Happy New Year everyone. This is the latest of my flat track updates from the Pacific Northwest...
My second race of the winter indoor series at Salem Speedway was eerily similar to my first outing: lowside crash exiting turn, chain falling off... You know, all of the heartache, sprinkled with the joy of just being out there. I started the day by making my pal late to the track due to my acupuncture appointment running long...(sorry Korry, I owe you).
We get our two car caravan to the track, hurry to sign up, unload, gear up, make the rider’s meeting, and get ready for practice. Waiting in staging for our class (Vintage 250), I keep going over in my mind the lessons I learned, things I’ll do different.
I take off onto the clay, headed into turn one... that familiar feeling of... nothing to the rear wheel. My chain has come off (my brand new chain, mind you) and has wedged itself between tyre and swingarm (insert: go-to curse word, or in my case, series of emphatically, if not rhythmically shouted curse words, here). Dejected, with no practice time, I begin the long push of my little bike, with its precious little locked up rear wheel back to where my pit area is. Looking for new work out ideas, cross-fitters?
With the (never-ending, unwavering) help from #18 Korry Fitzpatrick, we are able to get the hacked up, Jerry-rigged chain tighteners bent back into shape, straighten the wheel, replace the now broken cotterpin with some safety wire, and get the bike ready for our heat race.
In the heat, which hosts a new bike and rider in the class this week (an old KX250, which is built for the track, sits low, lean, and looks mean in that vintage Kawasaki green), I get a decent start and finagle my up to second or third, at which point I promptly lay it down, twisting on a little too much, a little too soon exiting turn 4.
I get the bike back up and limp it around the track to finish the race in first gear, as the fall bent the shifter, preventing it from moving upward due to its proximity to the case... (#80, Robert Haydon, who was also there to help get my bike back on the track after the chain falling off, has some good GoPro footage on his blog @lastmoto of the incident). [Last Moto is a neat site, by the way. GI]
So the main event arrives, Robert asks me to wear the GoPro for the race, and I agree. The video from it, depicts him, Korry, that guy on the fast Kawasaki, and just about every other bike in the class, out in front of me. I was smiling at the end of the race in 5th place, and content to have just finished my first main event at Salem indoor.
The following race, November 25, I was in New York with my family. Alas, I was still able to fall on the same left hip, doing a pretty fancy cross-over step and laying it down hard coming outta turn 4...ice skating at Rockefeller center with my daughter Isabel. (See pic taken just moments prior). Korry took home the second place trophy in the Vintage 250 class at Salem later that night.
Flash forward: Christmas is last week’s news, and the fourth (my third) race of the Salem indoor series is scheduled for December 30th.
I’m excited, because after some arduous long hours (until midnight after work) machining steel and aluminum parts on wood working tools, in a shop with no heat on a 29 degree F night, I manage to get some proper chain adjusters on the rear axle, with but one tiny little issue: the spacing is now all wrong, so the wheel is bound up tighter than a cluster of rusted clutch plates...
A quick call to Casey at Cycle Heap (amazing moto salvage, repair shop, custom seat fabrication and upholstery shop, and all around great bunch of folks) is only too happy to help me out with my issue in time for Saturday’s racing. You see, Casey, in addition to being a great moto mechanic, and a really stand-up guy, also races in the Vintage 250 class, and has for years. Thus, he’s eager to help fellow racers get their bikes ready for the next event... So, after machining new spacers on the drive side to line up the sprockets, chucking the caliper hanger in the lathe and turning 1/8 in off of that, he got it perfect. Add a new axle nut and Cotter pin, and some welding for the seat mount, and the little RD200 is track ready.
No acupuncture needles for me on this day, but a new cotter pin (split pin), and I’m Salem bound!
As I’m leaving the shop, I get the bad news text from Korry: no go. It’s like this: Korry practiced down at Salem the night before, and did well. Said he went faster than ever before! But...he said he couldn’t get his bike to shift properly... The rider’s meeting is in two hours, and registration closes before that. It’s an hour to Salem with no traffic...what to do?
I get to the track already missing my pal’s company and I get a text from him asking me 'Can you sign me up?' With it, a pic of his bike sans engine... He’s swapping his engine with one he just picked up as a back up, a few weeks prior. I’m excited, as I’m just stoked to be around his unyielding enthusiasm.
I get us both signed up (I was $2.00 short, as I only had $58.00 in my pocket, and classes are $30.00 each. If you’re reading this Salem flat track ticket booth workers, I’ve every intention of paying you the $2.00 next race... Practice time arrives, Korry is dejected... The new engine fires up great, but the clutch isn’t working ... at all. Practice goes well for me, and the bike feels better than it ever has...
With the help of the Cycle Heap crew who are there to race, Korry is feverishly digging into the clutch to discover, you guessed it, rusted clutch discs...all of them! An ad hoc bucket brigade forms: one guy prying the fused discs apart, the next sanding them smooth, ridding them of rust, and the next, wiping the oily orange and black matter off of them. Oil them up, re-assemble them, add oil to the engine...and Korry is smiling.
In our heat race, I bump Korry in turn 2 of the first lap, Robert takes first, Korry second, and I’m feeling ok with fifth after a) NOT falling, and b) keeping the chain on!
There’s a completely different energy at the track this night compared to the last race I attended: It’s unseasonably warm, almost tropical compared to a typical night at the winter series, wherein spectators usually resemble airmen/women working at a refuelling base in the arctic, with their fur lined parkas, heavy boots, and mittens!
Add to that, it’s by far a bigger turn out. There are reports of 27 pro riders signed up for the 450 singles class. There weren’t that many riders for that class at the AFT Final event in Perris, California two months ago! It is an all around great vibe, and everybody in our class is optimistic and stoked for the main...
Korry stalls his bike at the start when the light turns green, I get a decent start, and I’m feeling good about my chances. I manage to pass a couple of riders and I’m trailing Casey, who’s going fast tonight on a little Honda SL or XL he put together to race this week... Coming outta turn 4 and with the gas twisted on, I get too close to him and run over his left boot. I come out ahead and lead the rest of the moto. Nobody believes it... including the author, but I won. First place, and the trophy to show for it. Robert places second, and after dying at the start, on a bike that gave most people several reasons to give up on it, Korry finished on the podium, with the best all around, most inspiration DIY flat track performance of the night!
With my shit eating grin, and my lovely good luck charm Jenny in tow, I make my way to the sign up shack to collect my trophy. She’s a beauty...100% plastic, and an engraving which reads only 'SALEM INDOOR' (which they hand you separately, to be affixed by yours truly using the handy adhesive strip attached), and I couldn’t be more proud. I mosey over to the Cycle Heap contingent, where they, Korry, and Thor are already convened to apologize to Casey for running over his foot, and receive unsolicited congratulations from the whole crew.
It’s a fantastic night.
Oh, and by the way, after a restart in the 450 pro experts main, from the very back of a field of 18, Sammy Halbert made his way through ALL riders to win. Ho humm...
The bummer of the evening (for me) was getting back to the shop to unload my bike...the seat was gone! Vanished! Fell off on the trip back from the track...the universal irony, is that a guy came hobbling up to me on crutches at the races that night asking me about the seat...turns out, he and his dad painted that seat (see hand painted, Day-glo orange flame job) 25 years ago! They both raced Ray Carroll frames and glass parts on their bikes back in the day...