The interest in the DTRA's Vintage class grows with every year. Four-strokes and two-strokes are mixed on the track, but split into two championships, and Sean Kelly proved you didn't need anyone's idea of a typical flat tracker, or a big budget, to win the two-stroke title, as he did in 2019. Here Sean shares the story of his Suzuki TS400. (Action photos: Braking Point Images)
Motorcycles have always been the family trade but not always in the blood. As a third-generation motorcycle mechanic, I am the first of our family to ever race one. It all started in 2014 when I volunteered to marshal at a DTRA event in hopes of getting into the sport. Standing only feet away from the bikes tearing down the half-mile track in the rain at Amman Valley, I was hooked.
I raced the whole 2015 DTRA season in the rookie class on a Yamaha YZF426 not having a clue what I was doing. It took me until my third race to get the suspension lowered for flat track. Through sheer grit and adolescent eagerness I managed to win the Rookie championship. I raced the next season in intermediate, but a road incident left me with a broken femur and shattered wrist. I was out of the sport for just over a year. I came back to the Inters [the DTRA's Intermediate class, between Rookie and Pro] and raced the last two races of 2017 and then another full season in 2018 on my Yamaha 426, managing to finish 4th in the championship meaning I was going in the Pro class for 2019.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet some great people during my short racing career, one who made the most impact is Mike Fisher. We shared the pits together in 2015 for our first race. A salt of the earth kind of guy and a great mentor. He went on to race and win the vintage two-stroke flat track class on his Champion Bultaco 350. This is the gentleman’s class, proper machines and well-dressed folk racing for the love of it.
I raced Mike’s Bultaco a couple times over the years and thrill was immense, the sound, smell and vibration was nothing on the modern bikes. Since my accident I felt I’d lost my momentum in the modern class and knew I would struggle in the Pros, so wanting to race and still enjoy it, I needed a new challenge and the Vintage class was calling.
My dream bike would have been the Triumph T100 500cc twin, but the prices of vintage bikes have gone through the roof, so it wasn’t feasible. I was on eBay every lunchtime at work looking for a Vintage project, and then I saw it. A 1973 Suzuki TS400 from the States. The engine was loose in the
frame and it was missing the CDI, the tank had many dents but my winning bid was £995 so I was happy enough.
On stripping the bike I found two frame mounts to be broken but everything else was okay. I took the engine down to Mike Fisher’s farm. He has a fantastic workshop and knows all there is to know about two-strokes. We stripped the engine to find the piston was nearly new the ring gaps were perfect and, luckiest of all, was discovering the bottom end had been rebuilt at some stage with what looked like a new con-rod.
Back at my workshop I repaired the frame and refitted the engine. I left the front-end stock, as the wheel was 19in already, so I only had to rebuild the forks and centre the front wheel so it had room for the Dunlop DT tyre. I left the rear wheel 18in to start with but eventually rebuilt it with a 19in rim to fit the correct DT tires. I found a used CDI unit, connected the necessary electronic components for the bike to fire, kicked the bike and the spark was good. After putting the stock,
rebuilt carb, air box and exhaust back on it was ready to be kicked over again, this time with pre-mix. Second kick the old Suzuki fired into life and filled the workshop with smoke. It was running good and sounded solid. After quick test run up and down the side lane to check the gears and clutch, I felt it was ready for a race.
I took the bike to Rye House for a practice day and soon found the standard rear shocks were awful, bucking me everywhere. A pair of slightly longer Hagon shocks fixed this issue and gave me the drive out the corners, being longer also meant less rake for quicker steering.
The next issue was the tickover screw started winding itself in further every lap, until I was coming off the back straight still on the throttle. I had to bin the bike into the air fence, snapping the clutch lever but no major damage. I found the issue the hard way, but nothing some lockwire couldn’t fix. I was pleased. The bike was powerful enough to be competitive and Japanese enough to finish the
race as well.
First race out with the DTRA at King's Lynn I manage a third place finish in the final. This motivated me to get the 19in rear wheel built. I had the bike dyno tested and found it made 27.5bhp at 5000rpm. It was enough for short track racing and I raced the whole 2019 season with a mostly stock Suzuki TS400. It never let me down and after the first race I won every other national vintage two-stroke race of 2019 taking the championship. Along the way I beat a lot of the big Triumphs and had the most fun I’ve had racing flat track. The sounds are fantastic the feeling of lining up on the grid with a 1000cc Harley on your right and a 750cc Triumph on your left, with Hubert Bastie’s two-stroke Husqvarna firing pre-mix from the front is incomparable to other race classes. It has been an honour and a privilege to race with the DTRA alongside so many great riders from around the world. A big thank you to those who make it possible.
Sean's Suzuki was given a lick of paint for 2020.