Flat track motorcycle

By Victor Wanchena

What a strange season this has been. In the last installment of my flat track adventure I had left the last event feeling very enthused about the rest of the season. I had spent a three-day weekend at the Cedar Lake Arena, one day of practice and two days racing. The track had been in great shape and thought I had both machines fairly dialed in (mechanical mishaps not withstanding). I left feeling pretty solid about my performance.

The new to me KX450F was the big shocker. I had been very nervous I would not be up to the challenge of riding such a powerful machine. The reality was it’s easier to handle than my vintage bike and arguably more fun. It is also the loudest motorcycle I have ever owned. That doesn’t say much more for me as I rarely run loud or open pipes. But even a fellow racer commented that it was hands down the loudest motorcycle he’d ever raced against. He described trying to pass me on the exhaust side and getting hit by the proverbial wall of sound. The open Jemco pipe is not for the faint of heart.

The TT500 ran okay, but a few tuning and other gremlins plagued me. At first, I realized I was running way too rich and needed to lean out the carb. After solving that, I lost a couple bolts, critical nuts (like the swingarm pivot nut!), and even my petcock was coming loose. I also had a persistent oil leak that I couldn’t seem to track down.

All the fixing, leaking, trailering, loading, unloading, carrying, and cursing had led me to a conclusion. I needed a better trailer. I had been using an ultra-cheap three rail trailer which I had for many years, and it really limited how prepared I could be. What I lacked in convenience I had to make up in efficient planning and execution. In other words, I fumbled to make it work and I always seemed to be missing something or damn near losing bikes off the trailer I swore I tied down. So, in my ever-deepening commitment to the motorcycle racing gods I purchased an enclosed trailer. What luxury! I felt like the guy that had just discovered a killer secret short cut. Easy bike loading, room for all the gear, a place to change, no sketchy tie down jobs, the list goes on. I was only a full decal wrap from pretending to be a real racer.

Looking very racy, I headed south to the Flying Dutchmen for their late spring race. I went down Friday evening to set up and prep. The evening was rainy, and the weather didn’t look terribly promising for the next day. Saturday came and so did more rain. We waited optimistically all day, but no luck. The track was far too wet to even consider racing. Retiring to the Dutchmen’s clubhouse, the few racers hanging around drank plenty of beer and watched videos of races from previous years. We solved many of the worlds problems and started a few new ones.

Flat track motorcycle in turn
Photo by Tim McBride

Sunday came, and things weren’t better. The rain had parked over the area and soaked the track. It was full rain out. I loaded up, which thanks to my racy new trailer meant I just pulled away from the parking area and headed for home. My new garage on wheels had already come in handy keeping the race bikes out of the elements all weekend.

Rain outs happen, and I took it in stride. In the meantime, I had a little time to tweak both bikes further before the next race, the Norsemen TT. I had found at the first race I couldn’t reach the rear brake pedal very well on the bike. At my height (6’7”) I am cramped on most machines, and these two were no exception. To help on the TT500 I actually raised the seat height about 1” and adjusted the brake pedal much lower. Tucked forward onto the tank I was able to reach the rear brake without moving my foot off the peg. The KX450 was easier in that the only option was to buy a peg mount that moved the right peg forward and down. This combined with a new custom brake pedal got everything much more comfortable.

About a week out from the Norsemen TT I got an ominous text from a fellow racer. “Race is off”. What??? A couple text messages later I learned that the Norsemen TT was cancelled. No weather issues this time. The promoter had decided to call it, but no reason was shared. Wow. What had started as a promising year was turning into the un-season.

I cheered up when alerted by another racer of a race being held July 1 in Northern Iowa. This could be interesting. The promoter had scheduled it during an ABATE rally and was going to use the stock car track at the local fairgrounds. Why not? It wouldn’t pay points in my district, but the track time would be fun.

I travelled south to the lovely town of Algona, IA figuring it would be an easy one-day event. I arrived early to find I was literally the first person to arrive. The track was in the county fairgrounds, but things weren’t looking good. Overnight rains had soaked the track and unlike other tracks this one was made of silty black dirt. Soil like that plus ample rain equals a muddy quagmire. It wasn’t just wet, it was take three steps and you have Elton John platform shoes kind of muddy.

We waited impatiently for the track to dry while the organizer worked to get setup. This was their first event which meant there was a big learning curve. All the little details most racers and spectators take for granted all need to be addressed. Sign up, change, scoring sheets, hay bales, the list goes on. Even as a rookie I was drafted into evaluating track prep and race sign up protocols.

The sun was out, but the track didn’t dry up until mid-afternoon. I signed up for Open A and the Vintage 600 Single races and waited for practice to begin. It was chaotic. The class structure wasn’t completely clear, and the track helpers weren’t ready for antsy racers. But eventually we all got a few laps in to figure out the track. It was roughly a 1/3 of a mile with mild banking. The black dirt had started to pack in okay, but the surface was choppy and rough. On top of that the TT500 was running odd. It was hard starting and seemed to miss when I’d roll on the throttle at low speed. At full throttle it would miss as it got above a certain RPM. Huh, I wonder what that is? I parked it next to the trailer hoping it would fix itself.

My Open A heat went okay. There were 6 of us and I got a great start leaping to 2nd for a brief moment, but my line choice into the corner was poor and I by the back straight I was in 5th. That’s where I stayed for the remainder of the race finishing a ¼ lap back of the main pack. These were some fast riders. In the pits I checked the tach on the KX and saw I was hitting my 12,500 rpm redline. My gearing was a little short. That was a bit of a quandary. I was riding it in 3rd, which pulled nice and seemed plenty fast for me, but it was obvious I needed to hit 4th and learn to carry more speed into the corners.

The Vintage heat didn’t go as well. The TT was still not running right and there was no obvious reason. I had an average start, but the bike never ran right the whole race. If I could keep the motor in the mid-range at medium throttle it was fine. Anything else caused it to spit and miss horribly. The harder I road the worse it ran. I finished 5th out of 5.

It was a quick turn around to the races. The track was also drying quickly, but in a rough way. The packed grove we were riding on was fairly solid, but it was getting dusty at the end of the straights. The fine silty dust was slick. Outside the groove it was rough and still wet in spots. Certainly, a challenge for me stay on the fast line and not wander out of the groove.  

The mains went off in roughly the same order as the heats, and the results were pretty much the same. The Open A race was competitive, and I stayed in the action for the first couple laps, but steadily lost ground on the fast boys. I finished 5th I think. I’m actually not sure as I never saw the final posting. The Vintage race was more of the same. The ill-tempered TT was running poorly and treated the spectators to a few big backfires on the front stretch. I finished the race in one piece and happy the engine hadn’t come apart.

As I packed up, I made the rounds to say goodbye to a few friends when I was informed the Vintage single class was actually a cash paying class. What? I walked over to the lady doling out awards figuring my weak finish would have qualified me for nothing more than warmest personal regards from the promoter. I was wrong. My ride had earned me 4th place and $50! What strange turn of events. The payout was hardly deserved, but appreciated and marked the first time I’d won anything other than bragging rights. What a long strange trip Algona turned out to be.

The unseason continued for me with the mid-season single day race getting moved to a different weekend that I was going to be out of town for. Crap. Oh well, I was looking forward to the second flat track race of the year at the Flying Dutchmen and there were rumors of the Cambridge TT being rescheduled.

We’ll pick up the season again in the next installment, which you will find on the MMM website mnmotorcycle.com.

MMM

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