1976 125 Nationals - Part 2
As told by Dave Arnold and Bill Buchka - Part 2
The 1976 125 National series consisted of a total of eight races that started on April 4th at Plymouth California (Hangtown) and ended August 29th in New Orleans Louisiana. At the half way point in the series was the 125 USGP held at Mid-Ohio on July 11th.. Due to the large amount of text and photos, part 2 will break at the 125 USGP at Mid-Ohio.
Many of the photos can be enlarged. Make sure you click on the "disclaimer letter" highlighted in red in Bill's interview, as it is a scan of the original disclaimer letter issued by Yamaha International after the claim was filed on Bob's bike. The claiming rule is explained at the bottom of this page and there is a memorabilia section to check out too. Just click on the links. I started this with three questions to both Dave and Bill and the remainder of the article is detailed race by race commentary. Also at the bottom is a link to "Memories of the 1976 125 Nationals " by Warren Reid. Make sure you read that, it's really good.
Preseason behind the scenes
What was your reaction to your new assignment?
Dave Arnold: To be honest, I was just a bit shocked to be given the assignment of being Marty's mechanic and helping defend his #1 plate for the 1976 125 season that then senior Honda mechanic (superstar in my eyes then and now) Jon R had earned together with Marty in the 74 & 75 season. I was relatively new and a bit less experienced, being hired into the Honda race shop in '74 as a general type mechanic to keep the practice bikes running for their relatively large team of seven riders.
Marty and I working together for the 1976 season and beyond was due to a whirlwind of circumstances from that point. Prior to this I had a short run filling in mechanic duties at the races for Chuck Bower & Billy Grossi at the end of '74. In the beginning of 1975, I worked with Rich Eierstedt until he got injured and then Jon R decided he didn't want to travel the second half of the season, so I was assigned to work with Marty Smith in the Trans-Am series on the RC500.
For 1976, Honda decided to race Marty in both Europe and the US to try and win both the 125 World and U.S. National titles. It was also decided that Jon R would go with Marty to Europe as that was the "big enchilada" and I would work on Marty's 125's here in the US. I was scared to death of the responsibility of defending the 125 National number one rider and bike. I can still remember Jon R reassuring me that all I had to do was "keep the bike running and Marty will do the rest."
Bill Buchka: The first time I heard anything about Bob Hannah was at the 1975 New Orleans 125/500 National. He was riding for DG in the 125 class and had passed out and was hauled away in an ambulance suffering from heat exhaustion. Later that year he was hired by Yamaha International to compete in the 1976 125 Nationals. When I first got the assignment to work with Bob, I thought, "this is going to be interesting" I had never worked with a rookie before and I had never gone after a 125 title. Yamaha's Don Dudek was working with Bob in the Southern California CMC races at the end of 1975 and after I got the assignment, I thought I would accompany them at a local CMC race at Carlsbad. Bob was riding a 125 that day in preparation for the 125 nationals and as I watched his race, while going down the long famous downhill, his bike was running out of gearing and he was pulling in the clutch to freewheel and gain more speed on the downhill. When I saw that determination, I knew we were going to be just fine. I said to myself, "This is a guy that really wants to compete and win."
I called upon my experience with Pierre Karsmakers whom I worked with a couple of years earlier and applied it to our effort with Bob. Pierre was a true professional, very competitive, and had an extremely high work ethic. I really wanted to maximize our opportunity to win the 125 Championship. Bob was also very dedicated and really understood the importance of physical training to win. The bike had to go two forty minute plus two lap motos and so did the rider. He realized that he would have to perform at his utmost not only from a riding point of view but also a stamina point of view.
When did you get your new bikes and how much time did you have for testing and set-up before Hangtown?
Dave Arnold: It's not crystal clear to me now exactly how long prior to the first 125 National at Hangtown that we received out new (Type 1) race bikes and equipment, but what I do remember in general was that the preparation was geared more towards Europe than in the states at first. I received a few faxes and phone calls from Jon R in Europe (prior to clear international phone lines) with their initial bike set-up and testing results which we applied to our national bikes as much as possible when they arrived. This was right before Hangtown and there was not much time to test. The '76 Type 1 bike was similar to the bike Marty used in '74 & '75 with minor refinements such as longer travel suspension front & rear. The biggest difference between the two bikes was the '76 bike used a back of the cylinder reed valve design whereas the '74/'75 bike utilized a case reed engine. The 76 Type 1 reed valve engine had a lot of power in the mid range but for some reason would cut out / pop at high rpm in the bumps which was difficult to eliminate by jetting. This created a characteristic which drove Marty crazy. It's a little bizarre looking back, but we ended up racing four different bikes during the '76 season. We started the season with the Type 1 bike, a modified production bike, a hybrid 75/76 Type 1 and then the all new Type 2 bike.
Bill Buchka: We got our new works OW27's about four weeks prior to Hangtown. Bob and I had two bikes and our teammate Danny Turner and his mechanic Ed Schiedler also received two bikes. We tested the bikes at every type of track that offered terrain similar to the tracks that would be on the national circuit. We went to Saddleback and Carlsbad for hard pack. Hangtown was a sand track so to prepare for that we tested at Santa Maria and we even tested in the desert. We tested in as many circumstances as we could in the limited time that we had. We started with the basic set-up as the bikes came from Japan and tried to narrow it down from there. We relied on information that we received from Japan and our own trial and error to arrive at a number of set-ups that accommodated the tracks we'd be racing on and Bob's needs. Initially Bob had a hard time communicating on the set-ups, which later improved as the season rolled on. Danny Turner and Ed Schiedler really helped us out with the initial set-up at first. Ed was a real 125 aficionado. We spent a lot of time testing gear ratios, suspension settings and jetting in a very short period of time. We also had an engineer from Japan, Mac Suzuki who traveled with us and who was our liaison with Headquarters in the U.S. and Japan.
Going into the first National at Hangtown, how confident were you? Who did you think would give you the most competition?
Dave Arnold: Have I mentioned I was nervous and overwhelmed by the responsibility of being the number one riders mechanic? (laughter) We knew that Marty was the guy to beat but also, the level of support was very high for so many riders. I'm sure Marty was by far considered the odds on favorite going into this event but even then the field was so damn deep during that period. There was Danny LaPorte, Danny Turner, Jeff Jennings, Tim Hart, Warren Reid, Broc Glover, Jimmy Ellis, Bob Hannah, Steve Wise, Danny "Magoo" Chandler, Mickey Boone and many more. Even outside of the factory efforts, the aftermarket companies had very competitive teams with very fast riders that could very much hang with the factory riders on any given day. There were between ten and fifteen riders that under the right circumstances could have won a moto in that championship.
I had only vaguely heard of Bob Hannah who over a pretty short period of time and with out very much equipment support had become very competitive at the local So. Cal. races. Plus earlier in the year, Bob had beat Steve Stackable in the Florida Winter-AMA series and I knew that anybody who beat Stackable on sand tracks had to be taken seriously. That said, I didn't believe.... scratch that....I'm positive I didn't expect for Bob Hannah to not only be so dominant against the other riders in the field at Hangtown, but run Marty down (who was out in front from the beginning) after a bad start and pulling off one of the biggest upsets in MX history.
Bill Buchka: Bob and I spent a lot of time together early on in the season during the Florida Winter-AMA series to learn who we were as individuals, what we wanted to accomplish and how we could best accomplish it as a team. We always made it a point to talk about who our competition was and how we were going to handle these riders and what their strengths and weaknesses were on the race track, as well as off the race track. For example, this guy is very good on hardpack, this guy is good in sand but has a tendency to fall off the pace in the last ten minutes. This guy has great conditioning so you're going to have to work extra hard to beat him. Based on what we knew and previous results, we pretty much had a good strategic file on who Bob was going to line up next to on every starting line. It wasn't just "Let's go out there and see what we can do."
For the start of the 125 series, we decided to focus on each race individually and adjust our strategy based on race events and circumstances or how the results would pan out for our competitors. We wanted to maximize each race opportunity and not look beyond each one until the series developed. We continued to utilize our strategic plan as the series went on.
Honda was trying to win the 125 World Championship and the 125 National Championship at the same time with Marty Smith. If anyone thinks that that didn't play into our strategic plan they're wrong. We knew Marty was on the frequent flyer program. We felt that was going to be an advantage to us in some way. That was a tremendous assignment for a guy competing at such a high level in such a physically demanding sport. To deal with six, seven, and eight hour time changes and try to maintain a winning edge in two different championships was a huge challenge for anyone. We knew how difficult it was to compete here and I can't imagine what Marty was faced with, trying to win a World Championship and a National Championship at the same time. By default, that was to our advantage and definitely on our radar screen.
We knew Marty Smith was the guy to beat but also the level of support was very high for so many riders. There were maybe fifteen riders that under the right circumstances could have won a moto in that championship.
The season Begins
Round 1: Hangtown April 4th
The starting line was filled with the most competitive racers ever to mount 125cc equipment in this country. Marty Smith, two time National Champion on a brand new fire engine red RC125 Honda; Billy Grossi and Danny LaPorte on works RA125 Suzuki's; Bob Hannah and Danny Turner brought out the new watercooled Yamaha 125s; Steve Wise on a factory Kawasaki; and the more than unusual assortment of super sanitary FMF, DG and T&M privateers.
At the drop of the first gate it was Marty Smith dropping the hammer on the pack and shrieking away to a five second lead over Grossi, LaPorte, Wise and Turner. Bob Hannah lingered only momentarily back in the thirties. Within nine of the most amazing laps in AMA 125 MX history, Bob Hannah had his Bill Buchka tuned OW27 in the lead. The crowd was stunned, many had never heard of Hannah, most were programmed to believe in the invincibility of mighty Marty, and no one, but no one, comes from the back to win against the pros. Smith was pressured, but for a rider who had won six straight Nationals last year it was an unusual position, and he stepped off momentarily. Grossi was third, LaPorte and local favorite Danny Turner diced it out for forth, with Grossi's Suzuki holding forth for the last three laps.
Was Hannah's first moto victory a fluke? How did he do it? Was it the watercooled OW27? After all Hannah was the rookie on the Yamaha team. In between motos, many spectators were trying to figure out what had just happened and who was this guy on the number 39 Yamaha. The Honda and Yamaha pits were mobbed as fans tried to figure out what the heck was going on.
Forty 12,000 rpm screams in the second moto signaled the answer as Marty Smith, with the highest revver of them all, was first to the corner. Hannah was second and then first. Smith went all out to regain the lead and for twenty minutes they played me-and-my-shadow. Then at the halfway mark, at the furthest part of the track from the pits, Marty's bike seized. When Hannah came around alone, the crowd was once again stunned. As Marty made the long walk back to the pits, a mass of fans walked along side and as his mechanic Dave Arnold pushed his bike through the crowd, it was like the parting of the red sea. Those that witnessed this said it was an unbelievable spectacle. Marty Smith was a hero to everyone at Hangtown that day. Meanwhile the unknown Yamaha rookie rode the remaining laps unchallenged for the win to go one-one for the day.
Dave Arnold: I was really afraid of what could happen at Hangtown even though Jon R assured me with his ("Just keep it running and Marty will do the rest") speech that everything would be OK. The weather was cool and damp and the track which was kind of sandy to begin with, got all rutted up and whooped out and in general turned into one of the roughest tracks I had ever seen. Also, the track was very long and it seemed like it took forever for the riders to come around, especially for the mechanics in the mechanic/signal area where we were unable to see 90% of the track. We couldn't see any of the racing to speak of except for the riders coming onto the long slightly uphill straight in front of us. It was agonizing waiting the nearly three minutes to see where your rider ended up every lap.
In the first moto, Marty got the holeshot and was in the lead which was all good except for this relatively unknown Yamaha rider Bob....Who? coming through the pack after a bad start and closing in on Marty every lap. I didn't know exactly what to think of that at first, but gave Marty the split as best I could not being able to watch the racing and hoping Marty wasn't being held up by any sort of bike problems. Bob continued to close, then follow and eventually take the lead. Marty made a championship effort to stay on pace with Bob but fell near the end giving the first moto win to Bob.
The second moto was a carbon copy of the first except Bob got a better start. Marty and Bob were battling for the lead for the first half of the race and then at about the half way point, Marty's bike broke. It happened at the furthest point from the mechanic's area and it was a super long walk to where the bike broke. It was easy to find Smitty as there was literally a sea of kids following him back to the pits. I have never seen anything like that prior or since. That mechanical problem and Marty not coming around played super heavy on me as it was my first race with Marty in the 125 class trying to uphold his prior to then dominant championship position within the class. The fears I had before the season began were now being realized. After Marty's and Jon R's flawless 1975 season, here we were in the first race of the season, having more trouble than expected setting up the new bike, Bob who? and his watercooled what? running us down in both motos, Marty's DNF in the second moto, the sea of fans following Marty back to the pits in utter disbelief and disappointment and a very embarrassed not worthy of living, bone head mechanic ME pushing the bike back to the pits, and all I had to do was what?.....Yeah right!!!
Bob winning that day was a big upset within the industry as he was relatively an unknown. The other rider that made an impression was Danny "Magoo" Chandler. Danny was one of the best up and coming No Cal riders at that time and he was riding a KTM that day. During the race, the entire 125 field would take an inside to middle of the track line up the slight uphill straight through the mechanic's area where we would all step out and give our chalk board signals. Magoo would go wide open up the hill on the outside of the track through the mechanic's area. We had to run like hell when he was coming up the hill as he would move the entire mechanic's line off the track every lap. I thought what kind of crazy person is this but Danny was going pretty fast and that unconventional heart in his hand WFO riding style made such an impression that day and beyond as he was so exciting to watch (or fear, speaking of some other riders) over the next few years until his retirement.
Bill Buchka: In the first moto..... I think we had some luck in that race. Bob rode very hard. He was notorious for not getting good starts and he didn't get a great start in that race. He started near the back but he rode extremely well. His experience in the sand from Florida worked to his advantage. The track that day emulated European sand conditions. It was wet, it was sticky and it got rough. Bob's ability to adapt to the sand was amazing. I had worked with Pierre Karsmakers who was a genuine sand specialist and I thought I'd seen the best in Pierre but how Bob was able to adapt so quickly was amazing. I believe it was Bob's conditioning that got him the win in that race. Marty was out front for a long time in the first moto. Bob got some momentum going and he was lapping fast. I assumed that Dave Arnold was keeping Marty informed of this. Maybe Marty was OK to begin with but Dave had to see that Bob was coming thru like a freight train. That must have put some pressure on Marty. It may have caused Marty to lose concentration because Bob was closing so fast on him. It may have been what caused Marty to crash at the end when Bob got by for the win. I can only assume so.
In the second moto Marty had a mechanical problem, which we were able to take advantage of. Now we were in a situation where Marty already has to play catch up. We maximized our position with 50 points and Marty left with 23 points. He was already one moto behind. We felt we put pressure on Marty but we also added pressure on ourselves because you want to keep that gap constant and even try to expand that gap. It felt really good to win at Hangtown. It got our championship effort off to a great start.
Round 2: Buchanan Michigan May 23 rd
After the upset at Hangtown seven weeks earlier, the anticipation at Red-Bud was high. All the teams had plenty of time to regroup. Nobody questioned Marty Smith's ability, the question was, is this Bob Hannah guy for real? Is that new watercooled Yamaha really that good. Everybody seemed to have an opinion.
The ear piercing scream of high revving 125 two strokes shattered the air as the gate dropped and the field exploded into turn one. Somebody fell in the first turn and a number of riders went down with him, including Hannah, Grossi, Kessler, Kudalski and Tim Hart. Hannah was one of the last ones up and was back in 38th place. Way out front was Jeff Jennings on a production RM with a ten-second lead over Bruce McDougal, Broc Glover who was in his first AMA National (Broc wasn't 16 years old yet at Hangtown) John Savitski, Warren Reid, Marty Smith and Ron Turner. Although he lost his clutch on the third lap, Marty Smith was slowly working his way up towards McDougal in second. Moving faster though, was Hannah. Hannah was absolutely flying through the pack at an unbelievable pace and by the half way point, was right behind Marty Smith. Jennings still way in front, thru a chain. This left Smith and Hannah in a battle for the lead. Hannah was glued to Marty's rear fender for a half a lap and then he was by. A half a lap after that and Marty pulled off to the side of the track with a broken motor. This left Hannah unchallenged to the checkered flag.
Don Kudalski nailed the start in the second moto with his FMF Elsinore. Marty Moates on an RM Suzuki held second in front of Marty Smith, Grossi, Jennings, Kessler and Hannah. Four more laps and both Smith and Grossi had gotten around Moates, and Hannah had moved up as well to join them as they set out in pursuit of Kudalski. At about the halfway point, Smith, Grossi and Hannah got around the slowing Kudalski. A couple of laps later and Hannah got around Grossi and began to pressure Smith. Another two laps and Hannah had the lead. For the rest of the race, you could have thrown a blanket over Bob and Marty, they were that close. The two were as one. Whatever Bob did, Marty matched. The crowd ran from vantage point to vantage point, not wanting to miss anything. Both bikes were wide open at what seemed all times. The intensity of the battle was incredible. Just listening to the two works 125's at full throttle, never more than a few feet apart lap after lap. They went like this all the way to the checkered with Hannah barely edging out Smith for the win.
Dave Arnold: Hangtown was a very bad start to winning this championship and worse than finishing second to Bob in the first moto, was the DNF and total loss of points in the second. This situation really needed to be turned around in Michigan but unfortunately it ended up much the same as round one at Hangtown. In the first moto, I believe the clutch basket broke first (which wasn't that uncommon with that engine) which meant the clutch action was at that point, marginal at best, but more likely completely defunct from that point until the very hard spring bolt dowel that broke off the clutch hub got tired of bouncing around the engine and decided to lodge itself between the gears. It has been many years though and I'm not sure of the exact details.
The second moto race was unbelievable between Marty and Bob. I would also like to state, that even outside of Marty and now Bob, the depth of talent within the field of riders at that time was so deep that there were honestly at least ten other riders that were more than capable of winning a moto or even an overall given half a chance. The race came down to Bob and Marty at around the half way point and I remember the racing being so close that the spectators in the infield of the track were running back and forth over the hill so not to miss any of the action or key move between these two riders. Marty stayed glued to Bob's rear fender the whole time but Bob never cracked under that pressure and held it to the end. At this point, I believe both Marty and Bob were trying to make a statement of their intentions within the series. It was in this second moto that Bob was trying to state that he is more than serious about winning the championship and that he was more than a flash in the pan. Likewise, Marty was trying to let it be known that he still intends to defend his number one plate and not give up so easily regardless of the problems that had our championship effort off to a slow start.
Marty was more than a little disappointed and frustrated finishing second but much worse than that was again the loss of a whole moto due to mechanical problems in the first race.
Around this time I got a call from Jon R in Europe. The tone of Jon R's voice was one that I had never heard before. It was one of.....Holy Crap are we in trouble! Initially it was hard for me to understand or relate to all the problems Jon R and Co. were having. The forks were bending every race, frames were breaking, Steering head bearing races were getting loose and turning oval, the engine powerband was too narrow, there was cut out in the bumps, the suspension faded, bottomed, pitched and kicked. The bike was not even close to being adequate for the conditions they were getting into. Up until now, our super exotic works bikes with all of the super trick second to none jewelry like billet parts, were state of the art. The endless supply of magnesium & titanium parts and fasteners that provided a lightweight high revving race bike that had been very effective on the fast and smoother tracks in the US, were not very well suited for the much rougher conditions on the European Grand-prix circuit. It seemed like overnight, we went from not being able to imagine a better, faster, more exotic race bike, to being in way over our heads with equipment problems that we never heard, experienced or dreamed existed.
Bill Buchka: We knew going into Red Bud that Marty was going to do everything he could to recoup some of his loses from the first race. Due to Marty's mechanical misfortune, we were able to capitalize once again. Winning four motos in a row was more than I could have expected and I'm sure it was more than most people would have thought would have been delivered by Bob. It was a very powerful field proven by the fierce competition in each moto. We really had to look at all the riders now. We didn't know who could come to the forefront. So many riders had the ability to contend for the championship at that point, we thought any number of riders could emerge. We had to watch out for the Steve Wise's, the Warren Reid's, the Billy Grossi's, Bob's own teammate Danny Turner. There was Bruce McDougal and Danny LaPorte. It was a very powerful field. Now our strategy of studying each rider would come into play. The competition in this series was probably stronger than any other series I have seen, including the World Championships that I was involved in later in my career.
Mickey Boone files a claim on Bob Hannah's OW27 at Red Bud
Fifteen minutes after Bob Hannah had won the second moto, AMA ref Chuck McCall walked over to the Yamaha pit area and impounded Bob's winning number 39 works Yamaha. What had been feared in motocross and has happened in other types of motorcycle racing, was finally taking place. According to the AMA rules, any rider in the race can claim any other rider's bike that was in the same race. The going price for a 125cc motocrosser is $2500.00. The rider who made the claim was Mickey Boone. Boone was of the opinion that he, as well as many other independent riders, could compete with the factory riders if they had equal equipment.
Two minutes before the 30-minute claiming period ended. Bob Hannah ran up and put in his own claim on the works Yamaha. “That's my bike!” exclaimed Bob. “It's set up just right for me. No one else could ride it and I don't want to see it destroyed!” The apprehension clouded his face which was still dirty from the race.
Chuck McCall placed the numbers used for drawing starting positions in a coffee can and then held it in his hand over his head. Both Mickey and Bob would draw numbers. The rider who drew the highest number would win the bike. Mickey drew first, number 42. Next was Bob's turn. Bob drew number 47. Bob Hannah had just avoided a major disaster in his so far perfect season.
Dave Arnold: It has been many years but it would be reasonable to think that from Honda's side, as bad as our start to this season had been up to this point, there was hopes that Bob's bike getting claimed could possibly play into our favor. It could have disrupted Yamaha's momentum in some way but the reality soon set in that by the next race, all factories were going to compromise their efforts to win races or even championships rather than risk losing one of their treasured works bikes and related technology. Marty and I were instructed by Honda that we were to race on production equipment starting at the very next race in Midland Michigan until Honda came to a better understanding of how best to deal with this situation.
In retrospect, the filing of that claim for Bob's works Yamaha dealt Honda and Marty another blow that would make winning this 125 National Championship much more difficult not easier. Hannah's works bike almost getting claimed at Buchannan Michigan was a huge wake up call for all the factories.
Bill Buchka: When Mickey Boone filed a claim on our bike, we were caught completely off guard. Nobody ever anticipated that rule to ever be exercised. The thought was that every privateer wanted to get a spot on a works team. If anybody filed a claim on a works bike, they would forever alienate themselves from getting a spot on a works team. When we got notice we really had to scramble to come up with the $2500.00 to enter a counter claim on the bike. So all of us at Yamaha, the riders, mechanics, the team manager and the engineer, pooled in our travelers checks, pocket change, anything to come up with the money. Then there was a drawing where the one that picked the highest number out of a hat got to keep the motorcycle. Bob won.
Round 3: Midland Michigan June 20 th
“The only way that bike will be watercooled is if it rains,” Bill Buchka remarked dryly on Saturday, referring to his modifications to Hannah's mount during the previous week.
In fact, the Yamaha was the closest thing in the pits to a one-off factory prototype since most of the major factory teams switched to machines less elaborate (and less expensive) than the works bikes they ran at Red Bud. The claiming rule and its threat of putting a multi-thousand dollar works bike up for sale had frightened the Japanese works teams into pulling them from the competition. Marty Smith was now reduced to riding a modified Elsinore and team Suzuki also pulled their works bikes. Billy Grossi and Danny LaPorte were now on modified production RM's. None of the factory teams had any real time to set up their production based mounts.
The anticipated duel between Bob Hannah and Marty Smith began as the gate dropped for the start of the first moto. The pair entered turn one side-by-side, then Marty pulled ahead to-lead through the second corner. Smith seemed as smooth as always, a style that nears perfection. Hannah seemed content to tag along a couple seconds back in the early laps. “That's Bob's strategy.” Bill Buchka said later, “He puts on steady pressure and waits for a mistake.” Smith's mistake came only two laps later. “He almost got off,” Hannah recalled, “He ran along beside his bike and I zipped past.” “Yeah, I did run along beside it” Marty remarked afterwards, “but I couldn't hang on. The top positions held steady for another ten minutes as Smith pushed to recover lost time on Hannah. Then near the 30-minute point, he closed and started to push. Then he fell for the second time. “It was right in the same place.” Marty said after the race, and like before he dropped to third.
At the start of the second moto, it was Broc Glover followed by Don Kudalski, Westerman, Hannah, T & M Engineering's Ron Turner and Steve Wise. On lap two, Hannah slipped into third. Kudalski was applying considerable pressure to Glover, and at the start of lap three, he got past and into the lead. Two laps later, Hannah eased behind Kudalski and was once again playing his pressure and wait game. It took a few laps, but Kudalski finally made an error in judgment, taking an outside line around a lapped rider and got pushed over a berm. In a flash, Hannah cut to the inside and passed both riders for the lead. But Kudalski wasn't through yet. He wanted that moto win. He attached his Honda to the Yamaha's rear fender, steadily pushing and looking for any opportunity to re-pass. It came two laps later on a drop off section. With Kudalski back in the lead, Hannah at first returned the pressure but then, coming off the small straightaway jump, he almost crashed. The Yamaha again, having trouble with the monoshock fading late in the moto, began swapping ends. Cutting perfect 90 degree swaps, with his feet off the pegs and flapping in the breeze, Bob somehow saved it. But he didn't chase Kudalski anymore, instead opting to match the pace and assure his safe, secure overall win.
Dave Arnold: We decided to build kind of a hybrid of sorts, using a production based bike (chassis and engine). Donnie Emler infamous owner of FMF and engine tuner extroidanare, had already developed pretty good engine kits for the production CR and from there we adapted as many of the works parts such as suspension, wheels and lightweight chassis parts as possible. Initially, Marty and then the team thought that this change would not be so bad as we already had experienced mechanical problems with the works bike, breaking two out of four motos and Marty was still struggling with the powerband of the new back of the cylinder reed valve engine in the Type 1, compared to the '74 &'75 works case reed engines.
In retrospect it was such a rush job and the bike wasn't set up very well. The long travel works suspension parts really clashed with the production bike frame geometry and the cornering of the bike was really compromised. It is painfully clear when you look at some of the pictures from that race. It's easy to say in hindsight but I believe Bob and Yamaha sticking to riding the same basic works bike with only an engine change from water to air-cooled was for sure a bit risky but way better from a championship point of view.
Marty went into it with all the best intentions and enthusiastic piss and vinegar but in reality struggled all day losing his front end in some of the tight sand turns and in general he was uncomfortable with a bike that we really didn't have adequate testing or set up time on. Now it started to seem that with every race, the chances of us winning the championship were slipping away.
Bill Buchka: Due to the claim at Red Bud and in fear of losing our works bike, Yamaha decided that we remove our water-cooled motor and use a 1975 works air cooled motor that was used in the Japanese Championship the year before. Spare parts for this older motor were very limited and since Bob was leading the Championship it was decided that Bob would get the 1975 works motors and parts. Ed Schiedler built a hybrid 125 that was a combination of a stock YZ125 fitted with various works and aftermarket parts for Danny Turner. We went retro-mod. So essentially, Bob used the 1975 works motor in the 1976 works chassis. Yamaha International supplied us with several counter claim checks for our riders and supporting riders incase another claim was filed. They also supplied us with a disclaimer letter incase someone actually won one of our motorcycles. The letter stated that Yamaha would not be able to supply parts or support the bike in any way, due to limited availability of parts and or technical expertise.
Midland was a difficult energy sapping sand track, held in warm humid conditions. Bob was a tremendous sand rider and in 1976, Bob was the king of the sand on the 125's. Bob handily won the first moto but in the second moto the shock damping went away as the race progressed. Don Kudalski, who himself was an excellent sand rider from Florida, was in front. We decided to let him have the win instead of fighting for it with a bad shock, possibly risking a crash and potential loss of valuable championship points. As good as Don was in the sand, we knew he wasn't a threat for the overall championship. We were most interested in putting points on everybody else. This was a mutual decision between Bob and I and our overall strategy was being used in this instance.
Midland was also very special to us because it was Fathers day. Before the race we both said, “Let's show our Dads that were working hard out here and win this one for them.” Bob had a very close relationship with his family and I thought that was a very important and valuable character trait. After the race we dedicated the win to our Dads.
Round 4: Keyser's Ridge Maryland July 4 th
Around the pits, there was once again speculation by the various factory teams that privateer Mickey Boone was out to claim another one of their bikes. He never did, but the obvious scare tactic saw most of the factory riders riding modified production bikes or using older works engines or modified production engines in works bike frames. Only Marty Smith and Kawasaki's Mickey Kessler were using the latest works equipment. After the disastrous results at Midland, Suzuki made the decision to install modified production motors in their works chassis'. Bob Hannah was still using the 76 works chassis with the 75 works motor but due to a limited parts supply, teammate Danny Turner was left to ride a modified production YZ with works suspension. The overall results at Midland had the teams scrambling again. To win the title you needed works equipment. The difference was that big. Some of the factory riders were now complaining that they were down on power to the highly modified production bikes from the speed shops like FMF, DG and T & M.
T & M engineering's Ron Turner set fastest lap time in practice on his Rocky Williams tuned Elsinore and Broc Glover was right up there with the DG Pro-fab framed Honda prepared by his father Dick Glover.
In the first moto Steve Wise got the holeshot as Broc Glover, Don Kudalski, Bob Hannah, Ron Turner, Warren Reid, Marty Smith and Billy Grossi gave chase on the very slippery and rocky track. The track itself was laid out in a valley in the very picturesque Allegheny mountains. After only a few laps, Hannah had moved up to second, passing Kudalski and Glover and was chasing Wise who had stretched out his lead. Then the front end of Bob Hannah's works Yamaha washed out in an off camber downhill turn and he went down. " I wasn't too worried when I fell," Bob said afterwards, "because I knew I could work back up to Wise before the moto ended. Then on the next lap in almost the same spot, I threw my chain. Got that back on, and a few laps later my crankshaft went out. That cost me 25 points I needed towards the championship."
With Hannah out of the way, Smith closed in on Wise and made the pass for the win with just two laps to go. Steve Wise finished second, Billy Grossi was third followed by Broc Glover, Don Kudalski, Warren Reid, Ron Turner and Danny LaPorte. " "The way my luck's been going," claimed Marty, " I expected my engine to blow up on the last lap!" His Dave Arnold prepared RC Honda stayed strong though, giving him the win.
Steve Wise again got the holeshot in the second moto and began immediately to pull out a sizeable lead on Ron Turner, Kudalski, Glover, Hannah, Grossi, Jennings, Smith, LaPorte, Kessler and Danny Turner. The battle for second place was unbelievable as nobody but nobody gave an inch for the second spot. Marty moved up to challenge Hannah and they traded paint for four laps. With the 1975 air-cooled motor in Hannah's bike, he seemed down on power compared to the water-pumper. Bob valiantly fought off Marty by holding the throttle open longer in the rough sections and on the downhills, but finally had to back off just short of killing himself as Marty used his Honda's power advantage to pull away on the uphills. Their battle carried them to second and third place. Privateer Steve Wise got the win and the overall. Marty Smith was second overall and Bob Hannah was 20th overall with a 40-3 score. The series was now half over, Marty Smith got some badly needed momentum going and it was still wide open as to who would be the 1976 National Champ.
Danny Turner was definitely a victim of the claiming incident as he finished a dismal 17th overall on an untested hybrid production bike. What also was apparent, was the fact that many of the speed shop sponsored riders had very fast and well sorted out bikes. They showed flashes of brilliance and with all the chaos at the factories, they were starting to run in the front.
Dave Arnold: By the fourth round at Keyser's Ridge, We were back on the Type 1 as the team managers had a system down to counter the bikes being claimed. Honda team manager Terry Mulligan would carry a handful of certified checks in his briefcase (handcuffed to his wrist while traveling) and if anybody tried to claim our or another factories works bike, we would have all of our team and even support riders (thanks Warren) counter the claim which turned the situation into a lottery and substantially reduced (but not eliminated) the chances of losing a team bike. It for sure was a huge advantage for works riders to have works equipment at that time but works riders on last minute thrown together on the road, bikes, with no time to test or properly set up was not necessarily a good thing. In any case, it was finally Bob's turn to have mechanical problems in the first moto and Marty was able to put in two good rides to earn second overall. It was his first good finish of the series and the momentum had now swung our way.
At Midland and now Keyser's Ridge many of the second and third level riders on production speed shop equipment were starting to have very respectable results such as Steve Wise, Ron Turner and Don Kudalski.
Bill Buchka: Going into Keyser's Ridge with the threat of the claiming rule, we were still using the 75 works motor in the 76 works chassis. I rebuilt the motor but used the same crankshaft from Midland. That crankshaft had got a good workout from the Midland sand at the prior race. We had requested info from Japan on the air-cooled motor and were assured that it would be reliable for a minimum of two race events including race practices and as we had only one week of development time with this motor and no history to refer to, I went with the same crankshaft. Unfortunately for us, the crankshaft big end bearing gave up and we failed to score any points in the first moto. Just prior to this in the same moto we also lost a chain, so we basically had two mechanical failures in one moto. This being a mechanical sport in addition to such a physically demanding sport, mechanical failures can and will occur at times, and hopefully we had "hit our quota" for failures. I replaced the defective motor with another 1975 air-cooled motor between motos and Bob rode hard in the second moto, but was only able to get third in spite of maximum effort on his part. To say we were disappointed would have been a huge understatement. Bob and I were competitors, but in retrospect I guess it could have been worse.
Around this same time, we had also been hearing rumors that Honda would soon be unveiling a new works 125. It was supposed to be very similar to the all red RC500 type 2 that Pierre Karsmakers was now using in Europe. It was supposedly already developed and the spin was that the new 125 would be just like it. We knew it would be out very soon. Here we were now running a bike with a year old air cooled motor that we had no experience with and now Honda is coming out with a state of the art works bike at any time. I was starting to feel uneasy anticipating what could happen in this Championship that was far from over.
125 USGP Lexington Ohio July 11 th
The 125 USGP was held each year at the Mid-Ohio Moto Park and each prior year the victor was Marty Smith. The event was FIM sanctioned which meant no claiming rule. The works bikes were back and so was 125 World Champion Gaston Rahier leading the Championship. Marty had been flying back and forth all season, contesting in the GP's in Europe and battling it out in the states on the 125 National circuit. The Honda effort was having major problems in Europe just keeping Marty's bike together. The European tracks were way to demanding on the type 1 RC125 and many DNF's were the result. After the Keyser's Ridge National, Marty had momentum and he had never been beat at Mid-Ohio.
In the first moto Marty got the holeshot on his Dave Arnold prepared RC125 and was followed by Hannah, Kudalski, Danny Turner, Bruce McDougal and Billy Grossi. Gaston Rahier was running in ninth. Before the first lap was complete Bob had passed Marty for the lead. Marty rode steadily two seconds behind until about the ten minute mark and then closed to harass Hannah. Bob held firm; Marty kept the pressure on waiting for a slip that didn't happen. Billy Grossi had moved up to third and Gaston had now taken control of forth. Just past the halfway point Marty re-passed Hannah for the lead. " The brake cable had looped over the forks and put the front brake on. I couldn't ride like that. It happened in forth gear and I started swappin' and had to back off and let him pass." Hannah explained between motos. Then he added, " I might not have been able to catch him anyway." When it ended, Marty had a sizeable lead, Hannah was second, Grossi third, Japanese Champion Yoshifumo Sugio on an identical bike to Hannah's, made an unbelievable charge from the back to take forth away from Rahier. Jimmy Ellis on a factory Can-am took sixth.
Moto two once again saw Marty Smith with the holeshot on the unbelievably fast RC125. Mickey Kessler in the second spot was leading Hannah, Grossi, LaPorte and Warren Reid. On the opening lap, Hannah overtook Kessler and immediately attacked Smith. On lap two, Hannah kept sticking his front wheel under Smith's rear in an all out effort to pass and by the time the second lap was over, Hannah had once again squeezed past Smith to lead the parade. Billy Grossi by this time had established himself solidly in third ahead of Danny LaPorte, Jimmy Ellis, Mickey Kessler and Warren Reid.
The top three riders put on a second moto show that had the fans on their toes screaming. Tight formation riding that resembled indoor short track closeness, yet lasted for a half hour, kept spectators running from one snow fence to another to not lose sight of a pass if and when it came. All three riders were lapping at an unbelievable pace. World Champion Gaston Rahier had crashed and was out of the race. When Smith saw that Hannah wasn't going to have problems and make the job less difficult for him, he took the initiative and forced up beside Bob in a series of tight "S" turns. Through the series of corners, the pair swapped a wheel length advantage no less than a half dozen times before Hannah slipped under pressure and missed a shift. He made up for the loss almost immediately, attaching the Yamaha solidly to the Honda's flank, then made the final mistake.
As Smith rounded a tight U-turn at the crest of a small bump on the back section of the Mid-Ohio course, Hannah bumped into Marty. Was it a " break check" by Marty? The impact didn't do Marty any harm but it stopped Bob just before the crest of the rise. Slipping the clutch and spinning the rear wheel, Hannah lost several seconds getting over the hump and through the tight corner...Marty Smith was gone. Billy Grossi now closed on the Yamaha rider and pursued him for a few minutes but Hannah eventually pulled away. With three laps remaining, Marty held a seven second advantage over Bob who, stayed three seconds in front of Billy. Hannah's only hope at this point was for Marty to either break or crash. Neither happened and that's how they finished.
Now that the first half of the National series and the USGP was over, Marty had the momentum. There was plenty of racing left and it looked like it was going to turn into a nail-biter. Nobody could have imagined the events that were to take place at the next National in three weeks at Delta Ohio.
Dave Arnold: Even though it appeared that Marty had turned things around with his finish at Keyser's Ridge, he was becoming restless in general. He was not happy traveling back and forth to Europe. He was not happy with his equipment both in Europe and the States and he was not happy not only trailing Gaston for the 125 World GP title, but also Hannah for the 125 National title here in the States.
Marty and I wanted desperately to turn this whole thing around anyway possible, if possible. Marty's bikes in Europe were completely controlled by Japan and a small army of engineers, but in the States, it was not like that and not nearly as structured for better or worse. Marty really wanted to and finally insisted that we go back to what worked for him in '74 and '75 which was the case reed engine and he wanted to ride this bike at the 125 USGP in Ohio. This was way easier said than done.
The 1975 bikes were worn out, taken apart and robbed for needed parts long since their last race a year ago, not to mention that there were no new or near new spare parts available. On top of that Marty wanted us to find another source for suspension that was more capable than the works Showa suspension that came on the bikes at the beginning of the season. These suspension systems that worked so well on the semi smooth National tracks in '74 & '75, rapidly started to show their weakness now being raced on the very rough conditions in Europe and the tracks in the States were starting to go that way as well. The forks were bending and fading not to mention their action in the first place was marginal to begin with.
It was crazy to think about building another completely new bike almost mid season, especially considering we had already been on two completely different bikes (the works Type 1 and production based hybrid) from the start of the season and there was talk within Honda that we would receive yet another works bike (the Type 2) within a few weeks out. It was crazy but then again quite fun and challenging. I have to give a lot of whatever credit to Donnie Emler for helping me out with this project, unconditionally spending numerous sleepless nights at the Honda race shop helping me put this bike together with again not very much time prior to me loading up and hitting the road again for the USGP.
The bike the utilized the '76 works frame and a pieced together '74/'75 case reed engine. Donnie did all the cylinder, head and pipe work using a super big diameter flipper cone up pipe and we topped that off with a huge 37mm magnesium carb taken off an RC250 of the same period. It was a complete rocketship in everyway (everyway I'm saying that could be verified at 1:00 O'clock in the morning in the alley at Honda's race shop in Gardena California) For suspension we used 35mm fork internals that just happened to fit inside our works Showa fork sliders. Bruce Burness (suspension /chassis guru then and now) helped with some S&W Monroe shocks. To make sure everything was OK, I called Warren Reid and Warren took the bike to Saddleback for a final shake down run. Marty who was in Europe at the time, kept calling me (which really meant he was serious) and checking on the status of the bike and stated emphatically that he was going to race this bike in Ohio. I went along with the whole thing but in the back of my mind, I knew that race was in the hands of higher sources when the European GP team showed up. That team was deservedly the A team in terms of Honda's works bike development at that time. I loaded up and headed to Ohio.
I bumped into Marty at the hotel in Mansfield. Is it ready?.......Do you have it?.......Is it ready? Marty's enthusiasm was just like a little kid. We tech inspected two bikes but I kept the So Cal "Hot Rod" off to the side knowing it was just window dressing. Marty rode the GP bike in practice for only a couple of laps and then came in and grabbed our bike. I was kind of embarrassed and semi stunned at this. He stayed out on the track with that bike until practice was finished. I didn't really do much in the way of jetting or ride height, he came in and said he loved the bike and was going to race it on Sunday. Both the European and US teams worked together to prep the bike as best we could that Saturday afternoon.
Going into Sunday I was embarrassed and nervous. If anything happened it was our butt on the line and really not our Championship to win or shots to call. The rest is history. Thank God it lasted two motos. The track was very fast and the bike (with Marty on board) seemed to be the fastest bike of the day. Marty got both holeshots and two near perfect wins against the world's best after struggling to win a National. Marty won both motos convincingly, it was one of the most memorable races to me still to date. Nothing from Bob but I really think it's the way that Championship should have gone from the start, but it didn't and I'm not one for trying to rewrite history, no spilt milk, kudos to Yamaha and Hannah.
We still had the second half of the Nationals to contend with but this was one hell of a good day and statement....Great day!!!
One of the highlights of the day was after winning the second moto, as Marty was up getting all the fan fair, one of the top Japanese engineers was starring at our bike. I'm sure he was very happy we finally won our first GP of the season but thinking how he was going to make out his race report (Emler this, flipper that, big diameter what?, Italian forks, US shocks). He looked at me and made a statement that actually kind of hurt. "It's not even a Honda".
Bill Buchka: Marty had a great ride that day. He was really in his element that particular day. I’m sure he considered himself much more of a Grand-Prix rider than a National Championship rider. He was already a National Champion, twice. He had nothing to prove here. We were back on the works bike because it was an F.I.M. sanctioned event and there was no claiming rule in the F.I.M. The track was hard and dusty, very southern California like and everything fell into place for Marty. Bob had a good day Marty had a better day. Hats off to Marty. Bob and I would have loved to win it, we hated to lose. Dave and Donny Emler did a great job on that bike. They beat us fair and square.
After Mid-Ohio, Bob said “I feel so much better with this bike than with the set-up we used at the last two nationals.” “I have to have this bike if you want me to maintain my lead in the Championship.” I supported the request 100%. If we were going to win this thing, we had to have the best equipment available to us. Even with the risk of the claiming rule. Bob was beginning to command a lot of respect with the factory and I don’t think they had much of a choice. We got the final approval from Japan. From now on we would campaign the 1976 works bike no matter what. As it turned out, this was an extremely key decision on the part of Yamaha. At the next 125 event at Delta Ohio, my fears became reality.