by bj max
I had never been to a flat track race before and my desire to view this spectacle dated back to the sixties. So when I saw an ad for an upcoming Grand National event at the Paul Battle arena in Tunica, Mississippi, I immediately began making plans for a group ride.
The only motorcycle race I ever attended, till Tunica that is, was a hare and hound. I didn’t like it. The bikes were too ringie-ding-ding for my taste. Flat track racing is really the only kind of motorcycle racing that gets my blood to pumping. I’ve seen the big Springfield show on TV and it’s really exciting. Reminds me a little of how NASCAR racing used to be. The last lap pass and all that. But I’ve noticed that for some odd reason flat track racing is rarely televised. Considering its popularity I find this lack of coverage peculiar. You can tune in almost anytime and catch a motorcross or GP event and that’s fine but hey Mr. Speed Channel Program Director, how ’bout lining up a few more Grand National events in the future? Especially the one-mile stuff like Springfield.
Our group ride would kick off in the red neck gambling mecca of Tunica, Mississippi. Actually the casinos and hotels are really in Robbinsville, ten miles north of Tunica but the first casino, which is long gone now, was built in Tunica and the name stuck. Funny thing about Mississippi’s gambling laws. The casinos have to be located on water. It’s hard to believe that all those high rise hotel/casinos are floating, but they are. You have to look close to find the H2O, but it’s there.
The Happy Bottom Riding, Yachting and Snipe Hunting Club began our evening at the Horseshoe casino for dinner and a bit of light gambling. I like the penny slots myself. One of our Yankee members, hit man Dan out of the Chicago area used some of his shady connections to finagle us a private dining room and we proceeded to stuff ourselves on the all you can eat buffet. Are you surprised that we allow folks like Dan in our club? Well don’t be. We welcome all kinds of ignorant people. Yankees, Red Necks, Dixie Chicks, you name it. Mind you, they can’t hold office or anything important like that, but we do encourage them to ride with us, make donations and snag private dining rooms. We’re very tolerant and broad-minded about such things and quite proud of our revolutionary attitude.
The Paul Battle Arena in Tunica is a brand new facility and very nice. This is the second year that round two of the AMA’s flat track season has been held here and the house was full. Just inside the door was a tee-shirt vendor and I made a beeline to his booth. I can’t resist Tee-shirts. I’ll bet I’ve got fifty or sixty with various symbols and stupid commentary emblazoned on them. But tonight I was interested in a long sleeve to wear under my new Joe Rocket Phoenix jacket. But the vendor was asking twenty-five bucks. “For a stupid tee-shirt. You’re nuts!” I exclaimed and walked away. My wife suggested that I go ahead and buy the thing now because, according to her, I would just come back later. “Exactly”, I said and then I revealed to her the plan up my sleeve. “Those Tee-shirts have Tunica, 2003 written on them” I explained “and tomorrow they won’t be worth the cloth they’re printed on. After the race that red neck’ll be giving ’em away”. …Heh heh heh!
We had ordered our tickets in advance from the Illinois Motorcycle Dealership Association and they sold us some good ones. Right down front in turn three. The competitors, all decked out in their psychedelic protective gear, were inspecting the track when we took our seats. Their leathers were so heavily armored that their normal gait was stiff and awkward and they waddled around like astronauts with do do in their space suits. They kicked at certain areas of the track and commented to each other about the condition of the dirt. I thought dirt was dirt but not to a flat tracker. To them dirt is a complicated science and they are forever trying to figure it out. One rider even went so far as to stoop down and pick up a handful. He rubbed it between his fingers thoughtfully, then looked at his buddy and commented that it was too dry and tossed it away in disgust. Before the night was over I would understand his frustration because I ate several ounces of it myself and he was right. It was too dry. A liter of Perrier would have made it a more palatable aperitif.
After several heat races we got down to the feature, a thirty lap sprint made up of the top performers of the evening. Some of the more notable figures present were Chris Carr, 2002 Grand National Champion, Jay Springstine and Bryan Bigelow. Carr aboard his Harley-Davidson backed VOR was on the pole and jumped out in front when the green flag dropped and quickly built up a comfortable lead. At one point he was so far ahead that it looked for all the world like a blow out. But, just when we thought the race was all but over, a couple bikes tangled (literally) in turn two and the accident eventually led to a red flag. None of the riders were seriously hurt but it took a while to get the two bikes untangled so that they could be rolled off the track and out of the way.
The race was restarted with nine laps to go and once again Chris Carr, who had so far led every lap, got a great start and began pulling away. (Yawn) Then, just like NASCAR racing of old with only four laps to go Carr took a nap, bobbled and all of a sudden, like chickens on a June bug, five howling motorcycles were all over him and the brawl was on. I counted four lead changes among five bikes in that last three laps. But it was a rookie, Garth Bastian of New York on a Wood-Rotax, out front when it counted winning his first Grand National event…Wow! What a show. They don’t call it handlebar to handlebar racing for nothing.
As the crowd headed for the door we stood and stretched and brushed the dust and dirt from our cloths. A very enjoyable evening all agreed. We rode the last three laps and mentally dissected them several times on the way to the exit. Nobody was in a hurry to leave. Considering the location, the post race excitement and the lively discussions that developed, I’m betting that I wasn’t the only first timer present.
I suddenly remembered the Tee-shirt Vendor, excused myself and made my way towards his booth. As I walked casually by, I nodded and smiled. Then, as if it were an after thought, I stopped and turned to him and asked, “Hey. You got any of those long sleeve tee shirts left?” He said he had a few. “Are you giving any discounts?” I continued. He studied me a minute then exclaimed “What the hell, gimmie’ twenty bucks.” With a smirk I reached in my wallet retrieved a twenty and pointed it at him. The vendor took the cash, folded me a shirt, stuffed it in a plastic bag and growled an artificial thank you. “Your welcome” I replied and strutted away.
I returned to my wife and friends wearing a smug little smile, told them of my purchase and bragged about how all good things come to those who are patient… Later at home as I rattled on to my wife about my prowess as a trader I pulled the tee shirt from the plastic bag, unfolded it, held it across my chest and faced the mirror to see how good I looked. My wife busted out laughing. “What’s so funny?” I asked. “Your tee-shirt.” She replied. “Well, what’s the matter with it?” “It’s a short sleeve” she whooped and laughed even harder as she pointed out that I could have bought short sleeve tees all night long for fourteen dollars…Well I’ll be hornswaggled. That dirty low down egg sucking hound. Call the police. I been robbed. You caint’ trust anybody these days. Especially a two-bit red neck tee shirt vendor.
Happy Motoring, Good People