Harry Klemm’s “The DG Years, 1975-1976” – Episode 15: Facing the “Race-Gas” Era

In the late 1960’s, there were numerous franchise gas stations that sold high-octane pump gas that was being demanded by the Detroit “muscle car” owners of the era. Chevron stations in California carried 101-octane “White Pump” premium pump gas, and other franchises had their own versions. However, in the early 1970’s, the EPA was quickly phasing out leaded fuels of all kinds, and the oil companies were struggling to prop up the octane ratings of low-lead gasoline. By the middle ‘70s, most premium fuels were between 95 to 98 octane premium but the trend of dropping fuel octane was clearly coming.

At DG, one of our most popular sales Items were the radial DG heads. We obviously wanted these heads to have a slightly higher compression ratio for power, and at the same time an improved dome design to help stave off the detonation that could often deliver a seized piston. As the 70’s went on, premium fuel octane continued to drop. For DG, making big power increases with premium pump gas (on air-cooled engines) was becoming more and more challenging. Factory road racing engines had been water-cooled for some time, and in the motocross world, we were all certain that the following year of bikes would be water-cooled too. But during my years at DG, no water-cooled bikes ever came. In 1977 the octane problem became so acute, that I felt like race gas would be the only answer. But that would be a tough sell on many fronts.

It bears noting that racing in the ‘70s was very much a middle class sport participated by blue collar families of limited resources. The added hassles and expenses of high-octane racing fuels was not an option for most budget-strapped racers. Race gas was almost $3 a gallon. Despite all that, I still thought there would be a market for “race-gas-only” engine kits for the more serious pro racers. I had meetings with DG owner Gary Harlow about making these kits. The race gas kits would have increased port timings and compression ratios that made better power while still offering excellent reliability. They COULD NOT be run reliably on regular pump gas. This meant that I would have to create the race-gas data for most of the popular 125 and 250 models. Plus, create more tables documenting all that data. I wasn’t excited about doing it, but I was prepared to do so.

The next big hurdle was to get the warehouse to inventory both race gas and pump gas heads and jetted carbs for the two different setups. This meant lots more warehouse shelf space. After that, we had to get the sales staff on board to explain the need for the different octane level kits. This would be no small task. Lastly, I had to convince our pro-level sponsored riders to buy the more expensive race gas, and get them to understand the benefits. DG owner Gary Harlow made it clear that he was glad to cover many costs for the race team riders, but he would not buy them race gas.

For all of the small Southern California specialty “non-sales oriented” race shops (focused on just winning races) making the choice to run race gas was an obvious no-brainer. But for a nationwide retailer like DG, race gas was a “luxury” that most of our amateur-racer customer base did not want to spend the extra money on. Our basic product line had to be able to run on premium pump gas.
Trying to sell the idea of “race-gas” engine setups to DG staff and racers was one of the toughest undertakings of my DG years. I tried at length to describe the huge improvement in engine reliability and power output to everyone. It all fell on deaf ears. The sales team did not want to have to spend phone time explaining the advantages and differences of different octane kits. The warehouse guys were afraid of all the potential possible shelving and shipping mix-ups. Gary was not too happy about carrying so much more additional capital in warehouse inventory. And finally, virtually none of the sponsored pro racers were willing to pay the extra money to run their race bikes on race gas (race gas was $1.50 more per gallon than premium). The only person that was receptive to the race gas was Dick Glover (Broc’s Dad). I made it clear to everyone involved that if we didn’t run race-gas kits, we would have to be racing against a field of guys that would be running race gas. Nobody but Dick Glover cared.

After a month of trying to sell the idea, I finally just gave up. It was the following spring (1977) that I decided to shift the DG race team’s attentions away from 45-minute-moto pro-level racing. Without race gas or water-cooling, I felt like fielding a team of in-house, high-rpm 125’s in 45-minute motos was pointless. Around that same time, mini-cycle racing was exploding in popularity with the introduction of the Suzuki RM80. Mini-cycle racing was very attractive because they ran shorter races that could easily be managed on the pump gas of the day.

Story Index (Click on any title to read the episode)
Episode 1: Understanding The 70s SoCal Motocross Atmosphere
Episode 2: My Road Into Motocross
Episode 3: Getting a Foot in the Door
Episode 4: Reality in the Race Shop
Episode 5: Building a Race Team
Episode 6: Building the Team Bikes
Episode 7: Understanding the Goals of a Racing Business
Episode 8: The DG Front Office
Episode 9: The Competition
Episode 10: Painting the SoCal Racer’s Atmosphere
Episode 11: From Mechanic to I.T. Before There Was I.T.
Episode 12: A Few Words About Engine “Formulas”
Episode 13: Mechanic Buddies
Episode 14: 1976 Turning Points at DG
Episode 15: Facing the “Race-Gas” Era
Episode 16: The Retail Chamber Birthplace
Episode 17: The Mammoth Motocross Classic
Episode 18: The DG/Saddleback Launching Pad


Related posts