An update from Todd Marella on the 2019/2020 amateur winter race scene in Salem, Oregon.
It’s December 26 and the rush from Christmas is dissipating (damn it, I love Christmas), and it occurred to me that I still hadn’t summed up last week’s activities in the 250 Vintage class at Salem Speedway. The class feels a bit skeleton like, to be sure, as the defending champ, Chris DeSanty, has been absent since the first race getting his Panther outfitted with a two-stroke motor, replacing the DR250 powerplant from last season. It too needs mentioning that Korry Fitzpatrick hasn’t raced since breaking his leg at the One Show races last February. Stay tuned for his welcome back to the class this Saturday, we’re all awaiting a pretty significant debut of his new bike. Class regular Cory Churchill has missed the last two races, as he and his wife did just have their first child. I guess he gets a break.
With that, two riders haven’t missed a race this season: Number 19, Erick Navetta, on his fire breathing Ossa Phantom, and #50 Landon Kearney riding his sleeper ’76 XL250. His bike is one that is new to him and the class this season. Last year, he did everything short of turbocharging his old Hodaka 100 to squeeze any possible power out of that little bike to compete in the class, to include some handlebar mounted auxiliary jetting device that made adjustments to carburation while you ride it! I’m sure I’m butchering the actual description of the equipment, and will catch hell from my much more versed and learned, mechanically inclined friends in the community when this appears in the blog. Anyway, Landon is an Automotive Repair Technician by trade who spends his working hours bettering cool old cars for a shop in Eugene. Its cousin shop is @vintageundergroundrestorations and worth a follow if you are into really neat old European cars getting all of the TLC and hot rodding they deserve.
Landon doesn’t go outside without a smile on his face. I can attest to this because I’ve never really seen him indoors. (They call Salem Speedway 'indoor', but it’s really a big carport with 10,000 cubic yards of dirt in it lovingly worked into the 'fastest indoor track in America,' so they say. And the taco place 'El Padrino', that he and Erick turned me onto this season for the best after race gathering, is barely indoor, as the action is outside where the massive griddles full of fresh asada, carnitas, and grilled chiles y cebolla, are flanked by a giant wheel of 'al pastor', visible from the left turn lane of the intersection across the street.
Chris DeSanty dominated the class last year on a four-stroke, albeit, in a Panther frame. Landon scored an old XL250 cheap, tuned it, sourced an old exhaust pipe at a salvage yard for $20 and fabbed it into something that works, put some 19in wheels shod with flat track tires on it, and here we are. After checking in with Erick, it was confirmed that #50 is leading the points standings in the class by 2. It’s been a battle between Landon and Erick this season, so far, with yours truly bringing up a pretty distant third the last two events. In the heat race for our class on Saturday, I saw Landon throw his hand up to signal his abrupt slowing going into turn one after just one lap. What I’d learn after the race is that he sheared the connection for his brake stay, mangling it and his cable for the rear drum. With some help from Korry Fitzpatrick (he ALWAYS helps) he was able to “MacGyver” his brake setup back together in time for the main… smiling.
In the main, Erick got first choice for staging position and chose the second spot from the inside. I was second in the heat and awarded the respective choice. Determined to get a holeshot, I chose the inside spot. At the light, charging for turn one, my right grip (new and sticky for that race) got tangled up in Erick’s jersey. Suddenly stiff as statues with eyes as big as Duncan yo-yos, both Erick and I rolled off the throttle, as we both sensed we were about to make a colossal pile up in turn one. We managed to keep the bikes upright, but gave Landon the opportunity he needed, and off he went into first place. We never caught him and he took home the first place trophy for the night, his first at Salem, and he couldn’t have been more pleased or deserving. Not bad for a guy who as Erick put it 'got into flat track at Salem just lookin’ for a way to keep riding in the winter.'
My bike was outfitted with new front end (Weiss Racing Triples, R6 Forks) new rear shocks (vintage rebuilt Worx), new tires, front and rear, and new bars. It was the debut of the beautiful set of vintage Bates leathers I found that actually fit, and all of the attention in the 250 Vintage class was on #50, the sleeper ’76 XL250. Rightly so.
It was 40 years ago this month that the Clash released what is arguably one of the greatest rock albums of all time, and 43 years ago that Landon’s XL left the showroom for the back of its first owner’s hauler. Cue up the first song on the first side of the first slab of “London Calling,” and tell me Paul Simenon’s bass doesn’t sound like a finely tuned old XL 250 barreling its way to victory on a frigid clay oval in December…
Congratulations Landon…the two-strokes are coming for ya!
Photos: Todd Marella, Tom Stein