I was obsessed with motorbikes as a child and bought one as soon as I could as a teenager. A few bikes later I worked up to a BSA 441 Victor dirt bike, set it up for the track and won the first race I entered. That early win earned me a job at the local Brit bike shop “Sumners Motorcycles”. After that I was hooked. Maybe 100 dirt bike races later I graduated to roadracing. My first roadracer started out as a stripped down Atlas street racer. I did a good port job on the head and the bike was so fast that I decided to take it on the track.
Street fighter version
1st track rough version with 1949 Willys transport
Early years at Willow Springs 1982-83. They didn’t have kneepads yet so we used duct tape.
Mic Ofield on his Seeley #66. Mic was incredibly helpful back in the day and he is the main contributor for my race manual – much of which came from his personal tuning notes.
At first I thought everyone was crazy – sliding around the track at insane speeds. But since everyone else was doing it – it must be normal right? After a couple years of figuring out how to go faster I added better brakes, guillotine slide carbs, a belt drive (the first Norton racing belt drive) and slicks. All this development was proven on the Willow springs race track. We learned to drag our knees (early 1980s) and with a little help from great friends and racers like Fred Eiker, Mic Ofield, Ken Canaga, Chris Scott and other’s I was able to take home a few trophies. Then in 1984 Fred Eiker and I took 1st and 2nd place at 750 BOTT at Laguna Seca – trading places every lap. We were elated.
The Slimline Featherbed Atlas as configured at Laguna Seca 1984 BOTT.
Fred and Jim hamming it up at Laguna Seca 1984
By now the Ducati TT2 monoshocks were coming out and we knew we were in trouble. I remember getting beside Jim Adamo in practice at Laguna Seca and pushing him till his rear tire slid out and nearly highsided – but that was only a one time thing and there was no way I was going to beat him in a race. So it was back to the drawing board where I copied a Harris TT2 monoshock frame and adapted it to my affordable Norton. Out came the welding torch and 4130 Chrome molly tubing. The first version was a twin shock as below. Destructive vibration had been reduced with the addition of lightweight Wiseco pistons. Lowering the head and cylinders allowed me to shorten the piston for a dramatic weight reduction – the first JSM lightweight pistons shown below.
Racing is great fun until you have an accident. My first one was due to a stuck throttle. I was flying around turn 8 at Willow springs which is a very fast turn that only the best riders can take wide open. Its a long turn and you’re laid over dragging your knee leaned forward trying to keep the front tire well planted while the rear tire is skittering around threatening to break loose. You grit your teeth and push it as far into turn 9 as far you dare. At top speed the wind is screaming so loud you can’t hear what’s going on. When I shut off and leaned into turn 9 I knew something was wrong. It took a few seconds to figure out the problem and reach for the kill switch. By then I was going into turn 9 way too fast and knew I wasn’t going to make it. So I straightend up, tapped the brake a second or two and went flying into the air over the berm and into the desert. I seriously didn’t want to hit the ground at that speed so my dirt bike racing skills launched into overdrive. I stood up on the pegs, stuck my ass as far back as I could while stretching my arms down to the clip on handle bars and braced for what was coming. I remember bouncing off the tops of small sand dunes and sailing airborne between them. The suspension was bottoming and the bike was slapping violenty between my thighs but I somehow managed to hang on. I felt like I was viewing the scene from above. I realized that I had never ridden in the dirt anywhere near this speed and that I’d better do something to slow down or I was going to get hurt. So I tapped the front brake and the front tire dug into the sand like a plow. I nearly lost control but saw a fence coming up fast so I hit the brake again. Miraculousy, I managed to ride it out and bring it to a stop. The flagmen couldn’t believe what they had just witnessed and they ran up to congratulate me and help push my filthy bike back to the pits. Looking back I saw a huge cloud of dust in the air and knew that I had just used up most of what was left of my luck.
The aforementioned Willow springs track berm that I flew off when my throttle stuck wide open.
The twin shock below is the bike I broke my ankle on when chasing Gene Church around Sears point on his Harley. I wheelied over a hill and found myself entering the turn with the front wheel in the air. Slamming it down I braked and threw it into a slide to scrub off speed but saw that I was still going too fast. After repeating that process three times I had slowed down but my steering damper was cranked up too high and I couldn’t correct my broadslide quick enough to avoid a painful high side which slammed me down hard. Throwing my leg out to save myself I sacrificed my ankle which broke in 3 places.
So while my ankle healed it was back to the drawing board again – redesigning the frame and grafting in the monoshock. I ended up with a excellent handling machine that could keep up with anyone in the turns. But my paltry finances restricted me to a 4 speed which cost me dearly in lap times.
FI monoshock Ducatis in hot pursuit at Willow Springs
In 1987 my lap times were back down and with my ankle healing I was riding well and battling monoshock Ducatis as shown in the video below. I had spoke wheels with biased tires against their mag wheels with radial tires which put me at a disadvantage. You can see the Ducati pull me at the last turn when he was able to down shift with his 5 speed but I was unable to with my 4 speed. Then when the watercooled Ducatis came out I knew it was over and got out.
But the story has a good ending. Ken Canaga bought the bike from me. Pumped it up to 920cc. Installed better brakes, mag wheels, radial tires and a much needed 5 speed as shown below. He put “Doc” Rob Tuluie in the saddle and placed 3rd at the Willow springs AMA BOTT national in 1990 against a field of monoshock Ducatis – the last time an air cooled Norton made it to the AMA national podium.
All dressed up.