Going back in time a bit, in anticipation of the local motorcycle show for builders and fans here in Portland, affectionately know as “The One,” I am focused on the races, which are an added bonus to the weekend’s festivities of bikes, beards, and beer…
They take place in Salem, at the state fairgrounds, in the livestock pavilion. Salem Speedway, aka 'The fastest indoor track in America,' is where our winter flat track series takes place, and host of “The One Pro Races,” which also includes the Superhooligans season kick-off race. It’s quite a time, and worthy of your investigation online if you’ve not seen it. There is a princely purse for the pros ($10,000 in total purse money, $2000 for the women) with riders and fans from all over the globe, excepting representation perhaps only from Africa and Antarctica.
Our regular races clashed with The One, and in turn bumped to Friday. I had already conceded that racing two nights in a row was pushing things a bit (on several fronts, as there are no guarantees that my body or bike would hold up two nights in a row), and decided on Saturday, instead of our points racing on Friday. It was sure to be a spectacle, and I’ve no chance of factoring into the points race, anyway…
So…it’s January 17th, less than a month to the show and races, and I get a message from my pal Gary at Sideburn Magazine. He’s in the Italian alps covering SnowQuake, and he says 'Hey, I’m thinking of coming to The One Show…' I say 'Great! You’ve a place to stay with me!' He’s travelling that night and says he’ll let me know when he gets home to the UK. It’s settled. He’s coming, and I’ll host. I couldn’t be more thrilled. Flash forward 10 days and I get a message from Gary…'Hey, you think you could find a bike for me to race at The One?' Me: 'Of course! Don’t give it another thought!' Which, loosely translated meant 'Um…well, I’ll see what I can do…'
It’s the next day at See See and Emily George is the first to greet me. She’s busy, as she typically is around the shop, but 'The One season' is another level of busy. It’s frantic, and I’m sure stressful as hell, although you wouldn’t know it by looking at any of the See See crew, as they do this thing with all the grace and aplomb demonstrated by a thousand Julies from “The Love Boat.” She was your activities director on board, for those of you not old enough to remember… Anyway, I’m greeted with the typical "Hi Todd, How ya doin’?" accompanied by her signature smile. 'I’m great, thanks! Hey, Gary is coming over for The One!' “That’s awesome,” she replies, “Does George know?” This question is relevant because Gary usually stays with them when he’s in town. 'Don’t worry,' I assure her, 'he’s staying with me.' She’s relieved because they already have a houseful planned. 'Hey Emily, Gary wants to race. You know anybody who has a b…' before I could finish the work 'bike' and my sentence, '...he could race in the vintage 250 class…?” She says “He can race the Trackmaster!” To which I reply 'That’d be awesome, but don’t you have to ask George? It’s his bike…' Quickly, with the same charming grin that I got from her on the way in she quips, "Nope. I’m the boss. Just call him and he’ll let you know what’s going on with it…it’s got electrical issues. It runs great for the first two laps, and then just bogs and dies…" I can’t thank her enough, and on the way out the door she says “Maybe I’ll get to race it this year…there’s two grand up for grabs in the women’s class!"
Dutifully, and with a pep in my step, I arrange with George to pick it up and take it to Casey at Cycle Heap to sort out the 'electrical' issues. George goes over the symptoms and his theory that it could be the coil overheating causing a short, after about two laps worth of “getting on it…”
Upon arrival at Cycle Heap, bottle of tequila in hand to help grease the skids with Casey, as I’m adding to his already full plate prior to The One…he looks at the bike and says “Oh, who’s riding this thing down at Salem?” 'Gary from Sideburn,' I tell him, enthusiastically. “Which class?” he asks, already knowing the answer. 'Ours,' I chirp. “Great…” he mumbles as he walks over to it with a roll of painter’s blue tape, tearing off a piece long enough to display in large capital letters with quotes around them spelling “VINTAGE.” You see, this bike is anything but a true vintage 250, particularly in the spirit of the bikes which usually show up for our races, which are typically '70s era DT’s, XL’s, CR’s an RD, a TS, and a Ducati from the '60s…in stock frames, and maybe some 19’’ wheels and some fibreglass body parts. The “Trackmaster,” as Emily called it, turns out to be a Boss frame, a true framer, with a 2000 era water-cooled CR250 two-stroke engine, built to the hilt, as they say. Wheels, suspension, chassis, engine, and exhaust… all trick and track ready! Casey eagerly dug into the trouble shooting and tuning of this 60 hp beast, as he knows the spirit of these races, and that the term “vintage” is loosely applied.
When I told Gary about the bike I secured for him to race, his message reflected a “Gulp” in his response…” I’m nervous as hell.” Apparently, Gary hadn’t ever raced a two-stroke…
Casey Him is a fine tuner, builder, mechanic, and all-around moto enthusiast. He likes old stuff, weird stuff, and fast stuff, and if you can muster all three in one package, bonus. He called me a few days later to tell me he got the bike sorted and ready…it turns out, as is the case many times, that the 'electrical' issue was a fuel issue. The fuel tank is fibreglass, and old, and, well, the coating flaked off because gas was left in it. In fact, one such flake was large enough to lodge itself in the petcock causing impeded flow of fuel. Casey discovered it while installing new fuel lines. “It all makes sense,” he said, "the float bowl is full of fuel at the start, and by the time they get around the second lap, they’re dependent upon real flow, and it’s just a trickle through the all-but-clogged valve.”
I went to pick it up and take it back to See See, ready for Gary to race it in The One…but before that, I took advantage of a chance to ride it up and down the roadway in front of Cycle Heap. It…Is…Fast…
It’s Wednesday before The One Show, which begins on Friday, races on Saturday night. I’m picking Gary up at the airport. His flight from Amsterdam is due to land at 11:40. I’m dressed like a private driver, hat and all, with a signed I’ve made which reads INMAN. I think I’m being clever until about 12:30 when my phone rings and it’s Gary… “Todd, where are ya?” I’m waiting right at the end of the exit for the international flights, and there is now way I could have missed him. “I’ve got my bag and I’m out,” he tells me. Surprise lost. Oh well, it’s the thought that counts. I find him, greet him, and whisk him away to go meet the folks from Icon, reliving his flight and the 8 hours of Ken Burns’ brilliant documentary series on the Viet Nam war that he just binge watched. Gary is animated and excited to be here. So am I.
We lunch with the crew from Icon (thanks for picking up the tab, it’s on me next time), and Gary is, as I’ve learned, working most of the time. He’s got a photo shoot out at Latus motors with Anthony from Enginethusiast scheduled for the morning, wherein he’ll ride and photograph the Bonneville that Latus built for Joe Kopp to ride a few years ago.
Gary, upon unloading his bags in his room, comes out with a clear plastic envelope containing an article of clothing. He’s bearing gifts, and I’m assuming it’s going to be something cool from the Sideburn catalog. I underestimated the guy. He’s gotten to know me a little over the few years since we’ve met, and he’s paid attention to my Anglophile tendencies. He knows I’m a Tottenham Hotspur supporter, too. From the velum envelope I draw out the most beautiful, truly lilywhite, long sleeve 1970’s authentic Hotspur Shirt, I’ve ever laid eyes on. I’m nearly speechless, and couldn’t have been more touched. I’ll treasure it forever, and wear it for many seasons to come…hopefully to see a league title.
I’ve been shopping knowing my English pal was coming, and I stocked up on some staples. We made good use of the Heinz blue label beans and the tea as part of my attempt at a proper English breakfast on Race day: the beans, English muffin (not proper, I’m sure), some sausages, and…? Perfectly poached eggs! My first attempt at the sensitive little gems, and under Gary’s tutelage and with a little luck…voila…Perfection! Those are his words, as he told me in all the years he’s been making them, he’s never done them as well. I’m honoured, and rather pleased with myself.
So, it’s HP on the sausages, milk and sugar in the tea (PG tips, of course) and beermosas… You know, lager and orange juice…what we call a shandy, all rounding off our race day breakfast. We need a hearty kickstart, as last night’s One Show opening festivities have left us slightly foggy this morning. I’m still not certain whether jet lag has kicked in for Gary… He’s arranged for transportation of his borrowed bike with Thor in the See See team hauler, and I’ve got to pick up my bike from The Heap. It’s been a busy place for the last few weeks, as The One Show deadline has been looming, and they were working on not one, but two bikes for the event. (Side note: Casey did not finish his bike for the event, but I can attest, it’s a beauty. Look for it next year.) I think the shop worked on every bike in our class except three bikes none of us recognized in the class. Korry did just about all you can do to change your bike before a race besides hard tail it and repaint it. He did new wheels (upped his game to 19s), disc brake set up, bars, pipe, and re-jetting the carb. Roxan, whose company Range Needlework, offered to pretty my bike up by making a white cushion with decorative stitching… I loved it, but she did not. I made a pledge to her that she could have another shot at it after I craft a proper pan for it… For now, it’s off to the track!
The pits are crowded when I arrive at about 2:15…far more crowded than I’ve ever seen it. I knew it would be, but I’ve spoken to quite a few people who corroborate that this year was by far the best attended of The One races yet. I manage to get a spot, next to another spot which is open at the north end by the sign-up shack. I quickly unload my bike and position it in such a manner to block the space for friends who’ve yet to arrive, and immediately put the text out to my fiends en route 'Hurry! There are riders from everywhere who have made their way to Salem for tonight’s event, including The Rusty Butcher, a Harley after-market performance supplier, and a menace in the Super Hooligan class, and I’m pitted right next to him…and a lot of his growling Harley 750 pals, to boot. I make sure to rev my trusty two-stroke extra high, all 200cc’s of her… Just to let them know who’s 'boss around these parts…' (notice lower case “b” in boss). Gary would later introduce us, because, well…Gary know everyone.
Sean Moran is my pal from See See, and the Timbers Army [the Portland soccer team]. He is also the first of my friends to arrive after I do. See, Sean is eager, as this night will be the first night he races flat track…at the biggest event of the year, by far, at Salem Speedway. He’s been supporting me faithfully since my first foray into making a fool of myself at DirtQuake last Summer, and throughout this indoor season. The flat track bug bit him, and he bought a bike… actually, two bikes, but that story I’ll let him tell. The bike he is racing is a Yamaha DT 175 1979 (number 64 in the top photo), and not unlike one he rode as a youth in the empty fields of England. I’m stoked for him, and I laud his courage jumping in during a night which promises to be the fastest field our class has seen this season. If that last sentence makes it seem like I’m a seasoned racer by any stretch, then it’s poorly written, and its intent was misread. I’ve but five races under my belt, and am as green as the grass Tom Jones sang about of home. I move my bike so he can park his truck and unload, and direct him over to the sign up shack to get him registered. Gary is soon to arrive, as is the rest of my posse in support, to include Chad, my crew chief for the night (see photos…more on him later), my oldest daughter Isabel, and my mom, neither of whom have seen me race before. I’m getting my gear on, and fielding questions along with wishes of good luck and encouragement, from my friends and family, with the riders’ meeting looming.
We congregate at turn 4 where riders enter the track for races and stage to await their particular moto. It is an enormous gaggle of riders, pit crew members, parents, girlfriends, and whoever is curious about the impending safety message. I’m having a very difficult time hearing the instructions from the track marshal, as a) he is a fairly soft-spoken guy, and b) there are people who decide that what they have to say is more important in the minute, than what he has to say. I have tinnitus… bad. This combination is not a good one for me. It’s bad enough that I felt it necessary to turn all the way around and deliver the stink eye to one gentleman who wanted to talk at a volume level almost twice that of the only person who should have been speaking at that moment… The culprit? Standing about 3 feet behind me, carrying on like he was hanging out with his buddies at recess…? The Baker! Brad Baker, of all people. Mr. Baker got my worst stink eye I’ve ever delivered, in hopes he would realize the selfish nature of his ways in the moment, but no. After two more attempts at behaviour change via silent burning stares (these were no furtive glances) with no affect, I took it upon myself to call him out by telling him 'Excuse me. I am unable to hear him, because you’re talking.' My message must have struck a chord with him, because from that moment forward the (chatty) Baker was silent for the rest of the riders’ meeting. In previous races this year, I’ve stood in close proximity to Sammy Halbert, wherein he was silent and attentive. Sammy typically finishes on top in his class at Salem, as he did this night. Brad Baker finished somewhere back in the pack. I’ll let the data experts extrapolate and draw their conclusions [in fairness, Brad Baker was on a newly finished framer Honda, first time out. But yeah, keep quiet in the briefing or don't bother attending. GI]
One of the details I missed in the riders’ meeting was the protocol for practice for the night…It was different, and a bit chaotic in my view, as instead of lining riders up in order of their class and race order, it was more of an open cattle call, if you will, with the onus upon riders to find people they wanted to practice with. It was akin to telling 400 people on motorcycles 'There’s a bunch of free beer and pizza just on the other side of this gate in turn 4, go get yourself some.' Sean Moran described his first ever practice session on a race track this way: “I take off onto the track and I’ve got a Super Hooligan to my left, and another on my right. They both blew past me, and I headed straight off the track, immediately.” I too rode the practice session with pros and Hooligans, not seeing a single familiar vintage 250 rider. Both the track and the bike felt good to me and I was satisfied with five laps of practice. Before the races began, my friends all asked me '"Did you get to practice? We didn’t see you out there.” I held my tongue… note to self: wear your hearing aids during future riders’ meetings.
Gary was all smiles after practice, as he was very excited about the bike. “It’s very fast…” was about all he could muster. We had quite a while to wait and watch races before our heats. Our class was much larger than usual, thus split into two heats. I would race in the first of the Vintage 250 heat races, Gary in the second. Hopefully, things go well, and I’ll get to line up with my pal from Lincolnshire and dice a little… Well, I had the best intentions… I got a pretty typical start for me…largely mediocre. I managed to keep pace pretty well with the leaders, hanging around in 4th or 5th, and with a lap or two remaining, coming out of turn four, I rolled onto the throttle a little to quickly, and the next thing I know, I’m on my back, both feet straddling the bike, and both hands still gripping the bars. I’m no stranger to this, as that corner has laid me down in her lap before…I draw in the clutch lever, stand the bike up, and get back into the race…”gotta finish, gotta make the main,” I tell myself. The shifter is bent under the left side case cover, so first gear is all I get. I limp around the remainder of the moto, dead last. Dejected but simultaneously relieved that nothing is broken (neither bike nor body), I humbly putt back to my parking spot in the pits.
With no idea who finished where in the order of things, and missing Gary’s heat, I bend the shift lever back into operational form and wait for my people. They trickle in and all share their excitement/nervousness/uncertainty with me about what just happened. 'I’m fine. The bike’s fine. Everything’s fine…' Easy for me to say to everybody but my mom. Bless her heart, she was standing right where I fell, and didn’t even know it was me until I picked up my bike… “Bubba, (Bubba is what my mom has called me since she first saw a commercial on TV featuring Bubba Smith, the notorious left defensive end for the Baltimore Colts, and his mother, in which she says “This is my big boy Bubba. He eats Powerhouse candy bars.” Mr. Smith flashes his famous gap-toothed grin, and the rest is history) please tell me you’re alright,“ she demands in her stern, but uncertain “mom” voice. 'Yes Ma, I’m fine…' Next, up, is Isabel, my first-born daughter. It’s her first time watching her dad race, too…”Daaaa-aad! What the heck?!!!” She was nervous for me too, but also said at some point in the evening “I wanna do this.” I thought she meant she would make a point to support me at all of my future races. I said “great, because there’s a race next week you can watch!” She said, “no…I wanna race.” Yikes. The flat track bug bit her, too. Her mom, her sister, and my mom will kill me, if that comes to light. It should be noted that Isabel has never ridden a motorcycle.
At this point in the evening, we’ve seen every class race, and go very fast. The 450 Pro Singles are insanely fast on this little track. The Super Hooligans get faster and faster every event…it’s hard to reconcile that they’re throwing 500lb bikes around the way they are…sheesh. Sammy Halbert is the man to beat, and See See’s own, Andy Dibrino, reigning Hooligans champ is riding beautifully, and looks like a shoe-in in his class. The 250 Vintage main event nears, and there are twelve riders in the grid. I’m finally going to get to race with Gary Inman, Sideburn Magazine’s publisher, seasoned global flat tracker, and of most importance to me, a fantastic friend. My last place finish in my heat secures me a starting position on the back row. My view of Gary, and a few other riders diminishes fairly quickly after the start, and I settle in to the middle of the pack. The race was a blast, and I couldn’t tell you who the top three finishers were, but I’ve a feeling Cory Churchill was in there, somewhere. Gary placed a very respectable fourth (or, 3rd loser, as he puts it), Robert Haydon 5th, Korry Fitzpatrick 7th, and yours truly right behind him in 8th. All of us wished to have finished higher in ranking, but it was smiles all around.
So, the remaining races sort of went as some predicted, that is, Sammy won the 450 Pro class, and Andy DiBrino dominated the Hooligans, winning both the main event and the $1000 Dash for Sash. A pretty good night for a really good guy, was had. Congratulations Andy, as I didn’t get to tell him in person [read Andy DiBrino's guide to hooligan racing in Sideburn 32].
This is where things turn… My friend Chad, a dear man, who’s well intended and very capable, and wearing the white Dickies coveralls displaying all of my cardboard cutout sponsors in Tim Miller’s absence, asks me if he can take the bike for a spin. I’d already been given the one free example of why not to let friends ride your race bike in the pits after the races…a few races prior, Tim’s brother Vinnie took off for the track long after the racing was done, wanting as many laps as he could get. We had to go out onto the track, block his path for turn three, and direct him off of the track…he didn’t decelerate sensibly at that point, and shot across the roadway without hesitation and into the concrete pavilion pit area, bringing the bike to a stop in time to avoid hitting the barriers within the area. What DIDN’T happen was…he didn’t collide with either a vehicle or a pedestrian which cross back and forth on that roadway at their own discretion. Crisis averted. Lesson learned. Granted, most had gone home, but there is always an opportunity for disaster to strike…one can spend an eternity looking at youtube video after youtube video of many examples… “Sure,” I say, thinking he’ll just putt around in the area where it’s lit, having witnessed Vinnie’s display, himself. “Stay off the track,” I yell as he wing-ding-dings outta sight…
Some minutes later, as our camp is breaking down for the night, and we haven’t seen Chad for a few, here he comes…on foot…holding his hand and looking as white as the Dickies he’s wearing. “I’m so sorry Todd…” As he says it, I look at his hand, and it’s one of the most unnatural sights I’ve ever witnessed. His right index finger was pointing skyward in a direction it most certainly shouldn’t have been, and the back of his hand had a divot in it that would host a golf ball comfortably. He felt terribly about my bike, and I didn’t want him to, as it could be fixed, but as of this moment, the jury was still out on his hand. 'Go see the ambulance before they take off,' I suggest. They did. The ambulance driver told them to go to the hospital, as there was nothing they could do. After some time in the hospital, the message was similar. They were unable to set it after several attempts. X-RAYS revealed no break, but a very severe dislocation.
The word surgery was bandied about, and they sent him home to Portland. Things improved for Chad on Sunday when, at the hospital, after several attempts, the doctor was able to reset the finger. No surgery. No cast. He’s a lucky man. As am I, because things could’ve gone much worse. I’ve still not spoken with Chad in person, but via text his story is this: “I reached for front brake forgetting it didn’t have one. Then, my foot slipped off the brake pedal…I had to lay it down.”
Lay it down, he did, destroying the shifter and left side case cover, as the RD 200 is a particular little bike, with an odd linkage system for shifter…oh well, parts is parts.
Gary rode back to Portland with me, and we discussed the rest of the evening’s possibilities. The Cycle Heap gang thought it would be a good idea for everyone to meet up a little neighborhood spot called “The Top of the Hill” on NE Glisan, situated, as you guessed it, on the top of the hill at about 94th, just off the 205 freeway. Mixing in our accounts of the night’s racing and, ahem…events, we strategized our story of how “we would only have one, because Gary has a plane to Amsterdam to catch in the morning…” We found ourselves in a perfect little Petri dish of celebration and charmed the bartender into staying open much later than she originally planned for the evening. My lovely girlfriend Jenny plugged the jukebox with everybody from Roger Miller to The Clash…we sang out loud like fools do, and made fast friends with the locals, one of whom, a man called Carl, was enamoured with the site of a flat tracker on the back of a Mazda, as he used to race back in the day. We closed The Top of the Hill and dropped the bike off at Cycle Heap on the way home…
Sunday Morning came down and Kris Kristofferson’s words were ringing out in my head, as no matter how I tried “I couldn’t find a way to hold my head that didn’t hurt…” Gary packed his things, and he had some packing to do. He’d acquired a new Mikuni flatslide carb for his Sportster, a pair of shocks, and Dave Skooter Farm's steel shoe he left the last time he was in town…one piece at a time. We set off for brunch, Gary Jenny, and I, on the way to the airport. We found some terrible Portland service that is becoming all too familiar for my liking (what is it with this town?), and some last-minute laughs. Plans are already in the making for my visit to his homeland. Off to the airport, and it’s hugs and well wishes at the curb, and that feeling that the visit was too short overcomes me. Jenny and I wave him off, while he feigns tears on his cheeks as we pull away. We head for the last day of the One Show to go see bikes we missed the first go around, and swap stories with the See See gang. I can’t thank Thor enough…you see, it’s he who introduced me to Gary a few years back at DirtQuake. Full circle. Go fast, turn left.