Old Dog, New Tricks?

SHIFTING GEARS by Buzz Kanter, Publisher



My first time on the track in many years, and I blow up the 1937 Indian Sport Scout racer!

After running strong for several laps, I could feel it losing power going out of the bowl and up over the hill in top gear. Rather than risk damage, I eased off the throttle while dropping from the twisty road course onto the NASCAR circuit. I held up my left hand and coasted into the pits, where the engine died. I pressed down on the foot clutch, handshifted the transmission into neutral, and rolled the bike out of the way.

I just sat there for a few moments, allowing the situation to sink in. Then I tried to kick the bike back to life and … nothing. The kicker wouldn’t budge the engine. I could not believe that I had seized the engine. That would mean the Indian was done for the weekend even before my qualifying race.

Flashback: it was 35 years ago when a serious accident ended my motorcycle racing adventures at the old Bridgehampton, New York, track. So I let my road racing license expire in 1979. Last year, I was at the J. Wood & Company auction at Barber Racetrack with my pals Paul Ousey and Jim Petty where I bought Butch Baer’s 1937 Indian Sport Scout (see page 94). I had raced one of Doc Batsleer’s Indians against Butch on this same bike at the USCRA Streets of Laconia races many years ago. I knew and loved this bike and am delighted to now own it.

Once bitten, the race bug never leaves you. It sat dormant in me for many years, but not anymore. It’s time to get back into the game. No race associations (correctly) would honor my 35-year-old race license, so I had to complete a race school. That’s why I was at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. I sat through the class, listened to the instructors, and managed fine on the first session of practice laps. All I had to do was finish the Rookie Race without doing anything dumb on track. That is not possible with a seized engine.

My tuner (Butch Baer’s grandson) Michael Baer knew something was wrong when he saw me pushing the bike over to our garage at the track. We opened the oil cap and smoke escaped. A lot of smoke. Thankfully, there was plenty of oil in the tank, but why so hot? He removed the rear spark plug, and it looked okay. After the engine cooled, Michael gently kicked it over. “Thank goodness,” I thought. “It loosened up. Perhaps I can still race it and get my license.” The front plug refused to come out. Michael eventually muscled it out, the plug protesting and squeaking the entire way. Along with the plug came the threaded insert that ripped right out of the cast iron head. The spark plug had gotten so hot it had welded itself to the insert. There was simply no fixing this in the garage.

I managed to get my license by borrowing a bike (thanks, Henry Syphers) for the Rookie Race and did fine, especially considering I’d never even sat on his bike before the prerace warm-up lap. As for my Indian, it turns out the race magneto’s timing ring came loose, causing massive overheating. Michael had it diagnosed and fixed within a few days, and it’s now ready for me to race it during Laconia Rally week. Wish me luck.

Ride safe, ride smart, have fun.


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This article originally appeared in issue #314 of American Iron Magazine.

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