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2008 Runway Romp in North Bay

Runway Romp in North Bay, Andrea on the NS250 VRRA # 418 The final race of the season for the VRRA is the 'Runway Romp' in North Bay Ontario, a temporary racetrack installed on the runways and taxiways of the Jack Garland airport, and a track that offers racers a unique challenge.

Airports were a common venue for motorcycle races in the post-WWII era (although neither my bike nor I are old enough to remember that). Now airport racing venues are uncommon, and the Runway Romp gives vintage racers a chance to explore their roots.

The drive up to North Bay in early September is usually spectacular with fall colours; this year the leaves are just starting to change, and the dreary wet weather reduces the landscape to brown-greens and green-browns, and dark wet rock cuts. The experience of driving north to a later season seems a suitable way to end the racing year. I may still enjoy a month or more of street riding, but summer is definitely behind us now. Crisp nights bundled up in my tent are part of what I look forward to at North Bay; the chance to camp at a running airport is a rare treat too.

Justin, Scott and Tim V. - the 'Pieces of Eight' pits at North Bay we entertain ourselves in the pits - Laura taking a picture of Tim S.
Tim and I arrive around 5pm on Friday, Scott and Justin have already arrived and set up next to the North Bay racers Tim V. and Laura. Quick greetings are exchanged, and then there's a flurry of set-up activity, tent and pit tent, and all the accoutrements, then through registration, so we can get our bikes through technical inspection.

Scott and Steve Bond in the Tech Line on Friday at the Runway Romp

The line up for technical inspection isn't quite the chore it sounds, you often get a chance to chat with riders you haven't seen for a while, and meet new riders. You get to hear about bike updates and technical challenges encountered by fellow riders too. Sometimes the mood of the lineup is less relaxed on Saturday morning.

Laura and I wanted to walk the track before dark, so we rushed though tech, with bikes and gear, then collected our cameras for a track walk. (photos online soon!)

We were concentrating on trying to find workable racing line around the tar strips and frost heaves and between the pylons and straw bales. The track surface changes multiple times too - the first corner transitions from asphalt to concrete and back to asphalt. The pylons and straw bales that denote the limits of the track are a visual distraction I find challenging to race around. I find I have trouble finding the right place to look because there are so many things to draw the eye. Several riders were distracted by airplanes taking off and overshot the hairpin.

Tim V's starter system is much in demand, Justin is starting his bike in this photo Is that a pengin smoking next to a gas can?
Practice went well on Saturday, the first practice session I concentrated on finding a line I liked. I found quite a few lines I didn't like, but by the end of the second practice I was getting a better feel for the layout. The frost heave between corners 2 and 3 had acted like a magnet last year, but a slightly different arrangement of cones this year helped me find a route around that particular obstruction. The dip on the back taxiway was spitting me off the seat, but I already knew my rear suspension needs work over the winter.

The biggest barrier to going faster seemed to be my traction, I felt like I had very poor grip in corner one and the fast corner onto the back runway straight (corner 6?). Both were places on the track I had the motor to go faster, but I didn't feel like I could trust my traction, after I felt the rear wheel sliding a few times. Wet weather didn't help promote trust in my tires either.

Sunday in the pits at North Bay Runway Romp Laura and Andrea - waiting at the oil check for our turn on the track for practice
It wasn't until the heat race on Saturday that I understood my traction problems in corner one. When the whole field charged into the first corner I saw a big cloud of dust and heard gravel pinging off my helmet. The sudden realization of the source of my traction concerns distracted me, and so did the wash of airborne debris, but there were still riders behind me when I got through the hairpin. In practice managed to find a line I liked through the hairpin, and my first gear is more effective there than most bikes it seems. In the race I find myself in traffic in the hairpin more often, and as often as not wide of my line. Having experimented with a wide assortment of lines in this corner seems to have helped, eventually.

Tim on the Period 1 350 Honda Tim Voyer was racing earlier in the season
practice session at the VRRA North Bay Runway Romp

VRRA North Bay Runway Romp airport circuit

The P4/F3 Final on Sunday was a wet race, my first of the season, despite many wet trackdays in a very rainy summer. In my practice my tires felt slippery, so I wasn't feeling like a hard charging race. I started poorly, and chased the bikes ahead of me hard through the first lap. A momentary loss of traction in corner six on the second lap took the wind out of my sails, and although I'd been gaining on Bruce ahead of me 'till then, I saw the gap between us grow after that. Steady, smooth racing and bringing the bike home in 1 piece seemed priorities after that. I was sorry to see the end of the racing season, but I was happy enough to see the checkered flag at the end of the last race.

heat race on Saturday at the Runway Romp VRRA races VRRA North Bay Runway Romp heat races for the P4/F3 class
vintage motorcycle racing at the Jack Garland airport in North Bay Ontario Where else can the marshals take shelter under the wings of airplanes? Where else can we race across tar strips, frost heaves, paint lines and constantly changing surfaces? Is there any other place I can camp for the weekend next to the taxiways at a running airport? North Bay is a beautiful city, and the airport is an amazing and unique place to race. Thanks North Bay! I'm already looking forward to next year's Runway Romp!

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VRRA 2008 Racing Season:

  • Quinte TT - June 6, 7, 8
  • Mosport Vintage Festival - Aug. 15, 16, 17
  • North Bay Runway Romp - Sept. 6, 7

Vintage Road Racing Association - Motorcycle Vintage Racing
For more information on the Vintage Road Racing Association please visit www.vrra.ca

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