Thursday, July 5, 2012

The BSA SWEEP, Daytona 1954 (as published in Road Racing World Jan 2004)

 BSA, as one of the world's great motorcycles for almost 70 years (1903-1972) had many moments in the spotlight.

Winning the Maudes Trophy for endurance at the International 6 Day Trials in 1952, Dick Mann’s Daytona victory on the Rocket III in 1971 and the dominating performance of the 500 cc Gold Star singles at The Isle of Man in the 60s’ were big ones.
However, without a doubt the finest day for BSA was at Daytona Beach, Florida in March 1954 in the prestigious Daytona 200 Mile Motorcycle Classic.  What better way to relive that day on the old beach/road course than to talk with the man who brought the BSA 500 Star Twin home 1st of an elite field of 111. Bobby Hill. In his own words. 50 years later.
The Road to Daytona: “I started racing motorcycles in 1941 and won 7 races the first year, racing Harley-Davidsons.
Then the war broke out and I spent 4 years in Marine Corps. When I got out of the Marines a friend had a race prepared Indian waiting for me. Within 2 weeks I was racing again and winning.The Indian Dealers in Ohio sponsored me.They taught me how to work on the bikes. They set me up with a bench at Shoppies Indian Sales in Columbus, Ohio,right next to their top mechanic, Slim Jepson. Working right along side of Slim, he could help me and teach me while he was working on the street bikes. That’s how I learned to work on motorcycles.
Hill did most of the mechanics and preperation himself.
Then in 1951 a fellow named Dick Gross came by to see me. I was in a little bit of a slump and he said he could help me. He had a 4-cam system and a way of setting up the bikes, limiting the oil flow, that he put in my Indian. It was especially good on the mile tracks. I started winning again with Dick’s system. We were hard to beat; the bike was always prepared for the race. I had very few mechanical failures. I did almost all the work and preparation myself.”
Dick Gross installed a winning
system on Bobby's Indian
In 1952 and 1953, using Dick Gross’s system, riding the Indian, Bobby Hill had unprecedented racing success. In ’52 Bobby won 5 of the 7 Nationals held that year. In ’53 he won 44 races, finished 2nd 10 times and 3rd 6 times.
“Being sponsored was much different then than it is now. Basically, they provided a motorcycle and some parts. Your pay was what you won racing. You got to keep what you won. You traveled around the country to the races, paying your own expenses.  Bill Tuman and I paired up a lot; we had a station wagon and hauled the bikes on a trailer. We went all over the country, Texas, California, and Florida. Everyone was real nice to us. The Indian dealers took good care of us.”

“My main bike was Indian. I raced Indians more than anything. Indian was the importer and U.S. distributor for Nortons in the early 50s and some of us would ride Nortons at certain tracks and at Daytona. Dick Klamfoth had 3 wins at Daytona on Nortons in 49, 51 and 52.   Then in 52 Indian stopped importing the Nortons so this gave BSA the opportunity to sign me, Klamforth and some of the top riders to ride BSA at Daytona.  Roland Pike of BSA came over from England to the United States in 1952 and set up the deal for us to ride the BSAs.”

BSA execs make final inspection at the Birmingham, England factory before shipping the bikes to Daytona 

March 1954, Daytona Beach, FL: The bright Florida sunshine is even brighter, reflecting off the crystal white sand and blue Atlantic Ocean of Daytona Beach. It’s early Sunday afternoon and instead of bathing beauties and family picnics this area just 9 miles south of Main St. is crowded with 111 of the worlds best two wheeled racing machines and the top riders.  The sound of highly tuned internal combustion engines almost drowns out the pounding surf. A strong 20-mile per hour wind blows out of the North.  Racing fans fill bleachers at the North and South turns and line the beach and sand dunes along the asphalt paved backstretch, which is an extension of US Highway A1A.  What a contrast was presented, the normally quiet and tranquil Florida beach, the scene of a world-class motorcycle event.  The smell of the salt air mixed with the distinct aroma of racing fuel. The cry of the seagulls and the sound of wind and surf mix with the roar of the racing engines.  The excitement level was sky high in anticipation for participants and fans alike. 
They were all there with their best machinery and riders. Harley Davidson, Indian, Triumph, and Norton. But BSA came with a plan, a team and a purpose. Five motorcycles carefully prepared by the factory at 47 Armory Rd. in Birmingham, England, UK. Two 500cc BSA twins, Shooting Stars, and three 500 cc singles, Gold Stars.  The former gun factory (Birmingham Small Arms) from England really wanted this one. They signed the top riders including the former national champ, Bobby Hill and 3-time Daytona winner (49, 51 and 52 on a Norton 500 single), Dick Klamfoth.

Tommy McDermitt & BSA factory team tune Tommy's Gold Star on the
Jungle Road.
Bobby Hill: “BSA had the bikes shipped to Daytona. Englishman Roland Pike was in charge of whole deal.  They brought their own tuner from England, Cyril Halliburn.  All we had to do was show up with riding gear and helmet. They brought the bikes and we rode them.  We kept all our winnings. Paid our own expenses. We had very little practice. There was no place to practice. The beach was not available except for the race. There was a road out of town called the Jungle Road. We’d go out there and do some straight away runs and a little tuning. But, this was a public road and we could only do so much.  So, when we started the race it was our first time on the track. A lot of guys fell off or went over the bank.
They always adjusted the start of the race with the tides. They started at high tide, so as the race progressed you got a wider beach.  They lined us up 10 or 12 to a row and started in waves 10 seconds apart. Dick Klamfoth and I were both riding BSA Star Twins and we both were running up front."
Joe Leonard on a Harley-Davidson lead the pack of 111 roaring motorcycles at the start, closely followed by Ed Kretz on a Triumph, with Hill and Klamfoth in 3rd and 4th ,the leaders left a dense cloud of salt spray and sand suspended over the course. By lap 6 Hill and Klamfoth had the BSA twins running 1st and 2nd. The two veterans battled for position the rest of the day.
“The weather conditions at Daytona were about the same every year. Starting out heading North up the beach you had a 20 mile and hour head wind. Fighting that wind and riding on the sand was tough. The BSA had 4 speeds with 3rd and 4th very close. 3rd gave you about 5,800 rpm and 4th would go the about 6,400. After 2 miles up the beach you had a banked u-turn and headed south on the 2-lane asphalt for a 2 mile run to the south turn.  Toward the end the tide would be coming back in, so the track narrowed, but by then the races were spread out so it wasn’t too bad.
The difference for BSA in 1954 that resulted in their domination of the race was a couple of things. The short clip on handlebars resulted in a much more aerodynamic riding position. The Indians and Harleys had big, wide handlebars. The short bars got us out of the wind.  Also, the BSA had 4 gears (3 for the Harleys and Indians). Gear 3 & 4 were very close. The BSA people wanted us to rev as close to 6,400 as possible but coming North on the beach into that headwind if we were falling off a little we could downshift to 3rd and keep our speed, revving about 5,800. Anything over 6,400 would destroy the engine. We wanted to be churning rather than lugging. If the bike was “lugging” in 4th I’d downshift to 3rd. On the coquina sand, coming up the beach into that 20 MPH headwind we did about 105 MPH. The gearing and riding position gave us an advantage. We would do about 130 MPH heading south on the asphalt, aided by the tailwind.
I am very proud of that win. It was a hard race to win. You had to have a lot going for you. Good riding skill, endurance and good equipment. Then there were so many things that could happen. Your equipment could fail, you could blow your engine, and you could crash or fall off. It was a very hard race to win, the sand, coquina shell and the rough asphalt. There was a 2 to 3 inch drop off from the road to the shoulder; if you went off the road you could not get back on at any speed. Almost 49 laps of the 4.1-mile course.  Two miles north on the beach and then you had to sit up and brake sliding the rear wheel into the banked north turn. Daytona was the only race where we ran with brakes. Part of the breaking was just your body against the wind when you sat up on the bike. As the race wore on the ruts entering the north turn became so deep that they were very hazardous. You geared down to 1st gear and went thru the turn at about 45 MPH. Because of the sand and deep ruts it was important that you pulled thru the turn rather than try to sail thru the turn. Then you headed down the two-lane asphalt backstretch. The asphalt was rough and dangerous, particularly at the start, with over 100 riders fighting for position on that narrow road.
It was treacherous.  At least the beach provided a wider racing surface. You had to deal with changing tides, dodge puddles in low areas of the beach and dodge spectators on the asphalt. One year a spectator was hit and killed. About ¾ of the way down the asphalt backstretch there was a hump in the road. Just enough so you could not see over it. You never knew what might be in front of you when you came over that hump. Fans were always crossing the course in front of us. They did not always realize how fast we were going. It made for some close calls.” “The mixture of sand and salt on the beach churned up by over 100 motorcycles created a sticky mist that would fog your goggles so that you could hardly see. But you dare not take your hand off the handlebar to wipe them. I had a powder puff on my glove, when I came off the beach at the North turn I’d wipe the goggles with the powder puff as I headed south on the asphalt. The gas tank size regulation made it necessary to pit for gas at around 100 miles. I always got a pair of clean goggles during that stop.” “Dick Klamfoth and I ran pretty close the whole race. He was only 20 seconds behind at the finish. His bike was a BSA Star Twin like mine. The next 3 finishers were BSA 500 cc single cylinder Gold Stars.” Race time: 2 hours, 7 minutes, 22.7 seconds –average speed 94.24 MPH.

Dick Klamfoth comments on his 2nd place finish: “I can’t remember if they asked me to ride the BSA or if I asked for the opportunity. But, I was there on the BSA. BSA sent the bikes and a tuner from England, Ceral Halliberne. The beach and road course was not open for any practice so we tested and tuned on a back road near Daytona. You had to do some testing to see if your carburetors were jetted properly, etc.”  Overall BSA did not have that much racing success but they sure ran and held up that day. The race was not very safe. Over 100 riders started. I don’t think they turned anyone away. There were guys out there that did not know what they were doing. One year I was racing with a guy and he decided go around me as we came on the beach. Well, he tumbled end over end, I was able to miss him but I hit his bike and it took me out. That backstretch was really rough. My bike was the same as Bobby’s except mine had a swinging arm rear suspension. All the others were rigid. Mine was, too. But on the last day of testing my bike went a little sour. I was on a back up bike with the swing arm. I don’t know how Bobby beat me; I guess he just out ran me. I ran as fast as I could and really did not know if he was ahead or if I was. It was close but at the end Bobby was the winner”.
Dick Klanfoth (2nd) & Tommy McDermott (3rd) discuss
the BSA Sweep 57 years later.

Bobby Hill continues: “It was a big day for BSA. The BSA distributors in the US, Hap Alzana in the west and Alf Childs, Eastern Distributor from Nutley, NJ threw a big party for us.”

“In those days there were other races that I won that carried more prestige than Daytona. The mile race at Springfield, Ohio was one. I’ve been elected to 4 different “Hall of Fames”. At the time I don’t know that the Daytona win was that big a deal for me. But now, looking back, the recognition I’ve received as a Daytona champion, I’d say it was the highlight for me.  The rules at the time allowed you to race a bike for 10 years after it went out of production; the last Indian was produced in ’48 so I had to give up the Indian in ’57. I rode a Harley in 58 and ’59. My last race was Daytona, 1959 on the Harley. I finished 5th.”
After his 2nd place in ’54 Klamforth decided he wanted to race the BSA Gold Star (500 cc single) in the US. His dedication to excellence was so great that he paid his own way to England to work in the BSA factory. This paved the way for Dick to go on to a very successful 7 or 8 years on the Gold Star, winning many nationals. His BSA was a little short on top speed for the mile tracks but Klamforth and his Gold Star were hard to beat on ½ milers.
It is ironical that BSA, after dominating the 200 in 1954 did not win another 200 until 17 years later, at the Daytona International Speedway, when Dick Mann rode a 3 cylinder BSA, the Rocket III to victory.  A year later, in 1972, the last BSA rolled out the door of the factory. The companies motorcycle division the victim of Japanese technology and corporate mismanagement.

There is a monument over on the beach dedicated to the Daytona 200 Champions of that old beach/road course. That’s where the 200 was run from the start in 1937 until 1959, after that they moved to the new Daytona International Speedway.  Dick Klamfoth is almost single handedly responsible for that monument.
Learn more about the Monument at the web site:
Bobby Hill,  “To be included on that monument means very much to me. No one can vote you into that monument. You have to earn your place by winning on the track. Any one who has the chance should visit that monument; it’s something to see.”