With less than a week between Hells Race race and Round 2 at the MCN Festival there was no time to clean and prep bikes properly, quick repairs and bodges would have to suffice. Ordering parts couldn’t even wait, the traffic queues on the way to the Eurotunnel perfect for eBaying replacement busted bits.
My tête-a-tête with Dimitri Coste had bent the Cagiva’s exhaust header which had begun to melt through the cam belt cover and was seconds away from earthing-out the exposed fuel pump wiring. Lady Luck really did join me in Holland. I warmed the zorst with the chef’s creme brûlée blow torch and smashed it with a big hammer, which wasn’t particularly effective so I had to use pipe wrap – my hatred for seeing this stuff on a motorcycle is well documented but for this emergency I let myself off.
Narrow, buckled handlebars were replaced with a pair of Renthal Vintage Desert Highs and I Dremeled another 2mm of steering lock until the fork stanchions hit the tank skin. All set and ready to go…. until I checked the pod air filters. The rear throttle body was choked in Dutch dust as the filter’s collar had completely split thanks to a tight fit against the underside of the fuel cell. There are baffle plates, dry break connectors and an anti-surge collector under that skin so I’m allowed to supersede the word tank. A very helpful chap at Ramair overnighted a pair of oval filters and I was now good to go.
I convinced myself that the Lelystad circuit use top quality American shale with a high oil content and that my rear cylinder would have benefited from the extra lubrication. Gulp.
The CCM received an extra plank of wood under the seat for added height, a cleaned filter and re-insulated starter motor cables and I was done. Oh, and I wiped the tank with a sponge, worth at least a second per lap.
The MCN Festival is held at the East of England Showground, home to the Peterborough Panthers speedway team and my favourite track on the DTRA calendar. It’s so wide allowing for varied lines, which is handy as the track prep man must have owned shares in the local water treatment plant, or was keen to show off his tractor as he seemed to be dowsing the place every five minutes.
Part of the deal with us being allowed to use the track was that the Hooligan racers put on a show for the stadium full of spectators, meaning the Cagiva saw action most of the day. The new bars took some getting used to and the rear tyre was now knocking on the door of baldness but overall it felt good. But not as good as the Indian Scouts fielded by Krazy Horse. They pitched up with six of the things for pros to ride.
AMA legend Johnny Lewis (#10) (riding George Pickering’s KTM beach racer is in this pic) was over from the States, BSB stalwart Chris Walker (#41), Spanish Bultaco Astro demon Ferran Mas (#30), DTRA fan favourite Ross Herrod (#52) and flambouyantisté Dimitri Coste (#87) were in charge of bringing home the bacon for Indian, and boy did those things have some grunt! When the track was tacky or drying, in the wet they looked a bit of a handful.
I launched off the line in a heat race and hit turn one alongside Johnny, piled the power on and exited turn two thinking I was in with a chance against the 250kg Scout piloted by one of my fave racers. By the end of the first lap it became painfully obvious why he is an AMA hero and I’m a clubman wannabe – he disappeared into the distance and left me to hold off Chris Walker and the rest of the pack. I was pretty pleased with the performance and felt privileged to share dirt with such talented riders.
The next heat was less chilled. Tim Aucott on his newly acquired AMA Stock Series Harley-Davidson was going well and Ross Herrod had nearly got to grips with the ride-by-wire throttle on the Indian. Three abreast we battled for a few laps before it became clear they had the better of me. After clipping the wall trying to find a gap that wasn’t there I decided to listen to the now screaming voice of self preservation and back off a smidge. Too much it appears as on the last lap I ran out of concentration and lock in turn three, hit the ejector button, highsided and slid into the airfence. Crunch.
Unlike the Hells crash the week before this one really hurt. I hauled the bike and myself out of danger but was pretty sure I’d either broken my shoulder and/or collarbone. Self diagnosis concluded that eye-watering pain was overruled by the fact that I could move my arm so I figured I’d head back to the pits with my tail between my legs and shake it off.
This all paled into insignificance during the final. I started somewhere near the back of the grid and was picking through the field when I saw a saddle scatter across the track in my peripheral vision, I glanced across to see hell literally breaking loose. An explosion of airfence and the sight of something bright orange heading skyward was enough in my mind to preempt waiting for a red flag. I pulled over and ran over to see Ross sagging into a busted fence and Dimitri prone on the floor, clearly in a bad way. Tim and his Harley had vaulted the barrier and he landed hard outside of the circuit. I’m no first aider so all I could do was help pull bikes out of the way with crossed fingers that my mates would be OK.
Turns out Dimitri had a massive tank slapper, ran out of lock on the way into turn one and face planted. Ross tried to avoid him and had no option but to slam into the fence, really hard. Just behind them Tim had desperately tried to avoid hitting Dimitri but sitting on a quarter-ton beast with no front brake doesn’t leave many options. Tim’s bike clipped Dimitri’s boot and spun him around like a rag doll before heading into the now non-existent airfence. The orange Harley rode up one of the Indian Scouts, hit the last couple of inches of barrier and went into orbit.
Ross buckled the Scout’s bars across his thighs and despite being hewn from Sheffield steel was pretty wobbly and had his bell rung. Coste was whisked away in an ambulance and then waited hours before someone strong enough was able to tug and poke his dislocated shoulder back in. I’d joked with him 5 minutes before the race that he didn’t look right without his trademark racing cricket trousers and Redwings… thank goodness for proper leathers, armour and pair of Alpinestars MX boots, one of which had the whole front ripped off. Tim didn’t fair so well but given the magnitude of the crash got off lightly. A badly bruised lung, six broken ribs and a snapped collarbone should have been the start of a much longer list, thankfully here’s the fullstop.
It wasn’t just the airfence that was deflated. Had I not crashed earlier and been off my game I dare say I’d have been tustling with Tim and next in line for some drama. Despite being thankful for my own safety I wasn’t exactly enthused at the idea of going back out to re-run the final. The track guys repaired the fence and we restarted for a 6 lapper. To be honest I can’t remember what happened or where I finished.
(Crash vid here.)
This year I’m using the Restricted Class as practice on the Rotax CCM with the aim of making finals in the Thunderbikes. The 640cc engine might have more legs than the 450cc DTX bikes but I’m not at the pace yet to mix it with the lighter and more agile converted ‘crossers. I’m sure if I’d wheeled-out my trusty YZ450F I’d have made the final but that became irrelevant as the delays meant heat race points would decide the outcome.
That night the real pros with gargantuan gonads showed us how it’s done during the Peterborough Panthers vs Newcastle Diamonds speedway meeting. If you haven’t seen top level speedway up close, you must. I counted more than a handful of riders who weren’t even shutting-off to tip into the turns, merely throwing the bike towards the dirt as if it smelt bad before hanging off the inside of the things at ludicrous angles. With 500cc methanol burning engines spinning giant flywheels to 11,000 rpm and churning out 80hp you can’t be anything other than impressed when a rider opens the taps and the start of the race, dumps the clutch and only lifts when they see the chequered. Makes us Hooligans seems a bit pedestrian, but then again we’re wrestling an additional 100-150kg around on a considerably less groomed surface.
Sunday morning I awoke in searing pain, floundering on my airbed like an upturned tortoise unable to even get up. With the sound of heavy rain beating on the van roof I started the excuses in my head before walking to the track to find DTRA series organiser Anthony Brown and a few racers sweeping water off the track, I wanted to help but couldn’t even lift a broom. I gave up on the day and took my long face back to the van to pack my bags. Then the voices started getting louder.
“Come on, man-up Tim’s in hospital with worse and is missing out”……. “Shut up idiot, who’ll drive you home and sort the bikes if you crash, again? You’ve got the biggest weekend of the year coming up [Bike Shed Show], you don’t want to do that injured, again”…… “Fuck-off and get back in your corner, stop being a pussy and get on with it!! It’s a fucking graze you soft prick!”
I decided that if I could get the bikes out of the van and push them to the pits and actually get into my suit, I’d race. After all it’s only pride that get’s in the way of having fun. Pride takes risks on my behalf so I left that dickhead in van and set off to have a laugh with my mates. I’m the boss of the throttle, not him.
I couldn’t get into my suit, Lee from Krazy Horse had to help with that, but I’d already signed-on and therefore committed.
The Hooligan heats were brilliant! Smooth operator Gary Inman (Sideburn Magazine) and I battled each other while trying to catch Team Indian, I figured if he wasn’t falling off the grip was adequate (Gary doesn’t really do falling off). With better track conditions than the previous day the Cagiva felt fantastic, especially with the calm, velvety signals I was sending to my right wrist. Another ringer in the form of Speedway god Kev Doolan (#37) was aboard one of the repaired Indians which added to their untouchable status. It all happened in a blur that day but I think I won a heat in a reduced field, finished top five in the others and made the final.
Gary and I tried our best to upset the Indian party but his heavy old hog and my lame Italian mule were no match for for the 100hp Scouts. Doolan disappeared followed by Chris Walker (sandbagging the day before I reckon) and Ferran Mas. I was happy though as the new riding style was proving much less tiring than the spaz-at-a-rave shapes I usually make.
Buoyed by the new found smoothness and strong result I headed into the Thunderbike heats, confident but blind. I’d forgotten to bring fresh tear offs from the van. I thought I had this racing prep thing nailed but no. I washed the top one with my last mouthful of water (another race prep fail), scratched the shit out of it put it back on top of the last good one – that would be my prize if I made the final.
The Rotax motor felt really strong and by chance the gearing was spot-on, just running out of puff at the end of the straights. In fact it felt so good that when the track was drying I was trailing throttle on the way in and picking it back up way earlier than I ever had before. I’m crap at starting which makes life harder in such short races but it does mean I get into some great dogfights. In one heat I was trying to reel-in Chris Jenner (#134) as we both got passed by pro class rider Mike Hill (#35), the next three laps were brilliant fun. Not just because we were going for it hammer and tong but because I knew that behind Chris’ black visor he’d have been smiling between breaths. His motor blew last time out and the bike had only just made the Peterborough start line, still dripping in midnight oil and elbow grease.
Gary (#13) and I got close again, his left foot strayed into the path of my back wheel and I ran it over – sorry Gary. The rest of the heats were also a blur, so many races in a weekend and in a strange format, I couldn’t keep up with what happened where. All I remember is that I was having fun. Not just fun though, enjoying luck too as I scraped the Thunderbike final by one place, wahoo! Then Geoff Cain’s (#45) bike decided it wanted an early bath, promoting Jenner to his first Thunder final of the season.
I lined up on the outside of the back row for the last race of a truly action packed weekend. The wide line seemed to be working well so I stayed out deep where possible and coaxed the throttle on earlier and earlier. Grip was good, drive was good, the raised seat felt good. I had a great battle with Kye Forte (#40) aboard his gorgeous Yamaha XS850 framer and knew he was having carburration issues so kept tight to his wheel hoping for a gap, none came. Then the voices started again! “come on you fucking pussy, you got this, go deep, go deep….. flat out, get it on the lock-stops…ride around the outside of him…just like the speedway boys” Pride was still locked in the van with my tearoffs so I wasn’t sure who this new dickhead was.
I’m sure glad I didn’t listen though, finishing somewhere mid-pack-ish just behind Kye – I was over the moon. It felt like one of my best races so far but I was pleased that the day was over – I was spent. I may have only been one place away from a podium spot but I won something more valuable in my eyes – the Deus Rider of the Day. Humbled and completely made-up I was reminded why I spend all my spare time and money getting ready to skid around in circles at the weekend.
Onto Round 3 in a few weeks time at Greenfields in Lincolnshire – Hooligans with a jump… on the TT course…. I’m leaving Pride locked up in London for that one.
Thanks to Tom Bing (racing) and Sally McGee (portraits) for these lovely photographs (the rubbish snaps at the top are of course mine)
Round 1 of the DTRA review is here