Wendy Newton from California, USA is a very accomplished lady roadracer, but when the rumours started about the "Catalina race last December, she decided to try that as well!
Wendy used a near standard Yamaha 1972 DT2 and after participating in race 1# she finsihed as the first woman rider ever! Because during the "old" Catalina races there was never a single girl entrant. So the history books are very different now, thanks to Wendy.
To her close friends she wrote this very enthusiastic report of her finding during this event and she allowed me to publish it! Enjoy the reading guys (and girls maybe!)
I'm still high from the whole experience.
I had been looking forward to the Catalina Grand Prix since I first heard about it in late May. I only just learned what it was the previous year when I ran across some old racing pictures on EBay and had no idea we had our version of a "Isle of Man" racing thru the city and dirt! Unbelievable they would allow it again.
I never thought it would go forward much less think I would actually get to participate! As you know I don't have much experience in the dirt, so it is amazing they let me "ride".
If I had known how technical it was and what was in store for me, I would not have, so ignorance is bliss. I am glad I got to do it with "Sunny" my beloved little 1972 Yamaha DT2 Enduro, my city scooter, which I had only ridden in the dirt two days before in Texas Canyon.
The course had changed dramatically from a month ago my first time on the island, checking to make sure I hadn't gotten my self in over my head. Having walked part of the course the day prior, I found myself waking up in the middle of the night before the races dreaming about "The Hill".
My fear was that I would not get a good run up it, stall halfway up and get stuck or worse fall. This section was known as "The Ravine", and there is a steep hill down into it, ending in deep soft dirt patch, then a sharp right in more soft stuff and back quick left up the hill.
Clearly the most difficult part of the course, if you were low on power you'd need a clear run on it. That would be me. I envisioned stuck heavy vintage bikes, tumbling down. The area you had to get your start on was under 20 yards or so?
Saturday I was in Race 1, and started in the back rows. Only having road raced, I wasn't clear how you start. I quickly learned you put your left hand on the rear fender, right on the throttle, and wait for the green flag. I got to watch the first six lines start, and watched some of the pile ups.
Note to self: Please don't fall in front of everyone...I did. Fell in the first turn of Race 1, in front of everyone, trying to avoid a couple of guys who got tangled up and were down on the outside of the turn which was a hill, I went inside.
Other note to self; Stay on the gas in the thick stuff when going thru the turn, feather the throttle and a little rear brake until while you clear the turn, gas it. Got it down now. So I picked up Sunny...pointed down the hill....bump started....kept going, remember make the best of it and finish.
Last note to self: Not so hard on the front brake this isn't a road bike! As I then went by the spectators who flanked right and left sides of the first jump which was only seven feet wide but seemed ten feet tall, and this after only the third turn, I screamed while I went over it.... it was steep....and then started cracking up.
Yikes! I knew this was going to be a long and wild ride, just relax and breathe. Sure enough by the time I got to "The Ravine", what I had nightmares about the night before was exactly what was happening before me, pile up, with a line waiting to pile up. But to my relief they had what I call the "chicken route", for those wanting to avoid going up, you had the option. So you had to go down the steep hill, and could avoid going up the big one, if you stayed right and went thru a little patch of green into a gully you were on the golf cart path. This was signalled by the man with a yellow flag.
I ended up taking this route several times, there were bikes stuck and many more waiting, so no clear running start. I wasn't going to be one of them stuck. I know, I know.... BOCK! The problem with this route was that you completely missed the Moto cross section and got a much easier and quicker way around. In the future they should make the chicken route an option, a penalty route and make it the much longer way around so it's fair. It was pretty funny because I couldn't understand why Ralph and Jason kept passing me. I foolishly thought they were waiting for me somewhere, and just playing around hiding, as I never remembered passing them. It wasn't till the next day that I saw what I had missed when I saw video Jason had shot with his helmet cam, and then we understood how I would get ahead of them.
By the second day, the course was badly rutted everywhere. I was warned by Ralph and others who had raced the first and fourth race on Saturday, and said by Race 4 it was already getting rutted. Best way to learn sometimes is just doing it. I entered the Women's B race with a bunch of the Prospectors "Desert Daisies", and others from other clubs. Very nice women with very nice tall modern dirt bikes. I felt a little out gunned because there were no other vintage bikes, so I introduced myself at the starting line, if you see me ladies, clear me in the jumps and if I am in the way I will get out of your way as soon as I can. They laughed, and one let me sit on her Yamaha 125 two stroke, with big forks and amazing suspension, giving me some incredible dirt bike envy.
Same thing, start in the 6th row, left hand on fender, green flag, go! I make it thru the first section, clean. Sure enough there were quite a few bikes hung up in the Ravine and a big traffic jam of women, kids and guys, sitting at the bottom watching people tumble. You could see the fear in everyone's eyes as they were as big as their goggles. Then some guy motions a woman racer next to me to take the "chicken route", only she didn't know what that was as she hadn't raced earlier and was slow going thru and unsure of where to go. So I blew by her, only to find a million golf carts parked all over the path, they're playing golf! So I went around them. Uh oh! When I got to the end of the path there was caution tape taping off the entrance and realized we weren't suppose to be there as there were no corner workers. I start to turn around only found at least 20 bikes had followed me! So then a spectator lifts the tape and all go thru, but now I'm the last one thru by the time I turn my bike around. Turns out they ended up restarting the race because of that, and rerouted the course bypassing the hill altogether for that race, as there were too many people getting stuck in it.
Other parts of the course were a little hairy but I was laughing my ass off rolling over some of the jumps in the Moto X section which were clearly designed to jump over. Some were so steep, I'd come down the other side almost completely veridical, the front forks bottoming out. I am still amazed I didn't fall in any of that section. I was laughing mostly out of fear and realizing that I clearly had the wrong bike for this stuff, and really unsure what was the best way to do things. Especially when I saw later how it's really done with the likes of Pastrana, Caselli, Johnson, Kendall, etc. Watching them make it look so easy, and tricks in the triples. I now have a whole new respect for those boys! Not to mention even more respect for the guys who did really well on the vintage machines! Drum brakes don't work so well. And Homer Knapp is my hero, the man who prepared "Sunny's" cylinder brought out his 1920's left-hand shift Harley Davidson which he had raced twice there in the 50's and did it again this weekend. He's in his 80's! (Unsure if he finished?) I heard he got up that hill.
My goals were to finish, get a t-shirt and the pin, not get hurt, and try not to be last. Although I'm not sure I wasn't last in the Vintage class race, because there is no way of knowing who took what route that day. I got 16th out of 21, four of which DNf'd. So now I'm looking for a better dirt bike, as I had a blast and wondered how I would have done on the right equipment and some real practice and skills. I fell a few times the first day, four to be exact, always in the soft tight stuff which became like quick sand when it was at the bottom of the hills. Sunday I jinxed myself as I went by my girlfriends cheering me on, yelling "I haven't fallen once". They never heard what I had said, but someone told them I said “I need a beer!". Actually I should have put on the tequila helmet :) On the home stretch of fire road in the last lap of the race I wiped out. Moving out of the way for some fast guys, catching a deep rock rut, down I went! That'll teach me, got up and off I went. Got 13th out of 18, three which DNF (Did Not Finish).
So what a year! All in all it was a wonderful way to end my first full season of racing, and possibly my last with this economy. But because of it I had the time. Visiting Daytona, racing AHRMA Miller, Barber and now Catalina, feels like a dream. Someone pinch me! I had a great time in a fun place I had only visited once a month earlier and I'm a California native! It's like our own little Mediterranean isle. I really enjoyed hanging with friends, old and new in a much laid back atmosphere, so close to home. Also strange to see and have motorcycles on the sleepy island where there is mostly golf carts. It was especially nice meeting up with more of the AHRMA racing vets, who continue to impress me with not only their racing skills but off track class, whom I've only just met this year. Sharing some great stories which better and crazier after a couple of drinks, a pleasure to be around. (Rumour has it there is video of Ralph Hudson singing Elvis tunes, not sure if Bob Bryson and Paul Germaine were in on that as well, but I think it might be priceless!) History was made this weekend, really cool people with their really cool bikes and riding in a very special place with a great positive vibe. Definitely one of the highlights of my last ten years of riding. Possibly even better than riding in Italy to watch the Mugello Moto GP and Cataluña races!
Legends were abound. I met Malcolm Smith Sr., Ed Kretz, Jr. and heard Bob "Hurricane" Hannah was there! Gentleman and legend John Hately honoured me with one of his father's shop rags of which he only had six left. (He graciously offered it to use it to use to wipe the dirt off my face after a race. I'm not washing that rag or the dirt off my number plates as a matter of fact ;) Even though it is over I still have a big ass smile on my face that isn't going away anytime soon! I am very grateful that I got to participate and I hope they are able to do it again next year. By then I will be better prepared. I hope that you guys who do know what you are doing can too. I kept hearing so many people saying they wished they had, and I know you guys would have had a blast.
Life rocks even more when motorcycles are involved!