Hand-shift motorcycle racers dance to a different beat
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The itch to race in the hand-shift class was a little harder to satisfy. “I’m
constantly sleeping in my truck,” Tuffli says by way of explaining that he’s
always strapped for cash. Two years ago he almost quit racing, but then Harley
specialist Tom Faber at Faber Cycle and his pals in the Road Weasels, an
Indian-only club (Tuffli also owns a 1938 Indian Sport Scout) out of Grand
Rapids, Mich., pooled their parts and skills to build Tuffli the Harley he’s
racing now. “They built the bike for me,” Tuffli says. “It’s really been a group
effort and it really makes me feel good.” For 2008, out of a field of 15 riders
(about average for a given year with maybe half that number competing in a given
race) Tuffli ended up third in class in hand shift and fourth in pre-1940; he
rose to second in class for hand shift in 2009.
Like Tuffli, Wessel started his AHRMA career on a Honda CB350. He also built
a Triumph 650 for road racing, but after a few years he decided it was time to
move a different direction. He sold the Honda and returned the Triumph to street
status, and turned his attention to his small but growing collection of Indians,
singling out one of his 45ci flathead V-twin Sport Scouts.
For his first few
years Wessel consistently placed mid-pack in the hand-shift and pre-1940
classes. But things started changing in 2007, when he came in third in hand
shift and fourth in pre-1940, and in 2009 he clinched the deal, scoring first in
the hand-shift class while also nabbing third in pre-1940.
Unlike Tuffli, however, whose team Road Weasel Harley is basically unchanged
from its first season (except for swapping the standard gear box for a
close-ratio unit), Wessel has continuously improved his Indian. “I’m running
standard valves but Carrillo rods,” Wessel says, adding, “but if you lose a
piston the damn Carrillos will destroy everything else.” Don’t ask how he knows.
Wessel’s also running high performance camshafts, but there’s only so much cam
tuning you can do on an Indian as each of its two cams operates both the intake
and exhaust valves for that cylinder. Even so, he says he can rev to about
7,000rpm safely, good for speeds in the high 90s. “We’ve been clocked at 100mph
at Daytona,” Wessel says.