Leaning on the concrete barrier beside Mosport's front straight, the only sound I could hear was that of my bike being run hard through the gears as it tore up the back straight almost a mile away. It was eerie hearing a solitary and very loud Ducati on the track and as Paul dropped down a gear to set-up turn 8, I set my camera on standby and prepared to grab a short video/sound bite as he came through Turn 10 and nailed it for the run up to the blind, downhill Turn 1. It was the beginning of lap 4 of his noon hour demonstration at the VRRA Festival and as he approached Turn 2, I knew instantly that this wasn't going to be the brisk but cautious laps we'd heard so far this weekend. Nope. As he went through Turn 3, I could tell just how fast he was going by the rpm and position on the track - and it was obvious that the man was comfortable on my bike, and completely in his element.
Ducati legend Paul Smart's beating on my Ducati 750F1. Cool. Very cool.
This adventure all started with a call last January from long-time VRRA member Kevin Fletcher (who sponsored the late Adam Bennett in his last years). He was trying to bring in Paul Smart as the guest of honor for the VRRA's 30th Anniversary - They needed a hot, presentable and reliable vintage Duc for him to race at the event; could he use mine?
And I thought nothing more of it until four weeks ago when Kevin called to confirm my offer and run through the logistics. With this season interrupted by knee surgery that's taken forever to heal, I didn't have much seat time on the bike and although it ran well at Mosport in May, the VRRA event pressure was all I needed to register for the DOCC's mid-July event. In my last post I talked about the harsh ride I experienced with the new Bridgestone slicks and the perplexing hi-rpm misfire, and I dealt with the former by swapping back to the Pirellis and the latter by making a detailed list of everything I'd done to the bike after the TT Symposium. I spent a couple of very tense mid-week, mid-mornings at a quiet country road I knew making subtle changes and sneaking out for a few rips up the road. But nothing worked. Then I remembered the spark plugs.
I'd fouled my last set of NGK JR9Cs running the bike in the shop and switched to a set of D8EAs that were close at hand. The bike was OK with them in May temperatures, but loaded up with anything less than the slides completely out of the way in 5th and 6th in the July heat humidity. Chalk it up to the inefficient combustion we're getting with a hemi chamber and pistons designed for bathtub heads. The bike was dyno-tuned with those plugs and the dual electrode design seems to work best with my set-up. I made the swap, loaded up the bike and ran back out to my quiet road to find that it now ran like a rocket. However, in the middle of this mechanical thrash, Kevin advised me that Paul was not going to race the bike after all; but would be parading it during the lunch break. Sigh..
So, lock-wired, shined and fully prep'd; the F1 was ready for the main event. I on the other hand, was simply overwhelmed with work when I headed off down the 401 for Mosport, and that had me grumbling to myself about the dubious benefit of all the effort expended just so some famous old racer could run some sedate parade laps on my machine. I'm getting older - and grumpier…
I arrived Friday afternoon, in time to see Paul getting ready to do some orientation laps on Don Gosen's 888 racer while Don led the way on his potent 900, so I set up my pit and got to work synching the carbs, setting tire pressures and fueling my bike for his final session of the day at 4:30. I got a chance to chat with Paul and Maggie after his session on Don's bike, and was immediately struck by their easy-going, enthusiastic nature. Seriously down-to-earth folks. So around 4:30, I fired the F1, briefed Paul on basics, sent him out on the track with the F1 and then walked up to the pit wall - where I got into a bad case of projecting every possible thing that I might have forgotten to check… I have never, ever been so stressed about the fitness of my bike. But he came in all smiles and liking the machine, so I (with just a hint of ceremony) applied the "16"s I had picked up on the way up to the track and figured we'd survive the weekend.
Saturday morning Paul was simply swamped with autograph hounds, so I took some time to wander the pits, visit old vintage racing friends and try not to focus on all the new things I was beginning to imagine that could go wrong with my bike. And when the moment came for the first lunch hour parade, Paul went out first on a Paul Smart Replica with local Harley 883 racer Paul Robbins on a 2010 Norton, while I sat on the F1 waiting for him to come in after his 5 laps. With the gathered media and fans, this really was AN EVENT - which did nothing to calm my now obsession with the now massive number of things that could go wrong with the bike. Pass the Valium, please…
But once again, nothing went wrong, Paul loved the bike and the world was again a peaceful and somewhat calm place. And by now; with the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group concourse set up behind us, Fans and racers lining up for Paul's autograph, Ducati bevel twins lining up beside us, and the arrival of Bar with the Gunga Din Vincent - our area had become jammed with people. With Canadian GP legend Michelle Duff leading a growing number of ex-racers who stopped by to meet Paul & Maggie the place was really starting to get crowded and it was a treat to wander around through the groups and eavesdrop on the great stories from Back in the Day. It wasn't 'till late afternoon that traffic died down and I felt for all the world like I'd been working the floor at a trade show - far too many hours on my feet yakking with folks. And as I sat under my EZ-Up with my feet on the rear wheel of the F1, Paul wandered in under the canopy and sat on the pavement for the start of an impromptu lesson of what it was really like back when racers smoked like chimneys and body armor was simply a second layer of leather. Bar and Kevin joined what turned into an intimate 90-minute trip back to racing in the 70's that capped an excellent day.
Sunday was more of the same; although when Paul went out this time for his p parade session, he was to start with Don's 888 and then come in and grab the F1. The skies had been threatening all day and while we waited for a green track, it started to spit so we changed the bike order. As he went out for this second session, I borrowed a pit bike so I could whip over to the start of the front straight and grab some video/sound bites, and that was when I realized that with no announcer on duty all I could hear was the sound of my bike. And from my vantage point, I was amazed that I could even hear him go down into Moss's Corner - almost a mile away - and head on to the back straight; hitting The High Notes in every gear. Knowing the bike and the track as well as I do, it was almost like I was out there with him.
Except, I wasn't…
Which suddenly sucked…
Paul joined me at Bar's on Monday for a lazy afternoon spent sitting around on bikes and telling tall tales. And some time lying on the lawn just yakking about life… So what started as a chance to meet the man who so famously put Ducati on the map as a superbike player evolved into a unexpected opportunity to make a new friend - and after all; it's friends - not bikes - that truly enrich our lives. Bikes of course are the catalyst, but at the end of the day it's the people who ride them that give our sport its depth and character.
When you look Paul Smart up on the internet - or read about him in a book or magazine, you likely won't read that he's one of the most humble, energetic, approachable and insightful famous old racers on the planet. Trust me, there's way more to the man than the legend - and I feel honored to have had the opportunity to get to know him on a completely different level.
Thanks to Kevin Fletcher for putting his nuts on the line to make this all happen, to the VRRA for putting on such a fine event that I just might come back and race, and to Maureen Engelmann and Color Tech for the excellent photos.
The hi-resolution photo set is HERE.
The "853 F1" is based on a 1988 Ducati 750 F1. loudbike is a state of mind, a weblog about fast, loud Italian motorcycles.