Editor’s Note: Last week Nick Ienatsch set the stage for Ralph Staropoli’s run at the 2018 American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) Two-Stroke Open Championship. He had already been sidelined with a serious illness and had crashed twice, damaging his Honda RS250 and injuring his shoulder. But Ralph doesn’t give up so easily…
At this point, after winning at Utah Motorsports Campus and beating his closest competitor, Pat Mooney, at Road America and Talladega, Ralph Staropoli had firmly inserted himself in the championship hunt. This run had been helped when Mooney struggled midseason with an ignition problem on the ex-Chuck Sorensen Yamaha.
“Ah, that,” Mooney remembers. “It came down to an electric-shifter problem that ruined three rounds. I had unhooked the shifter from the coils to see if that was the problem, but it wasn’t until the entire shifter wiring came off that the bike ran right…just before Barber [Motorsports Park]. Ralph and I are friends and he dug into his spare parts and helped me with his knowledge. We both wanted each other at full strength. That’s AHRMA.”
Ralph took a significant risk at Road America, but not with his riding. “I reduced the piston squish to increase compression for Road America. The tolerances were extremely tight but the bike was fast. I took the chance because I knew I had to start winning races,” he reflects. And his little 250 almost beat the Suter 500, coming off the final corner together but losing the drag race up the hill to the checkered flag. Most importantly, he beat Mooney. Tuning risks like this are what make or break championship runs.
“I’ve never been as nervous for a race before,” Ralph admits when the discussion turned to the Barber final. “I wasn’t exactly sure where the points were so I went to the race director on Friday and learned that if I won on Saturday, I could clinch the championship. My nerves were through the roof.”
Two-stroke aficionados know that good tuning is as important as good riding, so the pressure on Staropoli and Mooney was double. Yes, there were other quick Open Two-Stroke riders there including a pair of Suter 500s, but Ralph and Pat stood apart from the crowd. The number-one plate was going to Florida with Pat Mooney or Colorado with Ralph Staropoli.
Mooney got his usual blazing start and Ralph stalked him, jumping past on the brakes during lap four. “At that point I just put my head down and pushed. I got into lapped traffic and gapped Pat a little bit… And that was it. I won the championship. I couldn’t believe it.” On Sunday Ralph went out and raced for fun, winning again by a gap of five seconds. It was an amazing finish to a challenging year, especially when you see that Ralph finished fourth overall in Sound of Thunder 2 against guys like Nate Kern, Chris Boy, Pat Lansu, and Tom Wilbert, all on big air-cooled four-stroke twins.
Not bad after passing out in your truck two weeks before the season started. Championships are won with riding skill, tuning expertise…and desire.
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