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The Alan Schwen Interview

Top WMRRA Plate Holder Discusses His 18 Year Journey to Victory.

Interview & Photos By Simon-Pierre Smith

In 2001 the Washington Motorcycle Road Racing Association (WMRRA) Championship was won by Alan Schwen on a Suzuki SV650. This broke a long standing tradition of the season champion riding in the high dollar classes of 600 and 750 Supersport and Superbike. Race fans saw a championship battle where the major players were not directly competing with each other on the track, until the last race of the season. The victory has brought about a review of how the season points are allotted, and a growing respect for Schwen, and the SV650 in the roadrace scene.

Q: What is your past racing history?

A: In 1984 I started racing after only 2 weeks of street riding. I had a 1977 RD400 that I entered in 450 Superbike and Production. There was a novice school at the time, but it wasn't required so I never took it. I learned a lot and never crashed, but the RZ350s were outpowering me. In '85 I bought an RZ350 and won my first race out in Portland. Then I went to Seattle and won the first race also. That is when I knew I might actually be able to do this. In '86 I took the 450 Superbike title in Portland. That was my first championship. That RZ was all built up with porting and a British pipe, not the Toomeys everyone was running. I was clocked at 137 MPH down the front straight at Portland. In '87 I didn't race, but in '88 I rode an FZR400, the first year they came out. I competed in the WERA Northwest Endurance cup, with races in Portland, Seattle, and British Columbia. Later in the season I made a trip to road Atlanta. It was my first road trip and I loved the track, even if it rained through the whole six hour race. In '90 I rode a GSXR750 against Shawn Roberti, Joe Pittman, Jeff Lambert, and Adam Faucett. I felt out of control on the bike, like I was just steering it around, not riding it. I also was a poor starter on it, always having to work my way up from back in the pack. In '91 I rode an FZR600, taking I think second or third in 600 production. In '92 I started riding for Brother's Honda on a 600 and a 900RR. In '93 Mike Velasco started building my bikes through Brother's Honda. At that time Shawn Roberti was my teammate and I remember Simon Bell was our competition. No matter how hard I rode it seemed that Roberti had a little extra to give me. Sometimes I'd just follow, not trying to pass, to learn where he made his speed, and I always seemed to pick up a second a lap doing that. One time, after riding hard trying to beat him, we came back in the pits and Shawn had ground all the way through his boot, no sock left, just raw toe. He was hollering about what I'd made him do. I told him he could have slowed down a bit, but it wasn't in him. In '94 Velasco wanted to do some AMA races, so we headed to Daytona. In the 750 Supersport race I was 22nd on a 600, the first 600 across the line. In the 600 race I missed a shift coming off the banking in turn one. It ruined my timing on the brakes and I crashed for the long slide. We drove back to the Northwest and rebuilt for Phoenix. There again I was in the top 10 in 750 on my 600. I crashed out of the 600 race again, this time separating my shoulder. After that I decided to quit racing, except for a couple rides at the Aberdeen street race, and a short stint on a ZX6R. I didn't race again until 1999, when Rick Salmon mentioned he had an SV650 at SB Motorsports that he'd let me play around on. Then it started all over again. I won 4 class championship that year, two in Oregon and two in Washington. In 2000 I raced an SV650 and a Honda F4, winning two class championships. I went to Road Atlanta again that year and finished 7th in the "SV Cup". Then this year... Rick Salmon built up an SV Superbike with 94 horsepower, as well as a Supersport SV.

Q: Have you ever attended a race school?

A: No. Not even the novice clinic. Shawn Roberti, Bruce Lind, and Mike Sullivan gave me plenty of schooling.

Q: What are the modifications that make your Suberbike so fast?

A (With coaching from Rick Salmon at SB Motorsports): Starting with a balanced crank, we use 1mm oversize pistons modified from a DR350 giving 14.2:1 compression. The head is ported by Mike Velasco with megacycle's most aggressive cam. 41mm flat slide carbs complete the motor. The frame was salvaged from a wrecker with the steering head ripped off the frame. This gave us the opportunity to remachine the bearing seats to accept a GSXR 600 front suspension and modify the rake and trail to our liking when we welded it all back together. It does have a bit of an overheating problem because we still use the stock radiator.

Q: Did you make money racing this year?

A: No. My entries are paid for by Reiner's South Sound Honda and SB Motorsports provides the bike, but all my contingency money goes back into the "Atlanta Fund". I end up paying for some gas and travel expenses. You have to remember, the tire bill at Atlanta was $2,200 for the weekend.

Q: Has having the #1 plate helped your sponsorship hunt?

A: Not really. I haven't tried too hard yet, it being kind of early. I already have a helmet and boot sponsorship, but we're always looking for support from anyone who is interested in helping us out.

Q: Do you plan to run the same bikes and classes next year?

A: It isn't really set in stone, but it looks like I'll be on an SV650 and a GSXR 600.

Q: If, as is expected, the Westwood club in B.C. runs some races, will you attend?

A: I'll go try it out. I really enjoy going and learning new tracks. It makes you a better racer by gaining knowledge of different lines and types of corners. There is always something to learn no matter how long you have been racing.

Q: Per the 2001 WMRRA rules, the same number of season points are scored regardless of the number of entries in the class. There is currently a rule change request to alter this scoring system, so that larger classes score more points. Would this change affect your choice of bikes to run next year?

A: Not really. This year I didn't really intend to win the championship. I don't care too much. My main focus for this year was to go to Road Atlanta. The last race of the year, when I heard that John Dugan and Mike Sullivan were planning to run SV650s to try and reduce my potential points standing, I became more determined to try for the championship. It was a very high-pressure race day. I've raced like that before and don't really care to do it any more, but when I need to rise up to a challenge I usually come through. I'm just out here for fun now. Racing against Sullivan that day in Spokane, I really felt like I had something on him. We had a great race, swapping the lead a couple of times, but on the last lap I got caught up in some backmarkers in turn 4. After that, there was nothing I could do. Later, in the Superbike race, my bike blew water in the warm-up lap. I managed to make the start on my Supersport machine, but with that great a power loss, I couldn't beat Sullivan or Dugan. In the end it didn't matter. I won the season championship by about 8 points.

Q: What bike would you recommend for a novice to go racing?

A: If they just wanted to have fun and learn, the SV650 is a great machine. It needs a bit of suspension work, even for Supersport, but it is fast and reliable. If they are really serious and think they're fast, a 600 is the traditional way up the ladder, but I wouldn't seriously recommend that to any novice.

 

 


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