Cycle News

Cycle News 2013 Issue 01 Jan 08

Cycle News is a weekly magazine that covers all aspects of motorcycling including Supercross, Motocross and MotoGP as well as new motorcycles

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Page 92 of 99

CN III ARCHIVES P94 BY LARRY LAWRENCE A LEGEND AT THE LEDGES T he 1977 season was a very good one for Ducati. The struggling Italian maker began making a turnaround during that period and a lot of it had to do with success on the racetrack. In March of that year Cook Neilson raced a pumped up, Phil Schillingbuilt 750 SS to victory in the Daytona Superbike race. That victory proved to be one of the most important wins in the history of the company. Four months later a group of racers pooled together their resources, gathered at a bumpy road course in Northeastern Ohio with hundreds of other like-minded endurance racers, and pulled off an upset in the 24 Hours of Nelson Ledges endurance road race. At Nelson, GT Racing/Group 4 (with riders Fred Kling, Jonathan White, Reg Heal and Craig Morris) used a sharp-handling 1974 Ducati 750 SS (punched out to 864cc) to defeat the favored and defending series champs Lester Wheels on a powerful, but slightly clumsy Kawasaki 1000. The underdog victory only added the growing fame of the Nelson 24 and the burgeoning endurance road-racing scene in America. While lesser known than Neilson's Daytona victory, GT Racing's win over the big-bore Japanese multis at Nelson Ledges certainly built on the Italian maker's ethos of brains over brawn. A well-sorted frame and suspension, matched with a tractable mill, featuring a broad powerband could still hold off the awesome muscle the big Japanese fourcylinders were bringing to the fore throughout the 1970s. The 24 Hours of Nelson was just starting to come into its own as a well-known American road race by 1977. The event originated in 1969, a brainchild of Don Bartram and the Ohio Competition Riders, a group that boasted a roster that included riders like Ronnie Rall, George Roeder and John Penton. Only 10 teams competed that first year, but they doubled that in 1970 and by 1971 the event actually made money and its future was secured. The legends of the Ledges were legion. Fog, rain, flood, heat, oil, smoke, potholes, mud and frogs were all part of the 24-hour equation. Over the years it became a popular pastime for magazine staffs to send a team out to tackle Nelson Ledges. That made the race even more popular. The black T-shirt crowd showed up in hordes, not so much to watch the race, but as a convenient place to throw a 24-hour blowout party. Some alcohol-fueled ideas by the fans were better in concept than in reality. One journalist was invited to watch the race from atop a wob-

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