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Police On My Back

I’ve never run from the police. I’ve never been arrested. I’m a lucky guy because I’ve put myself in situations that could’ve, and in some instances, very well should’ve earned me a seat in the back of a squad car. I’d be a liar if I said I haven’t romanticized running from the police. It’s completely ridiculous on so many fronts, but… is it? Why is it such a popular theme in literature and film? Why does it work so well to captivate the reader or viewer in so many stories? It’s the lure of the chase. In our minds, we become the pursued, because ‘Baby, we were born to run'. We curse the coppers and root for the robbers. We identify with those avoiding apprehension and, with no reasonable explanation, pull for the bad guys. Why?

The most recent race weekend at Salem had more than a slight overtone of chaos down at Salem Speedway for at least two of my racing pals and Vintage 250 classmates. Korry Fitzpatrick had a particularly stressful start to his weekend, as he blew up his top end during Friday night’s practice. I found out by a photo he texted me at about 8:30 with the words ‘Think I seized my shit after the bike cooled…’

The weekend was a double header to make up for the six weeks of racing the flat trackers and karts missed due to the mini supercross track created in the pavilion for the month of December. This meant a regular program on Saturday, with karts in the morning, and bikes at night. Sunday was scheduled as a matinee beginning at 11am with classes of karts and bikes alternating throughout the day. At any rate, it was a double points race weekend, and #18 was starting it with a blown engine. You might say he was under the gun, or, running from something bigger than himself. Determined and undeterred, he spent Saturday morning performing all of the duties of an early '70s privateer flat track race team, which is to say, he is the team owner, financier, crew chief, head mechanic, tuner, body work specialist, and rider… You see where this is going?

‘Police on my back’ is a jaunty little rebel tune written by Eddie Grant (yeah, ‘Electric Avenue’ Eddie Grant) while he was fronting a rollicking soul/ska outfit in London called The Equals. Of course, theirs wasn’t the first version I’d heard, or fallen for. That version belonged to The Clash, and it was on their triple album follow up to ‘London Calling.’ It was 1980, Randy Goss had beaten Hank Scott earlier in the year by one point to win the AMA Grand National Championship, and I was at Tower Records in El Toro, CA two weeks before Christmas my senior year in high school, and I had my copy of ‘Sandinista’ under my arm. Due to my youth, the frequency with which I was going to see bands such as the Circle Jerks, Adolescents, Black Flag and X, and the significant departure from ‘London Calling’ (in my testosterone-fuelled mind), I wasn’t prepared for six sides of world music, gospel, Jazz, rockabilly and dub from my favourite ‘Punk’ band. But, ‘Police On My Back…’ now there was a tune you could stomp to. And I did. And I still do.

It certainly wasn’t the first time The Clash covered other tunes about the struggle between the right and wrong side of the law, making them their own. ‘Police and Thieves,’ a pure roots rebel tune by falsetto reggae master Junior Murvin recorded in 1976, was reworked and included on The Clash’s first album later that year. It blistered! As did their version of the Bobby Fuller Four classic ‘I Fought The Law.’

This is EXACTLY what Korry did Friday night… He fought the law (of physics), and ‘the law won!’ Racing is nothing, if not a constant fight between rider and the laws of physics… You win some, you lose some. Some losses sting more than others… ahem.

A few of us from the Cycle Heap gang, secured rooms for Saturday night at the Motel 6 just down the street from the fairgrounds, to avoid the back and forth between Portland and Salem for the double header. Scott Rounds and I caravanned down together to the track on Saturday. He was on a little photo shoot mission, in addition to hauling two bikes down for the ‘mad dog’ class (what we call minibike in the UK, CRF100s and the like). I got a little video clip from Korry, with his bike running, loaded and strapped into the back of his truck. He did it. He got it together. I never doubted him. We arrived early enough to see some kart action…man, do those guys bring a full race program with them to the track! I helped Scott with grip for his project, and when he finished, we secured a spot under the shed in a newly created vacancy from an exiting kart crew.

Bikes began to trickle in steadily at about 2:30. There was a buzz in the air, as it had been 6 weeks since flat trackers last had their chance in the pavilion. 12 riders in the 250 Vintage class, was as many as I’d ever seen since I started my flat track fun as a rider at Salem! There were nearly as many trikes that night, too!

Korry arrived about the time Chris (@ironsociety), Erick (@original_burrito), and Eric (@cycleheap) did. Cory Churchill was there (last season’s class champ), as was Brad (@bradbarnes47) on his Rickman chassis Montessa (yet another Spaniard in the class), in addition to a handful of riders from the Vancouver Flat Track Club. We also had a very special guest rider in the class, set up by Aaron Cope (@am_cope) from Icon1000, on his modern KTM 125 two-stroke (loose interpretation of the class restrictions for special guests), to get some cool video mix into a fun clip of the action, like only Grant Wheeler (@grant.wheeler) can. You know, it was uncanny how much better my ribs felt while engaging with the other riders while they got set up for the night’s racing. Sadly, I would not be participating as a racer during this this go around.

Practice was a blur, as there were so many bikes, and it seemed as they’d all upped their game…read: everybody’s going faster in the 250 vintage class! There were two heats of 6 riders each. Erick won the first, with Korry (Fitzpatrick) beating Cory (Churchill) in the second heat. Nobody went down, nobody blew up their bike. I’m looking at every race, whether it’s a heat or a main, as a chase scene in a movie. The first round scores this way: Robbers 1, Coppers 0. And that little two-note riff alternating between e and b strings on the 10th fret that Mick Jones makes sing like a squad car siren in pursuit…? I hear it in my head watching my pals. ‘Well I’m runnin’, Police on my back.’

The main event is a showdown with four riders who can win it, depending upon all of the usual factors: start, mechanical failure, absence of significant mistakes, and what the other riders do. They are: Korry, Cory, Chris, and Erick, respectively. Well, let’s just say Erick got a good start…a really good start (read about his Ossa in an earlier post). He lead wire to wire, never threatened. Meanwhile, if he was the robber, then Chris, Korry, and Cory were the cops! They battled for 2nd and 3rd in a good race, having to mix it up with Grant for a while, until it was over. The final result was: Erick 1st, followed by, Korry, and Chris, in that order. That wrapped it up for the Vintage 250 class for Saturday.

Back at the hotel, Jenny brought a small supply of bottles and mixers to stock a little bar in our room. See, we didn’t have to drive home, so we were in the mood to celebrate. Our room, the only one in our group situated on the ground floor, not only doubled as a makeshift bar, but as a paddock for Korry’s bike, as well. The regular clientele at the Motel 6, are probably not to be trusted with anything of value sitting in the back of a pickup overnight. As we got into our cups, the discussion shifted from the night’s racing, to the rest of the night’s docket. We agreed on bowling, and karaoke if we could find it.

Both were within walking distance. Korry dominated on the lanes, with Jenny second, and Eric Purdy 3rd. Roxan finished 4th ahead of me, which didn’t mean much that night. (Remember the ‘Magnificent 7?’) At the bowling alley, we all ate our weight in fried food, and drank until the bar closed. ‘Let’s go sing karaoke,’ suggested Roxan. She didn’t get a fight from anybody in the group. We found a place on the other side of the road. Alas, a large group who seemed to have been there all night, had the night’s karaoke selections sewn up. Jenny and I would’ve treated the room to ‘Jackson’ by Johnny and June, and I was looking in the book for ‘Police On My Back.’ We closed the karaoke bar, but not before the group of people who got there before us, coaxed Roxan and Jenny to dance with them while their party sang.

Setting off for the hotel, we spied a taco truck across the street in the parking lot of a dance club. Korry insisted we cross the road. We queued up with the people spilling out from the club. It was an interesting show of cars peeling out and doing donuts in the Goodwill parking lot across the street, circling back to re-enter the parking lot of the club they’d just left, leaving a little of their undercarriage in the driveway. This was a function of the transition being steep, and lubricated club goers carrying too much speed into the lot. ‘What have I DUH-uh-uhn?’ There’s that tune again. Jenny and I had two al pastor, Roxan and Eric went with carnitas if memory serves, and Korry ordered two of each. Korry likes tacos, especially good street tacos at 3:30 in the morning. Keep in mind, practice for the next day’s races begins at 11:00.

Korry texted me at 8:36…’You up?’ At 10:13, more than a little groggy I replied, in a start ‘Now.’ I overslept, and I had his bike in my room. We had it loaded in eight minutes, along with his tool box and complete index of rear sprockets. I promised him I’d drop off a cup of coffee to him at the track, while Jenny cleaned up our stuff to check out. After I dropped the coffee, Jenny and I joined Eric and Roxan for breakfast at a great little diner. Eric decided to forgo the day’s racing, due to his bike just not performing like he’d preferred. I took breakfast burritos to Korry and Landon Kearney (@landonkearney) who’s building a rocket out of a cool old Hodaka for the class. Glory be to the Road Toad!

The field was cut in half from the previous night’s turnout, and because of time constraints due to mixing a kart and bike program (boo!), race officials lumped 250 Vintage, Open Vintage, and Vintage twins into one class. To describe it as hectic, is an understatement. Chris was able to overtake the two vintage twins, and win the heat, with Erick second, Cory third, and Korry Fitzpatrick, 4th. Immediately following the race, I went and spoke to Ryan, one of the brothers who runs the program at Salem, and voiced our concerns about running with the Vintage open class. They accommodated us, and ran a separate main, solely consisting of 250 Vintage riders. It was going to be a dogfight.

#18 was determined to win. He opted to go up a tooth on the rear sprocket, hoping for a better start, than he’d been getting, and more pull at the low end of the throttle. With Erick’s Ossa running like a rocket, and him riding it beautifully, and Chris getting faster with every lap on his boss Panther framed DR250, Korry had his work cut out for him. It should be mentioned that Churchill can never be counted out, especially now that he’s figured out that inside line is the fast way around…

Korry started on the outside of the grid, Churchill to his immediate left, then Erick, and Chris on the inside. Erick wears a GoPro on his helmet for every race. The footage of this one is the best so far, as was the race, the best any of us have seen in the class. Although Churchill got a fantastic start, Korry got the one he’s been looking for and darted across the field from the outside to go bar to bar with #161 coming out of turn two. By the time they were out of turn 4, Korry was in front and wasn’t looking back. The vid shows Erick passing Churchill to get into third, and the ensuing battle between the Ossa, the Panther, and the Champion framed Yamaha of Cory Fitzpatrick, running his back up motor! Chris tried every line on the track to take the lead, but was denied at every attempt…’They will CATCH me, if I dare drop back…’ There’s a great chase scene in a film from the early 70’s called ‘Electra Glide in Blue’ in which Robert Blake plays a rookie motorcycle cop trying to make detective. In the scene, he and his partner are in hot pursuit of an outlaw biker gang somewhere in a small Arizona desert town… Korry must have felt like the hippie bikers in the scene, with Chris and Erick as Robert Blake and his partner in hot pursuit.

In the end, Chris, Erick, and Cory Churchill ran out of laps in that order, and Korry Fitzpatrick took home his first 1st place trophy at Salem, in what was arguably, the best race in the 250 vintage class to date. [It's great, watch the footage above. This is what short track racing is all about! GI]

Cue up ‘Sandinista,’ side 4, track 1 (no.19) and listen to the siren wail from Jonesy’s Les Paul, and that driving urgency of the rest of the group, providing the critical backdrop of rhythm on the run…’Well, I’m runnin’, Police on my back! Congratulations to Korry on escaping the posse formed to hunt him down in a thriller in Salem

All photos Todd Marella except top photo, Rick Barbosa

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