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Paul Mihalka

I'm racing

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Paul Mihalka

If you'd like to read how I got to this point, you can read it here:

 

http://bmwsporttouring.com/ubbthreads/showflat.php/Cat/0/Number/974566/an/0/page/1#Post974566

 

With my new superbike I already had plans. It had to be faster than any bike of the same type. I had a wonderful relation with a superb Italian immigrant technician, I considered him a magician. He treated me like a son, I respected him like he was my dad (I also had a very high respect to my real dad). With him we did the usual things to my bike. Higher compression by shaving the cylinder base, open up, clean and polish intake and exhaust ports, etc. It made a difference.

In racing at that time, there were the regular championship circuit races, and than odd races open to anybody after a very basic safety inspection. One was from the outskirts of a little town (La Victoria) into the town center, on a fairly straight road, for street legal bikes with lights and mufflers. It was like a group start drag race. The fun part was that like a minute before the race started a police officer on his Harley started ahead with the siren blaring to open the road for us, and I passed him about half-way into town. By the way, in Venezuela the only Harleys I've ever seen were police bikes. Yep, I won that race. Another a bit more formal race, also open to the experts with their prepared race bikes, was a longer distance highway race, about 40 miles, between two major cities, Valencia to Maracay. The road was fairly straight and fast with some nice sweepers and turns on the way, ending with a few city blocks before the end. I knew the road very well. For the race I really scouted it out, having reference point for the turns, etc, Apparently the "experts" just thought of it as another fast ride. I passed a couple of experts on faster bikes when they closed the throttle before a blind turn and I just sailed through. The race was won by the folk hero "El Negro Vivas", Considered the best, fastest, wildest of them all. You'll read more about him. I came in second.

There were two major sponsors/teams in Venezuelan racing. One was the dealer I got my bike from, he had Gilera/Velocette/Matchless/Puch bikes. The other team was by the AJS dealer, who really fielded a full team and HAD to win. The two were like today Honda vs. Yamaha. There were also some Nortons and BSA bikes mixed in.

Besides the expert championship races there also was a novice championship going. In spite of my friendship with the Velocette dealer, the AJS dealer offered me a hand-me-down AJS 350cc race-prepped bike to compete in novice class. I happened to win the novice class. Here is the bike:

 

i-gbrTSfR.jpg

 

With my Velocette dealer friends I had a good conversation. They had a good racing team, my German friend was still racing with them. If I joined them I would have been the junior member. All their bikes were prepared by the same mechanic shop and I did not have a very high opinion of them. Most of the time they were beaten by the AJS team. So, to try something new, they handed me a brand new Velocette MAC 350cc to see what my technician master and I can do. First we modified the riding position of the bike to my liking, then I put some 2000 miles of road on it to break it in and/or find any soft spots. The bike was not extra fast, but it's handling was better than anything I rode before. Telescopic forks and and rear suspension was still in a very early stage of technology. This one was on the top.

 

To race-prep first we removed everything that was not essential. No lighting, no electrics except the magneto ignition, lighter fender, open primary chain for easy access. On the motor my magician started doing his magic. There were no special hot-up parts available, everything we did was handmade. Higher compression was one key. We were permitted to run on aero fuel. Shaving the head and cylinder gave compression but we had to make space for the valves vs. the pistons. we deepened the valve recesses in the pistons and shaved the thickness of the valves as they were designed to withstand several valve grindings. With this the clearance between valves and piston at full cross-over was 0.8mm! No overrevving or missed shifts please! We did shim the valve springs for a bit higher rev. capability. Intake and exhaust highly polished, open megaphone exhaust. The combustion chamber was polished. After every race we took the head off and cleaned it with a gasoline wetted rag smile.gif.

My magician did his magic on the camshaft. At night, alone in his shop, no disturbance, he went to work. He took the camshaft, that had the cam for intake and exhaust, and modified it on the grinding wheel. After polishing, he had some magic powder that spread on the surface and flame heated gave a hardened surface. I don't know what the powder was, may be some of you technical gurus might know.

Anyways the bike was fast. The original spec.s were 16 hp and a top speed of 112 kmh (70 mph). The prepped bike was timed at 140 kmh (87 mph), with a estimate of 25 to 30 hp.

 

First race for the bike, first race of the 1953 National Championship. The championship was 8 races, with the best 6 counting for points. I knew that the major enemy is "El Negro Vivas", also known that he is a not very clean racer.

We start off - push start. On the circuit , still accelerating from the standing start, there was a right/left S turn. El Negro started a few feet ahead, in the right hand part of the S I pulled next to him on the outside. In the left turning part he started to push me against the edge, a side walk. He knew i was there. I still remember that in my mind I thought simply that if we go we both go, to hell with it. He let me through. He never tried to shut me down again. I won, He did not finish.

El Negro not finishing was my big advantage over him. He was either winning, which he was used to, or broke the bike, or crashed. When he won, I was second. When I won, he was nowhere.

My big handicap was size and weight. Comparatively I was a big guy and about 180 lbs. All the others were around 130. That's a big difference when all you have is 2x hp.

My big advantage was reading and applying what I read. I was eating up the British motorcycle magazines. Gentleman Racer Geoff Duke was my hero. I wanted to be like him. he had excellent racing articles. I was great in advanced technology smile.gif. I think I was the first who changed gearing for different tracks. I learned that braking is as important as having horsepower. If you look at the bike pictures, you may notice that later pictures had a larger front brake (from a Douglas 90) than the original shoe polish tin. Another thing I did was really check and walk the whole racing circuit. As it was streets, there were surprises. Some times, when the street was dirty, I took a broom and cleaned the 3 feet wide line I was going to use.

At this stage race regulations permitted only modified stock street bikes. Toward the end of the '53 championship the AJS dealer pushed through to permit production racers, and brought in a couple of AJS 7R production racers. No comparison. I still won the championship, winning two races and seconds and one third for the rest.

 

Some pictures:

 

This was the first race with the Velocette, no. 5 behind me is "El Negro Vivas". Now it looks like no lean angle, but I remember the bike hopping/sliding under my butt

 

i-bMwwvT6.jpg

 

Same race - my riding style is not that good yet

 

i-qxqRjZs.jpg

 

When I look at this picture today, I get a back-ache

 

i-Hc6jnxN.jpg

 

A bit better style

 

i-BQpSBGg.jpg

 

This for now.

 

Next, the South American Championship race in Lima, Peru.

 

Stay tuned.

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russell_bynum

You sir, are THE MAN.

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SageRider

What a unique glance at history!

Thank you, Paul. thumbsup.gif

Eagerly anticipating the next installment....

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stubble!

clap.gifclap.gifclap.gifclap.gifclap.gifclap.gifclap.gifclap.gifclap.gif

 

Wonderful. I'm really enjoying your story, Paul. Love the photographs. I wish we could see the earlier ones you took at the races. Can't wait to read more.

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Marty Hill

Paul,

 

Truly wonderful that you can share your history with us. Thanks! thumbsup.gif

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Mike05

Once again, thoroughly enjoyable. clap.gif

 

Thanks, & more please!!

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SeanC

Too cool! Thanks for a great read, Paul.

 

And I especially liked what you said about reading and devouring info from British racing mags. It's that kind of passion where every cell in your body is hungry to learn more. That's the real gift of youth, I think.

 

Thanks again.

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Paul_Burkett

This is a great ride tale. Too bad you had to get hurt to take the time to write it. grin.gif

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TyTass

Too often people with such rich memories as yous keep them private, which is of course their right. However, we here truly appreciate you sharing yours with us, Paul.

 

And I agree with what Russell said ... YOU ARE THE MAN!!!

 

Keep the stories coming! thumbsup.gif

 

Rest up and get healed before spring!

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Paul Mihalka

Hey, I'm a great believer in - if you get a lemon, make lemonade. What you read is my lemonade. grin.gif

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ESokoloff

Paul, hope your recovery is progressing as well as your writing smile.gif

 

You've got to get back in shape in order to create more memorable events to recount to us thumbsup.gif

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chrisd
What you read is my lemonade. grin.gif
Sweet!

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Whip

I love these stories.....

 

Thanks

 

Whip

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Stir

You're still a chick magnet...aren't you.

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ericfoerster

Just awesome thumbsup.gif

 

I am glad you have saved the pictures and memories to share with us.

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tobyzusa

Thanks Paul. You give me hope for many years of happy riding.

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EffBee

Paul, my great friend, thank you. Since my dad passed away late in '06, I have been compiling the story of his life, focusing at this time on his youth in Argentina and his time spent racing AJS's and Matchlesses, both roadracing and dirt track. I don't have many racing pictures of him, but there are a few pics of him and his friends posing with their bikes. While he was about 6 years your senior, your pictures bring back incredible memories of the stories he told of his adventures, both as a motorcyclist and a racer. I doubt you two met, even in South America. But I wish you had known him. Like you he had a very adventuresome youth, then met the right woman, settled down and eventually came to the U.S. I can tell by my conversations with you that you two thought very much alike about many things in life and in this world, and I'm certain you would have been friends.

 

For those of you who wonder about nicknames like "El Negro Vivas," this is very common in South America. Negro (neh - groh) is used to denote someone who's darker than most others, whether because they work outdoors or perhaps simply had a more olive complexion. "Flaco" and "Gordo" (skinny and fatso) are also used as endearing nicknames, as are many other physical traits ("Zurdo"-lefty, "Pelludo"-hairy, "Ciego"-blind, meaning wears glasses, "Barbudo"-bearded, etc). It wasn't uncommon to find a group of friends consisting of Flaco Fred, Ciego Jorge, El Russo Tomas (the Russian, meaning The Jew), Gordo Miguel, etc. all enjoying each others' company and embracing in true brotherhood.

 

My dad, all 6-5 and 190 lbs of him (in his early adulthood) was called Flaco by many of his friends. I have a good friend, Hector Cademartori, an artist and illustrator, repatriated from Argentina and whose work you may have seen in Cycle World and/or Road & Track, and we call each other Gordo, even though one of us is much heavier than the other (I ain't sayin' which). Such identifying nicknames, be they by coloring, race, ethnicity, religion, occupation, etc., come from a time when everyone decided that being friends was more important than trying to find hurt and insult in everything. They were words among lifelong friends.

 

At my dad's wake, people got up to speak about him. His American friends called him Fred. His Argentine friends from his youth referred to him as Flaco, Pelon (baldy), Palo (the stick), and one even used to call him Negro, because of my dad's ever-present tan from when he knew him as a rancher in his youth. When he was still with us, my Dad responded warmly to all of these names.

 

I point these things out simply to show that they were/are endearing terms, heartfelt identifiers among friends, and not in any way meant, nor taken, as hurtful words.

 

Paul, I'm sure El Negro Vivas was a character. I can't wait to hear more about him and your races with him.

 

[/minor hijack, back to Paul's racing stories]

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George Brown

Paul,

Keep this stuff coming - it GREAT! clap.gif

Thanks for sharing it.

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BFish

your pain is our gain....these biographical, historical narratives are awesome. clap.gif

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Highway41

That is just way bad cool. +++ on more.

Bill

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Twisties

Paul,

 

Add my kudos to the chorus. Missed the start as we were out riding, but getting all caught up now. Glad you are doing this and keep 'em coming. A whole piece of history I knew nothing about. Fascinating.

 

Jan

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JerryMather

SWEET

Thanks for taking the time and writing this down for us gear heads. I love this kind of stuff. thumbsup.gif

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Rinkydink

Wow!! You are much man Paul. I appreciate your recollections. Please keep 'em coming.

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lawnchairboy

thanks paul

 

I hope this goes into the the tales that last folder,

 

great tales and great pictures.

 

chris

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norah
You sir, are THE MAN.

 

thumbsup.gifthumbsup.gif Your stories are so awesome. Keep em coming (and the photos too!!)

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azkaisr

Truly worthy amigo!

 

Thanks for sharing!

 

Tom

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USAF1

thumbsup.gif

 

Pat

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