Michael Lawless

Praise for The Unloved

You and I have the same addiction.

We endlessly scroll the internet trolling for our next motorcycle.

Does the 'disease of more' impel the search for something better?

There are much worse addictions.

Low mileage, late make, high tech, and cheap. But it's a 250. What to do? [Mike Lawless]
I stumbled on a bike nobody wanted.

The price was beyond right for a newer street legal motorcycle with a title.

The ad had been running for weeks with no takers.

The Suzuki GW 250 is an odd little duck.

Not much info for the American market.

Small Japanese machines bear the stigma of gutless beginner bikes.

The road tests said the GW was underpowered.

Could barely keep up in freeway traffic.

Bad reviews are the kiss of death.

I know Suzuki has many versions of their 250 street bikes.

Both singles and twins.

For the record, the GW250 is a water-cooled, fuel injected parallel twin.

I drove out to the country for a look.

The condition was typical of a bike in a barn.

The seller was gracious enough to allow a road test before buying.

Where lightweight canyon carvers belong: on the bendy bits. [Mike Lawless]
My first thought was 'how petite', compared to most street bikes.

The riding position; classic UJM.

The instrument cluster just about perfect:

Analog tach with digi speedo, clock, fuel gauge & gear indicator.

All you need and then some.

The engine was a pleasant surprise.

The reviews shouted: counter balanced, long stoke, two-valver.

To me it was a twin that felt more like a  four.

Very smooth revving out to a pleasant crescendo at 11,000 RPM.

Suspension and brakes were fine, considering.

Handling is good, even if the front lacked feel when pushed.

Which might say more about me being a ham-fisted rider.

While the GW250 will never be a freeway flyer,

It was a pleasant roadster on narrow lanes.

Don't let the mean bunny get you down - he's not getting any lady rabbit despite spending $35k on a special special Italian stallion. [Mike Lawless]
The price was so cheap I gave the man my money.

I took her home, removed the stock mirrors and a few logos,  put on a pair of my favorite grips.

Plus the usual stuff; changing the oil, service the chain, set the tire pressure.

My eighteen-year-old daughter liked the Japanese Anime styling.

Exploring the backroads leads to unexpected pleasures/treasures. [Mike Lawless]
For weeks I cruised the back roads and commuted.

Enjoying the back roads.

You must carry your momentum,

This bike will never go down a gear and disappear.  Ever.

But the motor has good character.

It sounds like a motorcycle should, even with a stock exhaust.

The GW250 is quite a refined little package.

I dubbed the little roadster "Lusso".

Pulls like a train...well actually not. But that's ok, you're still riding. [Mike Lawless]
I love modern, giant gas stations on a motorcycle.

Clean bathrooms, lots of pumps & fresh coffee.

A young man rolled up on his Ducati as I refueled.

I nodded in his direction.

He took off his helmet and asked "Is that your piece of shit? Like are you just learning to ride or something?"

I laughed, mentioned the Ducatis I've owned, and that I was service manager at a Ducati dealership.

Said Ducati makes nice art work, but his sportbike is miserable as a road bike.

The riding position is a pain in the neck, the heat from your 1098's engine will melt your legs on a summer day.

Plus, we all know what they're like to get serviced.

He fired back 'Well I meet babes".

Shaking my head I replied 'If you want to meet women, buy a Vespa".

There is not much respect for small motorcycles.

The adage of the bigger the engine, the bigger the man is tiresome.

A brand doesn't define the man.

Are we not all riders?

 

I paid cash for my little bike, and will carry on riding it.

 

 

Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our 'Poet of Packed Earth', is the Flat Track Editor for TheVintagent.com, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman

How I Got Here

How do you spend your Saturday nights?

We're at a flat track race run in conjunction with a state fair.

It's blazing hot and I'm sweltering in full race leathers, helmet on, ready to go.

Standing beside me in staging is my daughter Olive.

She's happily eating chicken fingers from the concession stand.

Olive and Mike at the track. [Michael Lawless]
For me, just making a race is a win.

We would never have these adventures if her mom hadn't left me.

Yeah, part of me died, but that's no excuse not to live.

In my younger days, I blew an offer to road race because I was too busy partying.

I used to kick myself about that, but maybe this was God's way of giving me another chance.

I knew if I fell back into my drinking ways, none of this would be happening.

Regrets from my earlier decisions propelled me forward.

Chasing my dirt track dreams pulled me out of the hurt I was in.

Being out on the road and sliding around on dirt made life worth living again.

Mike Lawless on the Buell he flat tracked for a time. Read all about it here. [Michael Lawless]
I feel awkward when normal folk see me in my racing gear.

Kind of like the guy in the movie Electric Horseman wearing his purple cowboy outfit.

They say it's crazy for a man my age to be flat tracking.

But I'm just like him, trying to unscrew the damage I created.

These racing adventures with my daughter in tow are the best memories I have.

I can look back now, knowing the hurt was worth it.

I wrote down these stories for Olive to remember me by.

Just because the marriage didn't work out doesn't mean it's game over.

I had to accept it,

it was what it was.

Spend time with your children, or somebody else will. [Michael Lawless]
Regret is a monster.

I couldn't let it paralyze me.

It could destroy the good that's around the next corner.

I had to realize that my decisions put me here.

That it was me and only me that could pull me out of this too.

I got down to doing what I was doing when I was happy: trying to go fast on motorcycles.

Balance in life is the key for me.

Between work, being a dad, a writer, and yes, a racer.

 

 

Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our 'Poet of Packed Earth', is the Flat Track Editor for TheVintagent.com, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman

Would You Risk Your Life for $1500?

The yelling is over.

The champagne has been sprayed.
Done with the autographs and selfies with the fans.
Packed up and on the road.
He rings my cell.
Would you risk your life for $1,500 bucks?
'I got friends who frame houses or do timber who make more.'
I risk my ass and then some.
What the f***.
They said it was a breakthrough win on the Mile.
The racing in Singles is vicious.
He rode his ass off,
hung it out hard,
full throttle, running three wide into corners.
Banging and bumping thru traffic.
Staying out of the wind, then drafting,
trying to squeeze every ounce out of her.
A soundtrack of singles wrung against the stops.
They said he was too big to win on a mile.
He drove home smirking.
Refueling, another truck stop black coffee.
He lets his mind drift on the highways.
His buddies might make more money.
But they're never happy.
Always bitching about their jobs.
They live for the weekends.
Smoking and drinking just to get by.
Their lives a series of days rolling past.
Weekends off if you're lucky.
Feels like another form of slavery.
Racing gives him freedom.
He might not make a fortune winning races,
but it's a life worth living.

 

Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our 'Poet of Packed Earth', is the Flat Track Editor for TheVintagent.com, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman

Thinking of 'Fast Eddie'

My first motorcycle brought freedom.
I roamed twisty back roads,
flicking from corner to corner.
Lost and tired one ride,
I stumbled into a motorcycle shop I never saw before.
Not expecting much
this far away from the city.

Mr. Varnes, John Lawless & Ed Fisher with John's Yamaha TZ racer.  [Michael Lawless]
But in the shadows lurked an honest-to-goodness Yamaha TZ racer.
Gobsmacked - how did it get here?
I walked over and soaked in the details.
A  soft voice behind me said, "that's something, huh?
"Bikes like that take constant work,
you really don't want that.
See those FZ's over there?
All they need is an oil change every now and then.
You can ride'em all day."

'Fast Eddie' Fisher won the first National race for Triumph.

He'd changed my focus in a gently paternal way.
We talked motorcycle for a bit.
I heard one of the guys call him Fast Eddie.
To me, he was always Mr. Fisher.
His humility inspired me.
He never bragged about the things he'd done.
That just wasn't how he was geared.

Ed with his son Gary Fisher; both men won at Loudon.

Years passed,
and my brother started racing vintage motorcycles.
We would leave Friday after work,
drive straight thru the night to reach Mid-Ohio by dawn.
Things got tricky when John switched from four-stroke Hondas to two-stroke Yamahas.
He had no time to test or tweak before getting to the track.
We couldn't get the bike to run right.
Practice was coming up soon.

Ed Fisher with his daugher Kimberly and his Indian 101 Scout at Daytona.

Seeing our struggle,
Mr. Fisher and his friend Jimmy (AKA Mr. Varnes) came over to give us a hand.
They never asked for anything.
Just happy to see my brother make the show.
I was impressed by the way they carried themselves.
Humble yet gracious.
They inspired me to try and be that way too.

Godspeed, Ed Fisher.  

 

 

Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our 'Poet of Packed Earth', is the Flat Track Editor for TheVintagent.com, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman

Regular Hospitals Hate Us! 

Can winning a race make one immortal?
Perhaps if one was to beat 'The King' in a straight fight at the Peoria TT.
Who would not want to be remembered as the man who beat 'The King'?
It's the equivalent of Arthur pulling the sword from the stone.
So far, many have tried but none have done so.
A win there could be every bit as big as clinching a championship.
The Peoria TT is a fearsome place.
The younger generation calls it sketchy.
The type of track that puts a premium on skill and bravery,
separating those who have it from those who don't.
Airborne is not typical flat track stuff! But TT racing is a very different animal, and a little MX training couldn't hurt, no?  Henry Wiles airborne and sideways. [American Flat Track]
There is more to flat track than turning left.
TT courses like Peoria have a right-hand turn and a jump.
Unlike the ovals, front brakes are used on TT courses.
This track is built in a valley forming a natural amphitheater.
Perfect for gladiators.
A rider must pull different skills from his bag of tricks to be competitive there.
Cole Zabala's plan was simple.
Train at motocross to build the skills needed for TT.
Unfortunately, while training he got out of shape on a jump which led to him 
coming down sideways crashing heavily. 
Lying on the race track, dazed from the impact Cole accessed the damage done.
Pain everywhere, the lack of movement in his right wrist followed by coughing up blood
And the realization a hospital visit was required.
Give my cast a zipper, doc! When your livelihood is at stake, and you gotta race, regular hospitals just don't get it. A little plaster didn't dampen Cole Zabala's spirits. [Taylor Bellegue]
 

Going to a regular hospital after a motorcycle accident is never fun.
It's bad enough you pitched it away but now you have to explain yourself.
The doctors diagnosed Cole with a broken scaphoid and a bruised lung.
They were not impressed.
They recommend surgery on the wrist with a non-removable cast.
He would need to cease training for ten weeks.
They said a removable cast was out of the question.
Cole spoke of the need to decrease the timelines due to his racing schedule.
The doctors would not flex.
Dreams of Peoria glory faded.
The need for speed!  Cole Zabala blasting along the straightaway with nobody in sight. [American Flat Track]
Racers always look for a better way.
Cole went for a second opinion at a sports medicine clinic.
He liked being treated like any other athlete there.
They offered a plan to minimize his downtime to 3 weeks.
Cole did PR only at the Pennsylvania round.
His first race weekend back was New York.
He was able to get a third in one of the qualifiers.
Bike issues prevented better results in the mains.
I talked with Zabala during that New York round.
Cole's smiling face told the story.
Saying the pain was manageable.
We laughed about the hospital visits we riders have.
Commiserating about the 'less than' treatment for guys who crash bikes.
Cole laughed saying "regular hospitals hate us!"
Hey we should do an article!
That line stuck in my head.
Thinking about it while watching practice.
I started pecking away on my iPhone:

Regular hospitals hate us.
Have they never suffered for their art?
Experience has taught me I'm better off saying I fell out of a tree.
They roll their eyes when we drive ourselves to the ER after declining the ambulance ride.
I need your help, not your judgment.
I know your words come from a good place.
The kindness is much appreciated.
I can get thru the pain and the bullshit
Cause I'm living to line up again.

Peoria was next.
Time to find out if the blood, sweat, and tears were worth it.
But Mother Nature was not cooperating.
It took a whole lot of magic from Caterpillar to get the rain-soaked track together on time.
As the race day wore on the track got rougher.
Their race was the last of the day.
The battle began as the green flag dropped.   
The King was on form.
Two of his challengers crashed out in the pursuit of victory.
Two red flags with the pressure of being perfect for the restarts.
Zabala still on the mend fought gallantly.
At one point running close second to The King.
Game face on. That's racing - you win and you lose, and sometimes you get hurt. Cole Zabala focussed on the win. [Steve Koletar]
But The King was on a planet of his own.
He left the intensity behind.
Leaving second, third & fourth locked in a frenzied battle.
Pass after breathtaking pass at a ferocious clip.
Cole made a bid for second in the last corner but came up short.
Still a fine third place on his second race since the injury.
Jubilant times on the podium were a fine payback.
I just wonder how he'd do on a twin.
Coie Zebala looking like a centaur on is racing machine. [American Flat Track]

 

Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our 'Poet of Packed Earth', is the Flat Track Editor for TheVintagent.com, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman

The Sound & The Fury

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
- William Shakespeare, 'Macbeth'

He knew by her stripper hug that he was going to have fun tonight
Dinner and drinks, her for dessert.
She makes the good nights better.
All week he struggled to sneak out for a ride but work got the better of him.
His buzzing wristwatch signaled it was time.
He slipped out of her body hug,
Climbed into his riding gear.
Grabbed a quick double espresso on his way to the garage.
He toggled through his choices.
The sun crests the canyons as he wheels out his machine.
He coasted down the hill, away from the house before firing her up.
The sound of a three-cylinder MV barking to life.
The engine makes the music,
Turning from growl to wail as she revs.
It's the soundtrack for this morning's ride.


The stress of the week melts away as he picks up speed.
That job sucks all the joy out of him.
But between her and the bike,
he was glad to be alive again.
Howling down the straightaway,
he drifts over to the double yellow,
flicks hard right, arching from the double yellow to white and yellow again.
Tossing her left, he tags a knee then rockets up the hill through the trees on the narrow two-lane road.
Smiling in his helmet high on adrenaline.
He follows his asphalt path as it snakes through the forest.
The rider is all in,
with the Armco keeping him honest.
Turning right the road follows the coastline.
The smell of the ocean and eucalyptus trees fill his helmet.
All good things come to end.
He silently glides back into his garage.
Electric motorcycles make for happy neighbors.
The sounds of the MV are just computer-generated.
His onboard system reads his throttle input, pumping in the appropriate engine sound into his helmet speakers.
The advanced system even mocks the power delivery and corresponding engine vibrations.
His bike is so quiet that the dogs don't even bark.
Heavy metal thunder is dead.
The future is silent.

Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our 'Poet of Packed Earth', is the Flat Track Editor for TheVintagent.com, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman

The Perfect Lap: Don Emde

By Don Emde

I turned 18 years old in 1969, the minimum age to race motorcycles at the professional level in the United States. In those years dirt track racing and roadracing were combined in the same AMA Grand National Championship Series, so to contend at the top level, a rider needed to do both types of racing. I am probably best known for my roadracing—having won the Daytona 200 in 1972—but I did dirt track racing also and learned some things that served me well in all forms of racing.

My family lived then in the San Diego area, but the best place to go dirt track racing was Ascot Park, a half-mile dirt oval located in Gardena, south of downtown Los Angeles. Unlike other tracks where a race might be held once a month, Ascot ran every Friday night from April to October.

The AMA pro licensing system required first year pros to compete in their own Novice class and limited to 250cc machines. Second year pros were called Juniors and still competed in a separate class, but they could ride machines up 750cc, then if your scored enough transfer points, riders were at the top level called Experts and could then race in the National Championship races.

Don Emde (135R) leads the way at Ascot in 1969. [Mahony Photos]
My father, Floyd Emde, was a past champion of the sport, but at the time was a motorcycle dealer carrying Suzuki, BSA and other brands of motorcycles. For the 1969 season, he built me a pretty exotic race bike for my first season at Ascot. It used a special lightweight racing frame and was powered by twin-cylinder 250cc Suzuki X6 roadracing engine. It was wicked fast and what made it especially “exciting” was two-stroke engines don’t have a natural compression that slows the motor when you roll off the throttle, they just free wheel. Also, in those years brakes were not allowed on our dirt track machines.

I learned real quick how to handle my X6, finding the happy medium between going fast enough to compete for the races wins, and not too fast to end up on the ground…or worse yet in the solid wooden wall on the outside of the turns.

Getting a good start was critical at Ascot. Most of the riders I was competing against also had twin-cylinder two-strokes like me—either Suzukis or Yamahas—and if I got stuck in the pack with them, then I just rode the track wherever I could find an opening to try to pass the other riders.

To have a clear track ahead, however, I could then set my own pace and take control of the race. I knew in my mind what the “Perfect Lap” consisted of and what I needed to do, including how far into the turn to go at full speed, and then how to use my only tool to help turn the corner, the throttle. In flat track racing, a spinning rear wheel under full power serves as a bit of a brake and forces the motorcycle to turn in the direction you get the machine pointed.

Once I understood how to use the rear wheel to turn the motorcycle, I found that instead of riding the track as an oval, the actual line to follow was more of a diamond shape. Just past the start/finish line I could lean the machine over, let off momentarily, then back on and get the rear wheel spinning. This continued about half-way into the turn and the rear wheel would eventually start catching traction and heading out of the turn onto the back straightaway towards the next turn and then do it all over again.

That season I won 11 of the 30 Main Events in the Novice class and came back the next and won more races in the Junior class on a BSA 650. In 1971, I was hired by BSA to join their factory team and was racing the full AMA Grand National Championship schedule. I wasn’t able ride at Ascot as much in the coming years, but the concept I had learned of figuring out the perfect lap on a racecourse stuck with me, even in roadracing at places like Daytona.
 

[Editor's note: Don Emde was the first child of a Daytona 200 winner to win the race as well.  His win on a Yamaha 350 (tuned by Mel Dinesen) had other firsts: it was the smallest-capacity machine to win the race, the first two-stroke to win, and the first win for Yamaha.  After a successful racing career as a very young man, Emde worked in marketing at Bell Helmets, then was editor of Motorcycle Dealer News.  He later took up writing his own books, including Daytona 200, Finding Cannonball's Trail, and his magnum opus 'The Speed Kings', a history of board track racing, which we reviewed here. Thanks to our Flat Track Editor Michael Lawless for securing this article!]

 

Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our 'Poet of Packed Earth', is the Flat Track Editor for TheVintagent.com, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman

The Spectacle of Speedway

What's it like to ride a speedway bike?
I'm told they go faster when you shut the throttle.
That they do zero to sixty in three seconds
With no brakes or rear suspension.
The alcohol-burning 500 cc singles crank out 70ish horsepower.
Yet weigh in at 175 pounds.
They are explosive machines, vicious and unforgiving.
Their battle is a series of heats,
Just four intense laps of mano a mano racing.
Welcome to the world of Speedway.
Johnathan Oakden is an up-and-comer in the Speedway scene, and keeps his body in shape with MMA training. [Steve Koletar]
Who dares to race such machines?
The first speedway racer I met was 18-year-old Jonathan Oakden.
The likable young man's life plan is a move to California.
There he will take his shot at becoming a professional speedway racer. 
If that doesn't work out he is training to be an MMA fighter.
I felt like I was talking to Lloyd Dobler.
Johnny spoke of his love for combat sports.
How he grew up racing motocross, then made the switch to speedway.
Johnny studied martial arts and wrestling in school.
I applaud his decision to chase his dreams.
Plenty of time later to work in cubicles if they don't pan out.
Jake Meyer looking more pro wrestler than motorcycle racer, but that's Speedway... [Stever Koletar]
The second rider I spoke with was Jake Myer.
He looked more weightlifter than motorcycle racer.
He could easily bench press a speedway bike.
How did he get involved?
As a boy, his parents took him to the local speedway races,
and he was taken with the spectacle.
Jake hadn't been to a race in years but spotted an ad for a local race.
He had such a good time he took his wife to a second event.
She asked - why don't you race?
With her blessing, he started competing.
I'm not sure what her motives were.
Max Ruml is the master of the one-handed wheelie on his speedway bike. [Steve Koletar]
One racer stood out among this motley crew.
Max Ruml has an air of professionalism mixed with that west coast vibe.
This showman is ruthlessly fast while pulling off one-handed wheelies.
He recently clinched the 2021 AMA National Championship.
Max hopes to race in Europe next.
Gino Manzanez (another MMA fighter!) broadsliding at extreme angles, which is part of the Spectacle of Speedway. [Steve Koletar]
Our photographer Steve Koletar is a well-traveled race enthusiast.
He covers both automobile and motorcycle racing.
I asked Koletar what's the best show in racing?
Steve said "Speedway is out of this world.
It's a must-see spectacle."
I confessed I'd never been.
He wouldn't take no for an answer,
so we attend the next AMA National together.
The racing is intense.
You can see all the action on these small tracks.
I noted the enthusiastic crowd seemed very 420 friendly.
Speedway is a box that should be checked off by any true racing enthusiast.
Jason Bonsignore and Len McBride with the trophy Len created celebrating Jason's 25 year ownership of Champion Speedway. [Steve Koletar]
Note:  We would like to thank Jason Bonsignore.
Jason manages both Champion and Action Park East in New York.
His love for speedway keeps the sport alive on the East Coast.
Speedway has a huge following in Europe but is mainly based in California here in the USA.
This was the first time the AMA Nationals were held outside of California.
Hopefully, it will be an annual part of the schedule.
The racing is very sideways in Speedway, as full broadsliding is the technique for racing.  And wheelies.  [Steve Koletar]
The broadsliding technique used in Speedway was invented in the 1920s, some say by American rider Sprouts Elder, who improved on the original 'leg trailing' technique, in which a rider dragged his foot behind the machine. The sport of Speedway was originally called Dirt Track, and was the most popular motorsport in the world - period- in the mid-1920s. Riders traveled the world on an international, professional circuit following the seasons: the USA, Britain, South America, and Australia.We have plenty of archival stories of Dirt Track racing in its original days: have a look at a few here:

 

Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our 'Poet of Packed Earth', is the Flat Track Editor for TheVintagent.com, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman

EZ Does It

Doing it the hard way is painful:

Life over the limit beat me down,

And I grew gun shy from injury.

Tired of explaining the damage from my latest get-off,

and those hours of reflection in the ER.

Should I just write?

Writer and flat track racer Michael Lawless aboard one of his racers, from his story 'Passing, Pain, and Purpose.' [Michael Lawless]
Not racing is hard too.

Part of me dies at the track when I’m not suiting up,

and the dream floods back watching American Flat Track on TV.

The contradiction was killing me.

Lucky, I ran across Kenny Dahlin.

He runs a flat track racing school called 'EZ Does It',

named for his approach to racing.

We crossed paths on social media,

thumbs up & positive comments.

On the track Kenny looks effortless and in control.

Exactly what I wasn't.

I knew I could learn a few things.

So, I decided to invest in my riding skills.

Kenny Dahlin keeping a close eye on a student. [Kris Keath]

Kenny teaches on the track.

He sent me out first, then joined me:

We rip off a bunch of laps elbow to elbow.

He dropped back to tail me, then cleared off to see what I'd do.

His feedback made me realize

a lifetime of sport riding had made me lazy.

On the road, to corner quicker I'd enter fast and lean harder.

This doesn’t work on the dirt.

Charging into a corner,

I’d lose front grip then pick her up to regain traction.

By then I'm running wide, struggling to change direction,

and grabbing throttle to make up for mistakes.

Out of shape and into the next corner too fast.

Over the limit is thrilling

but actually slow.

Just a hot mess on the edge of crashing.

Getting real feedback on riding or racing is invaluable, especially from a pro who knows. [Kris Keath]

Kenny helped me dial it in.

He said my leaning in is something bad waiting to happen,

and forcing it only compounds the mistakes.

He said use the front wheel to steer,

and roll the throttle earlier to make her turn.

Kenny likes to keep it simple.

Don’t overwhelm the student.

Focus on one or two things to make progress.

His approach paid off,

I was going quicker yet calmer.

Flat track can be brutal, so EZ Does It.

The average age of students in Kenny's school was 50 for the first two years...something worth noting! [Kris Keath]

Kenny has coached over 100 students just this year.

For the first two years the average age of his students was 50.

Are you listening, motorcycle industry people?

Dahlin has spent a lifetime flat track racing.

As a kid, he rode to the races hanging on the back of his daddy's Harley.

Kenny climbed thru the ranks to carry an AMA Pro number.

You benefit from his experience by taking his school.

I think you'll agree it's well worth it.

 

 

Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our 'Poet of Packed Earth', is the Flat Track Editor for TheVintagent.com, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman

The Highline: Morgen Mischler

What does it take to be a motorcycle racer?
Some outside our circle might say 'balls'.
But to a racer, risk is a calculated decision, not blind aggression.
Outsiders have no idea what self-control and self-discipline it demands,
from eating right to working out.
Time spent wrenching while others go drinking.
It takes more than dreams.
It takes hard work and plenty of it.
And for most, years of struggling.
And when you make the main event,
you're way back on the third row.

How it feels: all bunched up in turn 1, looking for a magic line. [Steve Koletar]
I asked Morgen Mischler for his thoughts the morning after his big win in New York:

"Ever since I was a little kid, people would tell me I had balls of steel (lol). The first thing I’m thinking sitting on the third row is I’ve got 8 people ahead of me. I need to position myself on the line so I can get the traction I need to close that gap to the leaders. Starting is a big key in this sport, especially if the racing funnels down in the corner to a single file (which I loathe). The next thing is making sure the guys ahead of me are good starters and aren’t going to be roadblocks in the first corner, but also to hit a line I’ve found on the warm-up lap to give myself a chance to move forward."

Tell me about passing - are you stalking them or killing everything in your path?

"Passing on the highline. For me, it’s threading a needle others don’t think about threading. Trusting my bike placement won’t be in the marbles and having enough mid-corner speed to make the pass and keep it under control without running my clutch lever into their exhaust or knee, risking going down. If I’m the only one on the high line, it’s more about how fast I can run that line and find what else may be faster. Up there it’s more about finding your marks and hitting them while trying to find spots to improve and not lose time in the process of experimenting with the line. If someone else is on the mainline like Volusia, then it’s more like stalking and trying to find where you can squeak by. It takes a lot more commitment to thread the needle and come down to the mainline ahead of whoever was ahead of you."

At times out front means all alone, but not usually... [Steve Koletar]
What does it feel like to ride on the limit?

"My Lima video kinda shows my bike on the limit. It’s a badass, the bike becomes an effective extension of your body, so much of it is bike feel. When you have the gearing right it makes everything a lot easier because you fall into a rhythm. My bike is built very well by Vance and Hines. I can't thank them enough for their support. I don’t like ripping my fast bike on the limiter unless it’s at a national, gotta take it easy on that thing cause these pockets are pretty shallow compared to some teams. Not a huge fan of rebuilding things, so I try not to beat up my equipment outside of nationals. Really fortunate Vance and Hines builds all my KTMs. My main bike is a stout. I'm working on getting a backup machine just as powerful too."

What it's like running high? (the high line AKA 'high, wide & handsome')

"The highline is the slower way around, but it carries your momentum instead of having to slow down as much for the corner. There are so many different approaches to riding the lines that form. Some tracks you can’t get off of the main groove where all the rubber forms or you’re going backward in a hurry. A lot of it is people ride defensive and guard the inside. Last year Indy mile and this year Volusia II for example you couldn’t get off the mainline, but people wanted to protect the bottom so they wouldn’t charge into the corner as fast. I had to leave it on longer and flirt with the top of the groove next to the marbles to get enough momentum to pass them and immediately close the door to get on the mainline to make the pass. It’s a tough needle to thread because just above where the rubber has formed on the track is marbles of dirt that will carry you up the track"

It feels good to win! Morgen Mischel enjoys the rush, and the adulation, after a win in NY. [Steve Koletar]
Tell me about the euphoric feeling of victory?

"It’s a large amount of being pleased with yourself and knowing you just whooped some ass. Along with the relief of getting first after the stress of it. But euphoric is an accurate description."

Tell me about race day?

"An overview of the day was that we switched shocks to something I thought would work, chased the setup with it and qualified 20th. We switched back to the shock from the other day and made some adjustments before the semi to see if it would help. Mark and I had the provisional card ready just in case I didn’t get into the top 8 😂 but went from the 3rd row to 5th in the semi. Nailed a start and picked my way through on the first lap and put my head down. If you look at the gap, I picked up .1+ almost every lap. I didn’t check to see the gap until there were 2 laps to go and get a better view of it in the last corner on the last lap."

Tell me about your plans for the future?

"I’m not totally sure what the future may hold for me. I’m so invested in my program, I’m just trying to piece the right support together to actually make my program remotely comparable to the factory teams. I’m sure if we’d compare budgets, it’d be laughable. I’d also want to take everyone that’s supported me this far along because they deserve it just as much as I do. I’m fortunate to have the support I do because I never thought I’d get this far. Also, I would like to give extra special thanks to Randy Triplet, Bill Mischler, and Mark Muth."

A moment in the pits with our writer, Michael Lawless, and Mischler's team. [Steve Koletar]
This was great fun putting this together.
Morgen gives a good glimpse of what's in his head.
It all came together easily.
I was so stoked to be at the American Flat Track race in New York.
This was the first time back at the track with photographer/wingman Steve Koletar.
He's the 'Weegee' of dirt track. Be it sprint cars or flat track bikes.
Steve has a gift of capturing those magic moments seen here in this article.
We palled around the pits talking to riders and tuners alike.
This was the first time I talked at length with Morgen Mischler.
I was impressed by how talkative he was for a flat tracker racer, articulate too.
Morgen mentioned he was game for The Vintagent.
I knew he was serious when I saw Mischler started to followed me on Instagram.
We wrote this together without even talking.
Just using Instagram.
We plan on keeping these lines of commutations open for future updates.

Up close and personal. [Steve Koletar]
Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our 'Poet of Packed Earth', is the Flat Track Editor for TheVintagent.com, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman


The Man Who Beat Marquez

He was all of 20 years old.
Yeah, he had a Grand National Championship under his belt,
but no passport.
When the ink dried, he hopped a jet to Spain.
To face a man
even the great Valentino Rossi couldn't beat.

Brad Baker's style and skill made him the National Flat Track Champion, but would it serve him against the very best racer in the world, Marc Marquéz? [Brad Baker]
In the road racing world,
Marquez was the newly crowned MotoGP wonder-boy
whose speed seemed effortless
and victory inevitable.
The Superprestigio race
was created to showcase Marquez' ability
to dominate on dirt as well as asphalt in front on his countrymen.
Two worlds would collide in Spanish arena.
For the first time, a MotoGP World Champion would
face an American Flat Track Champion on a dirt track.
The idea was to jump-start the then-declining sport of flat track
and legitimize the sport to the nonbelievers.

Superprestegio was meant to bring the best of different motorcycle racing disciplines together,
but no American Flat Track riders were invited initially.
American journalist Mark Gardiner heckled the promoters via social media,
and soon after, the new American champ,
Brad Baker received his invitation
and an offer of a bike from the Spanish KTM importer.

Two brilliant and very young racers: Marc Marquéz and Brad Baker. [Brad Baker]
Arriving in Spain,
Brad was hustled to a press conference,
suitcases in hand,
and met his competitors.
They may have been superstars,
but every one was friendly.
Brad was surprised by the sea of press
and the army of enthusiastic fans.
He'd never been put on such a pedestal.
Motorcycle racing is huge in Spain,
but American flat track racing
has a county fair vibe.
After the press conference,
a fellow racer toured him around Barcelona.
From the back of a scooter,
Brad saw the old city,
its architecture and its nightclubs.

Arriving at the oval dirt track,
was where Baker finally felt at home.
This was his world.
His European competitors were pleasantly surprised
and found him a fine ambassador.
The Superprestegio format had two categories,
dirt racers and road racers.
The top 4 from each final advanced to the super final.
Baker dominated the dirt
while Marquez had his way with road racers.

Up close and personal: a match between the very best in the world. [Brad Baker]
They faced each other for the first time in the Super Final.
When the gates dropped,
Marquez came out swinging,
taking the holeshot.
But Baker was on him,
showing a wheel constantly.
A few laps in,
Brad ran around Marquez' outside in turn four.
but Marquez hit him firmly,
bouncing Baker off the outer wall
hard enough to bend his exhaust.
Baker said 'he was aiming for me'.
Marquez was playing for keeps.
But this wasn't Bakers' first rodeo.
He lived the unwritten rule in flat track:
you can bump but you can't knock 'em down.
He gathered himself up and set off in pursuit.

Baker lined up for a pass down the front straight,
charging hard up the inside.
Marquez tried to block him,
chopping his throttle and swinging to the left,
but his timing was late.
He bounced off Baker's side
and was slammed unceremoniously onto the track.
Sure seemed like flat track justice to me.
Baker looked back to see the MotoGP champ
lying on the track and thought "Oh F***!"
He took it easy for a lap or two
to show it wasn't intentional,
then picked up the pace and wheelied across the finish line
to take his win.

Marquez did not seem too happy at first,
but shook it off and congratulated Baker.
All was forgiven, and the party began.
Baker returned to Spain many times,
and now considers it a second home.

For years after, I badgered Baker for an interview
about that first Superprestigio race.
But every time I lined him up,
he'd throttle up and out.
Did he not see the significance?
In 20 years he'd be giving speeches about the night he beat Marquez.
I wasn't going to give up,
though I could read between the lines.
At that point, Baker was too busy looking forward to talk about the past.
For him, life was a blur of travel and racing, punctuated by victories.

Gladiators and friends at the 2013 Superprestigio race: Marc Marquéz and Brad Baker [Brad Baker]
My brother John and I were having dinner with Peter Starr,
who directed 'Take it to the Limit.'
As a kid, I saw the film and it changed me.
Suddenly, being a fan was not enough.
I sat quietly, soaking up his words,
trying not to say anything awkward.
But I had a chance to speak
of a race that deserves to be remembered.
Of a young American who traveled overseas
to face the World Champion,
on a borrowed motorcycle.
I confessed I'd been struggling to lock down an interview.
Peter asked "so what's the holdup?" and picked up his phone,
right in the middle of dinner.
"Tom, ask Baker to make time for Mike Lawless."
Peter encouraged me to keep at it.
Maybe I'd get my story after all.

A few weeks later, in the pits at Williams Grove,
it's after the main and packed with fans.
I'm just a fly on the wall,
but the sea of people parts
and Baker walks over to me, still sweating hard from the race.
'Hey, sorry I've been tied up.
I got stuff going on for the next couple of weeks.
Message me and we'll talk."
I was floored - did that just really happen?

I waited those weeks, then nervously shot him a text.
Several minutes later my phone rang.
Coffee in hand, I grabbed my notepad, and had that interview.
Flat trackers are a humble lot
and Brad is no different.
He plays the strong silent type well,
but warmed up as the words flowed,
about his wonderment for that Spanish experience.
The interview was worth the wait.
Thank you, Brad Baker.

 

Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our 'Poet of Packed Earth', is the Flat Track Editor for TheVintagent.com, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman

The Last Victory

It's a long way to the top if you want to rock 'n roll.

Damn shame Baker is starting way back on the fourth row.

Seemed plenty fast all day but the Harleys kept breaking.

Guess they turned fragile in pursuit of speed.

Mechanical failure snatched him from contention repeatedly that season.

This was his final National for the factory team.

He won't win a Championship today,

but maybe redemption.

Brad Baker in full gladiator mode. [Michael Lawless]
The track started smooth and fast but turned rough and dusty.

Conditions forced more than one racer into survival mode,

everyone ran the safer line down low.

When the lights turned green for main,

Baker dropped into beast mode.

He brazenly ran the high line out by the fence.

Spectacularly over the limit.

Passing competitors on a wide-open throttle, hopping through the ruts and blinding dust.

There's no room for error running high, wide and handsome.

Insiders stood with mouths open as Baker roared by.

Baker gloried in the madness,

passing the entire field, taking the lead on lap 3.

With no challengers, victory was his - if the Harley held together.

Baker later said he took the first ten laps WFO.

Blasting through lapped traffic, the blinding dust pasted his taped-on faceshield.

With eyes burning from the dust,  he eased off but still won handily.

The sweet wheelie of victory. Brad Baker takes the checkered flag at a heat race in NY. [American Flat Track]
The battle for the Championship was settled well behind him.

In their excitement did the cheering crowd notice Baker's win?

I knew I'd seen something special.

It wasn't until the post-race party I knew others saw it too.

Some racers spoke in awe of his riding, some shook their heads side to side.

One tuner joked he'd worried 'Baker's balls would get tangled up in his chain'.

I was floored by the honesty of the new Champ when he confessed,

he tried to hang on to Baker but couldn't.

He'd almost pitched it away in the chasing, but reminded himself

he was there to win the Championship,

not beat Baker.

I couldn't find Baker for comment.

Brad Baker just ahead of Jared Mees at the white flag - one more lap to go. [American Flat Track]
I'd been chasing Baker ever since.

A Media badge doesn't guarantee face time.

I saw my chance on a break at The Kentucky Mile.

Baker stood in the shadow of the transport, like a gladiator, looking lean and mean.

Waiting for the battle to come.

But a fan munching the largest chicken leg I ever saw beat me to him.

"Hey, Brad, you going to win tonight?"

The hard look of a racer dropped into a smile.

"I'm going to try - hey thanks for coming out tonight man."

The fan was aware Baker noticed his chicken leg.

"I guess you can eat all the chicken you want huh?"

"I'm allowed 6 ounces with lunch and it can't be breaded or fried."

"Really, wow, what's that you're drinking?"

"It's a gallon of water with lemons & cucumber.

At the end of the day, I gotta hand it back empty to my trainer or else I got to drink it right there."

The fan stood, comprehending that flat track racers had changed,

and as he drifted away, Baker eyed me wearily knowing I'm media.

"Hey Brad - what it's take to run high wide & handsome?"

He took a hit from his water jug and said, "Big huevos,"

smiling broadly. ​

"What's it like going that fast with that wall in your face?"

"You don't see the fences, you're looking where you want to go."

"Don't you think about..."

"You can't..."

"What would happen if it goes wrong?"

Brad laughed,  "I'd end up face down in the parking lot."

He reached for his helmet as his crew fired up his bike.

"Hey, I was thinking we could do an article about your beating Marquez,

or about winning Santa Rosa?"

"Yeah ok, you know where to find me..."

That night Baker beat Henry Wiles for third place by mere inches

in one of the most electrifying battles of the season.

Brad Baker taking a moment with Olive Lawless. [Michael Lawless]
I wanted my daughter Olive to see the spectacle that is the Springfield Mile.

We did the 16-hour drive with our friend Barb Shoemaker.

Since we weren't hauling Jake's race bike she insisted we stop for Krispy Kremes.

Olive stopped calling her Ms. Shoemaker and switched to Aunt Barb.

I got to show her my favorite spots to observe the race action:

row one at start/finish line takes your breath away,

inside turn one against the rail is magic too,

the spooky tunnel under the track, and the media room.

Walking through the pits we bumped into Baker.

He's sweating hard in full leathers, right after practice.

Brad thanks me for the Marquez article.

I introduce Olive.

Much to her amusement, he reached out and said 'Hi, I'm Brad'.

They chat for a few minutes.

As we walk away she says,

"You make him sounds like such a desperado, Dad, but he's really nice."

Brad Baker as an advisor to the Indian factory flat track team, with Kelsey Stauffer and Jake Shoemaker. [Michael Lawless]
I was gutted when Brad was permanently hurt at that shitty little X Games short track.

For me, it was the day the music died.

Baker had seemed unbreakable.

But a wheelchair hasn't stolen Brad from the sport he loves.

He's a TV commentator for American Flat Track and an advisor to the Indian factory team.

He's set to be married this year to his sweetheart Kelcey Stauffer.

His passion for dirt racing led him in a new direction,

and he recently started racing a dirt track car with hand controls.

It reminds him of the old days - just him, a bike and van.

It's not easy, but that was never the point.

Life ain't over 'til the checkered flag is thrown.

Brad Baker at the hand controls of his circle track racing car... [Michael Lawless]
...and looking very much like the #6 we know. [Michael Lawless]
 

Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our 'Poet of Packed Earth', is the Flat Track Editor for TheVintagent.com, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman

Passing, Pain, and Purpose

The moment after the best pass of my life

Indoor short track racing is motorcycle combat.
Greenlights on - you attack.
No quarters asked or given.
The competition crowds your personal space.
Passing is hard work,
you must be aggressive and totally committed.
The intensity makes it rewarding.
I look forward all year to indoor racing at Timonium.

The impossible was what I needed: a do-all motorcycle.
Big enough to race outdoor but small enough to race indoor.
And street legal so I could commute to work.
Searching the classifieds, a Buell Blast seemed to fit the bill.
Not that I knew of anyone who raced one.
It was just for fun - to make the show.
I had the tank and tail repainted.
She might not be fast, but she'd look good.
My competitors looked amused, strolling past.
The Buell was not a competitive ride:
too big and way too heavy.
The ice was broken when some kid admired the paint job,
gushing 'it's orange like the General Lee.'

Yep, it's orange, but in an H-D kinda way, not a rebel flag kinda way. What was that kid thinking? Don't answer that. [Michael Lawless]
On the Buell's maiden heats,
the first few laps were get-to-know-you.
By the third session, I'm first in line in the cattle chute.
The safe bet is to start at the back:
you're less likely to get run over.
If you're first out, you gotta run
like you're chased by wild dogs.
It was sketchy to start up front,
but how else do you learn?
You just gotta go for it.
The lights flashed green,
the back tire chirped as I dropped the clutch,
and the big single thundered down the straight,
the pack snapping at my wheel.

The brake squeals as she starts to slide sideways
into the first corner.
I spin up the rear tire coming onto the straight,
drifting to the outer wall.
Into the next corner,
a rider squeezes by on the inside.
Time slows down, he's in front but drifting wide,
I squeeze the brake calmly,
swapping outside for in,
aiming the portly Buell beneath him.
Taking a squeaky line I re-pass him on the exit,
so close I can see WTF on his face.
My line had the drive out,
but his lighter/faster 450 motored past.

Not a lotta room here, it's elbow to elbow on a short, slippery concrete track. Gladiatorial, like. [Michael Lawless]
He was taking the inside, so I gunned around him to brake later,
blocking him so I could lead on the main straight.
He popped up braking as I was hard on the throttle,
and we went bar to bar, BLAM! Contact.
My bars snapped to the right,
and I slammed onto the concrete,
as the other rider ricocheted off the outer wall.
I'm told the third-place rider ran over me.
I slid to a halt, flat on my back with the Buell over my left side,
The engine still running.
I reached shut to her off.
The marshals waved red flags yelling 'Don't move!'
I hit the kill switch and leaned back
as the ceiling lights blurred.

It's a warm summer day.
I'm 8 years old and my mom is so young.
We're doing yard work,
Laughing and having fun.

Someone is yelling my name.
My visor yanks up and my eyes open.
Wow - I was racing a motorcycle.
It a second to sort which was real.
Sadness sweeps over me.
I miss talking with my mom.

The marshal asked the normal questions to see how hard
I'd been rattled.
What's your name, where are you?
I said I needed to get back up for practice.
As the marshal helped me up the lights go out again.
I go limp and crumple to the floor.

Not the best of days, but hey, a visit to Mom on the astral plane can't be all bad? Michael talks to God all the time though. [Michael Lawless]
It's dark, I'm cold, and I can't see anything.
Is this judgment day?
God, we had this conversation before.
You remember?
A certain AMA pro and I discussed dying.
I wanted to check out with my riding boots on.
To leave this world like a man.
Not to wither away with colon cancer
or some other horrible illness.
Yes God, that's right, the Pro
who unwillingly taught me to make that pass.
You know I was going for P1.
I could check out like a boss.
Prayer is talking and meditation is listening.
It got quiet.
Ok God - I know my is job is to take care of Olive.

My eyes open as the EMTs cut off my body armor.
A fellow racer lurked in the background.
The EMTs repeat questions.
I impatiently asked
"can I get back out for practice now?''
The racer turned around and yelled
"He's OK!"
The EMTs laugh "No!"
The female EMT asked to cut off my shirt.
I said "I like it when you tear it off."
The male EMT started laughing again.
As I was wearing my lucky t-shirt,
I asked if she would kindly help slide my right arm out.
She looked over my bruised torso and noted
the broken left collar bone.
"You've hit your head too and need a hospital."
I agreed with her but pointed out
it would be better if I went to my local hospital.
After much discussion they relented.
But they insisted I leave the track on the stretcher.
I felt embarrassed.
The female EMT said,  "Don't look sad -
smile and wave to the people in the stands."
I did, and was surprised by the relieved
looks and the smiles I got back.
As I was carried off the track, an upset Olive waited.
I made a silly face, "I feel like Cleopatra up here!"
She laughed.

Olive, for whom Michael must live. Simple as that: our children come first. [Michael Lawless]
I told her my shoulder was hurt so our day was done.
Several racers checked on me and offered assistance.
They loaded up my stuff and tied a sling around my arm.
I was touched by the friendship and warmth.
Every time my body moved,
I felt broken glass in my shoulder.
The pain kept me focused, driving my manual-transmission truck two hours home.
Olive and I talked the entire way, never turned on the radio.
If anything it made us closer,
and a trip we will both remember.

Pulling into the driveway both the truck and I were about out of gas.
I leaned my head on the steering wheel as my door opened:
my girlfriend is there to take me to the hospital.
I'm fresh from the track.
Still in my sweaty racing gear with my left boot taped on, my arm in a sling.
She looks me up and down.
"You look so damaged."
Off to the hospital, but the ER doc can't set my collarbone,
and I waited to see an ortho the next week.
I texted my brother John,
who drove up the next morning, unloaded my truck,
and insisted I use his truck since it's automatic.

Just to be clear, Mike isn't the only Lawless with a motorcycle problem: big brother John has some sweet rides too, and indulges in vintage road racing. [John Lawless]
All seemed good, till the lecture.
"Michael it's like you're 50 years old
and have decided to take up bull riding.  What the f**k Michael?"
I hear where that's coming from.
He cares about me.
I'm lucky to have a big brother like that.

Am I upset or disappointed with crashing?
Not in the least.
Those few brief laps were memorable.
I felt like Senna....a racer battling from position.
Not some voyeur sitting up in the stands or watching on TV.
It was real.

I came a long way from being a broken divorcee.
Racing gave my life purpose again.
It got me out of where I was.
It took hard work and dedication.
I train for racing. I push my limits.
But I found myself along the way.

Indoor short track is pure excitement to watch, and falls are not typically dangerous...unless a rider gets run over. [Michael Lawless]
Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our 'Poet of Packed Earth', is the Flat Track Editor for TheVintagent.com, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman

The Rush Job

Where were you a year ago?
It all looks easy now.
James Rispoli is dominating American Flat Track:
7 Victories in Production Twins this season.
James is the fastest Harley Davidson rider on the circuit.
Finally, Willie G. and the boys have something to be proud of.
It's the synergy of right rider, right team and right bike.
Rispoli is in that magic flow state,
his riding burns with intensity,
his consistency uncanny.
The competition is rightly spooked.

The sweet taste of victory for James Rispoli. [James Rispoli]
A short while ago, things were different.
James returned to America
after the high of European Superbike racing.
He came home to his roots - flat track.
To prove he'd lost none of his mojo.
Despite the wild contrast between those two worlds.

On our first conversation, the connection was poor.
"Where are you calling from?
Are you still in Europe or something?"
James confessed he was in Mexico
stunt riding for movies NorteAmericanos will never see.
He realized I was shocked into silence by his revelation.
"Hey man, I'm getting paid good money to do what I love."
I pictured him in some seedy bar checking out the local talent,
a Hemmingway-like existence.
He added that he was getting lots of seat time,
training every day,
but admitted the hours were long on set,
the endless waiting
before pulling off sketchy shit the locals wouldn't dare.
To James, he was living the dream.
Making bank riding motorcycles.
While working deals for next season's ride.
Here is a fighter who will not quit,
who knows how it feels to show up to a race with a negative $1000 balance.

Racing has never been easy. If you've read our previous article on James, you know the struggles he's pushed through. [James Rispoli]
James was stoked to land the Latus Harley-Davidson ride for the 2020 season.
There silver lining to the black cloud that is COVID
was the team had plenty of time to train.
They'd turned over 500 laps before the first race.
James spoke of a win-win situation
having the Latus team's professionalism
plus the savvy of former champ Joe Kopp as team manager.

The Latus Harley-Davidson team is fielding one wicked fast 750 - James Rispoli's lap times typically would put him first among H-D riders in any class. [James Rispoli]
Motorcycle racing is a team sport:
great riding is not enough,
but a gifted rider like Rispoli puts wind in the team's sails.
At the Indy Mile, an issue in the Semi meant a 17th spot start for the Main.
James blitzed thru the pack to climb to 4th on the first lap
and brought her home in 2nd place.
The next night, he won the main.
He was 12.32 seconds ahead of the pack when the checkers flew.
Riding like that inspires everyone.
It warms my heart to watch this fighter see such glorious success

A man in the flow, and inches from a major title. [James Rispoli]
[Post-script: James Rispoli won his Championship in the Production Twins category on Oct 16 2020]

Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our 'Poet of Packed Earth', is the Flat Track Editor for TheVintagent.com, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman

The Dark Place

I was in a dark place.
Home alone yet on the run.
Nothing left and nowhere to go.

Windows open on a quiet night,
I could hear the sound of a muffled twin approaching.
The rider shut her off about a block away,
then the quiet ringing of chains on sprockets
coasting down the street,
into my drive.

Brakes hissing to a stop.

 

Boots knocked my wooden steps.
A brogue in my doorway announced
'God Bless all here.'

Is this how it ends?
The running was over,
so I handed him a cuppa.
He poured out an inch then added some of his own.
For the sake of the craic, I asked if the exhaust was stock.
He shook his head,
"They don't need to know if I coming or going laddie, that's my business.
You're a good man.
It's fine to take what you want, but there's a price."
He told me what was expected of me.
And not to worry,
I'd find myself on the road.
It was safest for me.
"Follow your voice, you know the one.
Do what's right versus what feels good.
They need your words boy.
Nothing's free - there's a price tag on everything.
Even your freedom."

I gave him my word.
We locked eyes and shook on it.
"Thanks for the cuppa...be free."
He coasted downhill, dropping the clutch in second gear.
Odd such a hard man rides a quiet machine.
And just like that, Death rolled back towards New York City.

(For the riders Jack & Duncan)

 

Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our 'Poet of Packed Earth', is the Flat Track Editor for TheVintagent.com, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman

Racing Towards The Dream

Cameron Smith is the only African American racer

in American Flat Track Racing.

But color doesn't matter in the rough and tumble of a dirt race.

Are you fast or not?

Cameron Smith in the zone with Dave Evans. [Jodi Johnson]

The Smith family calls Coatesville, Pennsylvania home,

where the several local tracks mean motorcycle racing is popular.

His mother and father started him on two wheels at age five.

Just like any other sport, or music - start 'em early.

Cameron competed against some of the same riders he's racing today.

His father is one of the nicest people you will meet at the track.

It would not be a race without the Smith family.

He was allowed to race all the way through high school

as long as he maintained his grades.

Racing has been a constant in his life thanks to his family.

Cameron is grateful for their love and support.

He feels the same sense of excitement while racing he did as a child.

Cameron Smith sliding his 2015 Honda racer to victory against the best in the sport. [Jodi Johnson]
Cam had his first big win in a professional race last year.

All the hard work, blood, sweat and tears paid off that day.

His family was over the moon when he pulled into the pits.

As he prepared to take his Victory Lap with the checkered flag,

he offered his mom a ride,

but she wanted her son to enjoy his moment in the spotlight.

Cam had even won the sprint before the main event, the "Dash for Cash".

That's a day to cherish the rest of his life.

Smith with Dave Evans and Olive, the author's daughter. [Michael Lawless]
It's a long road from that first motorcycle race at age five.

Race day can be hectic, exciting and dangerous.

But the everyday life of a racer requires discipline.

Racers are athletes in top physical condition.

Cam is on a strict diet, works out daily, has a personal trainer.

A monotonous travel schedule leaves little free time.

He is totally committed to the dream of being champion.

Cameron Smith out front in the Singles class. [Michael Lawless]
It's not all sunshine and victories though.

A racer can struggle with his/her machine,

pushing the bike to do what s/he wants, to be manageable at speed.

But flat track racing can be very unforgiving.

Things happen even with proper preparation and all the right moves.

Smith with his crew. [Jodi Johson]
Last April, Cameron looked forward to racing

in warm Georgia weather after the long winter.

The cold damp weather was a surprise after driving from Philly.

When the lights turned green, the pack charged into the first corner,

and one of the front runners spun out.

Cam was on him with nowhere to go and riders flanking either side.

Colliding with the downed machine,

he was thrown over the handlebars and slammed to the ground.

Cam was fortunate not to have broken any bones but the impact of

banging his head on the hard clay track

meant racing was over for that day.

Thank God for a good helmet.

Cameron Smith #44 with his Honda CRF450. [Jodi Johnson]
When a rider does not complete a race, there's no prize money.

Racing is a stretch for Cameron and his family.

It would be great to have two of the latest machines in his pits,

but Cameron does what he can with a 2015 Honda CRF450.

He never loses sight of that dream.

Cam hopes to ride the growing popularity of flat track

while finding new sponsors and keeping good people around him.

Back at ya Cameron! [Jodi Johnson]
We discuss creating an event in Philadelphiato promote the sport of flat track racing with locals,

the street kids and 12 O'Clock boys.

Get them off the street and into racing.

Some of those kids are remarkable riders.

Chasing the dream of becoming the National Champion. [Jodi Johnson]
Smith started 2020 off rightwith a win, beating champions Corey Texter and Dan Bromley.

You can help Cameron Smith in his National Championship bid

by watching him at American Flat Track or on NBCSN.

Follow him on Facebook and on Instagram.

 

Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our 'Poet of Packed Earth', is the Flat Track Editor for TheVintagent.com, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman

Flat Track Fite Klub

I've been trying to go straight my whole life.

- Chris Carr, seven-time Grand National Champ.

Show me the dirt! Bryan Smith (#4) running outside Jared Mees (#9) [Class of 79 / Charlie Roberts]
In flat track racing, in order to beat the other guy, you need to go straight longer and turn in quicker.
Carr has been teaching this for years in a curriculum he developed for the school "American Supercamp".
They focus on how to get a bike in, get it turned, and get it picked up on the fat of the tire.
To square the corner off and accelerate down the straightaway carrying as much speed as possible.
As Carr points out, 'they don't have finish lines in the middle of the corner.'
As a sportbike rider / sometimes road racer, I thought I knew a little about being quick.
But once I got around flat track racers, I realized I knew nothing.
Springer looks back...which is where he's used to seeing the competition. [Taylor Bellegue]
I crossed paths with Carr on the race track at 'American Supercamp'.
A mock race is staged for the students at the end of the day.
I was pushing hard, chasing a friend but couldn't find a way around him.
Suddenly, I was aware another rider was on me.
With zero room, Carr squirted past me on inside.
He squared off the next corner and rocketed by my buddy, taking us both in less than three corners.
We were blown away that someone on an identical bike could pass us so effortlessly.
He sure seemed a lot taller than 5'5" after that race.
The Bultaco Astro was the hottest 360cc class flat tracker in its day...which was 40+ years ago! [Taylor Bellegue]
I hit YouTube to find race action of Carr in his prime,
battling the greats like Scottie Parker and Jay Springsteen (AKA Springer).
I never though I'd get a chance to watch them race, but I did - thanks to 'Flattrack Fite Klub'.
The Fite Klub concept is to pit four legends against four current stars.
The race is pay per view (PPV), broadcast in 64 countries.
Jared Mees looking perfectly at home on the Astro...which is a replacement for the one he'd already broken! Flat out or why bother? [Taylor Bellegue]
To level the playing field, riders compete on vintage Bultaco Astros.
The Astros were build before today's flat track stars were even born,
but are one of the most iconic flat track racers of the last 50 years.
Their origin legend is racer Mike Kidd sent a Bultaco motor to Champion to build a frame.
Mike took it to the Houston Astrodome and won easily.
The bike was sent to the Bultaco factory in Spain, where it was copied down to its bent left footpeg.
The new model was called 'Astro' in honor of its maiden victory.
Back in 1974-1975 Springsteen and Parker raced them with success.
Jay Springsteen and Scotty Parker check out their machines.
Do they look ready to race? Were they ever not ready to race? [Taylor Bellegue]
Before you dismiss the Bultaco Astro as a relic and a sop for old racers,
keep in mind that at the Astro Invitational, racers like
Charlie Roberts and Jackie Mitchell ran within 0.4sec. of the current AFT Singles times at the Atlanta Half-Mile last year.
Very impressive considering the riders were vintage too.
Scottie Parker (#1) heads off Chris Carr (#4). [Class of 79 / Charlie Roberts]
For Fite Klub, the racers included four Grand National Champions:
 -Scott Parker: Nine Grand National Championships, with a record-setting 94 wins, regarded as the 'G.O.A.T.'
 -Chris Carr: Seven Grand National Championships, twice World Land Speed Record Holder
 -Jay Springsteen: Three Grand National Championships, with 43 wins
 -Joe Kopp: 2000 Grand National Champion & 2003 SuperMoto Champion.
Jared Mees and Ryan Sipes prep for practice. [Taylor Bellegue]
The future legends include:
 -Jared Mees: Three Grand National Championships and Two American Flat Track Championships. He sets the bar for professionalism and fitness.  Mees is the man to beat.
 -Bryan Smith: 2016 Grand National Champion. Hard-nosed and stolid, he is known as a master on 'the Mile'.
  (note: Smith has quite a sense of humor as well. I was walking along interviewing another racer once. It was early race day morning; they had just opened the gates to let the race haulers in. One of the haulers was driving slowly alongside us.  The hauler kept getting closer and closer to me until I walked into the racer I was trying to interview. I looked over to shoot the driver a dirty look and saw Bryan Smith behind the wheel of the hauler, laughing hysterically. The other racer laughed too, saying 'Smith does the same shit to me...but we're wheel to wheel at 140mph')
  -Sam Halbert: 2009 Overall Grand National Champion.  Don't let the fact that he looks like James Franco's young brother fool you.  This is one fierce competitor with the ability to reach in deep and make magic happen. With Halbert, all is fair in love and war.
  -Ryan Sipes:  2019 ISDE World Champion, First American to win the ISDE 6 Day in 2015, scored victories in Supercross, GNCC, AFT TT races. The very versatile racer from Kentucky showed up with a mason jar of his states finest... for training purposes only.
Bryan Smith and Jared Mees discuss the state of the track. [Taylor Bellegue]
a charity that supports injured flat track racers in their time of need.
The Rookie Class of 79 raises funds via events like this, and auctioning off unique racing memorabilia.
Often memorabilia is donated from and autographed by flat track champions and racers.
Supporting this noble charity is a great way to help injured racers while acquiring some very cool motorcycle art.
The charity was formed by racers for racers. Providing financial support as well as assisting badly injured  racers get home, and literally get them back on their feet.
Thumbs up for Bultaco! Scotty Parker gets the royal treatment. [Taylor Bellegue]
The race format was run tournament style, racers paired up in a series of heat races and elimination rounds.
Practice started as day transitioned to night.
You could feel the excitement as racers took to the track in pairs.
So many magic moments.
Mees was spectacular, immediately up to speed and burning with intensity.
Watching Parker & Springer going wheel to wheel was a pinch-me moment.
Being wowed by the effortless grace Springsteen possessed practicing holeshots.
Regarding Springsteen, one can only wonder 'what could have been' if Harley had a good road racer in the late seventies.
The Bultaco must have been an alien experience for the lanky Supercross winning Ryan Sipes, but he adapted quickly and put in a strong performance considering the Bultaco's shifter is on the right side.
When the racing started, we had a feeling there might be some fireworks between the Mees and Halbert pairing.
But with Jared being so fast in practice, I thought he could just clear off on Halbert too.
Sammy is always Sammy, he attacked Mees with everything he had,
showing Mees a wheel repeatedly and running Jared out to the rail, with Mees hanging on for the win.
There is more to victory than money when pride is on the line.
Equally impressive was the battle between Mees and Smith.
They crisscrossed each other repeatedly lap after lap.
It was harmony at speed.
You could sense the trust these two have, to race so hard while making such close passes.
The Parker Race turned into redemption for Halbert.
Mees had beat Halbert fair and square in their earlier pairing.
Halbert knew he had one last chance to reach for the checker.
A ferocious battle erupted between Mees, Smith, and Halbert.
At one point they were three-wide coming through turn four, all running different lines.
Flat track racing at its finest.
Halbert, ever the brawler, snatched the win.
It was good to see him smiling again.
Racing is everything: all else is waiting. Bryan Smith and Jared Mees. [Taylor Bellegue]
The final came down a series of three heat races between Mees & Carr.
Mees was fast all day, but every time Carr when out, more rust fell to the wayside, and the faster he went.
Some were wondering if a man of Carr's age and shape could keep Mees honest.
(Carr joked earlier in the day, that at his age he needs a viagra not to piss on his feet)
As the riders walked onto the track, their tuners pushing theirs bikes behind them,
Scottie Parker, Carr rival and teammate from back in day, came up to the fence to cheer Carr on.
The first race was shockingly close until Mees' bike broke, giving the win to Carr.
Mees hoped onto a different Bultaco for the next race.
Carr kept him honest but Mees took him in the next two races for the overall victory.
And a perfect day of racing came to halt.
I am looking forward to watching the race again on Pay-per-view.
Sam Halbert runs #69 in honor of his late brother Jethro, who died while racing. [Class of 79 / Charlie Roberts]

The Vintagent would like to Thank Charlie Roberts & Terry Rymer.


What's Mees Got?

Do I have the best job in the world?

I get to hang out with the baddest flat track racers on earth.

The conversations might surprise you.

Humorously, everything but racing.

From dating apps to getting sponsors - it's all marketing.

Jared Mees in a reflective moment before a race. [Jodi Johnson[
They know I'm a fly on the wall, floating from pit to pit.

More than once I've been asked: What's Mees got?

They're looking for a simple answer but it's more complicated than that.

There's no weak link in Jared's chain.

Everything is top notch: team, sponsors, and bikes.

It's not one thing.

Over time Mees built a total package.

His home life is serene,

Jared's wife Nichole is a retired racer who understands.

His has balanced his life for a minimum of drama.

Not playing Tarzan on Tinder or at the bars.

They're all just traps.

You can't take your eyes off the ball at this level.

Keeping the important stuff in perspective. [Jodi Johnson]
Did I mention he's a terrific racer?

Relentless training and a focused diet have sharpened him.

To some fans, he's an overdog.

Their voices dismissive

Yeah...Mees won again

But Jared shrugs it off.

Laughing "You're only as good as your last win."

He is staggeringly successful for his generation.

Six championships with 48 wins along the way.

Not to mention the Horizon Award and Rookie of the Year.

How did he get there?

Staying out in front, obviously. [Michael Lawless]
His dad started him racing at 5.

Racing was a byproduct of his parent's divorce,

It was father/son time.

Jared had to wash his bike and do his chores if he wanted track time.

It taught him the work ethic he would later be known for.

And he loved to win.

Racing was fun.

He caught the attention of Moroney's Harley Davidson.

They offered to pay his entry fees if he wore their sweatshirts.

It was a lightbulb moment - hey, this could save dad some dollars.

Success equals money.

Jared's life is proof of hard work, as a racer and businessman.

We can't squeeze his career into a magazine article.

That would need a book.

Jared Mees winning on the regular, with Nicole and their baby. [Michael Lawless]
The COVID downtime has given the Champ time to reflect.

What advice can I give the next generation?

Do the hard work.

Have a plan and stick to it.

He wishes he enjoyed those magic moments a little longer,

let them soak in a bit.

You think it will last forever but it doesn't.

He's seen a lot over the years, carrying a target on his back most of the way.

"Most people only see five feet in front of them and one foot back.

Racing is my life, my hobby, and my second love."

He is grateful for sponsors like Indian Motorcycles, and an army of supporters.

He respects the racers he battles and loves the fans for coming out...especially at Lima.

 "Life could be worse - I could be digging ditches for ten bucks an hour."

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off to work we go. "Beats digging ditches for ten bucks an hour." [Michael Lawless]
So, would I be right in guessing that The Springfield Mile, Day 2 was your best race of 2019?

You started on the penalty line, row four, battled through the pack to take the lead.

Fought it out with 8 or 9 riders to take an epic win.

"Yeah, it was a good one for sure. The last few laps were sketchy.

Lots of guys up front who weren't used to being there-just freakin' chaotic."

You came from a long way back brother.

"Ah thanks man, yeah, it was good.

If I had to pick one race though, I'd say Lima.

When you win Lima it's like you've conquered the world.

It's so physically demanding, wrestling that bike through that deep cushion.

Everyone wants to win there too.

I had a real duel with Carver, just slicing and dicing.

We make contact but I was able to get by on the outside for win.

It was super satisfying to win there, in front of all those fans.

I scored my first win there in 2005 on an XR750.

And now I'm the promoter for the event-crazy right?

Yeah, lots of friends and family there.

It was a helluva night."

Number 1 up front, but a target on his back. [AFTA]
Mees is a man of strong character

and carries himself like a champion.

Sometimes a simple sentence reveals the life inside.

Like 'flat track is my second love.'

No need to explain his number one.

Nicole is always by his side.

Start 'em early? [Mike Lawless]

 

 

Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our 'Poet of Packed Earth', is the Flat Track Editor for TheVintagent.com, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman