The last we left my 1976 Honda Elsinore 250 Flat Track project, I had discovered the cause of the cranky starting and I was actually able to rip the thing around a bit. It was fast, peaky and fun – but completely unproven in any sort of race situtation. So why not pair an unproven bike with an equally unproven rider?
I teamed up with the guys at Cycle Heap and went out to a small, private track owned and maintained by an interesting gentleman only known to me as Otto. He has spent the last six seasons building and maintaining a small oval dirt track — two short straightaways and two long turns. The property is secluded and calm, and the audience is small and forgiving. Perfect conditions for a guy like me to see if I can even do this flat track thing.
I also hauled down my friend Nick’s bike – a borrowed Kawasaki KZ440. It was his first time racing, too, so maybe he would be the first one to make a mistake and relieve the rookie pressure.
Otto had a quick rider meeting where he talked about how the whole racing thing will work when we are down in Salem, and reiterated something that become a mantra by the end of the meeting: we were there to have fun. My kind of guy.
I’ve been riding motorcycles since I was a kid and I grew up on 2-strokes – specifically Kawasaki KDX’s. I can legitimately say I wasn’t nervous about the bike or even the racing, and I just wanted to get out on the track and put my foot down and see if I could make it around a few laps without crashing.
We all got a few “practice runs,” which were indistinguishable with later races. But that first run was a great, no pressure way to see if I could go fast and turn left. Turns out I could, but the Elsinore was having some gas delivery issues as well as some ignition problems. I knew the condenser was making the points arc, but I couldn’t get a replacement in time to race. No matter – the bike mostly ran and the only thing holding it back was going to be me.
My first run around felt great, even though I had no idea what I was doing. I stayed in first gear the entire time, stuck my foot down in the turns and got the bike as sideways as I could while twisting the throttle hard when I came out of the turns.
I mean… I think I was doing it. I think I was flat track racing.
The bike still had blown out front shocks that were too tall, and I didn’t feel like I could get my weight forward enough to have full control in the corners. But it didn’t matter, because I didn’t know what I was doing and I was having fun doing it.
Between races, I’d run and grab my camera to try and take some photos of the other racers. The track was heavily shaded and it was very sunny out, resulting in bright backgrounds and dark riders. Shooting in RAW and editing in Lightroom really saved me.
The first real “race” was with 6 bikes, and that’s when my nerves showed up. Crashing by myself is fine, but crashing with others didn’t sound fun. Luckily there were no major spills that day, and I usually sat comfortably at the back of the pack by the third lap. Safety in slowness.
I realized that the bike was most comfortable in 2nd gear for the entire race, and if I could stay on the throttle and keep the revs up in the turns, I could actually exit with some real speed. Realistically, this only happened a few times, as I could never get the front tire sideways enough to get the iconic flat track stance. I’m hoping my lowered forks and new front tire change that.
I wore a GoPro every race, and now know to aim it upwards a tad more so you don’t just get a shot of my tank. I put together a few minutes of video:
About mid-way through the first set of races, the track was dragged with the best maintenance car I could imagine: A VW Bug 1300. A set of mattress springs was attached and the Bug took several laps to bring the track back to it’s earlier smooth conditions. The car sounded and looked great.
Overall, I’d consider the day a success. I got a bike running that I had purchased three days prior, and I successfully rode it around a flat dirt track without spilling it or crashing into somebody else. These are measured as marks of success in my book.
So what’s next? I’m going back out this Saturday, with a better tuned and modified bike. I’ll update you on that in my next post. You can also expect better photos, videos, and reporting at the next one since I’ll be more relaxed.
I’m an old pro now.