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To Race or Not to Race II
 by Brad Stevens

(OMED: This all began with an article about vintage motorcycles.  That led to a piece we called To Race or Not To Race, which ran in September.  If you didn't read that, do so now, then hit your back button and dive in to this, the sequel. If you haven't the time or patience for that sort of thing, we've provided a brief introduction, below.)

In our last episode of Brash Brad: Motorcycle Mad, our 44 year old  hero, donned his leathers for his first race experience, up north of Portland a ways, and subsequently combined with his bike in a new recipe for scrambled eggs on a turn.  He limped home, got medical attention, fixed the motorcycle and for days debated the sanity of his actions.  Everybody said his first race should have taught him a lesson.  He's too damned old for this sort of thing, they said.  Motorcycle racing is for kids, they said..  Then, he made up his mind ...

We arrived at the track early and were about the third party there.  Paid my ten bucks, got the cute little wristband, and geared up.  The track wasn't ready, and though practice is set to begin at 7, they were yet grooming it at 7:30.  Because it was hot, I'm guessing, they over-watered the track, and it was like riding on grease --  Impossible.  I went out for a couple of laps, but had difficulty keeping the bike off of sideways, and myself and the bike were plastered in mud.  The four-wheelers dominated the track until about 8:30, and in this interim I used a single-edged razor to remove some rubber from the left side of the back tire in an attempt to increase traction.  My own stab at Ascoting.

I was cautious.  The condition of the track was the worst I've seen, and out of the groove it never did dry out.  And I'd been hurt last time and was not anxious to repeat that.  On the drive up, I'd taped my hand and this helped a great deal.  Still, it took about three separate runs to realize that when flying into the back sweeper -- where you go from about 70 mph down to about 5 mph in a very short distance, the pressure on my right hand was intense and causing considerable pain -- it's a tribute to the focus one has when racing that it took me so long to notice.

It's important to note what happens every time I race:  It begins with stark fear -- I don't want to go out there.  Had to force myself, every single time after a break, to get back into the queue for another heat.  In the pre-stage area I'm still frightened; the roar of the other bikes unsettling, my own bike a strange, awkward machine I'm not sure I know how to operate -- I can't do this.  Then the checkered flag waves in the preceding heat, my front tire is sitting on the chalk line, and my eyes are riveted on the face of the flag man.  He rolls up the flag, turns to look at us, and at once my world, my existence, is only this man.  I'm electric in my total absorption of the flag man and there is nothing else -- the motorcycle and I are fused, an explosive device awaiting its trigger.  I'm unconscious to all my senses but sight.  Eye contact, sudden release. 

I regain consciousness about 50 feet from the starting line, now completely focused on the bike's performance -- gearing, RPMs, acceleration, braking, position of the other riders, track condition -- all read in micro-seconds.

I resent being passed.  It's embarrassing.  I feel weak and stupid and incompetent.  Nothing humbles like this.  I go faster, push harder, driven by said embarrassment, knowing I can do better.  Being passed in motorcycle racing is an invasion of your personal space, anyway.  The "groove" isn't three feet wide -- it's nothing to brush elbows, even bump knees in a passing situation.  When being passed, you get the additional slap-in-the-face of the passer's exhaust at high-rev blasting in your ears and a second of dirt and dust pelting you from his back tire.

But when I pass someone?  Oh, man.  I'm a lion who's claws-out leap has just staggered another lion, my teeth sinking into its neck and tasting blood, breathing in the scent of nervous sweat and absolutely glorying in the kill.  The thrill of a powerful conquest.  Ha!  Amazing.

I never know how many laps I've run.  Not a clue.  The final-lap flag lets me know there's one more and the checkered flag releases me -- one or a hundred; makes no difference.  I'm unaware of the passage of time or distance until it's over, and still I don't know unless someone tells me.

In other words, I had a great time.  I did very well, and in one particular heat was right in the groove--rhyme and metre in the dirt.  Can't wait to do it again, though it may be next season before I get
the chance.  And I'll probably have another bike ready for the occasion, as I'm already making plans for it.

I'm hooked.  No question about it.  In the last month I've been advised by my doctor and told by friends and acquaintances that I'm too old to race.  Uh-huh.  Watch me go.

Postscript: We asked Brad to fill in some of the technical aspects of this sport on the local level. He sent the following

Because this end of Oregon has no flat-track racing, I chose Castle Rock TT track, in Castle Rock, Washington.  An hour north of Portland off I-5, exit 48, this is the closest dirt-track of its type relative to the Portland metro area.  Run and hosted by the Mt. St. Helens Motorcycle Club , the track is open from late Spring through early fall.  Practice nights are on Fridays from 7PM-10PM, the races run Saturday nights also from 7-10.

The American Motorcycle Association defines a TT track as "any track deviating from an oval", usually containing one or two right turns, and a slight rise, or "jump".  The acronym "TT" stands for Tourist Trophy, a British term originating from the Isle of Man races which began around 1904.  This race, still held annually, began as a debate over the merits of European versus American cars, thus the derivation of the name.  Motorcycle racing there began soon after.  Aside from serious afficionados, TT is now commonly defined -- incorrectly -- as Time Trials.

Flat-tracks, on the other hand, are ovals.  Their surfaces are packed clay, dirt, or gravel.  Flat-tracks are typically three sizes: eighth-mile, half-mile, and the mile.  Top speed on the "miler" can exceed 140 mph on the straight stretches, and over 90 mph on the sweepers, or turns, of the oval.  Castle Rock TT is a half-mile clay-surfaced course, and the speeds range from 70-plus down to a near creeping 10-15 mph due to its one hairpin turn.

Although I'd intended to race flat-track, Castle Rock's proximity won out as good enough for an absolute beginner and a suitable place to test and tune my old 1969 BSA Victor 441 Special.  The bike was stripped of its fenders, headlight, tail-light, kick-stand, rear passenger pegs -- as much weight as could be removed and still have a running motorcycle.  The requisite (AMA rules) three-number plates were attached, one in front, one on each side; the transmission and motor-oil drain plugs were safety wired; the engine tuned to run "fat" or rich for extra acceleration.

© 2002 Brad Stevens  Track photo from the Mt. St. Helens Motorcycle Club  site

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