Sunday was the sort of day you wish two things about if you live in Portland, or the surrounding area: 1) you wish every autumn Sunday was just like it, and 2) you hope Californians don't visit on a day like it. It was perfect. It was sunny without being oppressive, the fall colours are on full display in all of the trees, and the angle of the sun casts this incredible light, only shining when everything's just right.
Saturday, hanging out at Cycle Heap or, the Heap as it's known, there was a buzz in the shop, for everybody who likes flat track in these parts knows the indoor season at Salem commences November 3rd. With that, the scramble to get a bike together for the 250 vintage class has become, as our pal Sean describes it, 'an arms race'. Shop owner, and all around splendid guy Eric Purdy is upping his ante by putting together a wicked looking Suzuki DS250, increasing his might from the TS185 he raced last year. Nick will be on the trusty XL250. Korry will be piloting his rocket ship that is a Champion framed '73 MX250. It's anybody's guess what Casey (G&H Cycles) will be riding, but it will either be Japanese or Italian... We'll see. There are 18 days at the time of writing between now and opening race, a lifetime to get a bike together in Casey's book. He's got his hands full as he has to put my motor back together for my new entry in the class this year, a '74 MX250, which actually has a full size, plugged, and deraked frame. We'll see.
Newcomer to flat tracking this year, Willie @witnessco.speedshop has put together a cool DT250 (below) complete with custom saddle by Roxan @rangeneedlework for his entry into the sport. There will be at least six of us in the class with her custom seats under our behind this year.
'I heard Otto is running out at his place tomorrow,' said someone in the shop, and the conversation quickly became a logistical one, everybody confirming their participation and schedule for the morning. This topic creates a buzz of its own, as it's as fleeting, unpredictable, and rare as getting a selfie with Nessie from the Scottish lake.
Otto is nothing short of legendary, and those of us who've had the honour of his invite to come out and race at "The Lucky Dog," can attest to his hospitality, generosity, wealth of flat track lore, keen wit, and tenacity on the track. He simultaneously keeps everybody at attention for his business-like riders' meetings, and in stitches at the telling of his jokes. He's very kind to open the property to a bunch of people with loud motorcycles, and if not for neighbouring farms, he'd do it more often.
The drive from Portland is about 45 minutes, give or take. It's west of town, and that's about as specific as I'll be. Turning up his drive, you're headed on a dirt road through beautiful forest, past the house, and into a clearing that is host to the coolest little flat track around. Sure, there are riders in the region with bigger tracks, and a variety of terrain, but you'd be hard pressed to say you had a better time riding there, instead of the "Lucky Dog."
Otto checks out Korry’s bike
I trickled in third for this Sunday's racing behind Jordan, Otto's neighbour from down the road who rides a mid-70s DT175 he found in a ditch, and got running for under $50. Jordan helps maintain the track and will tow the mattress spring behind his '66 VW Beetle in a hot second. He and Otto wear matching (by coincidence) vintage diamond quilted Langlitz 'Breetches' and will remind you of all of the benefit of wearing them over anything else. The track also gets watered with the trailer tank normally used to irrigate the young hazelnut orchard on the property, just southwest of turn 3 and 4 of the track.
Korry drags the track with the mattress springs
There are other trees dotted around the track, one just inside turns 3 and 4, one outside the end of the front straight, which hosts an electric green light operated by the starter of the day. They both provide a canopy and shade from the sun. That's much more important when the summer sun beats down on the track and dries it out very quickly, making for much ruttier and dustier conditions.
'Fast' Eddie Richardson (above) was there before I arrived, as well. Eddie is a retired fire Fighter and rides a beautiful vintage Honda thumper in a Champion frame. He has no desire to race at Salem these days, but he does get a kick out of mixing it up at Otto's. We were all talking about how grateful, and fortunate we are for the day, this place, these people...and he looks at me and says 'This is the kind of thing the British would do.' I returned the smile and replied 'Yep, the Brits I know would do something just like this.'
Otto pulled me aside while we waited for the other riders to arrive and told me, 'You know, if everybody follows instructions and behaves themselves, I'm gonna invite everybody back to do it all over next Sunday.' He then proceeds to instruct me on how he'd like everyone to park and align their vehicles.
The rest of the crew starts trickling in: Korry first, then Eric with Roxan and Willie in tow. Nick texts 'Are you headed out to Otto's today?' I send him a picture of Korry and Otto with the message 'Yer late.'
By this time Otto has both air pressure gauge and bicycle pump in hand, and is laying down the law on tyre pressure: No one will have less than 16psi in their tyres. This rule was born out of an incident last time he had people at the track and a rider with only 9lbs of air in his tyres fell directly in front of Otto, causing him to crash. Otto knows the conditions at his track, and he makes the rules...
Korry is busy. That is nothing new, but his bike is. It is the first time he will run it since getting it put back together after a complete rebuild. He has a host of jetting and gearing with him, and the curiosity that fuels the drive to get it just right. He put the motor together himself (his first time at that), and should be proud, as it runs famously! He enlisted local moto engine specialist and legend in the region, Charlie Brown to do the machining work (bore, porting, crank balancing) but other than that, he built it. His champion frame, he found online for a deal, nothing new there, he always finds deals. It needed fabrication work, as it was originally set up for a Bultaco. @toothlessgary was happy to oblige and did some fantastic work on the frame, pipe, and brake setup. Gary is yet another fantastic person I've met through this community.
Otto check tyre pressures
Every tyre has been checked for pressure, everyone has listened intently to Otto's instructions at the rider's meeting, and Korry has taken the free 5 laps afforded to him only, because of the tender age of his motor. Practice for everyone begins immediately following: two sessions of 4 laps, staggered start. e're going racing! Roxan will be running the flags. Yes, he has all of them. I'll run the light after she gets everyone staged.
L-R: Eric, Nick Korry
Click the switch, and they're off! 14 laps of racing! Otto takes his typical outside line and has everyone holding their breath with each lap...you see, Otto doesn't like to lose. He'll tell you so. He'll also tell you how much he enjoys bumping bars, if need be. I went with no intention of riding, but I did have a helmet in my car... Otto let me ride his '78 XL350...what a dream. I'm remembering what the feeling of four-stroke throttle response is like: satisfaction with every centimetre of twist... The bike is set up great for this track, and it seemed to go around on it's own...
Otto wins the first race, as Korry is still very much feeling things out with his new motor. He has a very recent and tangible memory of yours truly blowing up his motor after two races...ugh. That is a story told unto itself, and for another time.
I manage to ride two other bikes, both Yamaha two-strokes (thank you Jordan and Willie), and have a blast doing it. I had plans back in town to meet Jenny (who, by the way, was busy getting her motorcycle endorsement) and her friends from college in Boise to see a guy called Israel Nash. What a day and night.
I found out well after the fact, that Korry and Nick got tangled up and went home with bruises to show for it. It's ok, I come home with a little less hide every time I'm at Otto's (see my new scar below). Last Sunday was no different.
Thanks again Otto! We're all lucky dogs!