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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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VOL. 50 ISSUE 1 JANUARY 8, 2013 bly, five-story high piece of improvised scaffolding, already loaded to the hilt. He wisely declined the offer. While the action in the infield was a compelling sideshow, by the late 1970s many teams were taking the race pretty seriously. Chief among those was Lester Wheels Racing, the first serious endurance road racing squad in America with backing from a company that helped usher in alloy wheels to the sportbike market. Coming into the 1977 edition of the Nelson 24, Lester Wheels were the defending WERA champs, had won Nelson two years straight and was definitely the team to beat. GT Racing (out of Lansing, Michigan) and Group Four (out of nearby Ashtabula, Ohio) combined their resources to take on the Lester Wheels juggernaut. GT had already won a round of the WERA Series earlier in the season at Grattan (Michigan) Raceway, so they were far from an inexperienced underdog. Another big team in the race, also backed by Lester Wheels, was Cardinal Sport Cycle. They were running a special Tri-Mil-developed Kawasaki as a shakedown run at that year's famous Bol d'Or endurance race. Canadian Superbike ace Lang Hindle sprinted away from the rest of the field on the Tri-Mil Kawasaki, but after a loose battery and two crashes, the team parked the innovative endurance machine. GT battled in the first half of the race with a Canadian squad, White Racing on a Kawasaki Z-1, for the lead, but then Lester Wheels, after early electrical issues, came zooming to the front with Superbike racer Frank Mrazek and sprinted away from the field, looking for all the world like they would earn a third-straight victory. But then came darkness. On the strength of night riding by White, a Nelson Ledges specialist, and Morris, they actually shaved a couple laps out of Lester's lead during the night, when the fog and flashes of brilliant white from headlights pointing off in every direction, created an eerie atmosphere often causing inexperienced riders to become disori- P95 ented resulting in dramatically slower lap times. Strategy also came into play. "We were running an hour and a half between pit stops," rider Jon White recalled. "Lester could probably go an hour at a time at the most. So that was one place we were making up time." Deep into the night Lester had an issue during a pit stop and the bike wouldn't fire. GT took over the lead. The Lester Wheels Kawasaki eventually did re-fire, but with just four hours to go the bike blew up and GT cruised home to victory, the first non-Japanese motorcycle to win the event. "We won that race on fuel [fewer stops], handling, planning and preparation," said crewmember Chip Hoagland. Even though they hadn't originally planned on contesting the entire series, with the Nelson 24 Hour victory, GT Racing had a prime opportunity to win the WERA National Endurance Championship. The team went on to score podiums at all but a single round of the series and won that year's championship over Lester Wheels. "Endurance racing was still a pretty laid-back proposition at that point," said White. "But it started getting a lot more serious in the following years." GT Racing gradually dissolved, but the team had a lasting legacy. Craig Morris went on to win the AMA 250 Grand Prix race at Elkhart Lake in 1981. Fred Kling's son Fritz would become an AMA road-racing star in the 1990s; and squads like Team Hammer, Cycle Tech Racing and the Human Race Team pushed WERA National Endurance to all-time popularity heights in the 1980s. The 24 Hour of Nelson Ledges became an iconic event during that period with riders like John Kocinski, David Aldana, Scott Russell and Kevin Schwantz racing, but the track didn't keep up with the times and unfortunately America's most legendary 24 Hour road race died by the mid-1990s. CN

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