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London’s Burning

Latest post from Pacific Northwest correspondent, Todd Marella, again, with a thread of The Clash running through it. .

More aptly, Portland’s burning. But, with boredom…? Sure, there’s a touch of boredom that comes with isolation and staying indoors for the remainder of summer, but Portland burns with much more than that. Anxiety, disappointment, disillusion, anger, sadness, uncertainty, distrust… These come to mind. Not to mention, Portland proper, is quite literally surrounded by communities on fire, and engulfed in the smoke. Smoke so thick, it blocks the sun’s rays, and lowers the expected temps. It also creates an atmosphere straight out of science fiction; the acrid smell, the orangey skies, the pronounced tickle in your throat and its accompanying cough. (Don’t) ‘Dial 99999,’ (or the Yank equivalent 911) as Joe commands, because by doing so you’re slowing the pipeline of information vital to those genuinely at risk of losing their homes, animals, businesses, and ultimately, their lives.

Saturday the 12th of September was the last race scheduled for the season at Spokane Speedway, 5 hours, 19 min north-east of Portland, and by maps and photos displayed on Friday, well out of the smoke engulfed region. It was also the first time I’d get a chance to ride my bike freshly fitted with new piston and bore. The top end refresher didn’t come without added stress, as Brian, or ‘The Bore Lord’ as he’s been affectionately dubbed, called Chris (@theironsociety) on Thursday to let him know that he had ‘good news, and bad news.’ You see, Chris delivered a cylinder and pistons of his own along with my set, for boring on Wednesday morning, so that I could have a badly needed new top end by Friday, to race Saturday.

‘The good news is I got your bore done, and I had to go up to the bigger size piston you gave me.’ Chris’ heart sank, as he knew the bad news pertained to my cylinder. ‘Your friend’s cylinder got eaten up in my machine…’ Chris shared with him the string of bad luck I’ve had with this bike since becoming its willing and eager steward. Brian felt terrible and wanted to make it right. He offered that if I had a back up cylinder, he’d get it turned around for me in time to get it installed before Saturday. As it turns out, I do have a back-up, which has now become my primary. I know this because in less than 24 hours I was picking up the cylinder, totally bead blasted, with three fins that looked like a shark had bitten a chunk out of them when dropped off, totally repaired and painted. It was beautiful, and the Bore Lord was excited for my weekend of racing, wanting a full report upon my return.

I was stressed by the time I arrived at the Heap (local Portland bike breaker's @cycle_heap) , as I knew I still had to put a tire back on a wheel which required replacement of some broken spokes. No problem. We got this. It was after 8pm by the time we got everything back together. Following the direction of the Brian, I warmed it up, and rode it like I stole it to set the rings, back and forth on the stretch of road in front of the Heap. It was noticeably more responsive and the front wheel was coming up off the ground shifting into third. Both Chris and Korry (@k_fitzpatrcick_) have witnessed this little exercise countless times, and both remarked on the difference, ‘Holy shit…’

We hastily threw everything of mine including the bike into Korry’s van in preparation for the 5+ hour drive the next morning. ‘I’ll be at your house at 5:00,’ I said as he drove off. I got home to find a package from England. It was my new ‘Full race ignition system’ built by Rex’s Speed Shop, which takes advantage of a heavy external flywheel from an old DT400. It would have been nice to have that installed in the bike instead of my apartment, right about then.

I got to Korry’s at 5.10, and we were on the road by 6:00. ‘Shouldn’t be a problem. Practice starts at 11:00,’ we said in concert. With punk rock on the radio, and hope in our hearts, we set out in search of blue skies, fresh air, and a cushion flat track. We got one of three. The air never got clear, and the skies…they remained ominous and strange.

We made good time, and arrived shortly before 11:00 after buying a few groceries in Spokane. We’d not be missing any practice from our late start, due to the absence of the water truck. Things happen, and we weren’t alone. The track staff (who do a fantastic job out at Spokane Speedway) were stressed. It gave us time to collect ourselves after the drive through what seemed like Armageddon…’speeding around underneath the yellow lights!’

Practice finally started at 1:00. The first lap out, stabbing it into turn three after being way up there on the pipe, I grabbed the compression release and my rear wheel completely locks up… ‘Oh no. Don’t be what I think you are.’ Did I seize my new top end? Letting go of the tiny lever on the left in exchange in exchange for the big one, I was able to determine the motor still revved crispy like. I was in the middle of the turn and needed to get it off the track, and did so by revs and a feathering of the clutch. My 40+ year old Hurst Airheart brake caliper failed me by letting go of the little puck of a brake pad my friend Burrito cut with a hole saw from an old GSXR set he had laying around, and it wedged itself in between caliper and rotor. The brake system is mostly for show at this point, and to get me on the track just in case anyone ever bothers to do any sort of tech inspection. It looks kinda neat and always gets the cursory ‘I ran one of those back in the day, and they didn’t work when they were new’ comment from the old timers. I’m basically running a brakeless program every time I’m on the track, depending upon the compression release to slow me down. It’s next on the list of upgrades. With Korry’s help (as usual) we were able to get it sorted and get back out for more practice. Things went well, and the bike felt faster and more responsive than it ever had. Korry feigned like he was worried. The ‘rope-a-dope’ was on. As if I needed it from him in Chris’s absence…

Heat races for both Vintage two-stroke, and Vintage Open, went well for 73Q. Of the three (don’t laugh) riders in the two strokers, I got the holeshot and lead wire to wire. In Vintage Open, I finished ahead of a couple of riders. The bike felt great!

Korry’s aunt lives 40 miles or so east in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and joined us in time for main events to watch her nephew rip his prized Champion (SB41 cover bike) around the track. It was the first time that any family member of Korry’s ever turned up to watch him race and was a very special night for him. I wasn’t going to feel bad at all about him finishing right behind me, and thus avenging him for beating me by a wheel the last time we were here. He had other plans. Aunt Danna brought water, Gatorade, and snacks for us, like a sweet aunt would, and I didn’t take advantage of the free bottles of electrolyte replacement offered. I should have.

I managed to get the holeshot again in the two-stroke main, and lead the race until the second to last lap, wherein I came in too hot to turn 3, looked at the stack of tires which make up the barrier get bigger and bigger as I went wide, and watched Korry take full advantage, zipping right by me, down low. I didn’t have enough time or arm strength left to catch him. Always the bridesmaid. First loser. Second place. Korry was stoked on his well-earned first place, and a spot atop the box. My old cramped up self couldn’t have been more thrilled for him. Alas, he’d better look out…

The Vintage open was a contest of keeping up and passing one or two of the bigger bikes, if you could muster the stuff to do so. I did and managed to finish ahead of my pal. It was a fantastic night, overall. We drank some beer, ate hot dogs cooked on sticks over a camp stove, collected our trophies, and swapped accounts of our races. I didn’t sleep much that night, as I dealt with leg cramps. I left the tent we shared to let Korry get some sleep, as I knew he’d insist on driving.

We met his aunt in Spokane for breakfast and headed out after with bellies full for the long drive home. It seemed longer, as it always does heading home, and bit more silence between us, as the promise of more smoke, more unrest, and more Monday loomed at the end of the ride. But hell, it beats the alternative of staying home for the weekend where the air quality ranked ‘worst in the world,’ and all the wisdom said to stay inside where, as Joe barks in the first verse:

‘Black or white you turn it on, you face the new religion

Everybody’s sitting ‘round

Watching television!’

Given the choice, we’d do it again in a New York second.

1 Comment
Sep 20, 2020

Having endured a hellish fire season last year here in Oz, what you describe is all too familiar. My heart goes out to the West coast and all those affected by mother nature at her worst.... it's time to start listening to her.

On a positive note, your most excellent race posts have inspired me to stop staring at my disassembled Pursang engine...its time, rebuild race repeat! long time dead.

SIDEvern ...brilliant

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