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Building a Honda CB 350

Roebling road by F Melling Daytona on a Shoestring Daytona, FL,Mar 6, 2001

We Were There -
Roebling Road Georgia

By Frank Melling


THE CREW - Left to Right >>>>

Eric Kalamaja, Frank Melling,
Joey Naval, Todd Brockmeyer

THE CREW

The dawn was very beautiful. Tongues of the palest coral pink licked across the sky and the dew was heavily aromatic. Then the sky darkened. It was a bird. Not your common or garden British bird, all fluffy feathers and tweety song, but an enormous helicopter sized monster with wings like tennis courts. And it was watching me - watching me very, very closely.

I was at the Roebling Road race circuit, Faulkville, Georgia - admittedly not one of the Sunshine Beltís most well-known tourist spots in the normal run of things but a mecca for classic bike fans from all over the world.

My dawn walk was because in half an hour practice would begin and I still didnít have a clue which way the track was going. The big bird clearly smelt the panic- and saw brunch on the way.

"That thereís a crow andíll heíll eat anything thatís dead or dyin..." quipped a smiling marshal. I thought about informing him that real crows were rather like big blackbirds and sat in trees all day gossiping - but didnít. This was the land of the big truck, the big apple and it seemed, the thoroughly enormous race track crow.

Not only was the crow unthinkable in Britain but so was Roebling Road. In 1954 sports car enthusiast J.C. Roebling, sometime multi-millionaire steel baron from Philadelphia, decided that he would build himself a little race track on which he could play with his toys. The result was a superb 2.02 mile circuit which twists and turns through the lush Georgia countryside.

Not that JC did things by half. Thereís a 60 acre paddock and all the goodies necessary for civilised racing. Not a bad attempt for a hobby.

Transport the track to England, build some serious spectator banking, and you would have a price tag of a solid £30 million. Here, the track was sold to the Bucanner section of the Sports Car Club of America at an affordable sum on the understanding that they continued to run sports car meetings. The rest of the time, the venue is rented out to like minded organizations for non-spectator racing.

One these is the American Historic Racing Motorcyle Association - or as it is more popularly known AHRMA. This huge club exists to promote classic bike racing with a range and complexity which is bewildering. At one end, there are the magnificent hand-change, rigid, side-valve Harleys and at the other classes for modern MZs - the big four-stroke singles, not the old Eastern block two-strokes.

As well as road racing, AHRMA organises everything from observed trials to historic motocross and flat track racing - really catering for the whole of the two wheeled world.

AHRMA is guided deftly on its way by Jack Turner, a thoughtful and charismatic hard core biker with, by American standards at least, a very well defined sense of humour. Jack sums AHRMA philosophy as: "AHRMA is all about fun. The reason we exist is to give the vintage enthusiast a place to play with a sensible degree of risk management. We need racing to be safe but we never lose sight that weíre there for fun - and that we all gotta go to work on Monday morning."

And so it proved to be in practice with AHRMA officials demonstrating a firm, but courteous, touch when it came to the safety side of racing but no evidence of the use of power for its own sake. Perhaps there is something in the British pysche which demands that not only are rules obeyed but they must be seen to be overtly and clearly adhered to - and heaven help the rider who doesnít toe the line.

Certainly the emphasis on the pleasure of participation - above any other consideration - was a wonderful experience compared to Britain where winning is often the raison díetre for many riders. On reflection, perhaps this is why our officials have to take such a firm line with riders: truly a chicken and egg situation.

Sometimes in life, you drop really lucky and certainly my cup of good fortune ran over when I was invited to ride with Sundial Moto Sports. More than anything else, Sundial races with good humour. Take the name for example. Team owner, chief tuner and number one rider Eric Kalamaja was so slow when he first started racing that his friends used to say that they would time his laps with a sundial instead of a stop watch.

However, before we could race came the really dangerous part; the pre-race Mexican meal. Mexican food in Mexico is lively, spicy and interesting. Mexican food in Georgia consists of lumps of full fat beef, spiced with fat, cream cheese, fat sauce, extra thick fat syrup and a delicious topping of super heavy duty fat. And of course, a diet Coke because weíre calorie watching. The team collapsed into bed feeling as if we had eaten a meal provided by Readymix concrete.

No matter, the day next dawned and a suitably strong case of pre-race nerves meant that the Mexican meal had left me for good.

Race paddocks are magical places at dawn. There is a heady mix of nervous anticipation and an aching desire to get on with the job. I paid my 31st visit to the toilet and then our practice was on the line.

The first thing that struck me was that these American were top quality racers - fast, smooth and skillful I cheated by tagging on to the second Sundial T500 ridden by the talented Todd Brockmeyer and learning his racing lines. Todd was riding really well but my T500 was newly built and faster and this was enough to keep up with him. Eric was riding the third Sundial production racer and he simply cleared off and left us.

After practice, there was time to wander around the paddock and enjoy what must be one of the most ecletic ranges of race machines ever gathered in one place. There were the wonderful hand change Harleys and Indians from before the war. Then on to John Cygnorís side-valve KR race machines. John bought this machine in 1957 and raced it in flat-tracks. He went on to race enduros but never sold the KR. Eventually, like many AHRMA members, he "unretired" himself and began road racing the bike in 1993 - and hasnít had a dull moment since!

Next, there was a wonderful range of classic European bikes like Dave Roperís Aermacchi and the B.50s tuned by ex-BSA mechanics Ted Hubbard. Finally, a mountain of converted Japanese road bikes which ranged from extremely basic to completely stunning.

Eric worked miracles looking after the three production bikes and a Grand Prix class bike ridden by Joey Naval. Since I have the mechanical ability of a marmoset with a migraine, my contribution was to hang around and make encouraging noises until race time.

I knew that things were going to be tough when the flag dropped and Todd cleared off and left me for me for dead! This looked like hard work. Eventually, the speed of my virtually brand-new T500 enabled me to scrape past Todd and win the production class which was all very satisfying and a tribute to the quality of Ericís bike preparation.

Eric had the dreaded ignition problems - reflecting the fact that, like the riders, middle-aged wiring isnít as flexible as it was in its youth. If Eric had been running, I donít think that I would have been on the same lap.

There was a consolation prize because Sundial Moto Sports won the prestigious award for the best presented bikes - a tribute not only to Ericís skill with the spanners but also his meticulous attention to detail.

The win brought to an end what had been a wonderful dayís racing and, of even greater importance, a superb weekend of classic biking.

The only thing which remained left undone was to have a jumbo sized helping of the delicious barbecue laid on by the track caterers and lay a nice thick layer of bovine excrement around the Sundial pit area as I re-lived my race for 429 times. A perfect weekend brought to a perfect end - and tht Georgia crow never did get an English crow to chew on.

My thanks to Eric Kalamaja and Sundial racing for providing a super bike, KLM for a thoroughly nice flight and all the nice people at AHRMA for making us so welcome.

Eric will tune, or re-build, your T500 to stunningly high Sundial standards for road or race. He can be contacted at (540) 980-0700 or E-mail sundial@i-plus.net

JOEY NAVAL

Joey Naval on Sundial GP T500

FRANK MELLING

Frank Melling on Sundial Suzuki

Photos by Carol Melling