Sunday, September 21, 2008


I arrived in Germany on Saturday after 30 hours of plane games (the flight out of SF was delayed 3 hours due to a malfunctioning light in the Boeing 777 instrument panel; spent the night in Denver, and was rerouted to Chicago/Frankfurt). But, it was still only 6am so no racing would be missed, so I drove the 45 minutes to the circuit, where I met my host at the Hockenheim Museum. This houses quite a collection of motorcycles, about 150 I would estimate, from all over the world, plus a few racing cars. As my host owns many of the machines present (several collections are included), I was able to get 'up close and personal' with any of particular interest (see photo of yours truly playing on a Rennsport BMW RS 54). I asked about the handling of these machines, as I've heard they can be difficult when pushed hard;
'on a fast ride they handle beautifully, but at the limit, the torque reaction from the shaft drive can make the bike feel akward. It has been said that one is either born with an instinct to work with this feeling, or not - and Geoff Duke never had this instinct' (but was still able to ride them very quickly!). It felt just fine at museum speeds. More photos to come.

Hockenheim is owned by the German gov't, and a massive investment has brought it up to modern F1 standards, at the insistence of Bernie Ecclestone (F1 impresario). Thus, there are new stands, and the track has been shortened by several kilometers - it used to run off into the woods, but now hugs the grandstand areas more tightly - it's still over 4km long. The seating capacity is something like 160,000 people, who used to fill the stands when Michael Schumacher was racing F1, but now that he has retired, the numbers have dwindled, leaving the gov't holding the bag. The track is smooooth and basically flat; how do I know this? We'll get to that in a moment.

Perhaps 1500 people attended this meet, which was organized by the VFV (German oldtimer racing club). A dozen autojumble stalls and wurst stands serviced the hundreds of racers present; 'our' gang was housed in a nice lineup of team garages, while the riffraff sprawled all over the infield with RVs and their racing machines.

The Hockenheim Museum had its own set of stalls and made up a 'team' for the weekend. The motorcycles in the collection are meant to be used and displayed, and events such as this are used to fine-tune the racers after refurbishment. The focus of the Museum machines this year was NSU racers; not only was a large selection of Sportmax and Rennmax machines lined up, but three of the factory's supercharged postwar 500cc dohc twins were gathered, and raced. Two of these bikes had only recently come back to life, under the incredibly skilled hands of Wolfgang Schneider (see photo). This was the first time in 50 years that these motorcycles had been together on the track. More on them later.

The gathering of riders included Jim Redman, six time World Champion, and several German national champions, as well as winners of GPs in solo and sidecar classes - quite an impressive field.

The bottom photo shows one of the blown NSU racers, with Stephan Knittel on the right - Stephan has been writing for various classic motorcycle magazines for decades and has written many books on the subject. We had much to talk about, and I learned quite a lot from him in the short time we spent together.

No comments: