Racing A Vintage Indian Scout For The 1st Time. The Story Of Gary Gray, Indian Motorcycles Product Manager.


You like vintage motorcycles. You would love the experience of racing one. You can. Just like Gary Gray,  Indian Motorcycles Product Manager, did it. Take the time to read his story. Soon, it may be yours…

“Placing 6 th on a 1930’s hand shift Indian Sport Scout Bonneville at the 2014 FIM National Championships isn’t achieving greatness, but the people that helped me get there are. Doc Batsleer is a multinational champion. I met him by happenstance at an Indian Motorcycle sponsored event in Daytona Beach, Florida during bike week in the spring of 2014. Within ten minutes of meeting Doc he asked if I wanted to race one of his vintage Indian Scout Motorcycles. To say everything in this story happened as fast as a spark traveling down a coil wire would be an understatement. Doc is 69 years old and has had race fuel in his veins since he was young. He is a national champion. His national titles include holding the number one plate in AMA, FIM, AHRMA, USCRA, FGPRA, and he was the Spanish Karting Champion.

garygray7Even though I am riding an old bike, modern safety gear is required. Cam Fisher from our Polaris Industrial Design team sketched out a modern Indian Motorcycle race suit. Tony Peterson of Arsenal Leathers agreed to make a custom suit to Cam’s specification and get a Snell 2010 approved helmet from Scorpion and a Forcefield back protector. My good friend Cory Ness sent a pair of Arlen Ness racing boots and gloves. This completed the pieces to keep asphalt out of my epidermis, my fingers and toes attached, and the grey matter inside my skull. I’m fortunate to work at a great company. The Vice President of Motorcycles, Steve Menneto, gave his full support to participate in this event. At Polaris, we believe that the ride and the experience are what shape great products.

A racing license is the next hurdle. I quickly went online, read a few race books, read all the rule books and signed up to renew my AMA membership. I registered for a race class that took place the Friday before the race, and a USCRA event that was the Saturday before the event. This entire event is hosted by Bob Coy who gave vintage motorcycle racing its birth in founding the USCRA. Bob made it possible for me to get into the event where it would have been otherwise impossible. So now I’m all set, I just have to learn to ride a vintage bike, pass tech inspection, pass race school, and not crash out of the USCRA event. What could possibly go wrong? A terrorist attack on an airport, that’s what…

garygray6The Taliban has found new spirit recently and they decided that to attack the Karachi, Pakistan airport was a good idea. What does this have to do with a FIM Championship? Everything. The custom made leather suit I had ordered was at the Karachi Airport at the time of the attack. So the suit was stuck there, and without a race suit, no race. Fortunately Arsenal Leathers came through with a backup suit the day before I flew to Boston for the race. Friday night race school turned out to be fairly easy. Follow along with a presentation, memorize what all the race flags mean, and clearly listen to the instructor when he tells you not to do something stupid. Accomplish this and you will get your license.

garygray5Post race school I get my first riding lesson from Doc. He teaches me everything from starting the bike to how to quickly get the suicide clutch into neutral. Its 10 p.m. and I can’t actually start or ride the bike due to noise restrictions. So we just go through the motions without spark or fuel. I race the next morning. I haven’t been on a running bike. What could possibly go wrong? Thankfully nothing.

After getting back to the hotel at midnight, returning to the track at 6:45 a.m. with race donuts and a case of beer for the race team, I feel as ready to race as I was for the birth of our first child, not very. To keep calm I just used the same method I used at the birth of our son, Noah. I told myself that billions of people have done this before and if they can figure it out so can Jill my wife and I. So I went to the riders meeting, pulled on my leathers, and Doc rolled the bike out to a safe area and started it for me. Frankly, it’s a bit humbling for someone to start your bike for you. It’s a lot like the chainsaw I lent to a friend. I wasn’t really sure he was qualified to use it, and when I found out he couldn’t get it started my suspicion was confirmed. If you can’t start it, you shouldn’t be using it as you will probably cut a limb off instead of one on a tree. I felt the same way on the bike. Why the hell am I riding something I’m not qualified to start? Oh well, thousands have done this before, so here we go. Just then I look back into the pits and I see some guy on a Laverda locking up the front wheel on the rain soaked New Hampshire Motor Speedway pavement, which tucks the front end at 20 mph. Hilarious. And a reminder to not be that guy…

garygray9So I ease the foot clutch forward, pull the hand shifter back like I did when I was 12 on my dad’s Allis Chalmers tractor and take a deep breath, exhale and as slow as a drip of gear oil I lift my foot off the clutch and roll on the throttle. I’m riding a Sport Scout! All of the stories of how balanced and easy a Scout is to ride become instantly clear. The bike is so easy at low speeds that finding neutral is never a panic event. God, these bikes are good! I roll pass Doc a few times then get the signal to give it some gas and go for second. I over-rev the motor until it stutters back at me to stop, then go for second. On my return Doc scolds me for the red line and I feel like a scorned dog, but my tail quickly starts wagging again as Doc sends me back out. To race at a National Championship requires several things to happen, the least of which, it turns out, is learning how to ride a suicide clutch hand shift bike that was built when Roosevelt was in office.

garygray10Time for practice at 8 a.m. The fast go out first, then the slow bikes followed by the 50cc bikes and the hand shifters. Humility sets in again: yes we are slow. It’s raining lightly and the track is wet. I told myself I would draw the line at racing in wet weather, but so much for lines. Figuring out hot pits, warm up laps, pitting and staging all goes as well as it can. Buzz Kanter from American Iron magazine who helped push me into this event, is my track coach. Thanks to him, I didn’t make any moving violations on the track. Practice goes off fine, now time to pass the Rookie Race. To pass the Rookie Race you have to hot pit, warm up lap, stage, race four laps, and not do something stupid. Buzz informed me that when he retook his race license, a guy crashed out of the Rookie Race and was done for the weekend. “Don’t be that guy,” I said to myself. I passed.

My final time on the track Saturday is for the USCRA Round #2 Tank Shifter Class. I place 6th, didn’t finish last, or get lapped. I will also say that positions one through five were all taken by former national champions. I’m only good at starts so it’s really fun to hit turn one with five national champs all around you, and then after the first lap they are all gone or walking away quickly.

garygray8The bike is an amazing challenge to adjust to after being on modern bikes my whole life. I’m reminded of what Juan Pablo Montoya said when going from Formula 1 to NASCAR, “There is something wrong with the car, it has no brakes.” No Juan Pablo, that’s just what NASCAR brakes feel like. They are more like a suggestion than an actual brake. I could actually slow the bike better with engine braking than with both brake drums being squeezed like fresh lemons in a vice. This is really scary since there’s absolutely no suspension in a hard tail and the rear tire likes to bounce off the pavement at every ripple. Comparing a Scout to a car of its generation would be the fairest comparison. It would destroy anything four wheeled out on the track; I just need to wrap the stuff inside my helmet around 1930’s technology.

Day two brings the FIM National Championship, along with a few other surprises. Practice goes really well; my brain is adjusting to the fact that I can’t speed up or slow down very quickly with only 30 HP and drum brakes. I need to find lines that maintain momentum. If I never have to speed up or slow down, I’ve found the perfect line for my Scout. This doesn’t help me place any better, but I’m far smoother and less tense all around the track. I never found the friction limits or lean angle limits of the Scout, nor did I want to. It’s Doc’s bike and I want to ride again. If I were to crash, both Doc and my wife would do the right thing and say, “Nice work, stupid, you are done.” I didn’t want to be that guy.

garygray3It was truly an honor to race with so many greats. It was also a privilege for the team to run the “Wrecking Crew” numbers of #71 Bobby Hill on my bike, #51 Bill Tuman, and #55 Ernie Beckman. Hopefully we made them proud. Sunday ended with another 6th place finish and the bike and I are better friends, and I’ve found several others along the way.” Gary Gray, Indian Motorcycle Product Manager

Thanks to those that made it happen: Steve Menneto – VP Polaris Motorcycles – Travel & Indian Motorcycle Brand Support Doc Batsleer – National Champion – Race Bike Sponsor and Coach Bob Coy – USCRA – Champion of Vintage Racing Cam Fisher – Polaris Industrial Design – Race Suit Design Tony Peterson – Arsenal Leathers – Race Suit, Helmet, Back Protector Buzz Kanter – American Iron – Instigator and Coach Cory Ness – Arlen Ness Motorcycles – Gloves, Boots My family – wife Jill, son Noah, daughter Adeline.”


12 Responses to “Racing A Vintage Indian Scout For The 1st Time. The Story Of Gary Gray, Indian Motorcycles Product Manager.”

  1. 1 Glenn Jun 22nd, 2014 at 9:25 am

    I may try. Just need to find time.

  2. 2 BobS Jun 22nd, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    Lucky bastard.

  3. 3 James just another Crazy Kiwi Jun 22nd, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    Great story, reminds one of the difference in technology and how hard it is to race something like an old Scout or similar
    Check out the tail light on “71” and the drilled sprocket.
    Wonder if those old girls are putting out more ponies now than what they did originally ?

    Good stuff

  4. 4 Ronnie Jun 23rd, 2014 at 5:01 am

    How to get this experience? Only if you own the bike or get it lent by these vintage racers?

  5. 5 Gerry Jun 23rd, 2014 at 5:01 am

    Want to do it, too. How?

  6. 6 P. Hamilton Jun 23rd, 2014 at 5:05 am

    An opportunity for these guys to create a vintage racing school.

  7. 7 Debbie Jun 23rd, 2014 at 6:11 am

    I had the privilege of seeing these races in New Hampshire. What a group of great men! Seeing their love and knowledge of these Indians was not only educational for me but fun. Wish someone would do a documentary on them.

  8. 8 Magnet Man Jun 23rd, 2014 at 6:49 am

    Gary Gray, call me so I can donate my Dimple® Super Magnetic Oil Plugs for the Indian racer project.


  9. 9 Pat Simmons Jun 23rd, 2014 at 11:27 am

    Way to go Gary! You’re a brave guy. We’re all proud of you. Love Doc and his old Indians. He’s the greatest, and one of a kind. Maria too! See you somewhere out on the road.

  10. 10 Amy Jacques Jun 23rd, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    You did a fantastic job out there on that Indian, thanks for the great story, maybe more people will come out to the vintage motorcycle races!! Class C hand shift is an awesome race to watch as well, so glad to have met you and shared the weekend with all these fantastic men and their machines!
    Sincerely, Ralph Wessell #81 and Amy Jacques

  11. 11 Doc Batsleer Jun 24th, 2014 at 8:11 am

    Racer’s Paradise – Bob Coy’s USCRA !
    Doug Young, Mike Weesner, Ralph Wessell, Gary Gray, Buzz Kanter, Doc Batsleer, Brent Johnson raced at Lakonia, friends and gentlemen, giving 100 %, stretching their throttle cables.

  12. 12 John Holman Aug 28th, 2014 at 10:46 am

    Hey Gary… Do ya know the Indian racer who had the number 71? The great Bobby Hill of the Indian Wrecking Crew!!!!

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Cyril Huze