Building and Racing the Fastest CZ400 on Earth
From cradle to grave in a month …. A “not so short” Story
By Harry Klemm
Connecting with Rex Staten
In 1974 I was hired as a mechanic by John Coutee’s Kawasaki of Fontana. John was an avid fan of local MX racing, and noticed that I was working on lots of fast stuff running at the weekly Corona Raceway night MX races. John’s shop also carried Ossa motorcycles, and John had visions of sponsoring an Ossa ride to local MX hero Rex Staten, who was recently released by the factory Honda team.
John asked me to build up a motor for a new Ossa 250 for Rex to race. Within a week I had the motor built, tuned, and running exceptionally strong. Rex liked the Ossa, and we went to several local MX races to prove the bike. Sadly, the only thing we proved was that Rex was capable of breaking the Ossa’s internal primary chain in less than 30 minutes of riding. After several catastrophic case-destroying primary chain failures, both John and Rex became less enchanted by the bike and the effort.
About that same time Rex landed a “decent” sponsored 250 & 400 ride with CZ … bikes, parts, etc. Rex and his Dad (everyone called his Dad “Slim”) were pleased with the way I prepped the OSSA, and so Slim asked me to be their full time CZ mechanic. They had no budget for a full time mechanic, but Slim offered me free room & board, and $50 a week (remember it was 1974). I took the offer in a heartbeat, and I was suddenly a “pro-mechanic”.
In my 35 year career as a race mechanic, I’ve worked with countless dads and racer sons, but none like Rex & Slim Staten. It’s no secret that Rex Staten’s on-track reputation was something between rough & tumble, and WWF cage-fighter. It would take a very tough man to rein in a son like Rex…. And Slim was that guy. Slim was a tall, strong, blue collar kinda guy that spoke very little…but everything Slim said was “law”. While I heard stories of Rex tangling with Slim, I never saw it myself. I don’t think that 20 year old Rex was scared of Slim …. But I’m sure Rex knew that pissing off Slim would go badly for everyone….so we just focused on racing the way that Slim wanted it done.
CZ Racing 1.0
At the time, I was still known in MX circles as “that road-race guy” from my previous 3 years of building numerous So Cal club road racing bikes. It was in the 73-74 race seasons that I started shifting away from road racing and toward MX bikes. With the collective engine modification experience that I’d had, I was immediately excited about doing all manner of engine mods to Rex’s CZs. But Slim pulled in the reins on that program. Slim knew that Rex could easily win all the local CMC races on well prepped stock engine bikes …. And Slim was right. In the following months, I went to weekly Southern California day and night races with Rex and the CZ250/400 race bikes. At most of those races, it was nearly a given that Rex would win both pro purses …. And he usually did.
But the AMA “Nationals” was where Rex (and Slim) really wanted to do well, and show off Rex’s riding skills. Rex & I did a loop back east to hit a few 1975 250 nationals… with lack luster results. The 250 CZ was “way” down on power to the factory Japanese stuff …. And we headed back home to Fontana after 3 races. We resumed the domination of the local So Cal races, and started to get mentally ready for the Carlsbad USGP.
Getting our “Factory” 400
Our “local” open bike was working great, but the CZ folks said they would be prepping a special bike for Rex to race at the USGP…. We were pumped. About 4 weeks before the USGP, CZ called to say the bike was ready to pick up. Rex & I were figuring it would be a factory center-port bike with all the latest trick factory chassis bits. When we got to the CZ shop, they presented us with a completely stock 1975 CZ 400 that had some forward mounted Gas-Girling shocks and a 34 Mikuni carb …. Not at all a “trick” bike. This particular bike was apparently used by well known So-Cal pro racer Jim Fishbach in some desert racing (Jim was best known for his speedway racing). The bike still had the stock handlebars with welded-on lever perches, stock forks, etc. …. We were stunned. The CZ tech just kept repeating to us “Shtock ees bast” … “just ride it fast”.
Rex & I thought the bike “must” have some hidden qualities we couldn’t see from the outside, so we immediately took it home to test run it. After just a short test ride, it was obvious that this was in fact a stock CZ400 slug that wasn’t even as good as our current “local” 400 race bike …. And Rex was mad as hell. Later that day, Slim got home from work, excited to see the “trick” bike we got from CZ. In very short order, Slim was “smoking” mad too. We all knew that trying to talk to the CZ folks about the bike was a waste of time. With that, Slim exclaimed “Well, if they’re not gonna give us a bike that can win …. We’re just gonna have to build one ourselves”. Slim then looked to me and said “Klemm, go ahead and build that rocket ship motor you’ve been wantin’ to make … we need one that can fly”. Since I was not much of a chassis/suspension guy, Slim decided that he and Rex would do all the chassis prep.
The Build Begins
By the next afternoon, I had the motor out of the frame, and I had fully spec-ed out all the port timings, compression ratios, etc. At the same time, Slim and Rex were hard at work on the chassis. Building this bike to be a USGP capable racer had become mission #1 in the Staten garage.
I had extensive experience building Kawasaki 350 Bighorns for road-racing and flat-track … and I knew what kind of “open-class” port timing specs made acceptable low end power … and what specs were “a bit high-strung”. I asked Slim about which way to go … he said “We want all the power it can make… Rex knows how to work a clutch”. With that, I gave the CZ some port timings that would be more common to a CR125 rather than an open MX bike. To help bolster the bottom end power, we would bore it 1mm over, and I added some “boost ports” for an increase in transfer port area.
For the precision machine work, I headed to San Diego where my brother, Gerhard, had night-time access to a full machine shop. We worked for two long nights on the project. Besides the boring, we also squared the base gasket surface on the cases (they were everything but square), and re-cut central domes into three welded up stock heads to eliminate the “detonation prone” stock offset head domes.. The heads were cut in 1cc increments so I could experiment with compression ratios later on.
Along with the cylinder porting and manifold matching, I slightly enlarged the transfer openings of the cases, and then matched the cylinder transfers to the cases. The cylinder was fitted with an inlet manifold to accommodate a 38mm Mikuni carb needed to feed the upgraded 400. I was not pleased about having an elbow shaped exhaust passage (instead of the more ideal center-port) but I did my best to try to “straighten-out” the existing exhaust passage, and match it to the slightly enlarged exhaust manifold. All in all, the collective improvements would make this motor a “very heavy breathing” CZ400.
Back at the Staten garage, I fully assembled the new motor to find that it had several air leaks right past the stock gaskets. After several teardowns for surface dressing and gasket re-sealing, the engine finally passed a standard pressure test … and was ready to run.
In the meantime, Slim and Rex had been working just as hard on the chassis. The finished chassis looked sturdy and offered the kind of travel a “real” open class race bike needed. The forks got some sort of long travel kit … and that was the best that could be done with them. It was about 2 weeks before the USGP that we finally got the bike all back together for the initial testing. I had assembled the motor with the lowest compression head of my three prototypes (to reduce the risk of a seizure during preliminary jetting).
Rex had gotten a fresh drum of “race gas”, and we quickly mixed up 5 gallons with the “Blenzol” bean oil concentrate that we normally ran. After 10-15 minutes of kicking, push starting attempts, and fouled plugs, the new motor refused to start. Rex was starting to think I was a big idiot that had just ruined the race motor… and I was wondering the same myself. After a bit of tinkering, we found the float bowl full of oil, and no gas. We suddenly realized that the new “race” gas was actually “av” gas. This AV gas could not mix “at all” with the Blenzal concentrate, and our carb just kept filling with oil. We quickly drained the old premix, and mixed up the AV gas with some other oil we had in the shop …. The bike fired right up and sounded great.
With the fuel/oil crisis behind me, I started to do the low range carb fine tuning. With each jet change, the bike got crisper and quicker. Rex was starting to come back from each jet change test with a bigger and bigger grin each time. We finally started the main jet testing, and the only place to really evaluate the high speed performance was to run the bike up and down Arrow Highway in front of the house. By the time we found the perfect main jet, Rex was “really” happy with the performance …. And the local sheriffs were cruising the highway looking for “the guy on the dirt bike”.
The last test to be done was the higher compression heads. Rex told me “Just put on the highest compression you’ve got”. I did, and he went out for another “Bonneville pass” on Arrow Highway. He came back with a giant smile, and declared “this thing is a rocket”. Moments later, a sheriff car rolled up to the garage and they were not happy. They “subtly” told us to not be testing our dirt bike on the highway anymore …ever. I was glad we were done testing.
Right about then, Slim rolled in the driveway too, wondering why the hell the cops were at the garage. Slim made it clear that we were to knock off whatever the hell we were doing to piss off the law, and he tried real hard to “not” show his pleasure that the bike was rocket-ship fast. Like any typical racer, Rex wanted to take the bike out for “practice” riding the next day. Slim laid down the law that the race bike “would not” be practiced or thrashed in any way before the race weekend…. And that was that.
The last detail of the buildup was to get a custom pipe built for the bike. Fortunately, Rex’s long time buddy, Jim Hoover, owned Hoover Pipes in nearby Ontario Ca. Hoover Pipes was the So Cal CZ pipe guys at the time. Jim was a talented and avid So Cal MX racer, and he raced CZs himself. Hoover Pipes made a “Falta Replica” pipe for the 400 that Jim was very proud of. However, in standard “road-race tuner” fashion, I had my own formula generated pipe specs that I wanted to use. Among other things, my specs featured a 5” diameter body instead of the 4” body of their Falta Replica. In a calm “good old boy” drawl, Jim commented “Welllll, I like your drawin’ here … but out there in the real world, a round 4” body works a whole lot better than a flattened 5” body”. It was clear that Jim had lots of experience in this area, and equally clear that he wasn’t yet impressed by my tuning credentials or background. I had learned a long time ago not to argue with the hands-on experience of folks that got results … and this was such a situation.
With that, Jim’s crew went about custom fitting the body parts of his Falta Replica pipe to our race 400. Since Jim was very familiar with Rex’s reputation for being hard on machinery (and pipes) they welded angle iron armor to the bottom of the pipe body. The finished pipe fit perfectly, and looked great … the only thing left to do was “test” it out. Since we were far from Slim and Arrow Highway, Rex took the 400 for a quick blast up the street in the commercial complex… and came back with a giant grin. Since Jim Hoover raced a CZ400 himself, he certainly wanted a quick ride as well. Jim blasted the bike up the long street, and returned with eyes wide open and at a loss for words. This bike was clearly the fastest “anything” he had ever ridden … much less the fastest CZ400. Jim immediately invited me to come into the back room of his shop where he had all his CZ race bikes apart. He proceeded to ask my opinions of all the different engine mods and upgrades he was tinkering with. It appeared that my tuning credentials had improved a lot in the last half hour, and with that, a long time friendship with Jim Hoover was cast.
In the week before the USGP, Rex & I were like kids that had an unwrapped Christmas toy that we couldn’t play with. During the days, while Slim was at work, we repeatedly came up with lame reasons to start the race bike and buzz it around the acre+ yard. With each running of the bike, two things became very clear. The first was that the bike was getting progressively quicker every time we ran it … and the other was that this CZ400 kicked back “like no other CZ”. By Thursday, the bike had destroyed all but one of my left sneakers. I finally wised up and started wearing one of Rex’s old MX boots on my left foot to start the bike. It looked funny, but it worked great. I had no other choice but to wear the left boot for the whole USGP weekend.
The USGP schedule was, tech on Friday, qualifying for start position on Saturday, and race on Sunday. It seemed to me an excessive amount of time for what had to be done …. until I saw the snail pace that the FIM folks moved at. Friday tech struck me as more show and spectacle than getting business done. The tech itself seemed normal…except for the weighing scale. FIM had a huge tripod with a hoist and big round scale attached. Each bike was hoisted off the ground via two tie downs, while the big scale showed the bike’s weight for all to see. This weigh-in area was the favorite spot for all the racers to gather, because there was huge bragging rights for the riders with the lightest bikes. The big gathering of riders resulted in a crowd of photographers, journalists, and fans as well. I was unaware of the “psych” effect of this weigh in, and there was a healthy crowd standing by when I wheeled Rex’s CZ up to the scale. Our CZ weighed 247 …. the heaviest bike in the race…. By a lot. Immediately the factory riders started snickering, and began taking turns teasing Rex with “anchor” jokes. Honda’s Karsmakers in particular was relentless. I got the impression that Karsmakers was not heartbroken about Honda releasing Rex the previous year, and he seemed to take added pleasure to have a footing to tease Rex as well. It was about that time that I realized the “uncoolness” of having the heaviest bike in an FIM 500 GP. At the same time, I started to feel additionally uncool because I didn’t even pack a left shoe to the race … just a right shoe and the left mx boot. We quietly wheeled our heavy bike back to the box van, and loaded up for the day.
During breakfast, it seemed like just another race day to me. But rolling into the race venue was like no other Carlsbad race I’d ever been to. The facility was cleaner than I’d ever seen it, the track was better prepped than I’d ever seen it, and the crowds …. Were huge…. all there just to see qualifying!!
Once we got to our marked off pit space, I started setting up my pit, and it felt like just another day at Carlsbad. Altogether, it seemed like an easy day. Just a few practice sessions, with FIM folks taking times. The bike was perfectly tuned and ready to go, so all I had to do was basic bike maintenance. Rex had four outings, and he got more and more pumped with each outing. The bike ran flawlessly, and ended up having a much wider power-band than Rex had expected …. he was a happy camper. And then …the qualifying times were posted. REX QUALIFIED 3rd …. AGAINST THE FASTEST GUYS ON EARTH, … AT A USGP. Only Wolsink and DeCoster were slightly faster … and Karsmakers on his feather light factory Honda was several spots behind Rex …. It was so sweet.
Rex and I were pumped beyond words, and suddenly, our heavyweight CZ (and my mismatching shoe & boot) were very cool. Just as suddenly, there were “lots” of looky-loos appearing around our pit to get photos and a closer look at our CZ. Among the crowd of the “lookers”, were folks from the other factory teams as well. I wasn’t really sure if I liked all the added attention or not. Despite that, I was there to do my job, so I gave the bike a proper prep and cleanup for the next day’s racing …. with a very big audience.
By Sunday morning, the news of Rex’s 3rd place qualifying was everywhere, and driving the “Rocket Rex” box-van into the track Sunday morning was a full-on “rock star” experience. The race fans walking into the track quickly mobbed the van to a point that was nearly scary. The fans were so intense, that the drive from the front gate to the pits took four times as long as the day before. To say the least, expectations and enthusiasm were high.
Among those expectations was a newly added sponsor. Rex had recently gotten sponsorship help from Bassett Racing Headers owner, John Bassett. John made his reputation (and fortune) building water injected racing headers for boats, and he was very excited about branching his business into the exploding MX market. Putting on a good showing for John would go a long way, and John was in the pits with his right hand guy to watch all the goings on.
Practice went great with no dramas, and spotting Rex on the track was easy … just listen for the roaring crowds. Surprisingly, there were lots more people in the pits as well, and a bigger crowd around our pit than the day before …. It was a zoo.
Before long, it was time to stage for the race. USGP staging is unlike any other. Instead of the smoke and dust from revving race bikes … it is silent. Bikes are not started until they get the 2 minute sign at the starting gate. At USGP, all the bikes, riders, and mechanics are gathered it the paddock near a “one bike wide” banner path leading to the start gate area. The FIM official slowly calls out the bikes in the qualifying order. With that, each bike, rider, and mechanic take their winding walk through the bannered path to the start gate. There is plenty of time for the slower qualifying riders to watch the top qualifiers walk through the bannered path to the gate, so “everyone” knows who the fast guys are …. And aren’t.
As Rex and I arrived at the start gate to choose a spot, only Wolsink and Decoster were there … and Rex was happy to see than neither one of them had taken his favorite spot on the Carlsbad gate. Before long, all the riders were present, and the startup sign was given. While all us mechanics wanted to watch the start, it was almost impossible to see anything for all the dust and spectators blocking the views. All the mechanics started their sprint to the pit sign area before the riders got to turn 2.
By the time we all got to the mechanics area, the riders were nearly due. On the first lap, the roar of the crowd was so loud that the mechanics couldn’t hear the pack of bikes just 50 yards away. As the riders came into view, I was in total shock that Rex was in the lead … with plenty of space on the pack. I was so damn excited, I must have looked like I’d just been electrocuted. Next to me was factory Honda mechanic Roy Turner (who seemed to still have a soft spot for Rex). Roy correctly pegged me as a newbie pro mechanic at my first really big race. In the deafening noise & dust of the field passing by on lap one, Roy grabbed my arm and pulled my ear to his mouth and said “Hey … he’s doin’ his job … you need to cool down & do yours”. I realized Roy was right… and I needed to get my “race face” on. I was all business from that moment on, but I still marveled at the full track roar from the crowd as Rex led all the European heros. It was a moment that would never be matched by anything else in all my years as a race mechanic.
By lap 3, it was clear that Rex’s hole shot was not just a brief moment of glory. He was slightly gapping the other riders, and it was looking like he could actually win the moto. Around this same time, I noticed that many of the other race mechanics (most of whom had never seen me before) were giving me the “who the hell is this CZ mechanic” look. It wasn’t normal for unknowns to pop up out of nowhere, with a bike that kicked their collective butts…. Much less with an overweight CZ. I set aside their stares, and got back to the task of giving Rex useful pit signs.
Around lap 8 Rex’s lead started to shrink slightly, and I noticed a “not normal” chattering noise coming from the CZ as he came by. By lap 10 Rex had slowed noticably, and finally was passed by Roger. By then, the chattering chain noise became so loud that every one of the mechanics could clearly hear it. I was mortified, thinking that I might have left a rear axle or chain adjuster loose, causing this horrendous noise. Rex started losing ground with each lap, and ended up in 7th by the race’s end.
The Pit Episode from Hell
I sprinted back to the pit before the checker flag dropped so I could be there ready to get to work on the problem. Moments later, Rex rolled into the pit, and handed me the bike with no comment or expression. I had the bike on the Mark Charles stand in a second, and started looking at the rear end for the source of the noise. About this same time, a huge mob of people were surrounding our pit trying to get a glimpse of Rex and the bike. While I was focused on the rear end of the bike, John Bassett arrived in the pit to do what he could to help. In just a few moments John found the problem. Every motor mount on the CZ chassis had been broken about an inch away from the motor mount bolts. The sheer power and high-rpm vibration of our motor caused it to tear itself right out of the chassis. My trick motor, and our lack of pre-race testing time, had an effect we could never have imagined. The engine was literally floating in the frame, only connected to the rest of the chassis by the pipe and the chain.
My heart instantly sank as I knew there was no time for a frame change (we had our other 400 with us). I momentarily considered starting the frame change, knowing it would be a futile effort that couldn’t be done… but it would be doing “something”. A moment later, John Bassett said…”let’s just weld it back together”. I thought he was joking… but he wasn’t. Within minutes, John’s buddy had located a set of gas welding tanks, and the two of them started to prep the frame to be welded. All the jaggedly broken motor mount plates re-fit perfectly to the chassis, and John started welding. John had me remove the fuel tank for obvious reasons, and they went to work. I was no expert on frame welding, but I knew that I had never seen it done at the track with a gas torch. Rather than question them, I just went to work prepping the rest of the bike as if everything was normal.
Right about this time, I noticed that Rex was sitting against the box van with the bare palms of his hands facing upward. The violent vibration coming to the handlebars from the broken frame had covered both of his palms and all his fingers with numerous raw blisters that were either bleeding or oozing… and Rex was in “a lot” of visible pain. Slim was doing what he could to offer relief, but there was no fix for this that he knew of. I just blocked out all the depressing chaos around me, and turned back to the job of prepping the bike for Moto 2. I pulled off the foam air filter, and got ready to start installing the freshly prepped filter I had in a zip lock bag.
Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder, to see an older gentleman that I’d never met before. He introduced himself as Ken Johnson (founder of K&N filters). Apparently, Ken and Rex’s dad, Slim, were old motorcycle buddies. Ken then went into a scripted infomercial sales pitch proceeding to tell me how much better power we could be getting if I installed a K&N filter (he had one for a CZ400 in his hand). I was it total disbelief that this was happening. Slim came over to say hi to Ken, and Ken started replaying his pitch with Slim ….. and I was fuming. I stopped Ken in mid sentence to tell him that I didn’t think much of his filters on an MX bike …. And I thought even less of his timing.
At that moment, the sheer chaos of my pit area was becoming surreal. I pulled Slim to the side for the only time that I would ever “tell him” what to do. I told him to get Ken Johnson out of my face and out of my pit…and when he was done with that, we needed to find a “real” solution for Rex’s “hamburger hands”. Slim got the message, and I never saw Ken Johnson again.
As I got back to prepping the bike, I took a moment to check out John Bassett’s finished welds on the front motor mounts … and they were “art” quality. I had obviously underestimated John’s welding skills, not to mention welding speed. Since he only had a small welding tip, he had welded both sides of each cracked motor mount plate to get full penetration … and it looked like he was going to finish (just barely) in time for Moto two.
About this same time, I noticed that the Gas Girling shocks seemed to have a strange kind of “crust” on them. A closer look revealed that the factory Girling paint had been completely fried off the entire shock bodies, and those bodies were still too hot to touch. For a moment, I thought I should ask Rex about how the back suspension felt … but we had no spare shocks … I realized it was moot. We had many bigger problems at hand.
While still working on the bike, I looked over at the progress on Rex’s hands. In younger days, Slim had some experience as an amateur boxer. It looked like Slim was giving Rex’s raw fingers and palms a “wrap” that was likely something he learned during those old boxing days. The tape, and the attention, seemed to be helping Rex’s confidence as well as his comfort. I could see that Rex was feeling more comfortable, and he was more confident that Moto 2 would be doable.
I filled the gas tank to avoid the flames of the on-going frame welding, and did all the bike prep I could while staying away from the welders. John finished welding just as the first paddock call came for Moto 2. At the same time that I was installing the tank, Slim had finished Rex’s hand wraps. In moments, I pulled the CZ off the work stand while Rex was getting suited up. Rex was getting lots of help getting dressed, in an effort to save his hands for the Moto. As John Bassett set aside the torch set, I called him over and just asked …. “will the welds hold?” While wiping the river of sweat from his forehead he quietly said “the welds will hold … but the Czech metal right next to the welds will break”.... soon. I wanted to ask him how long it might last, but I realized that it didn’t matter … we were off to Moto 2
I rolled the bike to the staging area as early as I could because we were still going to get 3rd choice at the gate. As I pushed the bike up to the start gate, I burned my right leg a few times on parts of the frame that were still scorching hot from the welding of a few minutes earlier. This moto, I would start the bike and hold it, to keep Rex from having to touch anything until the last possible moment. I fired up the bike and held it upright as Rex climbed on. At the moment that he first grabbed the vibrating handlebars, I saw his whole body shutter for just a moment from the pain … and then in the next moment, he shook off the pain, and looked ready for business.
A minute later, the gate dropped, and I started my sprint to the pit-board area. Rex got a 6th or 7th place start, and under the circumstances, I was very happy with that. Rex actually did a great job of holding his position, even after the dreaded chattering noise returned. It was clear that the frame was fully broken again by the half way flag. I was just praying that the bike, and Rex’s hands, would make it all the way to the finish …miraculously, both did. Rex’s two moto finishes netted a 7th overall, and I felt like that was darn good considering the problems we had to overcome.
Back in the pits after the second moto, the crowds were bigger and closer than ever. Rex & I had plenty to be proud of after the day’s racing was done. But given the roller coaster of the day’s dramas, neither Rex nor I was in much of a mood to linger on for any kind of post-race celebrating. I quickly got the truck loaded up while others helped Rex remove his race outfit and hand tape. There were countless folks wanting to come over to congratulate Rex on a great ride, but it was a bit awkward because Rex’s hands were so thrashed that he couldn’t shake anyone’s hand. We unceremoniously climbed into the box van, and slowly rolled our way out of the track. The continuing rock star treatment from the fans during our exit was a bit exciting and encouraging … but it didn’t take the sting out of the missed chances of the day.
The conversation that Rex and I shared on the drive home was not the normal “we shocked the hell out of em” banter. We both knew how close Rex came to being able to win, and we were both very pumped. But between the destroyed chassis on the race bike, and Rex’s now swelling hands, it was hard to get any real joy out of that moment. On the positive side, we knew we had put CZ on the map in a big way, and we were certain to get a new batch of fresh “factory caliber” 250s and 400s for the upcoming races of summer. For the rest of the drive home, we let our imaginations wonder what great new things now lay in the future.
During the long quiet pauses on the way home, I realized that at no time during the whole weekend did we get visited by even one representative from CZ. I saw Suzuki and Honda employees around our pit all weekend long … but never one CZ person. I couldn’t help but wonder to myself “Why weren’t they there to help, or even just give us a few atta-boys?” It was a mystery to me … until the following week.
Getting Congratulations … CZ Style
Monday afternoon, Rex got a call from CZ, and they asked how soon we could come down with all our bikes and spares (except for his 250 practice bike). With hands still hurting, Rex told them we could make it in the next day. We were certain that they were having us trade in all our production based racing hardware for a batch of “center-port” pseudo-factory bikes. We figured we would need time to get the new bikes ready for the upcoming races of summer, so we couldn’t wait to load up the old bikes and parts. At the same time, I gathered up all my notes on the buildup of the USGP bike, and rewrote them in a tidy way fit to present to the tech guys at CZ. There was no doubt that they would want to know how we made a stock CZ400 into a potential world beater. By day’s end, we had all our “production” stuff loaded up in the truck, and ready to trade in. Rex & I were both excited and we looked forward to the hero’s reception from the folks at CZ.
We arrived at CZ the next day, beaming with the pride that seasoned warriors wear. Sure we didn’t win the USGP, but Rex and CZ were the biggest news of the week in the motocross world. Shortly after arriving, we got plenty of help getting the bikes and parts unloaded from the box van. I started sweeping out all the leftover Carlsbad dirt in the van so the new bikes would have a clean place for the ride home. The CZ folks called Rex in for a face to face meeting, and I grabbed my buildup notes to share with the tech guys while Rex took care of the bigger details. But just like the race at Carlsbad, no one came over to share the stories of the bike, or the weekend, … or anything. I waited in the cleaned and empty box van for the better part of an hour before Rex came walking out. He gave me a quick “let’s go” that did not sound positive. I figured that we had to drive somewhere else to get the new bikes, and maybe Rex was bent out of shape about it. But Rex just steered the box van out onto the road, and then on to the freeway headed home.
Rex & I weren’t lifetime pals, but I had known him long enough to read him … and the read I got wasn’t good. Finally, in a voice of frustration, Rex explained that the CZ guys were furious that we had altered the “perfect” race bike that they had given us for the USGP. They were convinced that he could have hole-shotted and won the race on the bike they gave us. They said the bike they built us bike would not have broken the frame the way our defective modified race bike did. The CZ folks seemed convinced that “I” had made all the engine and frame modifications to the USGP bike. So they stipulated that Rex could only keep his CZ ride as long as his mechanic (meaning “me”) didn’t touch any of his CZ race or practice bikes ever again. As Rex was telling it, it sounded like a bad joke, but Rex was not a practical joker …This was real. The rest of the drive home was silent.
It didn’t take me long to realize that if I wasn’t allowed to touch any of Rex’s bikes, I was out of a job … and a place to live. When Slim got home from work and got the same news, he quickly realized the same truth. Slim also realized that I was taking the fall for “all” the mods done to the USGP bike, and he obviously felt bad for that. Slim took me to the side to let me know he would cover me for a few of weeks. But at the same time, I needed to be finding another job and another home. I was glad to have the added time to transition into another life, and made the most of it. Within a few weeks, I was hired by DG Performance owner, Gary Harlow, to run the race team and research department at DG…. And that is another long story for another time.
I have always been the type of person who tries to draw a positive lesson from every drama that came my way. I refuse to believe the cynical idiom “no good deed goes unpunished”. But even after thirty-plus years, the positive lesson of my CZ experience still escapes me. Nothing about my treatment from CZ was just. Perhaps the only small justice was that (after that week) no open class CZ would ever again score a national level victory in the USA….and my future victories were just beginning.
However, in a weird way, the shortsighted nit-wits at CZ did get their wish. For the next 35 years of my career as a race mechanic, my hands would never again “touch” a CZ motorcycle.
|Holeshot Turn 1||Holeshot from the gate|
|Showing off the Hoover Pipe armor||The dreaded FIM scale|
|Driving away from the pack||Roosting off a turn while leading ... no one in sight|
|My pit ....... my pit signature carpet ..... and my right shoe||Another shot in the pits|
|Out in the lead for the cameras||Another Hoover pipe armor shot|
|two racers ......36 years later||The Bel-Ray shirt I wore that day (medium...It no longer fits :-(|