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Inteoduction to “A Motorsports Heritage – A Car Nut Household” by Stirling Watts
The following article was penned by my brother to describe the unique childhood we enjoyed as members of a car nut family. Our Dad, Harley Watts, was one of the founding members of the Ohio Valley SCCA, and in the early 1950s developed quite a reputation for himself primarily as an all around go-fast mechanic and tuner, as well as a national class SCCA driver. Here’s a little bit of how and why we all grew up with gasoline in our veins. Larry only scratched the surface in this short piece. I have a few car and motorcycle related memories of my own, for those who would care to listen. I have memories of all of the cars mentioned below except for the 1947 Alfa, which was gone before I was born. When I got my driver’s license in 1972, the last Series 3 Lancia Appia which Larry recalls below, was one of the cars I was permitted to drive regularly until I purchased a car of my own (also Italian of course). The Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce to which Larry refers was not the car we currently own, but was probably owned by one of Dad’s racing friends. Later, in 1975, Dad bought one. I can proudly say that it is still in my garage, and in original daily driver condition. We will do a piece on that car later.
I earned the name “Stirling” in honor of Sir Stirling Moss, the most famous and natural racing car drivers of all time never to have earned a world championship title, who as quite well known in the racing world when I was born in 1956. Harley even had the privilege of driving as a fellow competitor with Moss on at least one occasion of which I am aware, namely, the 1954 Sebring 12 hour event. I thought highly of Dad in many ways. May he rest in peace. He departed from this world 9 years ago, in October 2004 at the age of 80.
Car Nut Household
By Larry Watts
I’ve been spending time in front of the word processor lately writing about the early days of the sports car movement in the USA. I grew up in the 50s and remember when sports cars were interesting cars! They were everywhere. The English manufacturers, MG, Triumph, Austin, Morris, Rover, Austin Healey, etc. outnumbered the rest by a good margin. Still, the rest of Europe was well represented with Simcas, Peugeots, Opels, BMW Isettas, Renaults (4CVs, Caravelles, Dauphines), Porsches, and of course Volkswagens everywhere you went. The majority of Americans though, drove American cars. Looking back on my childhood I realize that I was a member of an unusual family. At least when it came to cars.
I grew up in a working class neighborhood on the west side of Columbus, Ohio, where the majority of our neighbors worked at either the GM plant or the Westinghouse plant. The GM people of course, all owned GM cars. The others owned mostly American iron. It was the 50s and the post war economic miracle was in full swing. Everybody wanted a new car and Detroit was keeping them happy with their annual model changes.
Our driveway was different. An MG TC was our daily driver. No heater. No defroster. Side curtains. Right hand drive. Lift the hood every morning and tickle the SUs until they puked gasoline all over your fingers and the driveway. If you’ve even owned an old British car you are now nodding your head and smiling.
In our garage I remember some really interesting cars. We had a 1947 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Berlina with coachwork by Pininfarina. Around 1955, Dad sold the car for $50 because he didn’t have the storage space to keep it! What would that car be worth today? A hundred grand? Who knows.
We had a 1948 Fiat Topolino with a rollback top. Five hundred seventy seven CCs flathead inline four with, get this, twelve horsepower. Top speed 45 mph. Touring speed 35 mph. No water pump, cooling by convection. Crashbox transmission with no synchronizers. This was the first car I ever drove at the age of 9 or so with the car in my Granddad’s woods. Had to sit on a phone book to see over the wheel.
We took a trip to New York City when I was about eight or nine years old. The reason for the trip was to pick up a 1948 Lancia Ardea berlina that my Dad just bought from a guy named Hudson Mills in East Orange, New Jersey. The Lancia was classic Vincenzo Lancia engineering. One thousand cc narrow angle V4 engine mounted out front with crashbox transmission, no sychronizers ,and rear wheel drive. Sliding pillar front suspension. Suicide doors in the back. No door pillar. Aluminum bumpers, hood, and trunk lid. Wool upholstery that smelled of mothballs every time you entered the car. This car would run 75 mph all day. Beautiful car! Pretty to look at and so easy to drive.
Later we had a pair of Lancia Appia berlinas. The first was a 1959 Series II. The second was a 1962 Series III. The coachwork on both Appias was identical from the A pillar rearward. Only the nose was changed. The earlier car had the classic vertical grill and was a much prettier car. Lancia and Fiat in those days styled the sedans (berlinas) in house. Only the spyders and coupes were farmed out to carrozerias like Bertone and Pininfarina. Both Appias had identical running gear. Again classic Vincenzo Lancia engineering with 1100 cc narrow angle V4, sliding pillar front suspension, suicide doors in the back with no door pillar. Not as pretty as the Ardea but still fun to drive. They would run 85 mph all day and get 40 mpg doing it.
When I was a kid, it was not unusual to see a Type 35 Bugatti or a Frazier Nash in the driveway on weekends. I first rode in a Pininfarina bodied Ferrari 4.9 Superamerica when I was 8 or 9 years old. I also remember a ride in an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce. I thought this was normal. I also remember a lot of cars being dragged to our house on the end of a tow rope on Friday night and driven home on Sunday night. My Dad was Mr. Fixit. He had a reputation far and wide as one of the sharpest mechanics around.
My own kids today are now in their mid twenties (mid thirties now – this was written a while back –ed.). It is not unusual today to have one of them drag a daily driver home to my house on Friday night and drive it away on Sunday. I fix ‘em just like my Dad did. The big difference is that modern cars are boring. Reliable and economical maybe, but boring.
Lesson 1: Humility in the Racetrack Classroom
This is a classroom introduction to learning the practice of safety and speed on the pavement on or in a motorized vehicle. Its content is designed to be used in motorcycle track day training.
In the next few minutes, we’re going to talk about a basic mental precept that we all need to learn to put into practice if we really want to learn to enjoy truly going fast, safely. The foundation of that learning has less to do with perfecting the actual practice and techniques of riding or driving, and more to do with your mind and attitude. Lesson One is I think the most important of all, and that is why it’s first! It is a purely mental factor called —- humility.
In future articles, we will talk about the actual practice of being quick, in terms which apply to driving on four wheels, or riding on two wheels. We are going to talk about about riding briskly in the more dangerous environment of public roads, and in the more secure environment of a closed racetrack. We will begin that discussion with a term used by a lot of sportbike riders, called “the pace”. We’ll talk about that more in the next video. Briefly, “the pace “is a phrase coined by Nick Ienatsh, a great motorcycle journalist who has put in a lot of racetrack time himself. Nick published an article on “The Pace” 10 or 15 years back, and it was in Motorcyclist Magazine. Learning to ride at “The Pace” is about riding safely and sanely, and yet relatively quickly, without injuring yourself or anyone else, without destroying your equipment, without annoying car drivers badly, and without getting a speeding ticket. It’s about learning how never to get in over your head and how never to expose yourself to unnecessarily dangerous situations, while you maximize the joy of riding, or driving, as the case may be. But, stay tuned for that in the NEXT article and video.
But, first of all you may be asking yourself, “Who is this guy?”
“Who is this guy? I’ve never heard of him! He’s not famous. How could he have anything valuable to teach me about how I ride or drive?” I’ll give you a bit of my background to start with, and I will tell you up front, with all of the humility I can muster up, that I’m certainly no authority who has perfected the practice of everything that I recommend. But, I have listened to a lot of people who have a lot of experience and then I’ve personally put it to the test in a variety of pavement venues with different numbers of wheels.
I was never near being an national champion of any kind, but I do have a fair amount of competition riding and driving experience, and I’ve put in more than a few competitive laps on various racetracks on motorcycles from 250s to 1100 Superbikes. in motorcycle racing I have roughly 10 years of experience in competition in WERA, AMA CCS , AHRMA, the now extinct Florida Gran Prix Riders, and the now extinct AAMRR south. That’s me in the intro picture above, on a GS1000 at Summit Point Raceway in 1985, riding in the Unlimited Superbike Class. In automobiles I drove both fwd and rwd competition cars for a period of about 5 seasons in several classes of the SCCA at the Regional and National levels. I once took a Formula Ford driving school, and I’ve competed in go cart clubs, and I coached my son, Eric, in fast driving when he raced quarter midgets, and later graduated from circle track racing to road racing my old 100cc Yamaha cart and 80cc shifter cart. In the past 30 years or so I raced quite a lot, completed a few competition driving schools, riders schools, once even a MSF street oriented safety course.
Those are my humble qualifications. I never got famous. I never made a profession of driving or riding or racing, but I’m a guy who has fooled around with it enough to understand how to give you the basics if you’re just coming into the sport. My VERY first racing school was with the California Superbike School, and was personally taught by Keith Code himself back in 1984, on a Kawasaki GPZ 550. . But after that, EVERY time I ever had the chance to be critiqued by someone else, regardless of who they were, or how fast they actually were themselves…..a concerted effort to be humble resulted in a positive learning experience, an experience that dissolved mental barriers, and built my confidence and comfort level with speed.
In retrospect……listen to experience!
I think, in retrospect, thinking back on how I myself personally felt about the material presented, and the hands on experience offered in a lot of competition schools, I would emphasize that the very first skill we all need to develop has nothing to do with riding, or driving, at all. It is the development of personal humility. It seems to me that the younger and the less experienced is the rider, or the driver, the more difficulty they have with being humble, and being open to learning. Now granted a lot of very young riders are fast because they just have no fear. They don’t have to unlearn fear like we do, but they do have to learn common sense. The young and fast ones who go on to do great things, I believe do so as a result of exercising enough humility to listen to the voices of experience. A lack of humility puts up a mental barrier that opposes our ability to realize and uncover the confidence we actually naturally possess - to overcome our own self imposed limits.
And that’s what this is all about…..learning to remove self imposed mental limitations. In reality, nothing holds back a human being from learning to do any task well, other than his own self imposed and subconsciously self enforced limitations. So don’t start out believing that you already know everything you need to know, or that you have large testicles and this school is just some formality needed to allow you to ride or drive on a racetrack. Learning to ride fast is an internal humble mental transformation. You cannot accomplish that transformation until you are ready to put limiting beliefs about your human selfhood out of the way.
That means not only limitations in the practice of actual driving or riding techniques. Even before that, it means that you have to erase the barriers which you have been humanly educated to subconsciously put in your own way – mental barriers that would lead you to the false conclusion that there is little you need to learn. Get your ego completely out of the way. In other words, you must be truly personally humble.
We all think we are already fast, especially if we own some machine that has a reputation for being fast, and makes nice and pleasing and powerful sounds. But we can only gain the benefit of good advice coming from the mouth of experience, and become faster and smoother in proportion to our practice of a sincere humble respect for experience. No hotshot attitudes! That will ultimately do more harm than good. Valuable information does not have to come from the mouth of a national championship caliber driver or rider. A lot of regular club racing people have a lot of practical experience that they can teach you, if you will just relax and open your mind to the reality that you need to LEARN to be fast. But that learning is really only the discovery of what you really are inside, as you learn to eliminate these mental barriers.
That’s the whole key to fastness. And smoothness. Your machine won’t do it for you. My son, Eric, can tell you a few stories about folks we have ridden with on the street. I’ll tell a short one here: A couple years back we met up with a really nice local guy who wanted to do some sport riding with us here in the Ozarks. He was riding a Suzuki Hyabusa, so we figured this guy really knew his stuff. Eric was riding his little EX500 Ninja twin, and I was on my Triumph 955 Sprint triple. As soon as we got off the four lane and onto a secondary road with a lot of medium and high speed corners, Eric and I took the lead. We were riding casually at “the pace”. No insult meant to this guy, he was a really nice fellow, but about 15 miles later we ended up waiting for him for a long, long time at the next intersection. We were only casually cruising. On the other hand, our new friend did display good judgment by deciding not to ride over his own capabilities! The only difference between us was – racetrack time versus no racetrack time. That’s a short anecdote that illustrates how the machine has little to do with your ability to ride quickly.
So much for humility for now! In the next video we’re going to talk about how not to push those limits in the wrong places — and more about riding on the road at “The Pace”. See you soon!
The Fast Ones Vintage Racing: Some Proposed Class Structures
Submitted by Stirling Watts
These proposed class structures are designed to limit that application of big money, while still allowing and encouraging innovation and free thought. As written they are roughly based on simplified rules of some existing vintage racing clubs. Their objective is simplicity, flexibility, and the maximization of eligibility across the board.
Any suggestions? There may be (a) specific motorcycle(s) which may be accidentally excluded by these rules, so let’s look at them closely and make the structure as affordable and fair as possible for everyone involved.
Lightweight Vintage: Single and twin cylinder four stroke or two stroke, manufactured in the 1950s and 1960s to 350 cc. Drum brakes only.
Middleweight Vintage: Single and twin cylinders of the 1950s and 1960s, two stroke or four stroke, to 500cc. Drum brakes only.
Heavyweight Vintage: Twins and 3 cylinders to 750cc of the 1950s and 1960s, four cylinders to 600cc, with period brakes.
Classic 350: Singles and twins to 350 cc up to model year 1979. Two strokes of any configuration and 4 stroke four cylinders to 250cc. Period brakes.
Classic 500: Singles and twins to 500 cc up to model year 1979, 3 or more cylinders and two strokes of any configuration to 400cc. Bodywork to reflect the period.
Classic 750: twins and threes to 750 cc, four cylinders to 600 cc to model year 1979 equipped with disc brakes. Ducati Pantah up to 650 cc
Classic Bott (Twins and Triples): Two and three cylinder s up to model year 1981 over 750 cc.
Classic Open Lightweight: Four cylinders up to 600 cc to model year 1983. Air cooled only.
Classic Unlimited Superbike: Four cylinders over 600 cc up to model year 1985. No water cooling.
For all classes:
Any motorcycle excluded on the basis of the rules as stated may be backdated to meet the requirements. DOT tires only (no slicks), no tire warmers. No nitrous oxide, no non standard fuel injection, no methanol based fuels.
Tires are DOT legal (no slicks), unless Formula classes are added in the future. We do not want to exclude TZs and RSs and the like if they are out there!
This is a brand new effort…..and if you like vintage motorcycle road racing as much as I do, and if you like like the idea of attending affordable motorcycle track days,,simple, informal and fun, you will want to hear more about this.
Club racing for many has always felt a little bit too formal and a little too uppity. It has always seemed hard to filter out those people with the big money, and the formal rules that were designed to control all of that get in the way of fun.
The main problem is that in club racing there is just far too much emphasis on the competition, on winning, on points, on personal recognition, and just not enough emphasis on the fun. Part of the solution in motorcycle track days. We, who are among “the fast ones” forming this group, want to put that affordable fun back into riding on the racetrack…..we want to create an environment where you can afford to learn to be a ”fast one” on YOUR vintage bike, in a safe and fun environment.
Who are “the fast ones?” Well we can all be fast, or at least we can think we are. But how fast are you, really? Do you really know how to ride at a fast but sane pace ? How can you learn to do so without truly and literally risking your own life?
The answer to those questions is “the racetrack”. Do you own a fast vintage bike? Would you like to ride it REALLY fast….like, to explore its limits, and yours, in a safe and controlled environment?
All during the 80s I was heavy into motorcycle club road racing, in both modern classes and vintage, and the most fun I EVER had racing was in those vintage classes. And I think it was because the folks riding in those classes were less focused on personal competition. They were there simply for the joy, perhaps for the nostalgia of riding fast in the vintage class. In several clubs of that period, I had a blast on the racetrack on my Ducati 350 single…… Recently we started to put that Ducati back together again. Our good friend Martin Weiss, also known as Reptile-Motos, has been working on that project. In working with Martin on that project, a little bit of bench racing stirred up some fresh ideas about track time and vintage motorcycles that a lot of folks are going to like.
We all love going faster with our vintage bikes than is allowed, or it is safe to do on the street. This is why we go to the race track where we can go as fast as we want (or can). For now we just want to have fun, but if there is enough interest we will create a Vintage/Classic Racing group. 2-3 races a year. For now the group will probably be Florida based. Suggested venues so far are Jennings in north Florida, and Moroso Park in West Palm Beach. There are other potential options.
Please Send us a short message, comment on the video (to be imbedded here soon) or this post, and introduce yourself, your bike, and what you hope to get out of joining us in this new organization. And let’s make this a reality!
- Stirling Watts