Wakefield Park, NSW, 14th May 2011
By Steve B


06:45 and ready to head offFiring the SFC up for the last race of the Barry Sheene I thought something sounded "funny". A rattle - but only at idle. Some investigation back at Breganzane HQ revealed the camshaft keyway had failed - not an unknown problem on the Laverda 750 engine.

Chris Cutler was visiting me before his return to South Africa, and together we soon had the engine out and disassembled. Two weeks of late nights after work and a whole weekend can be condensed into a few words - a solution was designed and manufactured. The result was hoped to be more robust than the original and also allowed accurate dialling-in of both sides of the camshaft. Many thanks to my good friend and team mate Craig for his input devising solutions, and then also magically appearing at exactly the time Christiane and I were embarking on final engine assembly and reinstallation. At 11pm on the Saturday before the race we fired it up and all appeared well. It sounded crisp again, no rattles and no oil leaks to report. A few laps of my test track the next day confirmed we appeared to have it all in order, and all the myriad of other preparations could be made for Wakefield.

In the few days before the meeting the crisp but very pleasant Autumn weather gave way to an early blast from the Antarctic, with a minus 7 on Wednesday morning and even a bit of snow! It had not improved by much by Friday night, when the car was loaded and ready to go. Just before midnight the rain started falling and it was windy and bitterly cold out. I went to sleep hoping that the forecast of frost and sunny skies would come true.


Bitterly cold, Drmsby and Steve discuss things before practice.Somehow or other the morning indeed dawned bitterly cold but clear and calm. Obviously the main problem throughout the day would be temperature - the lack of it and how to deal with it. A challenge for engines, tyres and team members alike.

Qualifying was run and once again Drmsby qualified on pole position outright, in spite of the engine misfiring in the cold and a problem with the new rear shocks. The tyre warmers Crispin has been lending me this year were a godsend, but the problematic front one was not heating well at all. Craig brilliantly improvised by wrapping it with a sleeping bag and it then reached good temperature.

With a thorough engine warm up 20 minutes beforehand, Race1 went perfectly for us. Drmsby launched well from pole and chased Keith Higgs' Kawasaki 1260 Period5 bike hard. The cold conditions caught out a couple of riders (one of them unfortunately Blair on the OzLaverda Spaceframe), and all of the good passing opportunities around the back of the circuit were blocked by yellow flags. A serious horsepower disadvantage down the straight meant that a pass for the lead was not possible and Drmsby took a fine second place less than a second behind Higgs. In spite of the terrible conditions, we still achieved our best lap time to date, slicing 0.3sec off our previous best with a 1:08.75 and were pretty confident that we could have given Kieth a good scrap fpor the outright win had the passing opportunities been clear.

Drmsby at speed.It was about a half hour later, as we were working on some adjustments to the rear shocks, that we realised it was awfully quiet out on track. Eventually word filtered around of a "big one" on the main straight, and later that it appeared the rider had collapsed on the bike prior to crashing, then the words "heart attack" doing the rounds. Within an hour it was announced that the meeting was to be abandoned, and the assumption was that the rider had passed away. In spite of the fact it appeared to be natural causes, that eerie quiet that falls over a race track when there's been a major incident descended as people began the task of packing up to head home. Serious injury and death is the elephant in the room at a race meeting, it's something we all know about but don't want to acknowledge. Thanks to improved race tracks and excellent safety gear the incidence is very rare, but it's there, and it must be respected.

As we were about to leave, the wonderful news came through that the competitor in question, Steve King, had been revived and was on his way to Canberra hospital - the gloom lifted! What a very lucky fellow, anywhere else than a racetrack with full paramedic support just 100m away and the result would most likely have been different. So there you go folks - racing a motorcycle is safer than pushing a trolley around Coles!

Measuring the fuel level in the pits.Drmsby returned home with me to fly out of Canberra the next morning, and we both noted what a weird day it had been. We had once again dominated our class (there was only one other entrant!) and were confident that without the yellow flags an outright win was again possible. After a long hot shower and a lovely pumpkin risotto by Christiane, Drmsby and I reviewed where the SFC project stood over several glasses of wine and a roaring fire.

Thanks to those who made our corner of the pit bay happen; Christiane for the support and many cups of hot green tea brought out to the freezing garage while trying to get the motor sorted, Craig and Kian for the aforementioned help before and during the event, Ian for his enthusiasm and sorting the entry and pit bay, Andy Macdonald's superb photography which documented the day in a way that would make any pro photographer proud, OzLaverda's Crispin for the tyre warmers, and of course our own gun at a knife fight - Drmsby Middleton for the pretty damn obvious!