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I’m So Bored With The U.S.A.

[Pacific Northwest correspondent, Todd Marella back with a blog from Spokane, WA. By the way, for no US residents, it's pronounced Spo-can. Take it away Todd...]

It’s neither accurate nor fair to say I’m 'bored' with the USA (though I did choose that title for this post0… I guess disappointed is more in line with my feelings of late. Today is the 4th of July, the celebratory holiday acknowledging America’s independence from British rule. More importantly to me at the moment, it’s a week since my first race at Spokane Speedway, and a week away from the next.

This time a week ago, I was pulling into the pits of Spokane Speedway. It was 10:45am and I’d been up since 3:30 preparing, loading, and driving for the race event scheduled. I purchase the 'early practice' wristband in addition to my normal entry and camping fee, all told, I was in for $80 at this point. I parked the Mazda race hauler one spot over from Stace Richmond who had arrived earlier that morning. His camp was fully erected, and he was already wearing his race kit. The early practice was due to commence in 15 minutes. Hurriedly, I unloaded, dressed, and headed toward the track. This was my first time on a cushion* track, and I was excited. It was also the longest track I’d been on since various improvements to my bike. I liked it… quite well. It felt good to let the bike stretch its legs. So THAT’S what third gear feels like. The loose stuff out on the cushion felt great, if not unfamiliar. Roosts abound out there, and I got a slight taste of what that felt like, trying to imagine the sand blasting booth that must be at a mile race on the AFT circuit.

After a couple of what would end up being about 6 or 7 sessions during early practice, I headed back to my pit to make a gearing change. I started the day running a 13/54 set up, scratching in 2nd and running in 3rd. At first it was a back and forth exercise, downshifting into turns 1 and 3. Eventually, I got enough speed to run in third throughout. With that, it wasn’t pulling out of 2 and 4 like it should. Alas, my chain was too short to go any higher in the rear, so I spent the day and night running in 3rd. Note to self: hit up Eric at the Heap for a new chain.

I entered two classes, as I did not want to drive all this way for one heat and one main. The vintage two-stroke class was one that a man called Ken with an uncanny resemblance in appearance and demeanor to the Dude [from the film, The Big Lebowski], paid an entire season’s worth of sign up fees, so that riders with bikes like ours had a class to race. Nice guy, and a stable of cool bikes in his camp. The other class, 50+ Super Seniors, (where’s my AARP discount?), was a big field with some fast company, including a handful of former national numbers, on much heartier machines.

The vintage two-stroke class was truly an 'If you aint, first, you’re last' situation, as it ended up just Ken and I at the line. I gapped the philanthropic Ken, pretty well in both outings, stepping onto my first podium for a photo afterwards. Hey, a win is a win, right?

The track crew do a fine job of preparing the surface at Spokane, sparing no opportunity to put water down. I’ve never seen as much water applied to a race surface, all day and night, and in turn, watch it dissipate into the soil so quickly. With that, it seemed every practice session, every heat, and main event I rode in, I was in the group heading out immediately after watering, leaving some puddles to avoid for the first handful of laps. As the sun set and temps dropped a little, the track retained its moisture better, making for a faster surface.

[Click to buy your own Sideburn goggles]

My other class was no cakewalk, by any means. I got good starts all night, and was right in the mix of the mob of 16 or so riders in the class. Spokane starts their races from a slight “perch” in the infield that is a TT bump next to the flagger’s shack. This is by design to save the surface of the main track, as it becomes rutty from all the wheel spinning. It seemed to work famously. I surprised myself in the heat by not finishing last, having held off at least three other riders. There were two heats for the class, as it included at least 16 bikes, including a works KTM Super Duke piloted by Stace. The main event gave me an opportunity to taste some of the 1/4” minus gravel mixed in with the loamy moist Spokane soil, as I started in the second row. Keep your mouth shut, your eyes open, and go on the green without worrying about the bikes in front of you. I actually passed a couple of bikes heading into the corner. The initial blast from the start paled in comparison to the shower of track surface I bathed in coming out of turn 2…which is actually turn four in relationship to the finish line. Got that? This race was perhaps one of the best experiences on a flat track bike for me, to date. It was certainly as fast as I have ever gone, keeping it open longer, getting on it earlier, and mixing it up with a lot of bigger, faster bikes. So good, so fun. Not boring, at all.

With that, my racing at Spokane for the first time, was over. It was nearly midnight. I’d been up for 20 hours.

The final race of the night was a field of between 21 and 23 riders (depending upon who you ask) for the Open Pro class. As there wasn’t room on the hump in the infield to start all of them, they started in a grid at the Finish line. To call it mayhem would understate it. What a treat! They got it on! A local who’s name I don’t know, won the race in grand fashion.

Afterward, Kiefer Jones and I helped Stace break down his camp and load up, wherein the three of us decided we were amped up enough to drive home that night, they headed for Seattle, me, back to Portland. After a jump from Stace (my dome light stayed on all day draining my battery) I set out for home. I made it 30 miles, pulling into a rest stop, my head bobbing up and down fighting off sleep, looking like one of those plastic birds perched over a cup of water…I reclined the seat in my soccer mom CX5, and shut my eyes.

After 3.5 hours of the worst sleep in my recent memory, I left for Portland. I watched a magnificent sunrise in my rearview mirror, and witnessed the most vivid double rainbow in its entirety, I’ve ever seen. I missed the co-pilot companionship of my daughter Lily, for it was she with whom I’d make the round trip to Spokane for volleyball tournaments in years past.

By 11:45 I was rolling up to the clearing that reveals Luckydog Speedway, where my pals were already busy at it. I didn’t ride with them, as I barely had the energy to drive a car, let alone dice at close quarters with them. I flagged races for them, and watched with a smile. I left after a couple of races to go clean my bike.

Lucky dogs are we.

*The top Dog at Luckydog Speedway wastes no opportunity to tell you 'This is a cushion track.'

If you're wondering about the headline, the majority of Todd's post share a title with a song by The Clash. Todd adores The Clash. GI

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