Words and photos by Alan Bott
Wanting to race a 1981 Maico in the world vets at Glen Helen, California has been four years in the making.
I first went to America five years ago to compete in the lake Elsinore GP as one of my 50 year bucket list things to do .
I got in touch with Danny Tollett whom I sponsor in a small way. He organises trips a couple of times a year to the USA with Micky from California motocross holidays .
Danny takes six blokes over to ride many of the practice tracks and go on trips to watch super-cross meetings and factory visits etc .
My original plan was to rent a bike off Micky and race at the lake Elsinore gp (like out of the on any Sunday film )then race the world vets the week after.
Well that was the first time I came over.
The second time was far better planned because I brought my darling wife KATH .This time it was to race at the world vets then rent a Harley Davidson to explore Route 66 for four days then back to race at lake Elsinore.
Now if you don’t know the Glen Helen circuit (its mega).its a bit like Hawkstone park but twice as big ,with the longest start straight in the world ,the fastest first corner in the world ,and 3 of the biggest hills in the world to climb!
The first and second and third time I raced there I was on a 250f, now even with the best start in the world by the time you are half way down the start straight you will be mid pack and by the first corner you are probably three quarters way down the pack and if the start straight wasn’t bad enough the massive hills will drain the rest of the speed out of that 250 engine. the whole meeting made me feel like I was trying to catch my tail all the time.
I have tried a 450f but I must admit being a mere mortal the glen Helen track is a strength sapping exercise on the best of days but when riding a 450f the bottom end power of the grunting animal then life just becomes too much to handle.
five years ago I came back to motocross racing in the national twin shock championship on the trusted power and handling of the good old 1981 490 Maico.
I raced these bikes back in 81 and can clearly remember to this day the forgiving power band and feather bed suspension of the old steed so it felt like a marriage made in heaven all over again.
Alan BottI just had it in my head even though the Maico is thirty five/thirty six years old , the power of the engine around this mighty track would be better suited for my riding style with this 50+ year old body.
So the search was on to try to find the same spec of Maico that I race at home in the uk . this proved to be a very tall order given to the yanks seemingly favouring the vintage 72/74 bikes .
there was no rush however as this is a trip that only comes round once a year so time didn’t seem to be a problem .
I emailed the two main gurus in the states to help to find the maico that i was looking for .this was eric cook from Maico only usa and Gary Kortz from socal Maico. if any body was in the know ,then it would be these two guys .
a couple of 1980s and 81s came up for grabs but the one I wanted was a late 81 with a reed valve engine. this was a very rare bike to find and we looked and continually looked ,but there was not a glimmer.
I started to put together plan B which would be to build a bike in the uk and ship it out to the states . now I know that this was also a tall order but it was the only alternative. .i did manage to find a bike from a very close competitor of mine -Phil Martindale .this bike was to be a complete rebuild because it came in two cardboard boxes however at least I knew that when it was finished then it would be identical to my other two race bikes.
You know the saying “when it rains it pours”? well within 5 days of starting my project I got an email from Gary Kortz to tell me of a bike that had come for sale that might be of interest .the bike was a practice bike for the great Herbert Schmitz . I beleave Herbert was one of the few Maico riders to win 500 GP he was also one of the highest paid Maico riders of all time.Herbert used to travel to the states in the winter months to enjoy the warmer climate and train on this very Maico.
Unfortunately Herbert suffered a stroke in Germany and his family were responsible for selling his bikes for his continual care.
I have raced against Herbert in previous vets mxdn meetings at farleigh castle and even in is early sixties he was still a force to be reckoned with . i just knew that the bike would be all singing and all dancing.
The deal was done within hours of being told about this rare find, the only problem was I had now purchased a third bike in the UK which i had only just started . i gave the engine to my trusted engine builder yet another old fellow competitor martin Snape from msr racing .i got Martin to give the engine a good old once over just to make sure there was no snakes in the grass when I came to sell it.
The whole bike was rebuilt and made to look like it was one of my own race bikes .with frame painted shocks serviced and the bike all built up and ready to go.
So all was needed was a buyer ,if not just to make room in my workshop and to be honest the money would come in handy to retrieve some money back for my purchase in the states.
Now this was July /August 2015 .we were three quarters way thru our race season building a bike to sell and had a bike in the states waiting to be woken up after a two year storage lay up.
The flights are booked the entry’s are in for the world vets but the only problem is is that we only arrive in to the states 48hrs before the world vets meeting starts.my level headed darling wife Says to me (if you think that that Maico over in the states will
Be ready to race after being stored for two years in a garage then your dreaming )and bugger me she is right .so I think the safe plan is to rent another bike off Micky just for the vets and then on Monday go over to socal Maico in Ventura and check the Maico out and give it a shack down .
The world vets went well even on a 250f with a 8th overall on Saturday and a 9th on Sunday but as I predicted I did struggle down the start straight and also up the hills .all I could do was look forward to picking the maico up and iron any of its problems out and already start thinking of the enjoyment that I was going to have by learning the bike and look forward to some good track time and focus on the 2016 world vets the following year.
We went to milestone on the Tuesday ,the only problem we were having was the engine over running and pinking in the corners but I soon sorted that by mixing the right grade of fuels together .i mixed high octane 110 race fuel with 97 pump fuel which give me the mixter that the bike wanted .at the weekend I went to a American retro motocross meeting at the high altitude 212 land motocross track.this track give me another headache because the altitude give me a massive flat spot at mid throttle .and with only main jets to hand I couldn’t sort the problem .with 2 second places under my belt .it decide to seize on a crank bearing whist on the start line for my third and last Moto.
This was a start of a new friendship with Eric cook from Maico only usa Antorio .i got to Eric’s with my tail between my legs on Monday morning telling him of the bad news .he told me to take the engine out and leave the engine with him and by Wednesday it was back in and running again. Within my stay in 2015 I competed another two retro meetings with 2 wins to my name also one or two more practice days and my last race of that trip was the red bull (day in the dirt)meeting on which a got 3rd in the Evo drum brake class.
2016 we arrived the week before the world vets .now we were getting a routine together .i did a shake down on Tuesday and Thursday then the official practice at glen Helen on Friday.we had lots of lookers at the bike and with some very nice comments too.the world vets have a total of 1200 entrees over the weekend .my bike was probably the only bike over 5years and we know we can had another 30 years on top of that.so the bike really stuck out like a saw thumb .i really felt at home on the bike and couldn’t wait till race day .my plan was to have a top ten finish and with 30 plus riders on my grid would give me amence pleaser and probably piss some of my fellow competitors off at the same time.
Getting off the line like a jocket wasn’t the problem ,it was when the front wheel decided to go air born was.i then paid the price when I shut the throttle off and lost about 10 places into the first corner but never the less it was total pleaser exelerating up the those hills with so much ease it was like magic.i finished 7th on the day so all went well I just wanted to do it again the day after.
With a 7th again in the first race on the Sunday was good but i always want to better my last result .my last race of the weekend was the chance to shine and really try to get that unbelievable start .4th in the first corner was brilliant and it got even better holding that position for three quarters of the race but with only two laps to go i had a gearbox issue and with the bike stuck in third gear managed to finish the race in 8th place and that give me 8th overall for the day.
Yet again cap in hand it was I visit to Eric at Maico only to sort the little problem out which was sorted the same day ,so thanks again for the help its much appreciated .
The week later was the like Elsinore GPthe first race was the over 50s 40 min Moto which I got a 2nd and then in the afternoon It was the evo class which I got 1st.
The week later I raced gary gortzs 1974 Maico 400 from socal Maico .this meeting was a scramble at the Roy Rogers ranch off the Route 66 .i got a 4th in my first race and second in the second race but the deep sand was taking its toll on these engines so with out doing any more damage to the engine I decided to miss the last race.
I raced at the American retro cross meeting and got four 1st places .
My last meeting was the red bull (day in the dirt) meeting also at glen Helen and got 2nd in the Evo drum bake class.
Joking apart going to California is a fantastic experience and when you have got your own bike there well it’s a massive bonus but I suppose the only down fall is that I have probably down as much riding in one month than I do in 6 months plus in the uk.so maintenance is a must and I am working onto a spare engine just so I don’t loose any track time next year.