story and photography by Paul Garson
If you’re vintage enough yourself, you’ll remember when Ike was elected President, and after 40 years of rule in the USSR, Stalin signed off. DNA was discovered, Edmund Hillary scaled Mount Everest and Joe DiMaggio wedded Marilyn Monroe. And the Willow Springs International Motorsports Park situated in the high desert north of Los Angeles opened its gates to those who felt the need for speed. The year was 1953.
Today, more than a half century later, the track is now a registered national landmark and still attracts motorsports fans and freaks of all kinds. It’s also known as “The Fastest Road in the West,” and includes the main road course, the Streets of Willow, the Speedway (paved oval), the kart track and the Walt James Stadium (dirt oval). Cars and bikes roar around the various courses most days of the week. Racers of both vintage and modern four- and two-wheeled vehicles take advantage of club racing as well as sanctioned competitions, including Vintage Auto Racing Association and American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association events, and you can even ride or drive what you brung by paying a course fee. There are even go-faster classes taught by the track hotshoes.
While the calendar of events includes Vipers, Cobras, Panteras and Porsches mixing it up, motorcycles have always been a major presence at Willow. Case in point: the Corsa MotoClassica, now in its 11th year. It was a labor of love and love of racing that prompted Mr. Garage Company, aka Yoshinobu Kosaka, to make it all happen in the first place. Just call him Yoshi. He’s been into vintage and performance bikes since the early 1970s, and his vintage bike “hobby” accelerated once he made his home in Los Angeles more than 20 years ago. Yoshi’s treasure trove of classic bikes, accessories, books and apparel is housed museumlike within a 5,400-square-foot shop located not far from Los Angeles’ Santa Monica beach. Not only does Yoshi restore vintage iron and build custom bobbers, he takes them to the racetrack as well, and is good enough to have earned a national AHRMA title in 1993 in Formula 250.
After futile efforts to convince the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) to bring sanctioned vintage racing to California, Yoshi decided to build it and see if they would come. So he put together the first Corsa MotoClassica at Willow Springs in 1995 and AHRMA did come, sanctioning the race action, and has been doing so ever since. In addition to the racing—which includes just about every category and class of bike out there—the event also features a classic bike show and a swap meet. It’s an event for enthusiasts in the truest sense of the word. It’s not frilly, but a get-down-and-dirty-in-the-pits type of scene, where you can literally walk in amongst the racebike crews and—if your ears can stand it—get up close and personal to the likes of unbaffled vintage MV Agustas, Ducatis, Triumphs, Nortons, BSAs, Hondas, Yamahas, Harley-Davidsons, Indians and Vincents…the full spectrum of blasts from the past. Not to mention herds of race-kitted newer bikes in Heavyweight Super Bike and Formula II, all blasting off in thundering waves during the three-day event held this year in early May, the racers zeroing in on Willow from the four corners of the United States and beyond.
Although Yoshi doesn’t bring this up, it’s a fact that he’s been paying for the event out of his own pocket since day one, including the track, bike show trophies…you name it. He likes racing and the people vintage racing attracts. Another major supporter of vintage racing, Works Performance Shocks, has offered sponsorship for many years.
Yoshi himself donned his leathers and raced both his 1976 Super America 750 MV Agusta and Vincent Black Lightning. It’s a real show-and-go kind of event, transitioning from the racetrack to the show area, which this year held 50 vintage and classic motorcycles representing almost every historic marque. Adding to the visual impact was the lighting up of several of the ultra-rare machines. Listen to a 1973 factory works MV 500cc triple or a 1976 MV 350 four-cylinder bark and snarl at an unearthly frequency for too long and you’ll be needing a hearing aid. But it was music for the soul, as was the whole event.
Winners of the Bike Show included Best British—Alan Porter’s 1952 Norton Model 7; Best Italian—Mark Harper-Smith’s 1956 Benelli Leoncino; Best American—John Bean’s 1969 350 EPS Sprint; Best Euro—Lars Schwartz’s 1938 BMW R51; Best Café Racer—Mike Derderno’s Ducati 900SS; Best Japanese—Victor Rethgarn’s 1971 Kawasaki F-7; Best Competition—Doug Van Tassel’s 1965 Ducati 125; and Best of Show—Mars Webster’s Vincent-Egli.
If you want to “get real” and enjoy racing on the edge, ogle splendid historic motorcycles and breathe in some wild open spaces, head on out to next year’s Corsa MotoClassica at equally historic Willow Springs, just a short putt (on a fast motorcycle) from Los Angeles. The Garage Company is lo- cated at 13211 Washington Boulevard, Los Angeles, California, 90066; (800) 393-3766; www.garagecompany.com. For more information about AHRMA visit www.ahrma.org.
[From the December 2006 issue of Rider]