The $600 Motorcycle That Won at Daytona    -Ed Milich
I gave a sigh of relief as I crossed the finish line at Daytona International Speedway in 1st place on the V65 Moto Guzzi that I bought for $600 a year prior. How'd this happen? Allow me to back up a bit...

  I've been racing in the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA)'s Vintage Superbike racing classes for about five years now. These groups feature mostly 1970's and 80's machines (cutoff date is 1982), and the rules allow modifications such as modern forks and wheels, so they are very much "builders" classes.  About two years ago at the Willow Springs Corsa Moto Classica races, I watched as SoCal Moto Guzzi mechanic Sean Fader walked away with 1st place in Vintage Superbike Lightweight on his mild Guzzi V65 on two days straight of racing. That got me thinking. I soon found a suitable V65 donor bike in San Diego and bought it sight unseen for $600. The previous owner downplayed the stark fact that the rear wheel was somehow locked up, mentioning only that there was a funny noise coming from rear of the bike. Meh. Minor detail. The bike was destined for reconstructive surgery anyway.  Fader rebuilt my rear drive and transmission at his workplace, Moto Guzzi Classics, performing all the factory decreed oiling updates that keep these components from exploding to pieces under stress. I built a fresh, stock engine, stuffed it and then dynoed it and was greeted by a blazing 40.6 hp (Fader's bike was 40.4 hp.). I added other stuff such as Works Performance shocks, 35mm Marzocchi damper rod front forks (from a Cagiva Alazzurra), 300mm Brembo front brakes with proven Brembo F08 calipers, and a vintage 3 spoke 17" front Dymag wheel.

  Now, the smallblock Guzzis seemed to be a step toward modernity when they debuted in the late 1970's, at least compared to the venerable Guzzi big block twins.  These were modular bikes with 350, 500, 650, and 750cc engine configurations, and Guzzi actually scaled the bore and stroke dimensions to provide a broad range of well-engineered machines to appeal to a large number of consumers.  These bikes featured a light, cast aluminum swingarm that pivoted directly in the engine cases, thus using the engine cases as a stressed frame member. The smallblocks also located the ignition points drive at the front of the camshaft, eliminating the more complicated distributor of the big block Guzzis. Despite these modern design features, execution was poor by Guzzi standards, and the bikes were seemingly punted out of the factory with an 80% engineering job instead of the typical Moto Guzzi 90%. As a result, a significant number of bikes had rear drives that spontaneously and randomly exploded like forgotten land mines on a nature trail, and crankshaft bearings that boogered up quicker than a box of Kleenex at an allergist's office. Guzzi eventually issued updates for its flawed components, but these fixes required such intensive surgery that many owners instead just rode the bikes until they blew up and then parked them. Guzzi eventually improved build quality on the small twins and the designs now endure into their third decade as the basis for the current Moto Guzzi Breva and Nevada models.

Well, after a complete tranny, rear drive and engine rebuild, my V65 racer was up and running. It debuted in 3rd place in VSL class in its first race at Daytona in 2007. I then raced it at 10 other AHRMA rounds in 2007, taking many 2nd's and 3rd's. The little Guzzi never missed a beat, though. It never DNF’ed, and required only minor maintenance (fluid changes and valve adjusts) between races. As underpowered and overweight at it was (a 320 lb, 40 hp bike racing against 250 lb, 50 hp Ascots), it ended up in 3rd place for 2007.  That was fine for its first year out, but it was not enough.

  Enter Ducati Hall of Fame tuner Bruce Meyers. Over the winter, Bruce built a set of heads for my V65 (a "mud pump" he calls it…) using oversized valves and some mild port work. Mike Perry from Kibblewhite came up with some great racing valve springs. Mark Etheridge at Guzzi Classics even sprayed me a classy red gas tank for it. Most importantly, sponsor Bob Brant of the Red Car Brewery in Torrance, CA provided the India Pale Ale that fueled the entire team. I built a fresh new motor for the V65 using lighter and stronger Carrillo rods, but otherwise using mostly stock components. Now, the V65 uses Heron heads, and the combustion chambers are located entirely in the pistons (the heads are completely flat...included valve angle is 180 deg (!)). I thus simply trimmed 2 mm off of pistons and cylinders to bump up compression from ~9:1 to 12.5:1, which works great with commonly available 110 octane leaded racing fuel. Imagine my surprise when I tested the bike at L&L's dyno at Willow Springs and found it to be up 20% from stock (a 9 hp gain)! This was from compression and cylinder head work alone, mind you. I was still using stock carbs, exhaust headers and cam... mainly because there was absolutely nothing available off the shelf for the bike! 

  Now, back to Daytona International Speedway, on Monday, March 3, 2008. On this first day of AHRMA's Daytona Bike Week event, I got the holeshot on the little Guzzi, led for three laps and then got passed by AHRMA Trustee and speed demon Craig Breckon on his Honda Ascott. He and I went back and forth a few times, having a spirited, yet clean race, and completely leaving behind the rest of the pack. I was regularly reving the little pushrod powered Guzzi to 8500-9000 rpm, well into its redline. The bike never faltered. On the last lap, Craig was ahead coming out of the chicane. I drafted him around the banking and towards the finish line, only to end up 3 feet short of victory. I finished in 2nd place.

  On Tuesday at Daytona, I again got the holeshot.  This time, I focused hard and did four hot laps before I bothered to look back. Turning around, I saw nothing behind me but the sun-bleached Daytona asphalt.  After two more laps, I cruised past the finish line to an uncontested victory. Had it been my extra day of practice sessions, or did Breckon just gear his machine wrong?  A: Who cares. That’s racing! We win! This was actually the first race that the little Guzzi had ever won, and I could think of no more fitting place than historic DIS to finally taste glory on the little twin.

  What's next for the little Guzzi racer? Well, I just received a prototype V65 performance cam from Web. I’m also looking for a transmission from Lario or a Breva to raise my gearing 10% for Daytona next year. Oh, yeah….I ran all my races in 2007 without making a single change to the bike's gearing. Why? Well...this shaft drive machine requires one to change either the rear wheel size or the entire transmission (!) to change gear ratios. Hence, I simply raced at Daytona, Mid-Ohio, Kershaw, Willow Springs, Miller Motorsports, and Sandia without worrying about the minor detail of gearing for different tracks. I also need to adapt a Guzzi V50 swingarm to the bike as this item is 40 mm shorter than the current item. Guzzi changed the output shaft splines between the V50 and V65, so it's not a straight swap. I'll have to cannibalize a shorter V50 drive shaft to make it all work. While that long swingarm makes for a stable machine in the fast stuff at Willow Springs and Daytona, the bike currently steers like a station wagon in the tight stuff. I have to hang way off like a sidecar monkey to get it to track in the turns. A shorter swingarm will mitigate this.

  Moto Guzzis have a long history of racing successes since their founding in 1919. The smallblock Guzzis are underrepresented in such victories, though, and I thus have a unique gift for the Guzzi factory- a 1st place trophy from Daytona- which I will present to them when I next visit Mandello Del Lario, Italy. Thus ends my story of fulfilling a lifelong goal of mine: winning a race at Daytona on a Moto Guzzi. Not bad for $600, huh?
Before and after...