Love the glory days of AMA Superbike racing when the bikes were big and the riders were bad? The new CSRA Series might be just the ticket. We sent Tom Montano there to check it out.
Old Dogs, New Tricks
If you were present at the MotoAmerica meeting at Sonoma in Northern California last year, you might have noticed something a little different.
As always, the MotoAmerica regulars delivered some great racing but there was also a group of old school superbikes mixing it up as a sideshow.
The CSRA (Classic Superbike Racing Association) is a newly formed organization on the West Coast where motorcycles up to 1982 are seeking to resurrect a culture with machines as true to their original make up as possible.
By Tom Montano | Photography by Brian J. Nelson
The guys at CSRA share a passion for the original air-cooled, twin-shock, big wheel superbikes of the ’70s early ’80s, bikes that are all based on the original AMA Superbike series which got its start in 1977.
The scene at Sonoma was very cool considering they were running side-by-side at a national meeting with the most advanced superbikes of the day in the same pit.
Shortly before the Sonoma race I got in touch with Kevin McKee, one of the five members that make up the CSRA group. After a good BS session on the phone, a deal was done. I was going to ride his 1974 Kawasaki Z1 900 at the inaugural meeting. The whole point of the CSRA is to get these classics out on the track for both the spectators and riders to enjoy.
Sure, it’s racing, and everybody entered wants to win, but really, it’s all about the bikes and the stories behind them. It was all front and center at Sonoma where plenty of curious spectators were treated to the largest contingent of classic superbikes in years. In all, 19 lined up on Sunday and all but a few finished. The brands represented included, Kawasaki, Honda, Suzuki, Moto Guzzi (my favorite), with a lone BMW and Ducati.
The OEM-brown Kosman-modified 1974 Kawasaki Z1 900 I was riding turned out to be quite good, considering what it was. I had my reservations at first, though, due to a problem with the front brake reservoirs, which limited me to only three laps of practice.
The rest of the weekend was much better. I’m familiar enough with the riding style of these old beasts but it had been some time since I threw a leg over one.
Once I figured it out, I realized the Z1 chassis worked pretty good. The Yoshimura-spec engine, from back in the day, delivered great midrange pull and had some decent top-end to fight with some more modern bikes on the grid.
Each time out, I found more speed and I was truly impressed with the overall performance of the Zee. The Continental Street Attack tires fitted to the 18-inch, thin-rimmed spoked wheels took some getting used to. You don’t want to throw it into the corners too hard but other than that, they performed surprisingly well.
My right hand took some good punishment using the brakes. With the rules stating a minimum weight of 418 pounds (we were not sure what the Kawi weighed) it took me a while to figure out how to stop the bike. The period-brake system, (two-piston Brembo Guzzi calipers and an AP master-cylinder) had exceptional feel and power, but I still had to grab quite a handful to slow it down.
It all came good by qualifying which worked out for a front-row start. For the Sunday morning warm-up, I tried a gearing change, which was a step in the right direction, completing my final race setup.
I knew it was going to be a tough race seeing how fast qualifiers Dale Quarterly, (of AMA Superbikes fame), and local AFM vintage racer Edwin Haazer, no slouch either, were both about four seconds faster in qualifying. Their big 1000cc-plus Kawasakis had 17-inch wheels and modern rubber, which really made a difference in terms of lap times. They weren’t the only ones with 17-inch rubber, but nevertheless we all lined up and got on with it.
I got an okay start but took it easy to let the tires warm. Tire warmers did not exist back in the day so in order to represent the true nature of historic racing I went without them.
It took a few laps to get heat into the tires and once I did I had to work pretty hard to catch the leaders. Mark Hoyt and his 17-inch-shod Kawasaki KZ750 and Darrin Gauvin on a Honda CB900F with 17s as well, were vying for position with Mark eventually battling for the lead.
A few laps in Gauvin started to fade, leaving just the four of us to hash it out. As the pace increased so did the gap over the rest of the field and by lap five, we had over four seconds on them. It took me a few more laps before I was close enough to try and pass, but just then Hoyt’s bike lost its shifter, handing me the place. We battled for a few more laps and I tried to keep the pace of the leaders but in the end, I had nothing for them.
Their bikes were better equipped than mine so I settled for third.
The rules are being sorted out at the moment, especially when it comes to wheel sizes and brakes, but seeing how this was the first real outing for the CSRA, it was best just to have as many bikes on the grid as possible.
The CSRA race proved to be a real hit with the fans and fellow racers. Every time out people were excited to see the bikes go by, and lots of spectators stopped in at the garages to check them out.
In the end, everybody involved had a fun and memorable weekend. Mine was equally impressive—I encountered some mechanical issues, saved my front-row qualifying lap for the last of the session, and finished third on the podium. I even sprayed some champagne!
I have to give a special thanks to Kevin McKee for the Z1 offer and also thanks to MotoAmerica, the AMA, and some much-needed support from the dedicated AFM tech officials and crew for whom without their help the CSRA may not have become a reality that weekend. CN