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An old racebike comes home to Poppa

Steve Pallela

The path to reunion started with a call from my friend, Dustin Boyd.  He and I had shared a bike in a Championship Cup Series Team Challenge endurance race back in 2009, most likely at Heartland Park Raceway, in Topeka, Kansas. A year later, Dustin told me that he'd been getting emails from someone named Michael Patrick.  Apparently, this man had been trying to find me on the Internet and had come across a posting of our results from that CCS race.  Then he searched our names and while that didn't connect him to me, he was able to find Dustin.  The subject of this guy's emails to Dustin came up a few times but I never acted on it.   Almost a year later, Boyd called me and said, “Palella, will you please call this guy?  He keeps emailing me and claims that he has your old bike.”

Pallela and Gixxer back in the day 1I finally called Michael and found out that he did indeed have an old motorcycle which had once belonged to me.   He'd purchased the 1991 GSXR750 off of EBay.  Its seller had made some big claims about how the bike had been raced in the AMA and was "super trick.”  Michael was able to determine that I'd been the bike's previous owner because my name was engraved on the cylinder head and engine block, plus the title was still in my name!  He'd been trying to find me because he wanted information about the machine's specs and competition history.

Of the many motorcycles that I've owned over the years, this one was a special favorite. I spent a million hours hand crafting it to be a competition machine.  It was the first time I'd built an entire bike by myself.  I even assembled a fairly radical performance-built engine for it, which was a task I'd never attempted before.  It would be fair to say that this GSXR marked my coming of age as a builder of racing motorcycles.

The Suzuki served me well for 4 years.  I raced it in WERA Regional and National events, as well as with CCS and F-USA.  This bike briefly held the track record in 1994 at Putnam Park, Indiana, with Eric Smith at the controls and powered by the motor that I'd built. Trey Batey reset the record later that day, but it was ours for awhile!  I also raced the machine as an AMA privateer, where I was fortunate enough to share the track with some of the greatest riders in American roadracing.  This bike got me onto the grid with Scott Russell, Miguel Duhamel, Dave Sadowski, Thomas Stevens, Kurt Hall, Britt Turkington, Andrew Stroud, Rich Oliver, Robbie Peterson, Dave McGrath, Kevin Rentzel, Mike Harth, Fritz Kling, Michael Martin, Todd Harrington, Dr. Bob Meister and so many others.  I look back on that era as one of the best times of my life and when I think back to those days, every memory revolves around my old Gixxer.  When I sold this Suzuki, it was just a past-its-prime cycle that could provide me with starter cash for something faster.  All these years later, I've come to realize that it's probably the most important and beloved bike in my personal history as a racer.  It was good to find out that the machine still existed, even though it wasn't in running condition.

Michael and I talked for quite a while.  He asked me many questions about the machine's history, its build specs, Waiting for a red flag 1993where the parts had been sourced, etc.  I provided all the information he needed, remembering the process like it had happened yesterday.  That bike was indeed “trick.”  In its final form before I sold it, the GSXR featured a bored-out Cosworth 883 kit and was built for F-USA competition.  Keep in mind that when this machine was assembled back in the early 1990s, there was no Internet, no Google, no Ebay, no nothing.  Things were done in the old school fashion.  You read the back pages of Roadracing World, called the phone numbers that you found there in the ad section, ordered up some parts and got busy.

The crankshaft was sent out to Falicon for their Supercrank treatment, which included knife edging, polishing and balancing.  The connecting rods were sent along with the crank so that the whole assembly could be balanced as a rotational unit.  The transmission was left stock.  Cosworth made a piston kit for this model of GSXR, which brought the displacement up to 883cc.  This was no simple overbore.  The OEM cylinder liners had to be pressed out of the barrels, the barrels themselves were bored oversize, then new, larger displacement Cosworth iron liners were pressed in.  Finally, the new liners were finish-sized to match the custom, 883cc kit Cosworth pistons.

SteveSuzuki2The engine got a worked cylinder head as well.  This job was handled by Texas-based tuner Kelly Roberts.  A full port job was performed and oversized valves were installed.  For the 1991 model, Suzuki had made the switch to a shim-under-bucket valve train system.  Kelly did away with that, welded and line bored the head and then installed the older rocker arm-style valve adjusters of the previous generation GSXR. This was done to ease maintenance chores.  If you're wondering why, keep in mind that twenty-plus years ago, high rpm superbikes weren't capable of going ten or twenty thousand miles between valve adjustments.  Dave Schlosser, from Dutchman Racing, hand built the pipe to match the porting and head specs which Kelly gave him. 

Needless to say, this trip down memory lane had left me feeling quite nostalgic.  As our phone call wound to its conclusion, I said, "Hey Michael, if you ever decide to sell the bike, let me know and give me first crack at it.”  (Cue ominous rumble of distant thunder....)

Fast forward two and a half years.  I received a call out of the blue from Michael Patrick.  He said, “Hey Steve, I SteveSuzuki1need to purchase another work truck for the fleet, do you want to buy back your old bike?”  I replied, "Um, let me talk it over with my wife."  (Did I mention that my wife is a champion roadracer herself?Two days later I called him back and we made a deal.  About a month later, my bike showed up at my driveway via the 1800HAULBIKE semi.

Future plans for this motorcycle specify a complete ground up restoration, intended to bring it back to the same level of preparedness as when it raced in anger.  Performance Cycle and Dyno, of Harvard, Illinois, will be running point on this build.  I chose PCD because the shop has decades of experience with this type of work.  They've also built many motors for me over the years and I've never been disappointed. 

What project could be more enjoyable for an old-time racer than to find the most beloved old racebike from his past and restore the machine to its former glory?  To say that I'm excited would be a bit of an understatement.  The complete restoration process will be documented here at TrackdayMag.com, where bikes young and old are lovingly built and then ridden ruthlessly.  When it's done, the machine will NOT be relegated to the status of cherished garage queen.  She'll unquestionably be ridden and ridden hard at some track days.  And then?  Well, I've heard tell of this organization called AHRMA, where old guys race old bikes.  I just might have to check that out....

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