Cycle News

Cycle News 2020 Issue 48 December 1

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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CN III ARCHIVES BY SCOTT ROUSSEAU R on Wood may not have been the engineer that the great Shell Thuett was and is, but just like Thuett did with Elliott Schultz and the Royal Enfield, Wood took a hot young rider and an obscure brand and made history at a venue renowned for history—Ascot Park in Gardena, California. About a dozen years af- ter Schultz's reign of terror, Wood, his trick Norton twins, and a Northern California rider named Alex Jorgensen were the scourge of Ascot's weekly flat track races. Only, Wood and Jor- gensen went one better, actually scoring an AMA Grand National victory on the half mile while racing against the all-conquering Harley-Davidson XR750s in 1978. Not bad for Wood, a guy who was kind of late bloomer on the flat track scene. "I just got interested in it in the early '70s," Wood says. "I had gone to Ascot, and I was sitting with a bunch of my motorcycle buddies, and we were watching the races. This one guy sitting next to me, Jeff Jahns, says, 'I could go faster than those guys.' So, I said, 'Okay, I'll build you a bike.' My first flat tracker was P86 Steve Jentges, who still works for me now but was partners in C&J racing frames, weld it together," Wood says. "The first one was really ahead of the troops. The seat, tank and num- ber plates were all one piece. It was a tubular frame, and I'm pretty sure I was the first one to build a steering head where you could rotate the [bearing] cups and change the fork angle. I painted the frame white and the gas tank baby blue, [Laughs.] The guys thought that one was a little too wide where your legs go around the seat, but they obviously hadn't ridden Harleys. Anyway, that was the first one, but then for the second one, I decided to make a large, three- inch-diameter tube frame that circled the whole engine—from the steering head, underneath the engine and then back to the steering head." Exemplifying Wood's innova- tive spirit, the big-tube frame was created with more than just extra rigidity in mind. "The Nortons were notorious for having a lot of back-pressure in the engine, and they would puke quite bit of oil," Wood says. "So, I used the bottom of the a Ducati 250. That's how I got started." It was only natural that Wood would eventually build a big twin, but his choice of engines defied conventional wisdom. Rather than choose a Harley or one of the more commonly used verti- cal twins from Yamaha, Triumph or BSA, he would end up with a Norton, for no particular reason other than because one was eas- ily available. "A friend of mine used to own Champion Motors in Costa Mesa [California], and I was over there fooling around one day, and they had this Norton Commando, and somebody had run into a truck with it," Wood recalls. "The whole front end was gone. I looked at it and said, 'You know, I think I'll try and make a flat tracker out of this thing.' I bought the engine for $200. There were a few Nortons already running around on flat tracks, so I wasn't the first." But if Wood's Norton wasn't the first one, it was definitely original, featuring a unique chas- sis that would incorporate all sorts of features stemming from whatever ideas popped out of Wood's fertile mind. "I designed the frame and had THE NORTON THAT WOOD INTO GOLD

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