad, the starter) was just late throwing the flag! That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! Still, I ended up the top privateer in sixth behind all the factory riders on a little, old, 25-horsepower 200X against the two-stroke 250s.
HELP FROM THE MAGAZINES
Dean Kirsten (3-Wheeling magazine) played a big part in getting my sponsors, such as Ceet Racing, but he also suggested where to go racing to get more press. So as I was looking at some of my scrapbook pictures, I saw that after this exciting photo shoot my next race was the Mint 100 in Las Vegas. Dean suggested that I go race this big event, so I did. I had no clue about desert racing, but Powroll built me a mild engine to run a 100 miles wide open, basically. It was pretty cool going to the Mint 100, because to do tech inspection you had to ride into downtown Las Vegas. Then I found out everyone but Sundahl and me had two or three riders on their teams. I ended up third in my class behind all the big-name desert guys.
After I raced in Vegas, I drove to Corona, California, and got a motel after washing my wheeler at the local car wash. I took out one of the beds in the room and took off the big stock tires so I could get my bike into the room to change it over to a short course bike again. I had to put the wide axle back on, change back to the race motor and lower it back down.
Apparently, no one down south ever double-jumped before, even though they had what I thought was a pretty big set of doubles. Because in practice I was following Sparks and came to the “double jump”; I went for it, but Sparks didn’t! I guess I about took off his head leaping over him, because he came over to my pit screaming a bunch of stuff that I didn’t understand. I think I won, and I remember this being the first—but not the last—time Curtis had some words with me.
Powroll got a call from Honda with them offering a parts and bikes deal to help us out, then they would get to use my name in their ads, but that wasn’t the first call Powroll got from Honda. They called right before the first Baja Cross race and told them they shouldn’t send me to Saddleback Park because it was a very fast track and I could get hurt! Well, that got the owner all wound up, and there was no way they weren’t sending me to SoCal. It was a fast track that I liked a lot and ended up winning the 200cc class.
LOTS OF TRAVEL
It seemed like every other weekend I was running from Bend, Oregon, to California in between the Baja Cross races. I was beating guys like Marty Hart, Jimmy White and Donnie Luce. Driving from Bend to San Jose in Northern California seemed like a local race compared to San Diego. At this race for some reason I had it in my head to push Jimmy as hard as I could until his two-stroke would overheat and seize. I guess it was from my old motorcycle days remembering all the air-cooled two-strokes that couldn’t take the heat when I pushed them too hard. Then, with a big front tire of a three-wheeler, I figured there was no way it would keep running, and it didn’t! I can still remember laughing when it happened, but I’m sure it wasn’t funny to Jimmy because he was way faster on the straights, and I had to work my butt off in the corners.
Again, I always like being the underdog, so I took my practice bike that was built to a 218cc because of the power loss at 4000 feet of elevation in Oregon and took off for the Mickey Thompson races. I was doing pretty well for such a fast track against all the 250 two-strokes. The funny thing was that the tech inspector told me not to come back unless I quieted my fourstroke down, because for some reason that’s all you could hear when it aired on TV and it messed with their show! One of the last races in ’83 was in Alaska in a very small arena. I took two bikes to race the 200 and 250 classes. We raced three nights for an overall winner. I can’t find anything on who won the 200 class, but I remember a lot of bumping going on, and in the 250 class the winner was Jimmy White.
THE YEAR WAS 1984
At the beginning of 1984 I signed on with Team Honda as a full-time factory racer, something I had dreamed about my whole life. I stayed in Oregon where I had a one-mile MX track and a big TT track complete with built-in watering system. Powroll was the best place to train and test different engine setups. Now with Honda paying all the bills, I got to fly to the races more often, but still liked driving to Southern California and to my home state of Washington to race. For some reason I liked road trips!
The season started out in Lake George, New York, where I didn’t fare so well. First I brought my motor in a suitcase to New York and went out and cold-seized the new engine because the straight 40WT oil turned to sludge. I rebuilt the engine and spent the rest of the week learning how to stud tires, 500 screws per tire! So I don’t know what I placed in the heat race, but I jumped the start in the main and ended up on the third row. I think I worked up to fifth, which wasn’t a good showing for my first time out riding for Honda.
Our next race was in Tacoma, Washington, 50 miles from my home. I raced both classes. Powroll built an XR250 dirt bike motor and put it in a 200X frame for TT races, but this was far from being a TT track. At one point in practice I put on some tractor tires to get some traction on the 250 until I was protested for throwing 2×4-sized chunks of dirt off the rear tires, if you can believe that! They said it was making ruts in the TT track and they were not TT tires. Being the smart aleck that I was, I said they were indeed TT tires, “tractor tires,” since that’s what TT stands for from a farm boy from Washington! I lost the protest; they really didn’t work that well anyway. It did keep us busy switching tires back and forth between two bikes. Pete Fisher was the head of R&D at Powroll back then and ended up buying the company years later.
Back on track and back to SoCal for the Baja Cross opener, I had still been running my blue-and-white Powroll colors, but that was shortlived. The call came from Honda after the first win of the year, and Honda didn’t like the blue-and-white 200X. By round two Honda built me a new red 200X. I showed up at Honda with my fast engine from Powroll, the same ’83 motor I won the first Kingdome race with, but with a new, faster, 212cc, long-rod stroker in it. This is the bike I won the championship on at the Baja Cross. It proved to be the key to keeping up with the fast Kawasaki two-strokes, but it still wasn’t easy with Jimmy White , Chris White and Curtis Sparks on their top games too!
Curtis and I battled a lot at the Baja Cross races, but little problems kept him out of the winner’s circle. The two-strokes were getting harder and harder to beat on the big, wide-open tracks, but the reliability of the Powroll four-stroke still kept us winning!
PART TWO: ATC RACING IN THE BEGINNING
HONDA WORKS BIKES
I got a call from Honda saying they wanted me to show up at a race that Rick Mears was putting on after winning the Indy 500, but they said to not bring a bike. Turns out they built me a one-off, $30,000, 200cc, two-stoke works bike. It was built in a 200X frame but had a sand-casted engine, nothing like we had seen before. So here I am, racing a bike I had never rode before, and the thing was a rocket. Great, smooth power like a four-stroke, but three times faster and much lighter. I ended up winning the race, but the biggest surprise was it was on TV, so I got double the win money from both Powroll and Hondaline. It was the best paycheck ever! That was the game-changer for the next Baja Cross race; we had the advantage. I only got to race it once in the Baja races, so my four-stroke was still the bike I won the championship on that year.
Racing for Honda was a dream come true, but it wasn’t always as fun as it was when I was racing for myself and Powroll. For the most part, I raced everywhere the rest of the team did, but with me living in Bend, Oregon, instead of SoCal, sometimes I was told I couldn’t go to the races because there wasn’t room for my bike in the trailer, and Tipton, Iowa, was one of those races. By this time the 200cc two-strokes were pretty much the only bikes we raced. The 200X just wasn’t up to speed in that class at most tracks, but Tipton wasn’t one of those tracks.
Powroll didn’t like it when Honda said we couldn’t do this or that, and to tell me I couldn’t go to a big race because there wasn’t room for my bike in the trailer didn’t sit well with them or me. So, Powroll got on the phone with a customer that just happened to have bought one of my motors out of my bike when we were in Alaska racing. That’s right you could buy one of my motors right out of my bike if you had the money, and this guy did. His kid raced in the Amateur class, so he let me race his bike in the Pro class. Powroll got me a plane ticket and sent me to Iowa. When I showed up at the track, Honda got a little upset that I showed up for some reason. I wasn’t really sure why at the time, but they made it clear they were not paying for my expenses. That was fine; I just wanted to go racing, and all my expenses were paid for anyways. So after being chewed out, I went out and won the overall on the borrowed 200X. Little to my knowledge there was a bigwig from Honda there. Monday morning Powroll got a call from Honda, and they said that I made them look bad winning on the four-stroke in front of the bigwig that had to give the okay on these four $30,000 works bikes. I didn’t know what the big deal was; Honda always told me that we could do whatever we needed to do to win!
The 200cc two-stroke bike worked really well for me on the big TT and oval tracks like Boyd, Texas. I made a lot of money that weekend winning the TT and the dash-for-cash both nights including the big oval where I set the fastest lap times over the 250s.
Everyone wonders where the R&D bikes ended up or the who, why and what was Honda up to in the mid’80s. I can only tell you about the ones I was personally involved with. The first project Honda gave Powroll and me to do was a RFVC XR250powered 200X. The RFVC engine as a whole was and is a fail in my book. They didn’t make the power of some of the older engine designs, and heat was always a problem, even up to now with the 400EX quads. I don’t understand why they dropped the XR200 RFVC and went back to the 200X-style engine, which is still running today in the newer CRF230 dirt bike, but they keep making the 400X.
The next project was an even bigger problem with heat and no power, and that was the prototype 350X, using what else but the XR350 RFVC. At least this one started out with a custom frame, so it wasn’t a pain to fit into the 200X frame. I had a stunning red, white and blue paint job done like the old flat-track motorcycles had at the time, but with a nickel-plated frame like the old Rickman motorcycles that came stock. I always loved the Rickman motorcycles and even raced them when I worked for Paulson’s, a Suzuki dealer in Washington state. As nice as it was to look at, we had some real problems with that engine sitting behind a big fat 23x8x11 wheel and tire. We welded on longer fins to the head and grooved each one of them in the mill to give it more surface area, but it still ran hot, even with bigger oil coolers and such. But from what I heard, this bike went to Japan, it wasn’t crushed and they put it into production with the older-style engine like what you see in the 350X ATC. Honda did pay attention to the feedback we gave them, so that was good.
The third project was another XR250 engine in a 200X-based aftermarket frame, but we used an older 1980s engine that looks a lot like the 350X production bike. This engine could make a lot more horsepower and heat wasn’t a problem. This bike is still living out in Grants Pass, Oregon, so you might look for it if you live in that area; start at the lumberyard and ask Ronnie Fields where it is.
As I said, Honda let us do whatever it took to win races, but then you also had the politics of team racing and tire wars! Right before Honda put me on a new ’85 250R at Santa Cruz, California, we had some tire testing out on a dry lakebed. We had three Japanese from Ohtsu with us all year testing tires, and these guys were great at what they did. They could take a blank tire and draw a tread pattern on the tire with a white pen freehand and make it come out perfectly all the way around the tire. Then they would use a tire groover tool and cut it so you couldn’t tell the difference in a grooved tire and production tires.
But when we started testing, they brought out a set of Carlisle R/A tires, which were the tires I ran most of the time. As the tires were mounted on the bike, you could see a big bulge on the sides of the tire to the point that it distorted the flat part of the tire so it wasn’t touching the ground halfway across the tire. As one of the riders pulled out on the track, you could see it really bad, so I pointed it out to them, and the reaction I got was telling that they knew about it but said it was okay! So as we started doing lap times around a little track, we laid out the times and they started to show the story, and they were not happy with the results. The wobbly Carlisle R/A tires were still running faster times than the Ohtsu tires. It wasn’t only me that was going faster but all three of us! I knew what made the Carlisles work better on hardpack blue groove tracks, and that was the harder we pump them up (16 psi is what I ran), the more it opened up the little grooves in the tires. From my motorcycle flat-track days, I knew how to slice the tire with a razor to get the same effect as what was built into the Carlisle tires, so they worked better.
I’m not sure what other race was going on, but Honda called me up and said they wanted me to go to the Santa Cruz race by myself and that I would be racing Dean Sundal’s new ’85 250R. So we go from not being able to go to a big race with my teammates to going to a big race by myself with no other teammates! They said the other riders were complaining that they didn’t like the gap in the gearbox that it made, so they couldn’t holeshot Jimmy White. Well, I had never raced a 250, let alone a totally new bike. In practice I couldn’t ride the bike very well. It was tall, heavy and really tippy for me. So for the race, I dropped it down as far as I could and put my Carlisle R/As on that were 16s, not the 18-inch Ohtsu tires that were on it when they brought it to the track, and that worked better for me. Because I didn’t have time or the sprockets to change the gearing I just took off in third gear. I ended up getting the holeshot in my heat and winning the race, but I couldn’t hang on to the power in the main. I holeshot Jimmy, but I just couldn’t hold on and Jimmy won the race, but at least we found out it could be done! The bad news was I did it with American tires that the 250 riders were not going to be able to run. Stay tuned for more tire wars and the end of the ’84 race season featured in part three of the next issue.
Backing up to the tire testing on the dry lakebed, one tire test I forgot about was the 60-mph test we were told to do. Each year Honda gave a Big Red 200 to a farmer for the use of his land, and this day they had taken him a new Big Red 250 and taken back the 200 to be crushed. But before this happened we gave this nice Big Red 200 the 60-mph bounce test. So, we loaded it up in the back of a truck, and with the tailgate down we got up to 60 mph and pushed it out the back and watched the total destruction of a perfectly good 200. It really only bounced two times, then went into more of a barrel roll over and over. It passed the test quite well because of the rear rack, which could give a new meaning to “roll bars”! We were told that one of Honda’s true test is that they drop their ATCs from a 10-story building to see how well the frames hold up. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s what they told us.
This is what most of the Team Honda riders will remember most of the tires, because it went against all we were ever told about doing whatever we had to do to win races. Now that I look back, it wasn’t as bad for us in the 200 class, because our bikes were so fast, it was just a race between us. The 250 riders had to win against Jimmy White, and that is never easy, especially after he got the Hoosiers. I remember seeing him run those tires for the first time in Oklahoma at the Winter Nationals, I think. I remember that Kawasaki sticking like glue to a slick track and thinking the 250 boys were going to have their hands full. The 200 riders, not so much, but we still wanted to win; we were there still trying to make a living. For me it was hard because I had new softer tires from Carlisle that were better than what anyone else had.
So at San Jose when the hammer came down and we were told we had to run the Ohtsu, that’s the day I pretty much knew I wasn’t going to race for Honda another year. I was told at the last tire test that they were cutting back on the number of riders they were going to have in ’85 and was told I was one of the racers for ’85, but I was also told I had to move to SoCal. Well, that wasn’t going to happen, either, because I had moved there in ’82 chasing the dream, and the cost of living was three times as much to live there as it was in Bend, Oregon, at the time. I was the only racer with three kids and a wife. I had it made in Oregon. There, I had a big TT track and a mile-long MX track to train on any time I wanted, and in SoCal I wouldn’t have that. Anyway, I wanted to stay in Oregon, and I told them that. They did what they had to do, and I did what I thought was right for me and my family. Could I have did better in my career staying with Honda? Maybe, but sometimes you just have to do what you think is best at the time.
At San Jose I don’t remember what happened, but knowing me I might have jumped the line again knowing I needed to get out front and get away while the tires were good. I do remember I had to ride 19 of the hardest laps I ever rode to get out in front, and I had to battle so hard because there was no traction; it was like riding on ice. But after pushing so hard to get out front passing Curtis Sparks for the lead, I relaxed for just a second and stalled the engine in a corner, and—bang—on the last lap Curtis got back around me and won. That race is the one race that I hated taking second place in more than any other race; I had won it but blew it! I knew if I would have had the Carlisle on I would have walked away with it. I can see now it was a fair thing that we all had to run the same tires, but I still didn’t like it. I rode one more race for Honda at Riverside on an all-new 200R, but I just lost my drive I had for racing for Honda, so I stood my ground and told them I wouldn’t move to California. If they wanted me, they had to let me stay in Oregon, but they didn’t go for that. I knew they wouldn’t, but I had to do what was best for my family and me.
PART THREE: ATC RACING IN THE BEGINNING
I guess this is one of the reasons Honda wanted me in SoCal, so I didn’t show up to a race and race a bike I had never rode before. That was the third time I had to show up to a race without seeing what I was going to race, so they had a good point. The new bikes had better-looking shocks and a swingarm with a link, the very thing I had requested on the new two-stroke bikes. However, it was so stiff and rigid, it beat the heck out of me, and I felt very unsafe on this high-speed track. At this time I wasn’t happy racing this bike, but there wasn’t a choice, and I wanted a good last paycheck. Weeks earlier I was talking to Tommy Gain when he told me he was going to buy a new house. Knowing what I did and having somewhat of a friendship with him, I let him know that it might not be a good idea because he wasn’t going to be on the team next year. I wasn’t supposed to talk to anyone about this, but I felt I had to. Well, that lit a fire under Tommy for the last race; he rode like a wild man to finish first overall for the day. I ended up third for the day, still getting a good payday, because only my teammates beat me. That was the last time I was on a red bike.
SWITCHING TO GREEN
Well, it took about five minutes after talking with Honda to get over the disappointment. To be honest, I thought they would have kept me on some kind of support ride like they did in ’83, but with the cutbacks, I guess the money just wasn’t there. I guess I started seeing the writing on the wall one day when I was at Honda and saw a friend of mine who was a salesman in 1982 when I met him and now was a lawyer for Honda, hired to fight the lawsuits that had just started. So when you see a company cutting back on the racers and bringing on more lawyers, it’s not a good sign of things to come.
It only took one phone call to Kawasaki to have another ride. Something a lot of people don’t understand is, there were no “factory rides” for Kawasaki for ATCs. Only motorcycle racers were backed by Kawasaki; the ATC racers and other support motorcycle riders were supported through Team Green, which is totally different than a factory support ride. So, it was easy to get a support ride from Team Green, but I came in way too late to get everything I needed, such as expense money. The deal I ended up with was all the bikes and parts I needed and win money. The only reason I took the deal is because they offered me double the win money of Jimmy White. One win in any class was more money than Honda was paying, so I thought it was going to be a really good year!
I planned on running all three pro classes. The third bike would have a 200 KLR four-stroke motor in it when we got a chance to build it, but first I was just getting the 200 and 250 ready. Within three days I had three new 250s sitting on the Powroll loading dock and very little time to build race bikes. First, I wanted to see what all I was going to need, so I put on some small tires and made half a lap around the TT track over the big jump and bent a axle! I went back and grabbed another bike and went out and did the very same thing. Well, since I only had one bike left, I stopped jumping them so I could get some more testing done.
The next problem was, the gas tank kept me from riding hard because it couldn’t turn sharp enough, which was why Jimmy had custom gas tanks built. I didn’t have the $500 for each custom aluminum tank, so I had to make due with what I had. It took a lot more phone calls to get the sponsors in line for the axles, swingarms, wheels and tires etc. It wasn’t hard to build the 250. Powroll built a pipe, did some porting, reshaped the head and added a big carb, and that was it; it had plenty of power in all the right places. The 200cc de-bore was a whole different story— that bike had to be taken over to JP Racing, the same people doing Steve Mendenhall’s bikes, so we should have had the same engines (more on that later). I picked up the 200 on my way to Washington for the first race on January 4th (my birthday). I stopped at my mom and dad’s, where I had a track there to test everything before the race on the fifth. First thing out I took the 200 for a ride, and not 10 minutes into the ride it seized up. I ended up taking the top end off and cleaned up the piston a little because I had no new parts to rebuild it right and headed to the races.
I went out for practice and the track was a one-line mess, all but one double jump, which I was the only one clearing. And since it was too hard to do, someone decided to take it out after the heat races. The one picture from behind shows me jumping the double in the heat race either on the 200 or 250. Knowing how Honda worked back then, I’m pretty sure it was by their request that it was removed for “safety reasons”!
My heat races went well. I think I won the 200 and was second in the 250s, so I had good starting positions for the main. Knowing I needed a good start because my 200 was lacking power, I ended up jumping the start. That put me in the second row, and by the second corner I was stuck behind a big pileup, and Stevie Wright was half a lap ahead before the first lap was over. I ended up going from 12th up to 4th before the bike started seizing up again, so I took it easy the rest of the race. The 250 class went about the same. There was no place to pass, and I ended up fifth. This wasn’t too bad, but it didn’t make me any money, and so I needed to go to the next race. A few weeks later we headed to the Cow Palace in San Francisco, California.
So after the Washington race I went back to Powroll and got some more time on the new bikes and had the 200 rebuilt better than ever. It still wasn’t as fast as my two-stroke 200 Honda, but my confidence was high. I had two good weeks of training at Powroll, and I was feeling very confident that I could win.
I went out in practice with my baby Carlisle R/As on both the 200 and 250, and I was feeling good. Honda didn’t come to the race because it was sponsored by Yamaha, but my teammate Jimmy was there. To me he was looking good, but he had the Hoosiers on, and they looked to be hooking a little too hard, and I had confidence that I could beat him. I believe I won my heat race on the 200, and I was running second behind Jimmy on the 250. I was a little ways behind him, but I was catching up and felt I was going to be able to pass him because he just looked to be struggling in the corners, so the blood was in the water and I was ready to attack.
I guess I wasn’t used to the 250 power, or I was trying to ride it like a 200, but I drifted out just a little farther coming out of the sweeper onto the straight and—bam!—my Kawasaki got a whiff of a hay bale and took a bite out of the right rear wheel, turning me into the cement wall head first! I got back on the bike and finished the race, but I knew something was wrong when I pulled on the handlebars in the right-hand corner.
I thought I better take a quick trip to the hospital and get checked out. Well, it turns out my helmet broke my collarbone so I was out. What should have been a pretty big paycheck turned into a very disappointing night for the second time in a row, and this one cost me big time! It would be six weeks before I could ride again, so it was going to be like starting all over again in my training.
I only missed Lake George, New York, due to the injury. The next nationals was a long haul and the cost of going to Florida was too much, so I teamed up with some friends of my brother out of Washington who happened to race Kawasakis too, as it seemed like a good thing. Well, the heat races again went well, and I got to race for the first time with Hoosiers, and they worked great for that track. My 200 wasn’t up to speed still, but I could ride it well as long as I got a good start. Sure enough, I got a good start right behind Steve Mendenhall, my teammate on both Kawasaki and JP Racing engines, who built us both the same motors, so I thought I could out-ride him and all would be good.
It turns out, he had been home with his motor doing his own testing while I was sitting at the desk taking orders. He did more porting for the top end and went up 2mm bigger on the carb. He flat ran away from me, and I had nothing for him, so I was left to battle with Stevie Wright on his 200 works Honda. It was a good battle, but then I felt my bike slowing down, and by the second-to-last lap he got by me. I had to back out of it to save the motor, but by the last corner before the checkers it locked up again. I pushed it across the line for 11th place. Once again I lost out on a big paycheck that I would have got finishing behind my teammate, as I would have still got win money for second. The 250 race was my last chance to make some money, but I jumped the line and got sent back to the third row. I think I ended up in the top 10 for a few bucks just to get home, but then I was broke.
On the drive back home I got sleepy, so without stopping I left the manual cruise control on and switched drivers with a kid who flew down to the race and hadn’t driven the motorhome before. I went in the back and got out of my wet clothes because we went swimming in the warm Florida water earlier. Next thing I know, the brakes are squealing and we are swerving all over, and then a crash. It was quiet for a second, and then a bigger crash sound again. Turns out we were exiting at an off-ramp and the driver didn’t know you had to turn the cruise control off manually, so we hit the guard rail at 70 mph or so, which ripped off the front wheels. We flew over the off-ramp back down 20 feet onto the freeway. Luckily we landed flat without the front wheels onto the freeway. I jumped up and ran outside because I thought I heard the propane tank leaking and thought we were going to blow up! As I’m out in the middle of the freeway stopping cars I realized I didn’t have my glasses on, or anything else—I was buck naked! No one got hurt or mad, but the motorhome was totaled. My in-laws flew me home, putting me more in the red, as I decided that was my last race on the green machines. I felt bad for leaving Kawasaki, but JP Racing bought all the bikes from Kawasaki, so everything was good, and they understood I had to go back to racing for Powroll, who paid all my expenses.
NO MORE GREEN
After clearing all the Kawasakis out of the Powroll shop, it was time to build another Honda blue bomber! It didn’t take long to build a bike; by now I was getting fast at it. Heck, I had built one going up Interstate 5 after picking up a 200X in a crate from Honda while Pete Fisher drove the old trusty van. I uncrated it in the back of the old Dodge and had it ready to ride by the time I got back to Bend, Oregon.
The first race back on the 200X was at Porterville, Curtis Spark’s backyard. The track was big and fast, just the way I liked it. This was the first time we had raced all year, and I was sick of seeing him just putt around the tracks collecting big paychecks and win, so it was time to put a stop to that. When I get it in my head I can win, there isn’t much to stop me. I was told because it was so hot, Curtis built a wire box inside his airbox to hold dry ice to give a cooler, denser air charge into the motor. The racing between us was so close, being off 1 main jet size could cause you to win or lose a race. My bike was set up perfect, and everything went as planned. We were back to making a living.
Coming back to ride the 200X was a good move for me, but Powroll also added a few young guns to keep Curtis and me on our toes. I held my own, but Curtis seemed to have problems surrounded by the blue-andwhite power team of Powroll. Both #63 and #17 were the new guns. The wins kept coming, and more Powroll riders were added to the team, sweeping the top-three places.
In practice there was a big double jump, and I was the only one clearing it, but when it came time to race, Curtis got the holeshot on me, and he knew he had to jump or be jumped over! But then when I saw him crash, I backed out of it just a little and came up short myself. I got up and finished the race, but I broke my glasses, and the lens was bouncing around in my goggles, making it hard to ride. When I got back to the pits, I took some Super Glue to fix my glasses, but I couldn’t get the cap off the glue, so I put the cap in my teeth to pull the cap off. Well, it came off and filled my mouth with Super Glue. I couldn’t believe how quickly it glued my tongue to the bottom of my mouth—that stuff is crazy glue! I still went out and won the race, though food was hard to eat for a few days.
At the Boyd, Texas, race I happened to walk by the Tiger race pit, and someone started to talk to me about the Tiger bikes. I told them I had raced the MX5 Can-Am motorcycles right before racing three-wheelers, and that they had killer engines and there was no reason they shouldn’t be out there winning the 200 and 250 Pro classes. Well, when I got back to Powroll from the race, I got a call from Peter, the owner of the company, wanting to fly me back to Minnesota to see the factory and maybe race a local race The next thing I know, I’m flying to Minnesota.
I wasn’t that impressed with the factory, but then again Powroll wasn’t everything I thought it would be either at first. We ended up going to a race in Wisconsin. It was a nice track, and I jumped on someone’s borrowed 200 and entered the race after a few practice laps. I didn’t get to change anything on the bike; I just raced it the way it was. It had some pushing problem in the front, and the seat was slanted down in the back, making it very hard to ride. The motor was a turd, but at the end of the day I got second, and Peter said it was the fastest he had ever seen one of his bikes be ridden, so they were happy.
It was at the end of 1985 and it had been a hard time, and to top it off I ended up getting a divorce, so it seemed like a good time for a change, so I moved to Minnesota. They had offered me $1000 more a month than Honda did, plus more money to travel and great win money; things were looking up.
It really was kind of a dream job going to Tiger. They did whatever I asked, and we had some killer engines that could be made because they were go-kart race engines, so you could change every gear in the gearbox, and you had twin-carb engines and power-valve motors with 70 horsepower to the rear wheels on the 250 and so on. I was thinking on the TT tracks I was going to kill ’em once I got it to handle a little better. We built a frame with adjustable angles on the headstay for testing, and everything was clicking.
Now, as far as testing we had a problem. First, we were in Egan, Minnesota, right outside of Minneapolis with nowhere to ride. I built some Mickey Thompson-style wooden ramps in the factory on polished concrete, and one night, when everyone had gone home, I worked on the Fox shocks and had a fun little track to play on. But about an hour after riding I got a little funny-feeling and was riding a little crazy after breathing in the two-stroke race mix indoors. Since it was still warm outside, I opened the five big doors to let some fresh air in, and the next thing I noticed, it was getting dark inside the building as the incoming mosquitoes were so thick, they were buzzing around the lights so bad it got dark. This was some crazy stuff that I had never seen before!
The weather turned cold soon after that, so then we started going to the lakes for flat-track testing. I ran a few races, but sitting in the race van all day wasn’t really fun. You had to start your bike and let it warm up for 20 minutes each time before you raced. There wasn’t much press there, but I did get a little writeup.
PART FOUR: COMING TO A CLOSE
While I was at Tiger we were just getting started on the Super Four 250 4 wheeler. My heart was still into the 3 wheelers but as I tested it more I could see my corner speed was faster and it looked like the beginning of the end for the 3 wheelers. This was at the end of 1985 still.
The money thing was becoming a problem, the investor was just not investing the money needed to get everything done. Some times we couldn’t even get our pay check cashed for a few days. The Super Four was costing too much and the 3 wheelers were not selling. I thought as soon as I could get out there and win a few races that would help so I headed to San Jose for a national, a track I knew I could win on. The van was one of those old 3 cylinder Winnebago’s with 85hp. Well, trying to get over the Colorado Rockies took a day longer to drive due to the fact that at 10,000 feet elevation the 3 wheeler I had in back had more HP then that thing did, so it took a 30mph day longer to get there. I had no time to set the bike up for the track because I was late getting there. The bike was still sitting up high for the Mickey Thompson jumps I was testing on so I started lowering it down for TT.
The blue prints said I had 10 inches of travel in the rear, so I dropped it 4 inches thinking I had 6 inches left. With no practice I got out for the first race and was happy with the power but the faster I got the harder it was hitting the small jumps. Well, there were two small jumps that were looking like I could hit wide open. I hit the first one, and almost cleared the second one but the rear wheels hit the face of it, which shouldn’t have been a problem but the Blue Prints were wrong, and I only had 2 inches of travel. I bottomed out so hard that the back end came up and over the bars. I went with the bike plowing down on me. Someone got the video of it, I thought I got right back up but I laid there a long time, it knocked me out pretty good. Ended up splitting my sternum and sending me to the hospital. Needless to say I wasn’t happy when I found out the drawings were wrong and it took me out of the races the rest of the weekend. I was going to race my Powroll bike in the four stroke 200 class too, but there was no way I could ride. It was a long drive back to Minnesota!
HI-POINT AND LOW POINTS
When I went to Tiger I had a deal with Hi-Point to get paid win money like always but also to get paid for every picture in the magazine too. The plan was not only to go out and win races on a Tiger which would have been big news and got me lots of press, but lots of pics too. On top of that we were going to do articles on each model of Tiger from the 125, 200, 250, 500 a new 4 stroke and the Super Four quad. That’s a lot of press in one year. Then we were going to run 12 full page “color” adds with the famous “Power Ranger” pic.
Well that never happened. They owed too much money on other ads they ran, so until that was paid for they couldn’t run anymore ads. That cost me $12,000 right there!
When I got back from California. I found out we were moving the shop. We had a great building and my only place to ride. I couldn’t help move but I was given the address where it was going to be. I went to work on a Monday to see the place and to pic up my pay check. The new place in my opinion was a dump, no where to ride, a 4th of the size we were in, it just looked like a step backwards. I went to an early lunch to deposit my check and take out a little money, and they told me at the bank (which they had said before) that I could deposit it but I couldn’t get any money out because there wasn’t any money in that account. That pretty much set me off, I went to lunch and thought about it and I was done. I went back to Tiger and gave my two weeks, needless to say they were not happy, I loaded up my truck and headed west!
When I left Tiger I really had no plan, but there is nothing like a road trip to clear your head and re-group. I decided to stop by Powroll in Oregon on my way back to Washington to see my family. To the far right of the building they had a little apartment with a nice fireplace and everything needed for customers to stay in or when the magazine guys came to visit, so they invited me to stay there and to talk about my next step. I still needed to take care of my sponsors so the first thing to do to earn a little money was to do a magazine article. I told them about my contract with Hi-Point and how much I got paid for each picture, so we came up with a shootout between the 85′ vs. 86′ 200x.
I had only been at Tiger for about 6 months and if you have ever been around Powroll nothing changed much and they didn’t sell any of their race machines, so my 85′ 200x was still sitting there as I left it, but we needed a 86′ 200 to get started on the new build. We ran down to the local Honda dealer and grabbed a new one in the box, something dealers really shouldn’t do, but since the warranty was void before they got out the door I guess it was okay.
Since the 86′ was a whole new machine, we where hopeful that it was going to be a better machine, but that wasn’t the case. We had seen Honda do this before with the XR200 RFVC engine, they went totally backwards. It was nice that it was a 6 speed, I’m sure Curtis Sparks had something to do with that, but that and a little longer stroke was the only good things about the engine. To be fare, we didn’t have long for R&D because we needed to get everything done quickly for the shootout and a up coming national race in Washington. As soon as I can I would like to go back and work on the head some more on the 86′-87′ heads and build some new cams to see if I can pull a little more power out of these engines.
As far as the bike over all I like the way it felt and the shocks were better then the 85′, but the frame was lower right under the motor so it would bottom hard. I had to make sure I landed rear wheels first. As with the 85′, the 86′ needed the tank cut to turn further and the swing arm needed to be 2 inches longer. We lucked out and Cal-Fab had just finish a new aluminum one they needed tested, so I tested it. We added the Maier fenders which were a little lower also to give it more of a race look.
After we did the shoot out of the 85′ vs. the 86′ we went to the next MX national at the ORV park in Washington. I knew I was under powered a little with racing the 86′ but for MX the suspension was a little longer travel and as long as I landed on the real wheels first I could hit the jumps harder and I knew the track had a lot of big high speed jumps in it because I raced there most of my life. But then when I got there they had made the track more for…ATC’s, and cut all the jumps down, took the doubles out and killed the whoops so they were just bumps! I chose the wrong bike, this was now a fast track and HP was going to count more then handling. The first moto went bad from the get go, and towards the end I broke a rear shock but still finished second. Luckily someone had a new rear shock, so I was still able to race the second moto but I still only could pull off a second, Curtis just out powered me, I hated it when that happened! Even when I got a better holeshot and I wasn’t able to hold him off, he just out motored me.
With 2 other riders added to Team Powroll we were winning more races then ever. While all our engines were built the same, some just run a little better then the others and I always seemed to get the one with a little less power. I didn’t like losing to my Powroll team mates any more then I did at Honda , but you can’t win them all.
END OF THE 3 WHEELERS
I only raced my 350x once in Washington state at the Capital Lakefair Hare Scrambles. Honda only sent two riders to race this 2 hour race, Tracey Dickson on a 250r and Mark Weixeldorfer on a 350x. At one point I had a 3min. lead on Wax. but I just saved my energy for the last part of the race so I kept him in check and still won with a 10sec. lead. Wax got 2nd, I think Tracey got 3rd but my brother in-law got a 3rd overall on his stock 230 Suzuki Quad Sport. With a showing like that on a quad you had to know that the quads were coming into the world and they were coming fast. It was only a few months later Honda came out with the Honda 250x and Kawasaki with their 250 Mojave and the switch from 3 wheel racing to quads is the way the sport went by the end of 86′.