Clouds of War: Never Stand Behind An Angry Horse or a Running Race Bike

he NSR250 of Masahiro Shimizu at Laguna Seca USGP 1989. Clouds of two-stroke smoke fill the air.
The NSR250 of Masahiro Shimizu at Laguna Seca USGP 1989. Clouds of two-stroke smoke fill the air. Tito Vanderslice

When Soup’s old friend Tracy Hagen passed away last summer he took with him so many great stories, most of them never published or told outside of Hagen’s inner circle of friends.

Looking at the above image, of Masahiro Shimizu’s NSR250 Honda being warmed up at Laguna Seca in 1990, reminded Soup of an old “Tracy Story” that he told occasionally.

Hagen attended and covered GP races all over the world for over 25 years. He was a great technical writer, which probbaly came with his couple of engineering degrees and keen mind. He was the only person in the media center who could go toe to toe with Kevin Cameron on technical matters.

Once, at a 1990s GP, Hagen said he was walking up the pit lane as the mighty 500s were warmed up before practice. He strolled past the Cagivas, the Suzukis and the factory Honda NSRs but stopped behind the Team Roberts Yamahas  as the men in red and white throttle-whipped them so the V-4s would come up to operating temperature before venturing out onto the track.

Tracy lived and died as possibly the biggest proponent of two-stroke engines in the current era of motorcycle press. He owned two strokes, raced two-strokes and spent an incredible amount of time researching and documenting two-stroke engines both old and new. He went to his grave believing that two-strokes had a future in transportation; that with powerful ECUs and fuel-injection technology a two-stroke could be a viable alternative to a four-stroke, at least in racing.

Thus, standing in the pit lane surrounded by hoards of racing two-strokes was, for Tracy, probably a lot like a music fan being near front and center at a concert. I’m sure that he had his digital recorder out and was probably thinking about how the exhaust sounded like Yamaha was playing around with port timing on their YZR500s when–Yow!– he suddenly he felt someone grab his arm and yank him away.

Back then Yamaha were among the most paranoid of the factories when it came to keeping anything they were doing secret. However, the arm that yanked Trace’ out of the Team Roberts portion of the pit lane didn’t do so to protect their port timing or firing order or a new pipe design.

Long-time Team Roberts engine builder Bud Aksland was the one who saw Tracy standing there in the pit lane, recording the sound of the exhaust and taking mental notes. Aksland saw Hagen standing in the clouds of two-stroke exhaust and was the one who walked over and not so gently pulled him away.

Tracy knew Bud from the days when Bud–God bless him–tuned TZ250’s for future world champions, like John Kocinski and Kenny Roberts.

Bud walked Tracy Hagen a short distance away from the shrieking bikes so they could converse without shouting in each other’s ears.

Tracy said that when they stopped walking and could hear each other, he instantly apologized to Bud for recording the sound of the engines, thinking he had over-stepped his bounds as a journalist.

Tracy said that Bud Aksland shook his head and said, no, that wasn’t the reason he pulled Hagen from the pit lane.

‘Tracy,’ he said, ‘never stand behind a race bike when it is being warmed up. In fact, never stand behind a race bike ever.’ He went on to detail all of the terrible chemicals that the fuel companies were blending into the fuels used in GP bikes and how he suspected none of them were very healthy for humans. Especially after the chemicals had been burned.

Tracy, being a supreme data head, returned home to Minnesota and started researching race fuels and what was actually in those clouds of gas and oil he loved so much. What he learned didn’t deter Tracy from owning and loving two-stroke engines, but he always tried very hard, after that, never to stand behind a race bike when it was running.

Hagen’s good friend and fellow journalist Larry Lawrence said this morning, “While I don’t recall that specific story about Tracy and Bud, it’s funny, I do remember him warning me to not stand behind the race bikes when they were running.”


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