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California Bike Week

By PJ Hyland

California’s big one

New rally, races shake things up

Pomona, Calif., Nov. 9–11—For many years, the Harley-Davidson community in California has been seeking to create a major motorcycle event in the Golden State. The temperate climate and the plethora of righteous two-lane throughout the state make California an ideal setting for a national level event of the magnitude of Sturgis and Daytona. A few years ago the Harley-Davidson Dealers Associations of Southern and Northern California got together to create this event. The resulting rally would eventually be held at the spacious Pomona Fairplex and would include AHDRA drag races, national-level flat track races, music and all the things that bikers love, and it would coincide with the Love Ride, the largest one-day motorcycle fundraiser in the world. Now, that sounds like a winning combination that could rank right up there with whipped cream, nuts and a cherry. Ah, but what to name this mondo combo? How about the Cal Motorcycle Racing Extravaganza, and Celebrity Charity Run? Nah, too many words. California Bike Week? Yeah! I think I like it. Who cares if the thing only runs for three days? With a little luck it’ll grow.

Thus a mega event, a juggernaut to rival the most memorable accomplishments of humankind, was conceived of, named and eventually organized, promoted and produced. Well, that may be going overboard, but it did kick ass.

Oliver Shokouh, owner of Glendale Harley-Davidson and founder of the Love Ride, was a major player in the planning of California Bike Week. He explained how it all came together. He said that while Castaic Lake had served well as the Love Ride’s destination for over a decade, he felt it was time for the event to relocate to a venue that was accessible to a larger rider population. He had evaluated a number of facilities in recent years and the Pomona Fairplex got in touch with him earlier this year saying they’d had a cancellation in their racing schedule and wondered if he’d consider promoting motorcycle races at the Pomona location.

Oliver approached Southern California Harley-Davidson Dealers Association President Richard Quaid about the opportunity to host AHDRA drag races and flat track races at the Pomona Fairplex in conjunction with the Love Ride. The location made the concept very attractive to the SoCal dealers and the decision to support a mega event at the Fairplex was pretty much a slam-dunk for them. When the Northern California Harley-Davidson Dealers Association President Art Mitchell enthusiastically agreed to throw their support behind the endeavor, the wheels were set in motion. The California Bike Week consortium chose John Buck, formerly an official with the Fairplex, to promote and coordinate the racing portion of the event. John’s experience in the racing industry combined with his familiarity with the venue helped expedite the process considerably.

The Motor Company executives in Milwaukee thought the project had enough merit to commit some serious funding to the event. They put up the prize money for the flat track races and offered travel expense reimbursement as well as medical insurance to the competitors. Plus they funded the “Live Eye Sports” video production of the event. This is a website that lets a viewer watch races in real time or view them later. They also sent the Demo Fleet, the Traveling Museum, Acceleration Nation (an interactive area featuring dyno-drag racing V-Rods), as well as the full new product line display. This is the same commitment of material and manpower that The Motor Company would normally allocate to a major rally like Sturgis or Daytona.

But the most significant vote of confidence offered by The Motor Company arrived on Saturday morning in the person of Willie G. Davidson. When I saw him he was sauntering around the pit area at the vaunted Pomona Drag Strip, greeting racing fans, posing for photos, offering words of encouragement to racers and scarfing down legendary Pink’s chili dogs. Later that evening, accompanied by his wife, Nancy, and son Bill, Willie G. reprised his role as V-Twin ambassador at the flat track races, being contested on the highly regarded 5/8-mile oval at The Fairplex. I know, I know, Mr. Davidson typically makes the pilgrimage to SoCal for the Love Ride every year anyway, but to see him there on Saturday lending his presence to the fledgling event meant a lot to the organizers and to those of us who support Cal Bike Week.

The party had started well before then, however. Thursday evening Laidlaw’s Harley-Davidson in Baldwin Park hosted a Pre-Race Nitro Party to prepare for Friday morning’s AHDRA qualifying event at the Fairplex. Friday evening, the Peterson Automotive Museum hosted the Bonham & Butterfield motorcycle auction Preview Party and Love Ride reception.

AHDRA Drag Racing: California Nationals
Saturday morning, from our seat in the stands at the Pomona Drag Strip, seemingly within spittin’ distance of the starting line, we were covering our ears as ground-pounding Top Fuel monsters turned the quarter mile in under six seconds at speeds up to 225 mph. If the wind is right, your nasal passages will get the chance to process their fill of vaporized, vulcanized gutta-percha—ah, the smell of burning rubber and nitro fuel in the morning.

AHDRA sanctions 16 head-to-head classes and an ET class. If you wanted to compete, you’d undoubtedly find that, no matter how souped up your ride, you’d be in over your head in the Pro classes, but with only a few mods to your hawg you could actually compete in some of the Sportsman classes. For instance, the Hot Street Class is reserved for street-legal Sportsters, Buells, Big Twins and aftermarket-based motorcycles. In this class, the bike and rider weight ratio of eight pounds per cubic inch will be the rule, with a maximum of 98 c.i. So the ideal weight for bike and rider with a 96” engine would be 768 pounds. Of course, in the ET class, you get a handicap based on your best elapsed time during qualifying. This means you could conceivably run your moderately modified Super Glide or Fat Boy against a lower echelon Sportsman class dragster and make a race of it.

If you’re not enough of a “dork for torque” to don flamboyant protective leathers, emblazoned with commercial logos, and put your life and the mechanical well-being of your hog on the line in the quest of elapsed time glory, you can still have a great time at the drag races. You say you’d like to stretch your legs and get a bite to eat but the concession stands are located in the pit area? No problem. Your general admission pass affords you total access to the pit area. Seriously! Go look over Mike Romine’s shoulder while he wrenches on his Top Fuel dragster, or maybe get your photo taken with champion Doug Vancil. I’m willing to bet that if you ask her, Doug’s wife and crew chief, Julie, will oblige you by doing the honors.

Flat track racing: Pacific Coast Nationals
Flat track racing at Pomona featured three classes. The Top Gun 450 class gives motocross and off-road racers the opportunity to develop their skills on the flat track while riding their own bikes. The Saddlemen Vintage class is for bikes made before 1975. This class brings back a glorious bygone era when Harley-Davidsons competed against Triumphs, BSAs and the occasional Yamaha. The Open Class is the premier division of the series. Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle team member Kenny Coolbeth has dominated this class for the past two years.

It’s impossible for any two-wheel enthusiast not to get caught up in the awe-inspiring display of athleticism combined with raw V-Twin power that is flat track racing. You’ll find it easy to become involved at a visceral level, and may imagine yourself grasping the handlebars while you engage every muscle in your body in an effort to control your assault weapon as it hurtles sideways into the first turn at speeds exceeding 100 mph.

Nuts and bolts
Of course, Cal Bike Week wasn’t only about the races. Live bands performed continuously, the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps stunt team performed, the Wall of Death stunt riding team delivered their show, Freestyle stunt rider Jason Pullen wheelied and stoppied, demo rides were available from Harley-Davidson and Victor Vert’s Boss Hoss franchise, plus 200 vendors sold wares to motorcycle enthusiasts.

Steve Fisher, marketing director for Glendale Harley-Davidson, summed up the sentiments of a great many of us when he mentioned how much he looks forward to strolling through the vendor village at major events. He’s invariably impressed by the inventive accessories that V-Twin luminaries like the crew at Kuryakyn design to enhance nearly every facet and function of a Harley.

Saturday night, the Peterson Automotive Museum held its much anticipated Bonham & Butterfield motorcycle auction and, of course, Sunday morning all eyes were on the 24th annual Love Ride.

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