Willow Springs Grand Prix: Poor Weather Doesn’t Stop The Racing

Willow Springs Grand Prix: Poor Weather Doesn’t Stop The Racing

© 2024, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc. From a press release issued By Willow Springs Grand Prix:

WILLOW SPRINGS GRAND PRIX APRIL 13TH & 14TH – EVENT REPORT

When headed out to the track, no matter the discipline, your end goal is to get to the starting line, start and finish the race, hopefully do well enough for a trophy, and return home safely for Monday morning’s work alarm.  But to accomplish that task, there may be a lot of other races mixed in to meet that goal.  Racing home from work on Friday to make sure you get to the track before the gate closes.  Racing to fix your bike if you break in practice.  Your heartbeat racing as you line up for the green flag.  And sometimes you get in a race with an entity that you cannot control:  Mother Nature.  The story of the 2024 Willow Springs Grand Prix (WSGP) became just that: a race against the predicted weather that tried its best to squash the event.  Thankfully we have a team of veteran race staff and a group of hardcore participants who were up for the challenge.

The April race weekend at Willow Springs has been going on for 25 years before my team worked with the raceway to keep it alive for the last few years.  I have personally experienced 100-degree heat as well as snow and sideways hail with 30 mph steady winds during this historical racing weekend.  While April weather in Southern California has always been semi-predictable, this year was an exception.  Although seeing 80-degree days during the week leading up to the event, every weekend over the last six weeks has been attacked by startling cold & wet.  Confident we would have a super spectator turn out with excellent weather the week before the event, our confidence fell as the week drew out.  To our dismay, 90-degree weather with little wind on Friday afternoon turned to 40 degree weather with fantastic wind that evening.  It was gusting so strongly throughout the night I thought our trailer would be blown on its side.  While still howling at my 5am wake up call, miraculously the wind quit by 9am on Saturday morning with a dry track.

The Classic Track Day team diligently watched the radar throughout the day as the practice day and festival pushed on.  And much to our luck, the weather held up!  The wind backed off a bit and the temps almost broke 60.  The Classic British Spares performance motorcycle show collected nearly twenty entries and the moto swap meet had hundreds of gawkers throughout the day.  The Sly Fox performance stunt team was able to get in a few sessions for revelers with their drifter cross program.  But minutes after the last rider was off the track at 5pm the wind picked up and dumped rain for a few hours.  While the rain unfortunately ruined the Speedkings evening drag races, we were all stoked to get in eight hours of decent track riding and practice.

As we hung out in the garages Saturday evening, working on bikes and enjoying libations, we lamented the weather prediction for Sunday.  It was not looking good with even lower temps and the threat of rain as early as noon.  We had to come up with a plan to pull off the WSGP races…so we did!  My 5am wake up call found ice on the windows and a temp of 30 degrees.  Would it be too cold to race even without the rain?  I spoke with fellow racers as the morning drew on, and as the temps began to increase, the consensus was:  “Let’s Race!”  

 

Caroline Patterson (110) prepares for a race at the Willow Springs Grand Prix. Photo by CaliPhotography.com, courtesy Willow Springs Grand Prix.
Caroline Patterson (110) prepares for a race at the Willow Springs Grand Prix. Photo by CaliPhotography.com, courtesy Willow Springs Grand Prix.

 

To avoid the impending threat of rain we decided to hold an open practice at 9am followed by a quick session for sidecars.  The first race, the twenty lap Ironman, began early at 9:45 a.m., and we pushed through with the rest of the program as quickly as we could, knowing that lunch could wait.  While a sprinkle of rain drew a few modern superbike riders into the pits for Race 5, we finished the eight-race program just before 12:30 p.m.  And as crazy as it sounds, just minutes after the last race it started to sprinkle, followed by a full downpour for hours in the afternoon.  During the awards ceremony there were cheers for racers and organizers alike for pulling off the WSGP against all odds of the impending weather!

Now, down to race business.  The WSGP held eight races of combined classes for nearly every motorcycle made after 1960, including sidecars. 

MAIN CLASSES (Light / Medium / Heavy):

VINTAGE – pre-1973 air-cooled, drum brakes *Presented by JRC Engineering*

CLASSIC 80s – pre-1983 air-cooled, any performance enhancements *Presented by Moto Republic*

SUPER CLASSIC – all bikes up to 2001 *Presented by Classic British Spares*

MODERN STANDARD – no superbikes, all adventure and naked bikes *Presented by San Diego BMW*

MODERN SUPERBIKE – modern full-fairing inline four superbikes *Presented by Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys*

SIDCARS – determined by SRA-West *Presented by Barnett Clutch & Cable*

AMERICAN TWINS – USA made, any year *Presented by Danny’s Electric*

ADD ON CLASSES (Light / Medium / Heavy – All Years):

IRONMAN – 20 laps *Presented by SoCal Motorcycles*

SUPER SINGLES *Presented by Moto Chop Shop*

POWER TWINS *Presented by Biltwell, Inc*

VINTAGE LEMANS PURSUIT – pre 1983, delayed start for 350cc machines, winner takes all *Presented by McMarrow Family Restaurants*

Standout performances included the beat down by John James in the Ironman Heavyweight class over other competitors, with a best time of 1.29.647.   Not far behind in Ironman Middleweight was Demond Wilson with a best time of 1.33.216.  Kevin Kautzky and Bernard Juchli battled with Wade Boyd & his passenger for a few laps before checking out and sailing in for the win in sidecars.  The LeMans pursuit was a treat to watch and the format actually worked with two middleweight competitors catching the lightweight bikes after 4 laps, giving Jason Lindquist and his TZ125 the win over second place Paul Piskor on his Bridgestone, followed by Caroline Patterson in third on her Honda CL350.  While Race 5 saw some rain spotting on turn 8 during the races, seven competitors stayed on the track for a wet and wild race, seeing Wayne Gann of Cha Cha Cha Motorsports take the overall win!  A great battle between Danny Spina & Gilbert Conde went down in American Twins, with Danny’s monster Harley finally checking out halfway through the race.  An unexpected battle happened in the same race with Eric Reyes on his big, modern bagger leading Jason Lindquist on Rob North’s personal 1971 BSA Rocket III.  While Eric had the upperhand the entire race, Jason shared with the awards ceremony crowd that while he wasn’t prepared to detonate Rob’s bike, he saw that he was inching closer to catching Eric and put the hammer down to come in third overall on the last lap.  Not too often one gets to see and hear those mismatched machines battling on the front straight of Willow!

With a mix of vintage & modern race bikes on the track, it was a treat to see where the competition would lie.  More of a treat was that AMA Pro Mookie Wilkerson passed six new racers in his school on Saturday with half of them competing Sunday’s races, including Tom Ferguson, Jay Stock & Craig Beecher.  Congrats and welcome to the party guys!  As a promoter, the financials are always a big concern.  But to be the catalyst of seeing six new competitors get on the racetrack feeds my soul and I am so proud that our organization can help make that happen.  Curtis Adams, the WSGP 2024 grand marshal, agrees with this sentiment and he shared words of wisdom & congratulations to staff and racers alike at the awards ceremony.

While numbers were down on both the track day & races because of the weather, support was up on sponsorship of this annual event.  Classic British Spares joined as the title sponsor, which allowed us to advertise with Road Racing World and add more to the marketing budget to help spread the word.  Kyle & his dad Malcolm were on hand all weekend greeting guests and making the paddock look sharp.  Class sponsors included Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys, Moto Chop Shop, Barnett Clutch & Cable, JRC Engineering, SoCal Motorcycles, McMarrow Family Restaurants, Moto Republic, San Diego BMW & Danny’s Electric.  Support also came from Oxford Suites of Lancaster, Motion Pro & Biltwell Inc.  Lastly, Cha Cha Cha Motorsports tossed $800 towards a racer-only raffle at the end of the awards ceremony with eight lucky folks taking $100 home for gas money.  Y’all might hear this statement all of the time, but I am telling the truth that we would not have been able to make this event happen without the support of these moto-centric businesses.  Thank you all ten times over!

The fourth annual Willow Springs Grand Prix will return next Spring, hopefully to better weather.  In an effort to get more spectators and racers to the event, we will look to move off of MotoGP weekend in Austin.  We are always looking for more support with very affordable sponsorship packages for those businesses and individuals who are looking to gain more exposure through our fun-first, one-off motorcycle race & classic motorcycle celebration weekend.  Contact Brady to learn more.

Wrapping up this race report, I want to thank my friends (read: volunteer staff) who show up to regularly to make the WSGP and Classic Track Day happen.  Financial support is amazing & necessary, but the support I receive from this gang outweighs anything else.  Thank you to Scott Fabbro, Dave Ehrhart, Jason Reeves, Cal & Les Lewis, Brian Herzfeldt, Jim Connelly, Pat Wilkening, Don Leanhardt, Jay Larossa, Miki Masuda & Russ Granger for your support and camaraderie.  Bad weather or not, I know it will always be a great day at the track with this crew!  See y’all next year!

 

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