Moped Grand Prix

Text + photos: Mike Blanchard + Mike Rafter

Spotlight | The weekend of 18, 19, 20 of May saw just about every form of motorcycle racing take place in the Sacramento area: speedway, motocross, flat track and road racing. Friday night there was Fast Fridays speedway racing at the Auburn Fairgrounds. Saturday was the Hangtown round of the AMA Pro Motocross championship. Saturday night was the Sacramento Mile Grand National flat-track race. Sunday the 20th saw the Moped Grand Prix road races at the Prairie City kart track. While this race may have been of a lower profile than the motocross or flat track races, it was no less thrilling a spectacle.

There is a strong DIY element to any moped event, and the Grand Prix was no exception. Entry and a pit spot cost less than $100, so there is little barrier to participation. There are no pro teams or big-money sponsors. The bikes are generally built and tuned by the people who ride them. Racers took turns as corner workers and pitched in to help where needed.

The race was organized by a group of local riders and builders with a mix of the Landsquids and Lost Boys clubs and the Motomatic crew (which is really the high performance arm of the Landsquids) all pitching in where needed. The main movers behind this race were Tyler Brekke, Barry Torno, Dave Mazzaro and Julie Volkmer. All of them also raced. Like I said: DIY.

There is great interest in the moped fraternity in racing, and this coupled with a lack of race dates meant that racers traveled surprisingly long distances to attend. There were people from Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Seattle, Portland and from all over California in attendance.

In reality the race was a whole race weekend. Friday was a setup and tune day. Saturday was practice and time trials with a ride thrown in for fun. Sunday was race day with a run through all the classes in the morning and another go at it after lunch. Racers camped near the track and there was a festive atmosphere to the whole thing reminiscent of the old Grand Prix Continental Circus of the 1950s and '60s.

The mopeds race in four classes: Stock Modified, Non Variated, Variated and Unlimited.

The stock modified class is just that: stock frame, brakes, engine bottom end, transmission and limited to the stock 50cc top end. You can have a pipe and a 15mm carb. It is a festival of different go-fast theories with a wide variety of brands represented, many of which are bikes ridden on the street. However, homemade water-cooled heads are allowed.

The non-variated class is dominated by Puch bikes and is a hotly contested tuning showcase. If you win this class you have your act together. Engine capacity is limited to 75cc, but other than that you can pretty much do anything but have a variator. Water cooling is the way to power here.

A variator is a pulley with a variable diameter. As the engine revs up, the pulley uses a set of centrifugal weights to change the outside diameter of the pulley. Like changing gears but seamless. This makes 'em go faster.

The variated class is where you start to see more money spent and a more serious and sanitary-looking race kit. There is no limit on mods on frames or the engine. Engine capacity is limited to 75cc. Most of the bikes have a vestigial bit of moped frame like the tank and steering tube, but some bikes are built around small motorcycle frames. Commonly, small motorcycle forks are used.

The unlimited class mostly features bikes from the variated class but is open to any bike with a maximum allowed engine capacity of 99cc.

 There is a lot of help from the feet at the start of a moped race. The Stock class heads out.

There is a lot of help from the feet at the start of a moped race. The Stock class heads out.

In the variated and unlimited class the bikes of choice are the Spanish Derbi brand. Heck, Derbi is a good choice for any class. The engines offer good tuning potential and a solid base of race history to work from. Moped racing has been very popular in Europe for decades. Much of what has been done technically has been an outgrowth of the now dead small bore Grand Prix 50cc and 70cc classes. A top-spec bike is capable of speeds in excess of 70 miles an hour, but they are geared to do about 60 mph, which gives them a bit more usable torque for digging out of a corner.

At the end of the day after all the dust had settled, Tyler Brekke was the winner of both the Variated and Unlimited classes. He had a battle all day with Barry Torno (his Motomatic teammate) and Shane Johnson, who had come all the way from Wisconsin to run his trick Bidalot Motobecane race bike. Torno and Johnson both had crashes, which made the difference. This is not to say that Brekke didn’t earn his win. He scrapped hard for it.

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Race results

In the Stock class the results were: Edward Manhart, 42, pushed into first with Daniel Miller, 999, second and Ryan Montana, 21, in third.

In the Non-Variated class Alex Sokolowski, 110, was the winner with Aaron Martin, 66, in third and Daniel Miller, 999, sailing home in third.

The Variated class saw Tyler Brekke, 92, home first with Shane Johnson, 86, trailing and Barry Torno, 14VU, scrapping for third.

In the Unlimited class Tyler Brekke, 92,  again took the top spot with Shane Johnson, 86, in second and Alex Sokolowski, 110, in third after Torno crashed twice.