Brent Allen, author of Motorcycles, Life, and… and The Elemental Motorcyclist and his wife, Julie, are on a road trip, two-up. They are heading to the AMA Superbike races in Elkhart Lake, WI, riding their Honda ST1300 from their home town of Nampa, ID (just southwest of Boise). They will be our guest bloggers while on the trip, and each will give their own impressions on their travels and give us a look into each of their own individual ways of looking at the same experience.
First, from Brent:
Saturday May 31/Road America/Full Day/Local Miles Only
Way back in the day I had some friends who raced in the DSR class in Sports Car Club of America races at Sears Point and Laguna Seca. It was great fun for a bunch of 18 to 23 year-olds to go to the track and hang out, race and play. I never drove but I did get to stick my skinny butt into the passenger window and go for a victory lap once. Since then, except for a couple of short track races, I haven’t been to the track since. I had forgotten so much I’m a tad embarrassed. Racing is a riot of color, sound, smells and tastes. The races are an immersive event and all your senses are pummeled.
The races are loud and you don’t just hear the races—the bikes rattle your chest and they punch you in your lungs and in your bones as they go by. Stand too close to the start/finish line and you won’t be to turn your head fast enough to watch them go by. There are 2, 3 and 4 cylinder bikes and they each make their own wonderful scream as they tear the air and go by. The PA is set to eleven and if you’re too close to one of the speak stanchions you cringe a little when announcements are made. The whole thing can have a wonderful, beautiful Ted Nugent concert kind of feel where you enjoy the occasional physical brutality of the sound.
The races are loud and your eyes are assaulted by colors and that should and often shouldn’t be seen together. People are dressed both well and inappropriately and some manage to do both. Bikes and canopies and umbrellas and leathers and team haulers of every color explode at every turn of your head. KTM busts outs the CalTrans orange. Suzuki and Yamaha both manage to produce different blues that are almost the same but totally different. The GSXRs are sporting a blue rising sun graphic on their fairings that is the best thing I’ve seen in years. Kawasaki is here in lesser numbers but still the same gorgeous lime green. The Buell logo is the best designed logo in all of motorcycling. Corporate Honda is keeping their heads a bit low but the red wing is still abundant. Monster, Motul, the AMA, Graves Racing, KTM, Yosh all have haulers and canopies and compounds and shirts and flags and umbrellas and you name it someone’s stuck a logo on it. Then there are the privateers and they don’t have to answer to executives and the rules on logo uses and some of those bikes are deafeningly colored—like one that is dayglo yellow, green and orange and took 5th or 6th in Supersport.
Everything is a tad more intense at the races but there are quiet moments as well sometimes the world drops away and something magical takes center stage. As the evening wound down we spend the last three, four hours at the Road America cart track watching Supermoto practice, qualifying, heats and the main. Supermoto is the great-great grandchild of “The Superbikers” and they run single cylinder dirtbikes with slicks on a track with a short dirt section (complete with jumps) and a longer asphalt section. Cart tracks work smashingly for this sport. It’s loud, fun and they drift the bikes into those nasty tight little corners. We watched a thirteen year old kid win Amateur National race. He got the holeshot going into the dirt section and was off. A dude about twice his age and size caught him but couldn’t get around. Go teenie-ager. Kid couldn’t have been more than five feet tall and 120 pounds. Give him a roll of quarters and you’d double his weight. Then, on the gravel road that runs up and down the hill next to the cart track, a kid not more than 3 years old with a push bike and a helmet starts pushing up the hill and whizzing down the hill with his attentive, helmet wearing father riding protectively behind him. Absolutely everyone, clean cut, drunk & disorderly, tattooed, tattered or tailored—every single person along the track—was transfixed by the sheer joy this tiny toddler was having as well as the beauty of a loving father who was sharing something special with his child. Even the skinny drunk loudmouth with the spilt eyebrow and stitches shut up and watched.
Road America calls itself a ‘National Park of Racing’ and that national park bit is because you can come here and camp with your friends and family or just by yourself. There are RV lots, campgrounds, restrooms and showers and great concession stands. You can buy firewood on site. The races are an event and RA can host and event. This is a beautiful facility and is no respecter of persons; you get all types. It isn’t a “zoo” or an “asylum” even though it’s full of the colorful and sometimes strange. You never feel unsafe or even uncomfortable. We sat for a time by Grandpa as he keep his cup full of vodka and made sure anyone who looked like they could use a shot got offered one. He wasn’t offensive. NOBODY is offensive. Even split eyebrow/stitches boy caused no fear as he ran around trying to get high fives from everybody.
If you haven’t been around racing and the racing environment you owe it to yourself to stick a toe in if you can even if it’s just a night at the dirttrack two towns over. Racing is its own thing. It’s family and fun and you can let your hair down and sit with people you normally might ignore and be part of the show with them. It’s professional and private and public all at once and the guy or girl next to you may simply turn and talk to you like you’re best friends and for that moment you are. People you don’t know will offer you advice, beer or ice without expectation of anything but helping you out. Take your wife. Take the kids. Take the earplugs if you want to get close and have a good time. Check out the races.
***Kudos to Road America and its staff. Everyone is generous and friendly. The site is spectacularly beautiful and well kept. It’s every bit as clean as Disneyland and just as family friendly. Nicely done.
And, from Julie:
Today was our seventh day on this trip. The big race day- the pinnacle of our trip. It was the reason for all of my worrying, scrimping, watching the internet waiting for tickets to go on sale and sneaking around last November. It was the cause of debate, concern and a few heated conversations with our children (they hated the idea of their "old people" parents riding all the way across the country on a motorcycle.) Today was the reason, the catalyst for this blog. Did it reach the lofty, fairytale expectations I had in my mind?
Absolutely! for me. (You'll have Crash how he felt about it). I love spectacles, all the colors, smells, and sounds. People in every shape and size wandering aimlessly, or perhaps with some haphazard purpose in the general direction of their goal. Vendors like carnival barkers trying to cajole you into setting foot into their booth to try their motorcycle wares. The scream of inline 4 engines piercing the air and my ears. (what an awesome sound!) and the occasional throaty call of V twin Harley's as they came past us on their qualifying lap.
It was warm and muggy, the sun was high in the sky a perfect day for motorcycle races. Crash thought it would be a good opportunity to scout out some good photo taking spots along the track, so we hiked the interior of the track in its entirety stopping briefly to take shots of qualifying runs. Three miles later, sweat dripping down our backs we had completed the circuit and come to the conclusion that the best place to enjoy the actual races was in the VIP suite.
Air conditioned, with television coverage of the races so that we could enjoy every corner, hill and straightaway, a monitor for updated stats, a start finish line view equivalent to seats on the 50 yard line and lots and lots of good food and diet Pepsi. Did I mention comfy chairs? It was truly interesting for Crash and I to be in the spectator seats at an event like this. Usually we're on the other side, working the events on the television production crew. It made for an odd feeling at first but we eventually were able to make the adjustment.
Qualifying finished just before lunch, a short lunch break, opening ceremonies then the races began. I thoroughly enjoyed the races but the greatest enjoyment I received was watching Crash. He beamed. His love and knowledge of motorcycles oozed from every pore. When he wasn't sharing that love, he was a sponge absorbing up the experience.
We were at the track from 8:30-8:30, 12 full hours of practice, qualifying, racing for all classes of super bikes and super moto. Its double header so that means I need some sleep so I can be ready for tomorrow. Sweet dreams, may they be filled with motorcycles and checkered flags.