Todd Marella reports from the One Show and its races.
It’s early February in Portland, OR, and to many, there is but one event in town: The One Moto. Brainchild of Thor Drake, and labour of love to many, the motorcycle builder’s showcase has become one of the premier moto shows, the world over. Accounts flourish, rightly so, accurately reporting on the builders, their bikes, and the stories behind them. This is not one of those reports. This is a look through a very small aperture of smudged goggles, clouded by, anticipation, high hopes, and an unexpected broken leg a month before.
These contributions typically find theme and inspiration via a particular tune by The Clash. The One Moto deserves an entire album. London Calling is fitting. London Calling is a double album, a first for the band, and a bit of a mind blower for its fans, critics, and the label. This year’s One Show was a double album, if you will, as both builders’ show AND races were packaged and delivered in the same venue. The album, released in 1979, paid homage to, borrowed, and stole from influences old and new, all the while forward facing, looking to the future. This year’s One show delivered on the same level, showcasing bikes dating back to the earliest part of the 20th century, and hosting the first National all electric pro race, featuring some of flat track’s elite riders chasing $1000 first prize: silent but lethal.
Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum is a mid-century glass box perched across the street from the east bank of the Willamette, and has hosted in no particular order of importance or magnitude the likes of Elvis, The Beatles, Evel Knievel, and a basketball World Championship by a Bill Walton-captained Trailblazers squad in 1977. The Tuesday immediately preceding the show, the Portland Winterhawks lost 7-6 to the visiting Spokane Chiefs, in World Hockey. Wednesday morning, the procession of semi trucks full of Ridgefield clay, filed in and dumped what would become the track for Saturday’s racing, all over the concrete floor.
By the time this was happening, I’d made the decision to race. This was a departure from two weeks prior, when I’d decided not to race. That decision was made based upon the opinion of others…the orthopaedic surgeon reading my X-rays, and everybody else I talked to after breaking the distal end of my left fibula in a weird little 'twist' of fate racing at Salem on 28 December. By most accounts, 73Q wouldn’t see action in the Coliseum, unless piloted by another rider. Gary [Sideburn ed] had booked plane tickets, and my spare bedroom readied. Maybe he’d want to race the green machine. The idea was discussed. Nearly as soon as he said he would wrangle my bike among the rest of the 250 Vintage riders, stars aligned (no vintage Bates pun intended) and due to his responsibilities at the Sideburn merch booth, and my very favourable report from the doctor, the plan reverted: I’d ride the old MX250 two-stroke myself!
After the break, a violent twisting of my foot due to the toe of my “deep sea diver” hotshoe catching the clay surface with my foot on the left peg, I made a vow I’d never race another lap without a proper shoe. The news came quickly that I’d ride, and with it, I got ahold of Mike Butler @mikebutlerracing and asked him if he could turn a shoe around in as little time as we had. “No problem. I make them in one day, once I receive the boot,” he said. 9 days before the race, I shipped my left boot to his shop in Cincinnati. 4 days before the race, the mailman delivered my boot, and the most beautiful hotshoe I’d ever seen. I can recommend him without hesitation.
Gary’s flight was delayed slightly Tuesday night. While waiting for the weary traveler to exit the terminal, I received a text from Thor telling me they were at The Sandy Hut, and that we should come by for a “pre-show” drink.
You know the Gatling Gun staccato snare that Topper hammers out immediately prior and leading up to Joe’s first lyric on the album…? 'London Calling, to the far away town, now war is declared, and battle come down…; As fitting a lead in to what is arguably, the best album of all time, that little snare riff could have been playing while we made our entrance into the bar, slow motion like a scene out of Goodfellas. At least that’s what it looked like in my mind. Gary had friends to catch up with and war was declared on my sleep, my liver, and the muscles in my face from all the laughter I’d experience over the six days to come. We caroused in the Hut for a bit, Gary got caught up with Thor, Tori, and the One Moto prep crew, and we made our way back to home base for some curry. Back at mine ee toasted over expensive tequila, ending my healing regimen since the last day of 2019 wherein I got good sleep, didn’t drink, and ate sensible home cooked meals…trading that for a drink at every opportunity, bar food on the regular, and sleep deprivation.
Wednesday morning looked like the remainder of Gary’s stay: up early, poached eggs on English muffins, and tea. Breakfast, not “tea,” nor dinner, supper, or the “Elevenses.” Apparently, what one refers to for their particular meal of the day, says something about their station in life, or their tongue in cheek nod to others’ class identity. The anglophile that I am was eating it up when over drinks one night, the subject came up amongst the Brit contingent who’d made the trip for the show. Anthony from DTRA, says through his perma-smile 'Elevenses'. What?!! I couldn’t have been more pleased, once explained to me, just what the hell the Elevenses is…or are. By the way, it’s my new favourite meal.
Off to work for me, and pre-show work for Gary, sends us on our respective paths. He’ll find his way to See See, as I don’t live far up Sandy Blvd. from the shop. We met up at Icon1000 for a visit and lovely lunch with Nean and Amanda (above) who are both buzzing about the show and the experience lounge they’re creating for it, which was truly a sight to behold.
It’s Wednesday, and the only night after work I’ve time to get up to Chris’ (@theironsociety ) shop to last minute tinker with the brake on my bike, and the fellas (@ethnic_foodwrap_aficionado @k_fitzpatrick_ ) all want to meet Gary. Each of them still had last minute work to do on their respective bikes, as each was not only racing, but featured in the Show. It was good to let Gary see where we’d spent countless hours together in the weeks leading up to the show. I’ve mentioned it before, but it cannot be overstated, that without these guys (and so many more) the 73Q race program does not exist. Truly, I’m the least knowledgeable mechanic, fabricator, and tuner in the whole group, and each of them gives me a soft landing with every one of my completely inane questions. For their friendship I’m truly grateful. As my bike was also fortunate enough to sit among theirs at this year’s show, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call us the 'Four Horsemen', at least within the context of the 250 Vintage class at Salem. Track 16 is just under 3 minutes run time, and is a self-penned Strummer/Jones homage to the group, laden with metaphor, and its second verse, in my humble opinion, a fairly apt descriptor of our place at the show.
I’ve made mention of the place that aesthetic holds in my love of flat track. The style of the bikes. The positioning of the riders on them as they back it in at 130 mph. The look of the leathers…particularly, the vintage ones. Each of us ‘Four Horsemen’ were saddled up on beautifully crafted leather seats made with love by Roxan (@rangeneedlework).
Both she and her husband Eric (@cycleheap) have their hearts on their sleeves demonstrating their support for me and my flat track joy. Their shop(s) are truly a Portland treasure, and I’m lucky to call them friends. Roxan’s sewing has also beautified my gear. When I needed name and numerals sewed onto my custom green Langlitz, she did so in painstakingly artistic fashion. When I found a vintage set of Bates leathers from the 60’s, she couldn’t have been more thrilled to accommodate.
The leathers in question, are special on a number of fronts. For starters, they fit me. This is rare, as I’m not built like the vast majority of flat track riders, particularly from an era gone by. I’ve encountered several sets in second hand shops and via the internet over time, but none that come close to fitting. Secondly, they’re pretty spectacular, visually. Brown and white are the colors, with contrasting brown and white 3” stars sewn down the sleeves and legs, respectively. Brown and white…who has leathers custom made in brown and white? Vern Henderson did, who’s first name remains stitched to the left breast of the jacket in his honour. Apparently, Mr. Henderson was one of the original USAF test pilots for the YF-12/SR71 Blackbird. See link wherein he is mentioned piloting the plane during its first missile launch while at 75,000 ft. Vern basically an astronaut during the week, and flat tracker on the weekends…
Roxan’s hand completed the look of the leathers which now display my last name and number, in the largest font I could fit on the back. To do so, she insisted upon taking the hems out to separate jacket from liner, so her stitching wouldn’t affect the vintage signature gold mesh lining that is unmistakably Bates. Golden.
The rest of Wednesday and Thursday nights are a bit blurry, as I wasn’t taking notes, but I know I was able to spend time with our mate Sean and meet a host of Gary’s friends in town for the show. The Harley-Davidson party held at the Jupiter Hotel was great, and the first opportunity for me to see ‘Fast and Left,’ (@fastandleftfilm) the beautiful film by Evan Senn. I introduced myself to him, thanking him for all he put into a movie capturing the essence of what we love.
Friday was opening day for the One Moto, which meant load in for the bikes, vendors, and all involved with staffing the entire production. Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum was buzzing. We went up to Chris’ shop to clean up and load bikes. I could have used the help of Freddy Trott to spiff up #73Q. This is where memory stops serving as well, due to ratio of consumption to sleep begins taking its toll. All in all, we were able to get bikes and Sideburn merch setup without too much grief. The ‘Four Horsemen’ were situated in a row next to the See See Coffee side car, and drew a lot of attention. The show kicked off in grand fashion with much electric energy in the air as thousands of moto enthusiasts could generate. Hot Snakes headlined the evening’s music, delivering on a decibel level outmatched perhaps only by the likes of The Who at Altamont. After a full day of it at the show, and a few drinks along the way, again, things got blurry.
Saturday was race day, and sure to be a busy one. 350 riders entered for the 24 classes on the race schedule. Nobody said it was going to be an easy event to organize and run. Stepping onto the track surface for the rider’s meeting, it was apparent that the track would not be like anything riders were accustomed to in a flat track race. The clay was moist…and soft. So soft, that your boot sank in it, noticeably. My take on the track is now, what it was then: the crew assembled to build and prep the track surface are as good as any around, alas, it’s the same people who run the program at Salem, and that is one of the best flat track surfaces around. Everyone involved tirelessly worked their tails off to host the event. And, everyone racing would do so on the same track. I’ve no place within me to complain. I’m 56 years old, surrounded by marvellous friends and incredible talent, and I get to race my motorcycle in front of a couple thousand people in the Coliseum! Two weeks ago, that didn’t seem possible in my world. While in staging for practice, I noticed nearly every rider coming off the track in groups before me, wagging their heads in disapproval. I get it. I also got the value of the moment to savour what was happening. Yes, it was bumpy and unpredictable, and no, it wasn’t pure flat track, but what it was, was fun. And enjoyment. And experience. And history.
Ours was race number 17 of the 24 scheduled, and featured 15 riders, 6 of which were from the Vintage 250 class at Salem. Landon Kearney and Cory Churchill were in the grid and are battling for the class championship down at Salem, where one of our two remaining races of the season was scratched in favour of a horse show, but I digress. Our class was split into two heats of 7 and 8 riders, respectively, with the top five from each advancing to the main (which was later amended so that all riders in the class went to the main.) In my heat, I was able to get a decent start, and managed to keep it on two wheels, unlike some of my peers, and I finished third.
During the race, my left foot (the broken side) hit the top of one of the ruts formed in turn four, and I felt a shock shoot up my leg, in an eerily familiar moment. I still think that if I hadn’t been outfitted with the new shoe, I might have repeated December 28th’s evening. Feeling elated I learned that neither Erick nor Korry would make the main (before we learned of the amendment to the earlier program), quickly changing my mood. I felt terrible for them. After a bit of confusion between the heats and the main, we got the news, and were relieved that the race would include us all.
So there we were, the Four Horsemen, two on Spanish Bombs, in 'trenches full of poets, the ragged army, fixin’ bayonets, to fight the other line.' The starter performed his ritual of walking in front of the grid, outside to in, making eye contact with every rider, turning 90 degrees toward turn one and his starter’s box, rpms at their peak, and his flag goes up…Charge! I felt like I got a decent start, elbow to elbow with Landon heading into turn 2, and then…I promptly jammed it into neutral, and by the time I got it back in gear, I’d watched the field pass me. Tied for fourth to last in a matter of seconds. I had my work cut out. The race was long enough that I managed to pass three of my pals, the other Horsemen, and I rode out the rest of the race, lapped by 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place finishers, respectively. Grinning was I, as I am now, ear to ear. I’d done it. 42 days after breaking my leg, I raced with my friends in front of a crowd, including my daughter, Isabel, Coop and his posse and everybody else who made it out, you know who you are. Thanks for coming out and rooting me on.
There is a photo taken of us at the start before the race taken by Tom Stein. In it, you’ll see the first three finishers in the correct order, R to L, and yes, that is Cory Churchill, #161 who finished third. None of us were losers, and for at least one night last weekend, we all… “lived by the river!”
We wheeled our bikes back into the show after the race, changed out of our gear, and proceeded to as Chris puts it “get housed.” The DJ in the main hall was spot on and had us up on the good foot. We composed photos in front of bikes, hugged, laughed about it all, and started swapping stories. It was truly memorable, and without regret. Sure, we all wish we could’ve gone faster, and that the track was better, but in the much larger view of the whole thing…what a riot!
Korry was holding my car keys for me, but I’d forgotten. After tracing steps throughout the entire campus of the Coliseum, two trips to lost and found, and a pile of frustration at the end of the night, it dawned on me… “Korry, you got my keys?” “Sure do, they’re right here,” he says reaching into his pocket. I’m a ding dong…again. The night closed in on us, but not before getting pretty far into our cups…We made it to Emily’s new place (@theliftofflounge below) for a couple of drinks. It is now my favourite place in Portland. We’d return the following night with a sizeable crew of Gary’s friends from far and near, to cap off the show. Andrew, the bartender, was playing a spectacular mix of 60s garage, and French pop from the same era, and we couldn’t be more pleased. I made the announcement that I was drunk at some point, and we ended up at Hey Love, to join Thor and his entire crew for the tail end of their post show celebration. The only thing I remember about the taxi on the way, was Gary’s discovery that James from California (@mangoldmotorworks), who shared the ride, was an archeologist…like I said, I was drunk.
It was time to call it a night. There was no more fun to be had out on the town, as we found it all, already. The Bush Brothers are a kick, and I hope to visit them sometime down in Southern California. The Geordies, (@ryanroadkill @mattijw @easternkris) had all headed back to pack for their trip across the Atlantic. What a swell bunch they are! I’ll see them on their shores one day. As I will Antony, Anna, Geoff, and Leah, hopefully suited up for a proper DTRA event! At any rate, the memories are made, and the friendships newly formed. A week has passed since I dropped Gary at the airport for his trip back home. I’ve reflected on our time together, in its bits as well as its entirety. I’d not trade any of the moments shared during his stay. Thanks for the memories, everyone involved at The One.
“Every cheap hood strikes a bargain with the world, ends up making payments on a sofa or a girl…”
‘Death or Glory’
Photos: Tom Stein, Evan Senn, Peripheral Photo, Todd Marella, Sideburn, Ryan Quickfall, Isabel Marella