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DTRA Vintage Report: Amman Valley

Guest post from John Harrison.

When I built my Triumph as a street tracker twenty odd years ago, I imagined it as a half mile special from the early '70s, campaigned by the mechanic from some Triumph dealer in Anywhere, USA. A smalltown hero rider at his local County Fairgrounds oval, who benefitted from a bit of help from the shop owner in the way of whatever speed equipment they could get.

In the UK, by necessity, we ride short tracks with the exception of one venue, visited for a double-header weekend every year, the Amman Valley Trotting Track, South Wales. At just under a half-mile, it is wide, with long corners and a soft surface. The closest thing to a cushion half-mile most of us will ever get to see or ride.

So once a year I get to ride my suitable bike on a track it was intended for, and live out a bit more of my personal On Any Sunday fantasy.

Amman isn't universally popular because it ruts up badly during the course of a meeting, is a long, old trek to get to for a lot of folk, and the weather has a habit of turning bad and causing a rain out. But I love it. It suits my road bike geometry not to have to make tight turns, and I love to wind it out in third on the long straights. Amman's been good to me; I scored my first ever heat race win there followed by my ever first podium (third) in 2017, my first 2nd place podium in 2018, and when we last visited in 2019, my first Final win and a coveted 1st Trophy plate.

As Covid shut down everything last year, and the first few races were cancelled, we still had Amman to look forward to as restrictions were lifted during the summer. Then came the disappointment when the race was pulled a couple of days before going ahead, because of an upturn in infection numbers in the region.

This year I tried to keep a lid on my excitement for racing at Amman in case it was cancelled again. But as the race got closer there was no talk of covid cancellation and even the weather forecast was good. I was itching to race on the long track and hoped I could work on what I'd learnt in 2019.

This year, a 28-bike Vintage entry for the Sideburn-supported class was pretty respectable, and included a couple of new two-strokes. Vaughan Williams, #736 (father of Bultaco-racing Danny, featured in Sideburn 41) debuted his Champion-framed Bultaco sporting a great paint job that sets it apart from the Astros.

We also welcomed the 400cc CZ of Mark Russell #48 , a bike that he normally rides in twin shock scrambles, but had converted to try out flat track. Man, that machine flew... when it kept running.

Odgie #633 returned hoping to back up his Greenfield win and to tick Amman off his track list.

Welsh Wildcard Guto Llewelyn always comes to his home race and shows us all how to ride. He has raced at Amman since the pre-DTRA, Peter Boast days and is a naturally talented, fearless rider that makes it look so easy to go massively fast. The only thing that slows him down is the reliability of the JAP-engined bitsa he brings to race. His dad built and fettles the machine, but it is so highly tuned that it doesn't always finish (or indeed, start) a race.

Race day came in the middle of a heat wave. It was hot. Heavy black leathers, body armour, thermal long johns and a helmet with a letter box eye slot aren't ideal.

The Sideburn Vintage class fitted into pairs of heat races, followed by a 12-rider final.

Practise was lovely, the track still smooth and it felt great to be out there again.

Our first pair of heats were on a heavily watered track and everyone struggled with visibility.

In my second heat I had a shock and a thrill when Guto passed me at warp speed and disappeared, his methanol-fuelled JAP single roaring as it drowned out the sound of my own unsilenced twin, and setting a lap time 1.5 sec quicker than the best of the rest. Sadly Guto suffered mechanical DNFs in his other heats and didn't make the final.

In the same race I enjoyed a back and forth dice with young gun Sean Kelly #33 on his 400 Suzuki two-stroke, just beating him to the flag for second place. Looking at the lap chart, the race had multiple dices all through the field, with everyone swapping positions.

This is John in the deep stuff, on cheap twin shocks and stock forks.

Throughout the day I found I was comfortable riding round the outside of the turns in the deep stuff, carrying more corner speed onto the straights. The pesky two-strokes had to stick to the harder surface on inside line to keep their revs up.

The final was, for me at least, great fun. Typically, I'm eating the dust from the two-strokes of Sean and Simon Bird #555, and Odgie’s BSA, but this time I made a good start and was clear of them all by the time we were all out of turn 2 for the first time. Each corner I saw Sean on the inside of me while I took the long way round the outside and we'd drag race down the straights, back and forth. Sean usually has it his own way when he gets out in front, but not this time, Junior.

Sadly, the race had to be red flagged after the brake on Andy John's BSA #175 locked solid leaving him unable to push it off the track from the middle of turn 3. Brave chap stood his ground in his visible yellow jersey whilst we all bore down on him at 60-odd mph rather than leave his bike and watch us crash into it unseen.

There wasn't a restart, so the results stood with Sean Kelly and Simon Bird joined on the 2T podium by first timer Mark Russell and his CZ. I reckon he'll be back to ruffle more feathers.

Joining me in the 4T winners circle were Odgie and T120 Triumph mounted Carl Swateridge #257, who also picked up the Sideburn Rider of the Day award. Carl has become a regular on the four-stroke podium and it's only a matter of time before he'll be standing on the top step.

So, despite the exhausting heat, a great day of racing. And I scored another personal 'first'. Never before have I posted a fastest lap in a race or practise, but I'm chuffed to have done so this time at Amman, although it was nowhere near Guto's flying time. Next year perhaps?

Away from Vintage, in the other classes we were treated to some fine and thrilling races, particularly in Thunderbikes and Pros with notable performances from Toby Hales, Gary Birtwistle, Tom Clemans, Jon Bell and many others. The DTRA goes from strength to strength.

Photos: Matt Wellington


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