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Sep 21, 2014

Cannonball 9/21: Rolling to the Finish


Cannonball map

Tacoma, WA—17 days and 3,938 miles after it began on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Daytona Beach, Florida, the 2014 Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run came to an end this afternoon here in Tacoma, within sight of Puget Sound on America's Pacific coast.

More than 100 riders aboard motorcycles from before 1937 began this cross-country adventure on September 5. And tonight, 32 of them were honored for completing every mile of the journey, including 24 who achieved a perfect score of 3,938, one point for every mile they covered within the daily time limit.

The end of the road.Those 24 riders who finished the Cannonball with a perfect score are: Hans Coertse, 1924 Indian Scout; Norm Nelson, 1928 BMW R52; Giuseppe Savoretti, 1931 Moto Guzzi Sport; Kevin Waters, 1931 Sunbeam M9; Dean Bordigioni, 1923 H-D JS; Mike Carson, 1924 H-D JE; Scott Jacobs, 1926 H-D J; John Landstrom, 1928 BMW R62; Doug Jones, 1929 Indian 101 Scout; Dennis Leggett, 1936 Indian Sport Scout; Bartek Mizerski, 1936 Sokol 1000; Dan Emerson, 1936 H-D E; Matt McManus, 1936 H-D EL; Jeff Tiernan, 1919 Henderson Z; Jon Neuman, 1928 H-D JD; Peter Reeves, 1929 H-D JD; Paul Bessade, 1929 Henderson KJ; David Cava, 1929 H-D JD; Terry Richardson, 1932 H-D VL; John Stanley, 1933 H-D VLE; Brent Mayfield, 1934 H-D VJH; Ron Roberts, 1936 Indian Chief; Richard Duda, 1936 H-D VLH; and Steven Rinker, 1936 Indian Chief.

In addition, five other riders covered every mile of the route, but didn't achieve a perfect score because of penalty points they incurred during the course of the Cannonball. They are: Frank Westfall, 1917 Henderson Detroit; Ken McManus, 1936 H-D EL; David Kafton, 1927 H-D JD; Paul d'Orleans and Alan Stulberg, 1933 Brough Superior 1150; and Dave Holzerland, 1935 Indian Four.

Its all over.Those final scores were tabulated after the last day of riding, which covered 142 miles from Yakima, Washington, to Tacoma. And although the last day was short, it was also challenging, with riders climbing up and over Chinook Pass at 5,430 feet above sea level. The scenic route also took riders past Mount Rainier, towering 14,411 feet over the Seattle/Tacoma area.

There were no changes in the standings on the final day, although there was some last-minute drama for Mike Carson, riding the No. 90 '24 Harley. Mike was only about 20 miles from the finish, still maintaining a perfect score through the entire ride, when a rocker arm came off his JE engine.

“I thought it fouled a spark plug,” Mike said tonight, “So I got out my spare plugs, but when I looked, I thought, ‘Oh, no.' “

That missing rocker arm could have cost Mike his perfect score and dropped him well down in the standings. But other members of the Carson Classic Motors team stopped to help, and they formed a search party with Mike, walking back along the road, scanning for the missing part. Mike said they found it a couple hundred yards from where his bike stopped, and one of his friends went to a hardware store for a bolt and nut to hold it in place. With the repair made, Mike was able to roll in to the finish line at the LeMay Museum of antique cars and bikes here in Tacoma. And he preserved his perfect score for the Cannonball ride.

Meanwhile, two other riders put in impressive performances in today's final stage. Brian Pease, one of the riders sharing time on the No. 92 Neracar, a small, scooter-like machine from 1923, has been building up mileage on the bike, which has a top speed of about 30 mph. Today, Pease decided to tackle the entire course. He succeeded in topping Chinook Pass (“about zero miles an hour,” he said), then rolled all the way to the finish to score a perfect 142 points for the day. That's the first time the Neracar has completed a day's course, and it moved the team's mileage up to 1,253 for the Cannonball ride.

Seattle Cossacks motorcycle drill teamAlso completing the entire route was Michael Gontesky, aboard a 1928 Harley JD. Gontesky's engine let go after the second stage more than two weeks ago, but he never gave up, rebuilding it over six days. He came back earlier this week, but still had bugs to work out. His final ride today marked only the second time he had completed all the miles in a day since the Cannonball began.

Gontesky, Pease, Carson and the other riders all rolled in to a big reception at Destination Harley-Davidson in the town of Fife. Then riders were assembled by class for the final miles to the finish at the LeMay Museum. It was a final ride for most of the Cannonball competitors, but for Buck Carson, that mile and a half came in the form of a long walk.

The engine on Buck's 1936 Harley RL blew up for the second time last week, and with no parts available, he was forced to park the machine. But he didn't want to miss the grand finale of the Cannonball, so he pushed his machine from the dealership to the museum so it could join the other bikes on display for a large crowd of spectators. Buck arrived winded, but happy to have completed the last leg of Cannonball 2014.

The final reception for the riders was highlighted by a performance by the Seattle Cossacks motorcycle drill team, who demonstrated precision riding aboard 1930s-era bikes like those that have competed in the Cannonball ride across the country. The crowd of Cannonball riders, support teams and the general public enjoyed maneuvers including the Cossacks' pyramid of riders carried by a pair of machines riding in formation.

Finally, it was time for the closing banquet, where host Paul d'Orleans introduced the top three finishers in each class of competition. In Class III, for motorcycles over 1,000cc, third place went to Peter Reeves, while Jon Neuman took second and Jeff Tiernan was awarded the class championship.

 Coertse was awarded the overall championshipIn Class II, for 700cc to 1,000cc machines, Scott Jacobs took third place, Mike Carson finished second and Dean Bordigioni won the championship. And in Class I, for machines under 700cc, Italy's Giuseppe Savoretti finished third, Norm Nelson took second and South Africa's Hans Coertse won the championship.

All of those riders completed every mile of the Cannonball route, but the event's tiebreaker system favors smaller, older motorcycles in such cases. That meant Coertse was awarded the overall championship for completing every mile on his 1924 600cc Indian Scout.

Coertse, who carefully planned his assault on the Cannonball title over the past two years, told the crowd that he savored the experience of riding across America and the many friends he had made among competitors, supporters and everyday Americans who came out to see the Cannonball riders in towns from Florida to Washington.

With those championships out of the way, d'Orleans made one more special presentation the Spirit of the Cannonball Award, designed to recognize an individual who most embodies the idea of riding antique motorcycles in the way they were ridden decades ago.

Shinya Kimura won the Spirit of the Cannonball AwardFor entering all three of the Cannonball rides on the same 1915 Indian Twin, and for working painstakingly to keep improving the 99-year-old motorcycle, always with a determination to understand it better, Shinya Kimura won the Spirit of the Cannonball Award. This year, Shinya and his riding partner, Yoshimasa Nimi, covered 3,614 miles on the Indian. And on Saturday, Shinya soldiered on for the last 100 miles on just one cylinder after a head gasket failure.

As Shinya accepted the award, his fellow competitors rose in a standing ovation for the Japanese custom bike builder who has devoted himself to this test of motorcycles from the distant past.

But the largest ovation of all was reserved for Lonnie Isam, the man who pioneered the idea of the Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run in 2010, when many people thought that none of the motorcycles gathered for that event would complete the coast-to-coast route. Now, with three Cannonballs in the books, this every-other-year competition has become one of the true highlights of antique motorcycling in America, winning over a growing number of fans here and overseas. And although we're all a little tired right now, many of us are already looking forward to what Lonnie has in store for us in 2016.—Bill Wood

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