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Thread: Racing Heros..

  1. #1
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    Default Racing Heros..

    I would rather like this to become a written tribute to some of Racing's great sportsmen. The subjects don't have to have been great champions. I personally would be as interested to hear about a club racer from Iowa or an unsung hero of the salt flats as I would the more famous names, although they must be included of course. We all have hero's, tell us something of yours. I shall start off with the tale of a great Isle of Man TT ride by a man who was never a "Big Star" and is now largely forgotten, unfairly so in my opinion.

    I shall start the story at what would logically be the end. Geoff Johnson of Richmond, North Yorkshire (my home town coincidentally) passed away a few years ago now. I draw comfort from the fact that he didn't meet a violent end out on the TT course as did many of his contempories. In fact he complained one day of feeling rather unwell and rather than accompany his wife on a shopping trip settled down instead in a comfy chair to watch a sports program on TV. He simply went to sleep and never woke up, which is, let's face it not a bad way to go. Certainly for a man who spent his working life racing around the thirty seven and three quarter mile public roads course that is the IoM TT. Where,it is said,the "Grim Reaper" is always riding pillion.
    Johnson was a "jobbing" racer. Never one of the real high earners of our sport he relied on the TT for a good "pay day" to help make the house payments etc.
    A Production (street bike) TT win sells a lot of motorcycles both in the UK and other key markets like Germany.
    In 1984 Kawasaki introduced the GPZ900R and engaged Johnson to race one at the TT that year. He would have been paid a fee for riding and undoubtedly a bonus for winning. Add to that the appearance money, lap bonus payments and prize money from the organisers and a win would add up to a "nice little earner".
    Win, he did and everyone was happy. Especially Kawasaki who embarked on one of the biggest advertising campaigns ever seen in UK motorcycling.
    Motorcycle mags, national papers, advertising hoardings at the roadside,all carried a picture of johnson on his winning ride with the slogan "Who can catch a Kawasaki?"
    The GPZ sold like hot cakes, it was a very attractive and capable sports bike.
    In the spring of '85 Johnson contacted Kawasaki to try and agree terms for the TT of that year. He was told that Kawasaki did not require his services, after all they reasoned, with 90 percent of the field GPZ mounted and no other manefacturer having a bike capable of winning they had it all sewn up.Why would they need to pay him to ride for them when others were doing so for free?
    He contacted Honda and got a sympathetic hearing. Honda had already entered two good runners on their big sports bike, which was not truly considered competitive against the GPZ anyway. How would he like a "fly the flag" ride on their new sports tourer? This was the VF1000 Bol d' Or. A bike with a large, bulbous fairing offered as a competitor to the BMW K100RS! Mostly seen two up and more likely to be seen wearing hard panniers and taller screen than racing plates. Honda were probably keen to show that it was as good at sports as it was at touring. Not many were convinced, including I suspect, Geoff johnson. It was however the only offer on the table and he had a living to earn.
    When the race fans began to arrive on the "Island" they found the Kawasaki PR people in full flow.
    Adverts were broadcast on Manx radio every few minuites, posters, tee shirts etc all with the slogan "Who can catch a Kawasaki?". Some of the Kawa fans were heard to be unkindly wondering why Johnson had even bothered to turn up. "He could always leave the panniers on" they opined "carry fuel cans with him and do his own pit-stop in a bus stop somewhere". That sort of thing.
    Come Race Day and those bloody tee shirts lined the course. Everybody expected the inevitable Kawa victory. Most thought Johnson would tour round for a couple of laps before pulling in with "face saving" puncture or similar fault, need to be carefull though, can't make the machine look unreliable. Honda would hate that.
    Well. To reduce an heroic tale to its' essentials (you must have guessed by now anyway) Geoff johnson slid, slithered, bucked, bounced, weaved and wheelied that ungainly beast to victory. What must be the most unlikely, most im-bloody-possible victory of all.
    Kawasaki were crushed. Honda smilingly opened its' corporate cheque book, pen in hand.
    A good enough tale, I hope you agree.
    But wait, there's more.
    The TT prizegivings are held at the Villa Marina Ballrooms on the Douglas seafront. I don't know how many thousand race fans can squeeze in there to see their hero's given their rewards but the place gets packed. A jacket and tie affair (for the riders) even the sartorially challenged Joey Dunlop was known to comb his hair and don a jacket. The organisers are keen to promote the event in the best possible light.
    When Johnson stepped up to recieve the winners silerware he was wearing a tee shirt! The crowd fell silent. Hang on! It's *THAT* tee shirt! Look! "Who can catch a Kawasaki?"
    He turned his back to the crowd, it read "Geoff Johnson on his HONDA".
    The cheers shook the old building to its' very foundations.
    Geoff rode mostly for Honda after that. Not surprisingly. He had one further win to make it three altogether. It would have been more, in my opinion, but for the fact that he was unlucky enough to be racing there whilst William Joseph (Joey) Dunlop was at his peak. A man who's iron grip on his particular field of endeavour far exceeded that of Rossi over Moto GP today. The others were just racing for second place when Joey was around.
    Rest in peace, Geoff. You're not forgotten.
    Racing lessons are normally well learned and mistakes rarely repeated. Sometimes though company pride gets in the way. Kawasaki believed their mahine was so good that it would win whoever rode it. They were wrong. Twenty years later Honda (of all people) thought the same and allowed the best rider of his era to go to a rival team. Pity that Geoff Johnson wasn't still around to tell 'em.
    Simon.

  2. #2
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    Great story Si!
    I honestly never heard of Geoff but I know I would have liked him and would loved to have seen him race.
    I am a big Kawasaki fan and don't care for Honda at all but it's always great to hear about corporate arrogance getting it's comeuppance at the hands of a talented but little known motorcycle racer!
    Keep 'em coming Simon!

    Dave
    Dangerous Dave


    "Life is a journey.
    Bring an open mind..."

    “If not now, when?”


    "Give a damn!"
    - C.M. Howe, Jr.

  3. #3
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    Default The Most Famous Motorcycle Racer You Never Heard Of

    OK Si, I'll help you get this thread about motorcycle racing heroes going. Here is a piece I did 5 years ago for TexMoto Magazine (now Ride Texas). I don't have the images to go with it but I will scan a bunch of them for the "Writer's Forum" on this site when we get it up & running.
    As I said, this is 5 years old and the subject, Jon Minonno is still racing and setting records.
    Below is the main article and a couple of side bars that go with it.
    Enjoy...

    The Most Famous Motorcycle Racer You Never Heard Of


    Ever hear of these famous motorcycle racing champions from Texas?
    1.) Colin Edwards - World Superbike Champion
    2.) Mike Kidd - AMA Class C National Champion
    3.) Doug Polen - AMA Superbike Champion, 2 times World Superbike Champion
    4.) Bubba Shobert - AMA Class C National Champion
    5.) Kevin Schwantz - World GP Champion
    6.) Jon Minonno - Uh, who? Well, let me tell you...

    Jon Minonno began drag and dirt track motorcycle racing in 1963 at age eighteen. Fort Worth was a hotbed of racing talent then and he fit right in. He competed in AMA Class C dirt track for eight years, racing against guys like Gary Nixon, Mike Kidd, Terry Poovey, Robert E. Lee, and Freddie Spencer at tracks all over the Southwest and Midwest, and Nationals at Oklahoma City and the Astrodome.

    As a road racer he won seven national championships in WERA and one AMA regional title. He also won many races in the AMA Battle of the Twins, Production and Superbike series. Memorable competitors include Jimmy Adamo, Jay Springsteen, Freddie Spencer, Doug Polen, Mike Baldwin and John Long. Some of the venues included Laguna Seca; Daytona; Talladega; Donnington Park, England; Mid-Ohio; Texas World Speedway; Dallas International Speedway and the streets of Austin.

    In drag racing he bagged one state and two national championships in Top Fuel and Pro Modified Classes in American Hot Rod Association, International Hot Rod Association, Drag Bike USA, International Drag Bike Association and AMA Prostar events; setting many track and national records all over the U.S.

    At Bonneville, Jon set over twenty-five land speed records, holding as many as fourteen at once. Six are still “in the books“, all over 200-MPH. He is a member of the exclusive “200-Mile Per Hour Club” and has the distinction of piloting “The Fastest Real Motorcycle in the World.” (See sidebar)

    Along the way he worked as engine builder for a local road race team, as crew chief for National Champion Doug Polen in the Suzuki GSXR Cup Series; ran motocross and hillclimbs and won three of the five Austin, Texas Aquafest street races he entered!

    How did this remarkable career happen? In addition to talent, skill, dedication, intelligence and Cajones Grande, the recipe includes genes, Triumph motorcycles and some very unforgettable characters. Let’s go way back...

    Jon’s Dad, Joe, was a Triumph drag racer, winning the AMA National Fuel Bike Championships in 1952-53-54. Now in his eighties, he still rips around Fort Worth on hopped-up motorcycles. Both are classic “motorcycle racer types” - short, compact and tough. They are also Italian and very funny!

    In 1962 Jon began work as a Triumph mechanic in Fort Worth, then in 1963 made a career move that would define his future. Jack Wilson, who would later become owner of Big ‘D’ Cycle in Oak Cliff, was chief mechanic there when they hired Jon. In 1956, famed pilot Stormy Mangham, Jack Wilson and flat track ace Johnny Allen had established Texas racers and Triumph motorcycles as forces to be reckoned with when they established the absolute land speed record at 214 MPH with a normally aspirated, methanol burning Thunderbird twin in a streamlined body. Racing was the legacy and soul of this new Triumph shop, first owned by racing legend Pete Dalio - what a place for young Jon to learn the ropes!

    He went dirt track racing, rising to the rank of Expert, winning a lot of races but no championships. But he learned much about himself, setting up racers, racing techniques, and about winning and losing. He decided winning was better. The stage was set. Flat track racing led to road racing, which would lead to drag racing, which led to land speed racing.

    Wilson’s own championship racing experiences and tuning skills complimented Jon’s riding skills and ability to “read” and set up a race bike, thus creating a formula for success in road racing lasting more than a decade. Jack built the hot Big ’D’ Triumph twins and triples and Jon rode them to wins, track records and championships from the early seventies through the mid eighties. They were frequently protested after beating bikes with more powerful four-cylinder engines and as Jack said “we tore down a lot of engines in those days!” They were always “legal”, just too damn fast! Jon and Jack proudly ended that important racing era as one of its’ most successful teams, having gained the respect of the world’s best racers and factory supported teams whom they bested many times.

    Jack once said: "Jon was the smartest rider I ever had or ever knew. He knew what the front end was doing and which way to go on gearing. He could "read" a plug. A good mechanic. On the track he used his head and if something on the machine was going south he could compensate." He also said that if they had switched to the advancing Yamahas instead of staying with the fully developed Triumphs Jon could have been World Champion! Jack was a hard-nosed racer and seldom dispensed compliments but had the utmost respect for Jon.

    In 1987 Jon transitioned back to professional drag racing, having already won a Texas State Fuel Bike Championship in the sixties. An important part of the transition occurred when Jon worked for Anita Tucker (the future Mrs. Minonno!) She owned a road race team and hired Jon as engine builder. The challenge of drag racing was the main attraction for them. In drag racing everything must be perfect. Make one small mistake and you’ve lost. In dirt track or road racing, make a mistake and you have the next lap(s) to make it up. Jon, Anita and Chuck Redfearn went drag racing.

    Jon was mechanic, bike and engine builder, tuner and rider. Chuck, a successful businessman was team owner, providing financial support and electronic work on the complex racers. Anita, a Registered Nurse with a lifetime of racing involvement was organizer, “producer” and handled the computerized on-board data acquisition and analysis required to race at this level. They hand-built their Pro Mod dragbike with a special frame, highly modified naturally aspirated 1428CC Suzuki engine with Nitrous Oxide boost. Horsepower was over 320. It ran an 11-inch wide slick tire, air-shifter and wheelie bar. Their lowest quarter mile elapsed time was 7.10 seconds, the highest speed was over 193 MPH. Serious stuff.

    They were remarkably successful. With many track records and national wins, they won the IDBA Championship in 1994 and 1995 and the IHRA No. 2 plate in 1994. Also in 1994 they were IDBA “Crew of the Year” and Jon was named “Pro Mechanic of the Year”, both for his wrenching abilities and the help he gave his competitors. He always insisted full credit was due the team - it was never “just him”.

    Meanwhile, Jack Wilson had continued racing at Bonneville. He set nearly one hundred records, many himself but also with other riders, including Jon. They later teamed with Ed Mabry, owner of Mabry Racing in Fort Worth. Team Triumph Texas (TTT) was born. Next came a string of nearly thirty more LSR class and “top bike” records and wins with Jon as rider, and TTT continues to set records with Triumph and Harley Davidson powered motorcycles. Jack is no longer with us but his winning legacy lives on.

    Today Jon is employed by D&D Performance Exhaust Systems as R&D Technician, running the high-tech dyno, still making motorcycles go fast with owner/ex-racer Dave Rash.

    If you are lucky enough to meet Jon Minonno you will find a quiet, friendly, almost shy man with a small ego and great sense of humor who doesn’t talk much about his accomplishments in racing motorcycles for almost forty years. But engage him in conversation and he loosens up. Hours later you are the beneficiary of some of the funniest, most impressive, downright incredible racing stories you will ever hear.

    This Texas motorcycle racer, this “Little Big Man”, has done things in his career most of us can not even imagine doing on motorcycles. And he’s still at it. Give ’em Hell Jon! And thanks.


    "The Long, Lonesome Ride"



    © 2001-2006 by Dave Howe. All Rights Reserved.

    I'll have to continue this on the "Next Reply" page...net nanny says it's too long.
    Last edited by DarthRider; 02-25-2006 at 02:37 PM.
    Dangerous Dave


    "Life is a journey.
    Bring an open mind..."

    “If not now, when?”


    "Give a damn!"
    - C.M. Howe, Jr.

  4. #4
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    Default "The Most Famous Motorcycle Racer..." - Continued

    Here are the story sidebars:


    Jon Minonno stories...

    There are some very funny racing stories about Jon Minonno. Here are a few:

    Ross Downs was a horse track in Colleyville where they also raced flat track. Some of the horsey high rollers once challenged Dalio, Wilson and Minonno to a hundred-yard dash against a racehorse for big money, sure they had a “sucker-bet“. Race day came and two trainers trotted out a huge horse, obviously “wired” and ready to kill something! Dalio demanded one practice run as no one had ever ridden anything like the hot Triumph “digger” built for this race. It had the widest rear wheel and knobby tire known to man and big open megaphones. It was geared to launch in second gear and run the hundred yards of deep, loose loam without shifting. Jon made a perfect run, front wheel off the ground the whole way, throwing a big dirt “rooster tail” high above the power lines across the track. It made so much racket super-horse jerked both trainers off the ground and tried to run off. The high rollers were so shocked they shouted “All bets are off!”, and the little Triumph won by default! No whar but Texas, pardner!

    A friend tells about a late night call he got from teen-aged Jon to come to the Saginaw Hoosegow and bail him out. Jon had been “testing” a TT Special when Saginaw’s Finest gave chase. Jon handily outran them and decided it was so much fun he would just do it again. He trolled by the station and the chase was on. He would have escaped once more no doubt, except...he ran out of gas. Busted!

    Another friend and ex-racer when asked if he had ever raced against Jon, replied “Well, if you mean was I ever on the same track, on the same day, going the same direction then yes, I raced against Jon.” He went on to say once he was in open practice at Texas World, leaned w-a-y over in a turn when Jon and “Hogman” Stevenson “split” him on a GP and Superbike with a significant speed differential. And on the way by Jon reached over and flipped his kill switch “off”!

    Many races are won or lost with “psychological warfare”, or as Jon puts it “getting inside their helmet”. One example was when someone left a spare set of wrist pin clips lying on the seat of a competitor’s racer after a rebuild. Poor guy just went home. Another was when Jon went over to a competitor’s drag bike, staring solemnly at the rear sprocket. When the owner wanted to know why, Jon just asked “is that the gearing you’re going to run?” and walked away shaking his head. Jon observed him changing gearing then beat him in the final!

    Jon’s favorite story was when his best friend crashed in road race practice right in front of him - a hard, crossed up low-side crash in a tight corner. Jon stopped and ran back asking what happened. His bell-rung friend wasn’t sure until they found a giant mushed-out tarantula that was crossing the apex of the corner when his buddy hit it with his front tire and went splat!




    The Fastest Real Motorcycle in the World


    Re-al mo-tor-cy-cle n A motorcycle you 1: sit on rather than in 2: steer with handlebars 3: ride rather than drive 4: powered by motorcycle engine(s)


    1992 was a landmark year for Team Triumph Texas (TTT). This anecdote provides a glimpse into Jon Minonno’s riding ability, courage and professionalism:

    No. 601 is the TTT “flagship” - a dual engine, 3-cylinder pushrod Triumph, “partially streamlined”, turbocharged, methanol burner that produces ~450 BHP. Designed and built by Ed Mabry with engines tuned by Mabry, crew chief David Wade and Jack Wilson of Big ‘D’ Cycle fame, it weighs 1,000 pounds and is very fast.

    We arrived in Wendover, Utah on Friday. Tech Inspection was Saturday and competition commenced Sunday morning.

    The first run was incredible - 235 MPH “right off the trailer“! Jon hadn’t ridden 601 in a year and it was very different from 1991 when it set a 2000cc class record of 221 MPH. This year it was modified for the 3000cc class with larger cylinders.

    It ran perfectly with two exceptions: It “fried” a one-inch wide strip around the center of the special rear “salt” tire when centrifugal force distorted the normally almost flat footprint into a V-shape. Jon said it was like riding on grease with the back end drifting around a lot, but he was able to control it.

    And the glycerin-filled oil pressure gauge vibrated the face off and spit glycerin all over his face shield. Seeing the broken gauge, Jon assumed the “oil” was engine oil going on the back tire causing the traction problem, then shut down early to save the engines. He also noted all six instrument readings for the “run-sheet“, plus throttle position, crosswinds and track conditions at key mile markers at 235 MPH! Track inspection revealed a one-inch black streak a mile and a half long. Can this guy ride a race bike or what?

    To set a new record, a “qualifying run” must exceed the existing record. Then a “record run” can be made in the reverse direction. The average speed of the two must exceed the existing record to establish a new one. 601 had “qualified” for a record attempt that followed three days later due to weather conditions.

    The track was a mess with holes filled in by track workers and large wet spots. No other tires were available but these guys never pass up a record run. The tire was “cleaned up” and air pressure was added.

    When Jon started the return run everyone held their breath, listening to the engine while straining to see the big silver rooster-tail appear, indicating the turbo is making real boost (and horsepower!) Speeds are announced for the 2 1/4-mile, the “kilo”, the 2-3 mile, the 3-4 mile, and the 4-5 mile traps, and the “exit speed” at the end of the 5-mile run.

    Jon was running 230 MPH when he encountered extreme vibration. He knew it was the tire but that it still had air pressure since he was still upright! He said he saw 12 racetracks and just picked one in the middle! With much of the tread gone, he backed off enough to prevent disaster but also maintained all possible speed.

    The return run was 193 MPH and when averaged with the previous 235 MPH we had a new class record of 214 MPH, exceeding the old record by 21 MPH!

    The last thing Ed told Jon before the run was “ride the sumbitch like you stole it!”. Afterwards, Jon told Ed “Now ain’t that just like an Italian, to steal a motorcycle with a bad tire?” I wondered what sort of man keeps his sense of humor when a tire disintegrates at 230 MPH? And he had all his instrument readings - again. Amazing.

    We learned the tire maker had provided a tire with fewer plies than specified, thus allowing the deformation. A proper salt tire was acquired and another record attempt would be made Friday. There was only time enough for one qualifying run and maybe a return record run.

    Jon made a perfect launch and somehow we all just knew! We jumped in the vans and gave chase. Through Jack Wilson’s crackling radio we heard: “231 in the quarter...234 in the first mile...240 in the Kilo...242 in the second mile...250 in the 3rd mile...and a 256 out the back door!!!”

    Jack was jumping around like a bug on a hot rock yelling “I knew it! I knew it!” Poor Ed was in his van with a dead radio and didn’t have a clue. Twice I yelled “250!” over at him before it registered, then he got so excited he almost turned the van over!

    As Jon was reciting the instrument readings the winds began to blow and there would be no return record run. We didn’t even care as we loaded up the “Fastest Real Motorcycle in the World” for the long trip home...




    © 2001-2006 by Dave Howe. All Rights Reserved.
    Last edited by DarthRider; 02-26-2006 at 12:29 PM.
    Dangerous Dave


    "Life is a journey.
    Bring an open mind..."

    “If not now, when?”


    "Give a damn!"
    - C.M. Howe, Jr.

  5. #5
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    Great stories. Can't wait until the real writer's forum section is up and running.

    Jeff
    Bones

    "Context is everything."

  6. #6
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    Default Cool Dave!

    I don't suppose there're any "TTT" Tee shirts are there? That would be the coolest thing to have! Especially over here.
    Si
    (On reflection, when we get the "writers" section going, we should maybe forget the "racing" and just make it "Heros". On the basis that there are a great many admirable things to do on a motorcycle that never involve facing the starters flag.)

  7. #7
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    Default

    Yeah Si, maybe the software for MotoLit that Ron is looking out will allow us to really set up that section well.
    Sorry, no t-shirts...wish we had some.

    Dave
    Dangerous Dave


    "Life is a journey.
    Bring an open mind..."

    “If not now, when?”


    "Give a damn!"
    - C.M. Howe, Jr.

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