Back in the old days of the “Elkhart” national at Road America, the paddock was crowded with fans, bikes and participants. Real attendance levels topped 40,000 for the weekend. The autograph line for the Honda tent, in 2002, was over a quarter of a mile in length. Fans stood in line for signatures or just hung on the paddock fence conversing with friends while watching teams work on factory Superbikes.
One Saturday long ago, Californian Chuck Aksland was in the Road America crowd, wearing his Team Roberts polo. Before becoming a managing partner in MotoAmerica, Aksland had a variety of different jobs in the industry. He was a manager at Team Roberts for fifteen years, raced 250s as a teammate to Wayne Rainey and (almost simultaneously) worked as Rainey’s 250 mechanic here in the USA. He later went on to oversee the building of the Circuit of Americas in Texas, where he later ran the track. He’s also a part time agent and manager to a rider you may have heard of–Jon Rea of WSBK fame. Chuck’s dad is Bud Aksland, Kenny Roberts’ first sponsor, and lifelong friend.
There are a number of “Chuck in Wisconsin” stories. For example, the time in early ’80s 250 practice when the team he and Rainey were riding for then hung Chuck’s pit board over the wall as he came past. It read “Time to work on Wayne’s bike”. He was Wayne’s teammate and mechanic, simultaneously, for a season or so. So, Chuck would come in and he’d work on Rainey’s bike as a mechanic, in his leathers. Then, when Rainey’s TZ250 had enough repair or adjustment and Wayne could go back out, Chuck could again ride.
Or, the time at Elkhart Lake when a young man with a tight coral reef of rust-colored hair approached Chuck Aksland, introduced himself and said he’d do anything, anything at all, to become a world champion. That young man? John Kocinski.
Back to the crowded Elkhart paddock so many years ago: Chuck stood enjoying the scene, the smell of cooked bratwurst intertwined with sunscreen while waiting to talk to the Team Honda people about some items they had ordered fabricated by the Roberts Group in the UK. Unexpectedly, a stranger walked up to Aksland and asked him if he knew where to get some parts for his bike. Many in Aksland’s position would reply “Sorry, man, pretty busy right now, try a catalog” but Chuck has a good soul and asked the man, believed to be local to Milwaukee, what he needed.
Cap on his head and wearing sunglasses, the man pulled a stack of photos out of his pocket, and handed them to Chuck, explaining that he needed the updated sub-frame, and the correct version of the late-season swingarm, among other bits.
Chuck thumbed through the snapshots. What appeared at first to be some kind of a Yamaha GP “tribute” bike, clearly wasn’t a tribute bike at all. It was an early 1990s factory Yamaha GP bike. It had a Yamaha chassis with one of the first versions of the adjustable swing-arm pivot that Team Roberts made, a factory engine and a set of exhaust pipes that looked very much like a set that Chuck’s dad, Bud, had made for Team Roberts (Bud Aksland made the majority of exhaust systems for Team Roberts two-strokes for 25 years).
Chuck’s eyes grew bigger and wider as he thumbed through the pictures. He was well-versed in what was authentic and what wasn’t when it came to Yamaha GP bikes. This was a factory YZR500, not a ROC or a Harris copy; and the bike looked to be in a home garage. In Wisconsin.
Probably not the best poker player in the world, and clearly incredulous, Chuck Aksland threw all of his cards on the table with one question.
“WHERE DID YOU GET THIS BIKE?!” he asked the man with no name, a cap and sunglasses.
With no pause the man grabbed the photos from Chuck’s hands, turned around and disappeared into the crowd, never to be seen again.