TWO DAYS AT SELLICKS BEACH

Sellicks Beach

There was quite a bit of publicity in the press and on TV for this year’s historic motorcycle racing event, held at Sellicks Beach on 18 and 19 February. Having won the unlimited scratch race at the 1986 Sesquicentenary re-enactment event, and also at the follow-up re-enactment meeting in 1992, my bike was fairly considered the bike to beat and I was on a hat-trick if it could win again in 2017. I had spent a lot of time preparing the big Triumph twin to try to make it possible. In 1986 the rider was Phil Franklin, who had previously raced the bike or variants of it on the Port Pirie half-mile and Morgan Mile long track circuits with some success. Phil had been a National motocross sidecar champion and an A-grade solo motocross rider as well. He is currently the Patron of the Levis Motorcycle Club. In 1992 the rider was Murray Johnson of Britbikes SA. He had been National drag racing champion and had road-raced superbikes. Although he occasionally still races, and this time was riding his own hand-change Harley at Sellicks, he is nowadays best known as father of David (Davo) Johnson of Isle of Man fame. For 2017, my rider was Joe Ahern from Williamstown, twice National champion in historic road racing classes and a very competent off-road rider too. He is also known for his singing at country styled venues. Over the two days we were competing against 18 others entered in six events for our Period 3 (1946 – 1962) 501 cc – 1300 cc capacity bikes; the fastest class for the meeting. There were four rounds¬†of a scratch race and two rounds of a handicap race, with the final placegetters determined by the totals of points earned in the rounds. The track length was halved from the previous events so the barrels were only a half-mile apart, and each race was run over 4 laps, a distance of 4 miles. A rule change meant the previously used speedway tyres had to be replaced with road treaded tyres. Practice and racing was delayed by about 90 minutes due to the stiff breeze stacking the tide high up on the sand (just like in 1986). The practice run showed the course to be quite wet in places and very uneven, but the bike’s gearing was appropriate and it was running well, with top speed around 100 mph. The need for good waterproofing was again demonstrated when several bikes ran through sea water and stopped on the track. Saturday’s Round 1 of the scratch race was hotly contested but Joe won by 1-1/2 seconds. Buoyed by this success, we were keen to see a repeat for Round 2 but disaster! The bike would not fire because the owner/mechanic (I!) had not made sure the ignition was turned off after the first race so the battery was flat, and we did not have enough time to swap it before the race start. No points for a DNS, and with that error any hope of an overall win for Joe and the hat trick for me was gone. Our next outing was the handicap Round 1. Joe started as back marker but aggressively scythed through the field to take the lead on the last corner and won the race. Sunday’s events started well for us with Joe winning Round 3 of the scratch race. The handicap Round 2 again started Joe from the rear of the field, and he was determined to win again. Oh no! What was that shiny aluminium cylinder bouncing around near the ground? Spectators quickly saw it was the ignition coil, having been dislodged by the pounding from the rough track, swinging by its wires and banging against the rear chain. Joe was totally unaware (not that he could have done anything about it anyway) and was rapidly closing on the front runners as the bike continued to run strongly for a couple of laps. Eventually, it stopped with a lap or so to go when it pulled the high tension lead out of the coil. No points for a DNF, out of the running for a place overall and another black mark for the owner/mechanic. Our last race was the scratch Round 4. Until then, we had the fastest bike on the beach but it was not to stay so. With the coil secured and charged battery, Joe started strongly but lost the lead when he started having problems with the gear shift from 3rd to 4th. Despite finishing second, by a margin of less than half a second, his fastest lap for the meeting of 1.05.256 set in Round 3 scratch was eclipsed by the Round 4 winner, Dan Gleeson with a time of 1.04.351. It was great for me to see and hear the bike running in anger again, after decades of storage in my shed. I had thought of it as a museum piece but it has shown that it still has what it takes. A pity I let Joe down though as he had ridden so well on both days. Somewhat surprisingly, Joe had enough points (despite the DNS) from his two wins and a second to take the scratch third place trophy overall. Racing is full of danger, excitement, elation and disappointment. I know as well as anyone how many races are won or lost in the shed. The old saying “there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip” is proven time and again. Til the next time…they are looking to run at Sellicks Beach again in two years. Race results and lap times are electronically recorded when a transponder fitted to each bike crosses a wire buried under the track. The Sellicks meeting results for all classes can be seen on the Mylaps Speedhive website.

David Kernich