Cycle News - Archive Issues - 1970's

Cycle News 1979 08 22

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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Mechanic Dave Arnold and his rider. Marty Smith. await the stan of a National motocross, Profile Golden Ratchet Tuner Dave Arnold By Alan Paulsen 14 Motocross is as much a tuner's war as it is a rider's challenge, and Marty Smith's wrench, Dave Arnold, would be the first to tell you that it would be his position in jeopardy if things don't brighten up this racing season. Arnold won the prestigious S-K Tools Golden Ratchet Award as motocross tuner of the year in 1977. The tuner for Smith's rival and current AMA 500cc National Champ Rick Burgett. is Bill West, also a Golden Ratchet winner for his tuning efforts last year. Both are graduates of the Motorcycle Repair Curriculum at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, where top notch racing machine builders and tuners have been learning their business for the past dozen years. Friendly rivalry between tuners is turning into serious business as both prepare machines that hopefully will carry their respective rider once again into the winner's circle. While Smith and Burgett are being whisked to their next National via first class air fare courtesy of Honda and Yamaha. Arnold and West are piloting their motorhomes to the. next event with the machinery in tow, hopeful for petrol at every stop, big company expense accounts notwithstanding. If the scooters don't arrive, the riders don't ride, And whodoyathink gets hung out to dry? Arnold quite literally retraces the glory days of the privateers as an endless phantasmagoria of cheap motel rooms, fast food joints and truck stops become pan of the memory while crisscrossing the country several times a season ovet the interstates. Honda has six trucks in America for their riders and two in Europe getting six to eight miles to the gallon, each being driven 60,000 miles a year. Gone are the vans of yore, replaced by a motorhome in which Arnold packs his wife, Linda, and iiaughter Michele, not to mention the other. "babies" belonging to Marty Smith in a 12' by 7' cargo trailer being pulled behind. 'T-here isn't a lot of idle time while you're out on the road," Arnold says. "And you'r-e out so long during the year that it just makes your private time more enjoyable." Hence, the r;notorhome and family. While off the track, Burgett and Smith may say bello, but Arnold doesn't think anyone is too friendly. "You don't want to be best buddies when you're top racing competitors," Arnold assesses. On the other hand, he feels the tuners get along very well: "The mechanics share more of a family outing while on the road. We've got the same job to do, and we're going to the same places. We all get along. "The mechanics are where they should be, and I don't think they need to share the spotlight," Arnold says. "The spectator who sits in tbe stands really does associate with .the rider. especially if he rides himself, and I think it's the rider who should get the better part of the glory. Their expectancy for being in the glory span usually isn't that long for a lot of the racers. Their longevity for racing may be limited to five or six years, so they had better get it while they can and make good of it. "But being a team effort, we all share in a victoty_ It's a big factory effort; they're the ones putting the bikes, the riders, and the mechanics where they are." Continuing in a self-effacing vein, Arnold shrugs off the recognition he received for being top wrench. "The year Marty Smith won the 500cc National Championship, there weren't very many innovative things I did to the motorcycle. It was just fine tuning that year. It was a good motorcycle, and I was lucky enough not to have any breakdowns. The motorcycle was working very well that year." What happened to the fine edge last season? "I would have to say we had some mechanical problems with our five hundreds last ~ar. Honda made a new, very large displacement motor. We stuck with the same chassis we had in years before, and it created some problems in handling. We were always playing games last year during the Nationals, trying to catch up and make it work, Every weekend we were trying something desperately to get it working better than it was before." This season should go a little better, Arnold says hopefully. "There's a lot riding on the ability of the mechanic on the team this year," he freely admits. Arnold enrolled at L.A. Trade-Tech shortly after graduation from John Francis Henry Polytechnic High School in Southern California's San Fernando Valley, after reading about the program in a motocross magazine which did a comparison test of the various motorcycle mechanics training programs offered at the time. \ When he staned working for Honda, it was as a maintenance mechanic, a practice bike mechanic_ But there being a shortage of mechanics that would travel on the road, he was at the company for about three weeks when asked if he would like to embark_ Jon 'Rosenstiel was Smith's mechanic at the time, but after traveling for three years, Jon R wanted a -year off. Smith asked Arnold if he wanted the job. Honda pays a flat salary plus overtime when you're on the road, so Arnold, being young and fancy free, didn't object, despite the fact Honda doesn't have a bonus program for the mechanic_ There are some mechanics who'll change a rider every year just for the income. For those American mechanics who establish a name for themselves at one company, there are always riders who want to do really well on some different brand willing to pay 20 percent or so of their wins if that mechanic will come to work for him and the comp~ny he rides for. A few of the top ┬Ěname riders usually pay their mechanics a percentage. "The tuner's rapport with the rider is essential," deems Arnold, "because the riders are so closely matched in any National class, they have to feel that they have a mechanical advantage. As a mechanic, I must make the rider feel that his bike is special, that his bike is really fit for him and wouldn't work for anybody else, and that he feels he and his machine are really a combination maybe the other competitors don't have. And that give him a definite psychological advantage." The riders of Marty Smith's caliber have quite a bit to say about who they want for a mechanic, and that stipulation may even be part of their contract. . Smith won the 125cc championship in '74 and '75, then lost it in '76. Arnold started tuning 250s for Smith in '76, and they finished second in that class. The first year Honda placed him in the 500cc class, he won the championship with Arnold as top wrench. Smith also rode the 250cc class in '77, and came in second overall. With his limited experience prior to joining the Honda motocross team effort. Arnold admitted he's relied strongly on fundamentals and basics. "Formal training as I received at Trade-Tech broade.ns your whole outlook because when I'm working on a motorcycle, I understand more of what's going on. When you've already had the practical experience they give you at Trade-Toeh, you aren't afraid to tackle something. Many of the questions !>n the practical aptitude test I had to take at American Honda for employment consideration were many that I had answered at the college. All the questions they asked were directly related in some way to what I was taught. I would go so far as to say a Lot of the technical aspects I learned in school have provided the backbone for much that I do for the American Honda Motocross Racing Team." When preparing for any race, Arnold says he sets up a procedure that directs him right into that . particular race. "It may be more important in the 125cc class to have a good powerband and enough horsepower. The procedure in the 250cc and Open class may' be directed more toward suspension, because the 125s, I would say, are not as important in this regard due to tbeir lightness. You can get away with a lot more on a 125." Honda, says Arnold, has always built a high horesepower, short torque pattern on the dyno, and it makes gearing' very Critical. With a ShOTt powerband and high horsepower like that, you've got to have it geared just right for all the tight comers and still have it good for the top end speed. Arnold sayS Honda is attempting to get more away from that and develop machinery with European-style: powerbands that provide roll-on and are smooth, When you've got a long. smooth powerband, the rider doesn't have 10 shift as much. "A lot of tuning in the 500cc class boils down not to the amount of maximum horsepower you can get." Arnold explained, "but ~he rideability you can achieve. On our 500s last year, we actually did things to detune the motorcycle. Instead of having peak horsepower, we tuned to spread out the horsepower and played with primary gear ratios 50 the powerband was broader through each gear, Marty didn't have to shift as much. In the 500 I don't really think it's a race for how much horse'powt!r, or how well you can tune the motorcycle; it's how easy you can make it rideable. "I think there's a lot of manufacturers playing frame games now," Arnold continued. "They're really getting down to a big chasssis race because they're trying to design everything to work well with more travel. Everyone, though, is more or less becoming confined to the same dimensions. But there's still a big problem with frame flex, and getting the front and rear of the motorcycle tuned in together." crass,

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