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  • August 9, 2011
  • Mike Solis and Gabe Ets-Hokin
  • 17 Comments

Jurassic Paddock: Racing With the Dinosaurs

Mikey Leister campaigned his battered GpZ550 for local shop SF Moto. He would get on the podium in Super Dino and then finish mid-pack in 600 Superbike against bikes decades newer than his. Photo: Gary Rather

Northern California’s American Federation of Motorcyclists—the AFM—is over 50 years old, one of the oldest and largest in the country. Even in tough economic times, the grids are still full, filling Infineon Raceway and other tracks with the snarling sounds of the latest high-tech two-wheeled weaponry. The premier class, called Formula Pacific, is filled with top-level racers on brand-new 180-horsepower BMWs, Ducatis, Aprilias and Japanese Fours.

And then there are the classes for the rest of us, racers who are passionate about competition but can’t buy a new race bike every season. In addition to grids packed with lightweight bikes like the Kawasaki Ninja 250R and Suzuki SV650, since the early 1990s there’s been a class for racers with an old nail or two collecting dust in the back of their garages. MD readers, meet Formula Super Dinosaur.

The AFM Super Dinosaur class has had a few different faces throughout the years. The original rules limited the class to bikes made in 1985 or older, using Superbike spec rules (frame and engine case combination must be as-produced by the manufacturer) while limiting machines to DOT tires. It was created for bikes that were too old to be competitive in the modern displacement classes, yet not quite old enough for the vintage classes. Competitive machines in the early years included the RZ350 ridden by Enzo Ferrara and the BMW R90 piloted by Jove Shapiro.


Watch the action from on board novice racer Kevin Clark’s 1998 Ducati 916 as he chases Ed Haazar’s ancient (but formidably fast) Z1 around Infineon. The best action starts about five minutes in. Open the video to full screen for best effect. Take some Dramamine if you get car-sick.

The Superbike rules gave builders some freedom, resulting in the creation of some unique machines, like the FZ750 built by Paul Reynen, which featured an FZ750 frame and motor in conjunction with modern forks and wheels. His FZ750 won the Super Dinosaur championship four different times – in 1999, 2000, and 2001 with Reynen, and once again in 2002 with Reynen’s teammate Don Rudolfs.

Another interesting machine was the six-cylinder Honda CBX. Dubbed the “Tyrannosaurus X”, owned and built by Mike Dondellinger, the CBX was ridden by Denny Doherty and later Gary Jaehne, who went fast enough on the bike to qualify for Formula Pacific’s 1:57 cutoff at Sears Point.

Riders seemed happy with the class, as the 1985 class limit prevented the GSX-R750 (which wasn’t released in the USA until 1986) from entering. But with Superbike rules in effect, riders and teams were not limited to machines imported to the States, making the 1985 GSX-R750 (released in Canada, Europe, and Japan) eligible. Former 250 Production racer and current AFM Tech Inspector David Worthington found such a bike in Japan after many patient Internet searches. After successfully importing it and building it into a race bike, his 1985 GSX-R went on to win the Super Dinosaur championship three times: in 2003 with future AFM Top-10 plate holder Jon Bawden, in 2004 with Terry Cheney, and in 2005 with Worthington himself.

Guy Hyder showing off his sparkling Smokin' Joe's Honda CBR600F3. Photo: Mike Solis

In 2004, the class rules were changed to allow motorcycles that were 17 years old or older to run, with the goal of increasing grid sizes of what seemed to be a dying class. In 2006, the rules changed once again, trimming that 17-year limit down to 12 years, in addition to allowing racing slicks. The rolling 12-year rule allowed several newer bikes to run and continues to be in effect to this day, resulting in a number of well-prepared machines from the mid ’90s to show up. Modern grids have seen GSX-R750s of the SRAD era, YZF750Rs, and F2, F3 and F4 versions of the CBR600. It also opened the door for lightweight, gray-market bikes to compete, as a few Yamaha FZR400s have shown up over the years.

The class is a contradiction of sorts, as the “Dinosaur” title suggests decrepit, fossil-like machines. A closer look at the last Infineon round revealed quite the opposite, with a well-prepared CBR600F4, an immaculate Smokin Joe’s CBR600F3, and a clean first-generation Suzuki SV650 all in contention for the top spots.

The future of the class is uncertain at this moment, as the rolling 12-year rule will soon allow machines like the ground-breaking 2000 GSX-R750 and the 2001 GSX-R1000 to be legal. Owners of older machines fear the loss of competitiveness, with even more fearing the loss of the ‘feel’ of the class. Some riders I spoke with believed a division of the class into different displacements would suffice; others thought a division into different age ranges could be the answer. Another idea was the thought of removing the ‘rolling’ age limit all together, placing a cap on the class sometime in the late 90s to prevent the newer GSX-Rs from entering. The present crop of riders both love their machines and enjoy the close yet friendly competition—as long as those are preserved, the dinosaurs are sure to live on.

Ed Hazaar wrestles his mid-'70s Kawasaki Z1 through the turns. Photo: Gary Rather

17 Comments

  1. JonL says:

    Why not have classes like we do down-under with the post classic racing – pre ’72, pre ’82 and pre ’89. They are thinking of a pre ’95 class as well.

  2. BO_KNOWS says:

    FZR400′s were imported to the US for 3 years…

  3. Youth says:

    I think they could establish a class of “steel frame vs. aluminum frame.” Many supersports/racer reps use aluminum frames so they will go to this category.

    Many older bikes and current Ducati use steel frame. Also CBR600F through F2 use steel frame if I remember.

    Also allow all Suzuki Katana (they all have steel frames) as well as former police bikes (Kawasaki, BMW, and H-D) race as well.

    Allow some handicap for engine type too. Liquid-cool fours have higher weight penalty compare to air cooled twins.

  4. RD says:

    Makes me miss my old 85 GS550ES. Would have been a great fit for this type of racing…. Need to find a first Gen honda Hurricane and resurect it

  5. Jack W says:

    Hang off Ed, hang off, dammit !!!

  6. Hot Dog says:

    What class can I race my old Sporty in?

  7. bikerrandy says:

    That racing video, folks, is as close as you’ll ever get to see what amateur road racing is really like, w/o actually doing it yourself. This brings back a flood of memories when I was racing street 350s back in the late 60′s day.

    • Goose says:

      Randy,

      You are absolutely right. I was racing with the AFM at SearsPoint back in the late seventies. Even with the track changes the video took me way back. Especially since the Z1 was the king of “Super Street” (early super bike) in my day so the sight and sound of the big Kawaker is part of my memories even though I rode Hondas and Yamahas. I had so many great races there. I was never within sight of the winners but I had a great time.

      Goose

  8. Rennie says:

    “Formula Craigslist”…. I love it!

  9. Freddie says:

    Love them old KAW’S. Rode my 73 Z-1 last weekend love the sound of a open hand bent Yosh !!!
    Started up the H-2 makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Was a great weekend.
    Keep the FAITH.

    • Tom Shields says:

      My ’74 Z-1 was equipped with an unbaffled Kerker 4-into-1. Beautiful. And loud.

      That is the sweetest sounding engine of all time.

  10. Tom Shields says:

    Gawd, I miss my Z1.

  11. Stinky says:

    Another bucketlist item. Looks like fun. Trackdays without the classroom!

  12. harry says:

    I.m a dinosaur and proud of it. 1981 Suzuki GS1100ex.

  13. Duncan says:

    that was great! I wish there was a track close to where i live, this seem s like the perfect class to race within a budget, but still have a great time!

  14. Mark Thompson says:

    What a great concept! I think there’s a similar sort of class in action in the UK as well, possibly based around 10 year old bikes. Very cool to see those old bikes out there. The idea of age-based subdivisions is probably a good one. Something simple like pre-’85, ’85-’99, and ’00+ might be a good way to split it up. Another option to keep the very fastest bikes from clashing w/ the older/slower bikes could be a separate naked/tubular handlebar class.

    But why limit things to well prepared, still fast sportbikes? How about a 2-wheeled version of LeMons or ChumpCar w/ strict price limits? I’d love to see someone roll out a late ’80s Kawasaki Concours or a ’91 Katana 750 and mix it up. Who says racing has to be expensive, or even fast, to be fun?