It struck me not long ago that the AMA Superbike paddock has become a surprisingly respectable place in the third millennium. For example, all riders look the part now and use one-piece leathers instead of the old-school two-parters that made them look like part-time Matadors; bikesfactory bikes, mind youare no longer held together almost completely by hose clamps and duct tape like they were in the 70s; and American Superbike no longer features races held directly across from large steaming garbage mounds, like at Gateway in 1995. Sure, motorcycle racing is never going to attain the poo-poo respectability of golf or the smarmy esteem of polo in the minds of the general public, and that's finewonderful, even. Because motorcycle racing has as its root level a degree of hooliganism or rebellion ("acting out", I think they term it now) that it will never shake, God-willing.
Having said that, I'm disappointed to see one dark facet of the paddock disappearing quickly: blatant in-your-face cheating.
Cheating, or creative rule-bending if you will, has a long and glorious history in Superbike racing, and even in the support classes. Those of us who have walked erect in the paddock long enough can remember headlight shells sealed and filled with gasoline, reducing the number of pit stops at Daytona; GSX-R1100s raced in GSX-R750 guise to out-gun the competiton; fairing panels zip-tied together in the front to give the machine an aerodynamic advantage; and oil cans filled with lead weights so motorcycles could attain the minimum weight after Superbike races. It was that Smokey Yunick-style cheating that gave the Superbike paddock some color, some character.
And in terms of cheating I'm not referring to the now almost common practice of factory teams pulling 600 parts out of the bin and measuring them in order to build a Supersport motor with as solid a top end as legally possible and a bottom end so loose that you'd mistake it for one that just finished a 24 hour endurance race.
One team in particular, who shall remain nameless, had a habitual problem making their motorcycle attain legal weight in the post-race tech inspection. To, ah, help things along, they added bags of lead shot to the oil that would be pored into the bike before it was weighed. By doing so, the team and bike I'm referring to made the minimum weight, well, nearly every time. You see, they had to add weight because the stock-appearing frame was made from highly illegal titanium ...
And then there were cases of not-so-barefaced cheating, where a semi-trained eye put two and two together and then cracked a sly grin in conclusion. Case in point: 1990's Ferracci Ducati Superbikes and Ferracci's use of Agip race fuel.
I have no concrete proof that Ferracci ever cheated with fuel (or if it was even cheating, to be honest), and am sure he'd deny it if you asked him today. I just noted some odd happenings in my notebook a time or two. And it wasn't just me that noticed, because it certainly didn't take a trained eye to discern something was up. I mean, the bikes were on fire, so it was hard to treat the situation as business as usual.
It really did seem that there were two different grades of Agip fuel back then. There was the standard Agip race fuel which reeked to high heaven and gave everyone in the paddock storming headaches. And then there seemed to be a completely different grade fuel that Ferracci used sparingly. When the chips were down and his riders needed a few tenths in qualifying to help them make a the next row, things happened. New fuel and settings for the fuel injection were procured and without much of a warm-up, the bike and rider sent out. When matched up with qualifying tires, the hot-fuel bike was lethally fast--as well as just plain lethal. I have in my mind a picture of Mike Hale coasting down the pit lane at Daytona on a Ferracci bike after one such qualifying sprint. Most of the time the "qualifying fuel" burned at such high temps that the mufflers glowed, but in this instance, most of the carbon tail section was literally in flames.
I asked Ferracci about it afterwards, and he just smiled and said in his lovely Sicilian accent, "My friend, that was a good runnin' a motorcycle."
For whatever reason Ferracci is now gone from the paddock, as is Rob Muzzy, and gone from this earth is one of the more creative rule-benders, Pops Yoshimura. They have been replaced with corporate minders and the in-your-face cheating antics that once were almost common are seemingly now a rarity.
This season, the scandals have been mild in comparison to the days when Eddie Lawson almost won the Superbike title on a Dave Aldana's motorcycle. In 2004 we were "rocked" when Erion Honda and Jake Zemke broke a gentlemen's agreement in Formula Extreme by using qualifying tires, and also by the mid-season brouhaha regarding the length of Honda FX swing-arms. Whoop-dee-friggin-do.
What's more, teams now apply those ubiquitous AMA Pro Racing decals to the fairings of their bikes without a hint of displeasure, like they're all one big happy family. Oh, stories I could tell. Here's one: at Daytona in 1993 the AMA mandated that all riders had to wear an AMA patch on their leathers. As you might imagine, this did not go over well in some circles. When informed, Eddie Lawson's face turned crimson but the Vance and Hines Yamaha rider quickly found a solution: the patch was sewn on, but Lawson slapped a piece of white duct tape over it, making the AMA logo unreadable.
But that was then and this is now. What would Ferracci say about the high-crime of the season being the length of the swingarm on a Honda 600?
I don't know for sure, but I'd guess the old master would say, "That's a fuggin' a bullshit, my friend,".