I’m not very good flat track racing, but it sure is fun. After a couple years of battling other hapless amateurs and a few fast guys on my venerable TT500, I wanted to give the whole tank shift thing a shot. I built a 45” Harley for the street years ago and was never that into it–I loved working on it because of the simplicity and the aesthetic, but riding it in modern traffic just wasn’t much fun.
However, for racing other nerds around in a small circle, an old flathead is a great choice. I picked up this WLA engine as a mostly complete basket case with an original frame that was slightly raked. I took the engine over to my buddy Rico Fodrey of Hi-Bond Modified, in Pomona, CA for a full rebuild and we went out to 45’s Unlimited in Anza, CA for a trans and a bunch of other small parts. The frame went to the wizard Mike Palazzo at 47Industries in New Jersey. Mike worked his magic and de-raked the neck back to stock geometry, added the rear WR-style braces, bored holes in the frame castings and straightened everything out.
The wheels, WR gas and oil tanks and rear fender were all sourced from W&W in Germany. Wow. These parts are of the highest quality and worked perfect with zero issues and looks great. There’s no way I was gonna pay a fortune for real WR tanks and then go beat them up racing. The foot controls are neat units, sourced from Jeff Leighton out of SLC, Utah. They tuck up nice and tidy, and are way less vulnerable than stock controls. Bars were custom bent to my specs by Jason Ball over at S&M in Santa Ana, CA.
With the Frijole project consuming most of my “extra” time over the winter, the beautifully rebuilt flatty engine and frame sat lonely in the shop just mocking me and my poor time management skills. Once I realized I just wasn’t going to get it done, I dropped it all back off at Rico’s shop and asked him if he could get it wrapped up by Born Free. Of course he did, and the bike ran stellar at the Stampede race the Thursday before the big show. Pete at Hod Dog Kustoms sprayed the 1966 VW Sea Blue and bright white single stage paint just in time, then laid down the gold pin stripe and lettering. It definitely looks even better than I imagined and I’ll probably cry when I lay it down for the first time.
As for my performance at the Stampede? I sucked, but did’t crash and wasn’t last place, so I was satisfied. I’ve got plenty of miles on foot clutch bikes, but this was my first tank shift and I found it fairly easy. There was no practice at the race, so I just pulled up at the line and left it in second. I love starts. They scare the crap out of me but I dig the chaos. Unfortunately my second gear launches were pretty weak and there just wasn’t much time to make up for it with only a couple laps. My style was stinky, but like I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t last and I didn’t stall or crash so it was Ok for the first outing.
I’ll get better with a little practice and I’ve got a few mods to make now that I’ve ridden it a little. I’m going to add some sweep to the next set of bars. I want to make an old crusty J-slot air cleaner work over the too-new looking K&N on the Mikuni carb. I love the foot controls, but I’m going to move the outside peg forward so I can reach the brake pedal. A heat shield for the rear pipe would be nice and maybe even a leather flap or something to keep the rear head from roasting my junk.
Huge thanks to my friends at W&W for the parts, Pete for the paint, Leighton for the controls and of course the best hugger I know, Rico Fodrey for building the power plant and then the whole bike. See ya at the races!