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Portland's Burning


Ready for another of Todd Marella's Clash-infused race reports from the Pacific Northwest? We are. Take it away Todd.


Sitting in staging waiting for my first heat race Saturday night, boredom is the furthest emotion from my being. Excited. Elated. Glad, stoked, and giddy, more like. Spokane Speedway is 346 miles from my house, and about 12 miles further than that from Burrito’s place where I met him at 5:00 this morning. His van is bigger in every dimension than mine, and he offered to drive. The 5.5 hour drive is worth every minute in my book. My friends in the 250 vintage class that made the trip from Portland would agree. Spokane's track is a quarter-mile cushion with a surface that seems to get better with every visit. There are several lines around the course, and riders roost each other from all of them. Keep your chin down and save your neck from the shotgun blast… Unless you’re leading.


Open Vintage is the first of three classes I entered for the night. It was the biggest class of the night’s program, thus earning it a 'Dash for Cash'. We also learned in the rider’s meeting that Vintage Two-stroke was the second largest class, and much to our surprise they had a Dash for Cash for those guys, too. Wait…WE are those guys! The top four riders (meaning: Chris, Korry, Erick, and yours truly) would compete for half of the money in the kitty for the Dashes, which was $382.00. It took a moment for it to set in that there was nearly $200.00 for the taking in our little 5 lap cure for boredom slated for later in the evening.


'London’s Burning' is the last song on side one of The Clash’s self-titled debut album. The song is a snapshot of current life in London through the band’s lens in 1976. Its straight-ahead, no-nonsense fury reflects not only the boredom with current music of the time, as much as it does the status quo of the failing Labour body politic in power. As I become an old man, I realize how little difference the total outcome is from one regime to the next, and that the songs just hold up, at least here stateside. These tunes come to me in my head, after having played them a thousand times over throughout my years, and they resonate for differing reasons and differing circumstances. For whatever reason, this tune was in my ears, in my gold flaked Gringo as I was sitting at the starting line for my first heat race. As the starter pointed at me making eye contact and completing his sweep across the grid, I heard the first six bars of the tune…then the green light lit, and we were off. I rode to a 3rd place finish behind the eventual winner of the class that night, and feeling alright “speeding around, underneath the yellow lights!”

Korry and I were in the first heat, with Chris and Erick in the second. Our little 250s were no match for the stable of built TT 500’s and the able riders aboard, many of whom are former national number holders. Our closer competition awaited in the other two classes entered, Amateur Open and Vintage two-stroke.


Earlier in the day, with plenty of time to take advantage of the three-hour early practice session, I struggled in the pits to change gearing. I knew of the condition, yet thought I came prepared to make the easy addition of 4 chain links to accommodate the correct and much larger rear sprocket. Wrong. Although I had the custom little 4 link piece, and enough “Master” links to make it work, I found a snag. You see, different manufacturers make their version of a 520 ga chain with ever so slightly different dimensions regarding pins and holes in the links. I fought with it long enough before finding the right combination to use all but about 15 min of the early practice time allotted. It didn’t matter. I went out, and in 3 or 4 laps, I was confident that the bike was set up perfectly, and I was feeling good.


The next heat race was Amateur Open. Any bike you want, any age rider, any skill level, as long as you’re not a pro. Here we go. I got a good start and was off. Seven laps later, I’m crossing the finish line first. I head straight back to the start line on the hump next to the shack for the next heat, Vintage Two-stroke, as these classes are back-to-back. Green light, 7 laps, same result. I can’t remember if I went wire to wire, or whether I had to pass Chris, either way, he and Korry were right on my tail, but it was checkers for 73Q.


I topped off the fuel tank during intermission and told myself to 'just go do what you did in the heats,' and take their money. Having never ridden in a contest for money, I had only the memories of watching riders truly go for it on another level in the “Dash.” It usually means another flavor of mayhem reserved for “winner take all” contests. I knew my best bet was to get the holeshot, and never look back. I thought I could hold off passing attempts, should they come my way. I’m aware of the pride that exists among us, and the “rope-a-dope” stories are plenty, but I was feeling it. None of the Salem Slew had a chance for the Dash in Vintage open, but Vintage Two-stroke followed immediately before the start of main events.

Staged on the start line, all four of the Salem Slew contingent are ready to chase the purse. Green light flashes and I get a great start. First out of turn two, I’m not letting off. “Keep it on deep, turn it on quick,” I tell myself heading into turn 3. I do that same mantra for 5 laps, and find myself with no one ahead of me for the checkered flag. Just like that. I won the Dash for Cash, my third race for a win on the night. There is a little time to celebrate in the pits with the fellas, and congratulations are all around.


Stoked, and sort of floating, I am positioned on the front row in the middle for the start of the Vintage open. Knowing the outcome would be quite different in this race, I made a decision to take it easy at the start, as a holeshot was nearly impossible and carried a far greater risk of involving myself in a pile up between 1 and 2. I came out of 2 in pretty good shape leading all other two strokers. My position remained the same for the 10 lap finale with about 5 or 6 of the big bikes battling ahead of me. I was just fine with that and content to place ahead of some of the 500’s and for bragging rights, all of my fellow Slew members.


The next two races would be the tests. I got my worst start of the night in Amateur Open, and came out of turn 2 in 4th place, but not for long. I remember two riders, with the leader enjoying a substantial gap between us. As it was a 10 lap affair, I knew I had time. I reeled him in and benefiting from a yellow flag during the race for a downed rider, I was able to make a pass with a lap to go. 1st place was mine. I had to hurry to the start line for the last go around, as my posse were meeting me there for the Vintage Two-stroke main event. I faired much better at the starting line in this race, garnering not one, but two holeshots, due to a restart. Once underway, I (as Korry put it) checked out, and never felt a threat. The Bike was perfect and the rider as confident as he’d ever ridden, and another 1st place finish for 73Q. I need to mention that Chris was unable to race the mains, as the Bultaco was experiencing a mysterious air leak, and performing poorly. Things could’ve gone a lot differently for me, had he been racing…but they didn’t.

Erick (aka Burritto) gets his first podium at Spokane behind Korry and yours truly


$191.00 buys enough gas and snacks to get you to Spokane and back for a night of racing. In all sincerity, I don’t show up with a prepared race bike without the other 3 guys in the group. With that, I gave a $100.00 for them to split evenly, with plans to buy breakfast on our way out of town in the morning. Erick and I bunked in his van, both on cots with sleeping bags. One of us got a decent night’s sleep, and it wasn’t me. Note to self: get that zipper fixed on the sleeping bag. We found a diner a block from another diner that was already crowded, and had our fill of breakfast. Back on the road to Portland were we, all with a different perspective. I just wanna race flat track every weekend. It sure beats the heck out of “turning on to face the new religion, everybody sitting ‘round watching television…”

After a whirlwind of a summer, most of which was fantastic, the last outdoor race under my belt, and Salem cancelling the indoor season, what’s a guy to do this winter? Build the Trackmaster? Dig.


This video is The Clash performing London's Burning in front of 80,000 in 1978, the song Clash-obsessive, Todd refers to. If it doesn't play in your country, and you want to see it, click the description above.


#ToddMarella #Portland #SpokaneSpeedway #Vintagedirttrack #vintageflattrack #Yamaha #Twostroke