Dirt-Track Racing In Oklahoma

Joe Gresh
by Joe Gresh

Road Trip: Get Your Drifts on Route 66

Route 66 parallels Interstate 40 for miles and miles when heading east out of McLean, Texas (where the photo below was shot). The old 66 arches and sways with grades that follow the land’s natural contours, sometimes only feet away from the new highway. Asphalt replacement sections fill in the gaps, like the reconstructed vertebra of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. Yeah, man, I’m riding a weather-beaten natural history museum all the way to Oklahoma.

The bippity-bap two-lane concrete road is blessed relief after droning along I-40 on a ridiculous motorcycle designed for parking-lot theatrics: a Husqvarna SMR510. If I had a more suitable motorcycle for the job, I’d ride it, but I don’t. They’re flat-track racing, see? I’ve got to get to Oklahoma City.

The Mother Road: overgrown, littered, broken, but this slab of dreams still exerts a strong psychic pull.

Route 66 becomes entangled with overgrowth. The road that conveyed thousands of westward dreamers slumbers, edges cracked, surface covered with leaves, dead branches and plastic bottles. There’s something here, something poignant and meaningful that needs my attention, but there’s no time for introspection.

AMA Flat Track in OKC faded away in 1999 followed by a 16-year hiatus where the entire sport seemed to run out of steam. Those days are behind us now as Indian, Harley, Kawasaki and Yamaha have fresh new engine designs and fresh new riders filling the Main Event grids. AMA Flat Track is back, and as proof, dirt oval racing has returned to Oklahoma City. The old half-mile fairgrounds are history, replaced by the Remington Park horse track for the first time in 2016.

Nubbins are cool.

Remington Park is situated a fistful of miles south of Route 66 in Oklahoma City. Bounded on two sides by Interstates 35 and 44, the track is easy to get to and has acres of parking. Turning into the facility I see a sleek, modern horse-wagering edifice rising from a slight depression in the surrounding landscape. At the bottom of the depression lies the one mile, loose dirt oval where the ninth race of this year’s 20-event season will be held.

A mile doesn’t seem like much until you see one laid out in front of you. It’s a long way around, and the motorcycles really haul the freight. The corners are wide and nearly as long as the straight sections. Mile tracks reward horsepower and, if you find one firmer than Remington Park, drafting.

Harley’s XG750R is a looker but as yet not so much a go-er. I’m betting H-D gets this thing moving before the season is over.

At 4:30 the pits open up, allowing fans to wander around and check out the bikes. Some of the racers (you know who you are) have posters to give to fans; they’ll even sign them with a Sharpie if you’d like or you can write your own name on the poster. Flat track is a very open, family event. In exchange for such intimate access, fans are expected to act right and, for the most part, they do.

I stop by the Indian team’s tent to see if they are giving away food or cold drinks. I’ve heard that sometimes big race teams will do that to build a relationship with fans. A mechanic is wrapping the gas tank of an FTR750 in clear plastic tape to prevent paint chips. I wonder, “Why bother? The thing will either be in the lead or, at worst third place.” I see a guy I know, TJ, and ask him for a burger, cold drink or, failing that, an Indian Wrecking Crew T-shirt. He’s going to get back to me on that.

The new Indian racers are killing everyone in their first season. Look for rule changes if the rest of the field can’t get up to speed.

The General Admission stands are filling up. I’m hungry, man. I should have brought a snack. A bearded guy wearing a bright fluorescent shirt walks by the stands, “Free coozies with every beer!” Damn, that’s a deal. Six dollars later the free coozie is mine.

It’s still like 100 degrees; the races start at 7:30. Indian’s race-only FTR750s win all the Twin-class heats. Sammy Halbert, on a DT07 that uses a modified Yamaha FZ-07 streetbike engine is the only guy able to come close to the Indian Wrecking Crew. The new Harley commuter-bike-based XG750R is still down on power, although they’ve improved since I saw them at Daytona’s point-and-shoot barrel races. I could really use another free coozie. I hail the beer guy, and after a quick exchange of money I’m a two-coozie guy.

Halbert’s #69 Yamaha. Sealed for your protection, do not pass Indians if seal is broken.

Since Indian’s takeover of the Twins, the AFT Singles class is where the hottest action is found. Unlike the Twins class, Singles use modified 450cc motocross bikes that are so similar you can’t tell a Yamaha from a KTM from a Honda. It’s a one-design class in reality if not brand name. Crowd favorite Shayna Texter is running well tonight. Except for poor starts she mows down all comers and has lane choice in the main.

I better get some food; the high temperatures and beers are making me woozy. I get in line for an eight-dollar trailer-burger. Man, I’m feeling weak. Next time I’ll bring a candy bar or something. I get closer to the order window. Waiting… waiting … the line inches forward. Now the hamburger guy reaches out of the pickup window, flips a latch on the trailer’s awning and says, “We’re out of meat. Come back later.” The awning slams down leaving a bewildered, hot, hungry line of Oklahomans eyeing each other. Moist tongues slide over dry lips, and the “Who gets eaten first?” vibe is palpable.

Nearly 60 years on, Harley’s XR750 finally gives way to the new guys.

Texter wins the Singles main after working her way from mid-pack. When she passes #99 Kevin Stollings for the lead the crowd goes wild. Why isn’t this chick on cereal boxes? Why aren’t late-night TV shows booking her as a guest? She’s beating the guys in one of the most aggressive classes of racing there is. Go-Daddy should be breaking her door down to throw money at her.

I stumble over to the corndog/pretzel and lemonade trailer, dragging a right leg in my best Quasimodo impression. The food here is pretty bad, but at least the lines are long. At the sun-baked, gooey order window I ask for a corn dog, “It’ll be a few minutes, we’re out of corndogs.” I hand over six dollars and resign myself to waiting.

The big screen both blocks your view and reveals Turn 3 antics that would be impossible to see otherwise.

The Twins Main starts, my stomach grinds and lurches, trying its best to accommodate the corndog-thing I’ve added to the sloshing beers. The three Indians are leading after the first lap and spend the rest of the race putting distance between themselves and the Not Wrecking Crew riders. One thing I’ll credit Indian for: there are no team orders. Mees nips Baker at the end, with Smith completing the one-two-three sweep. Again.

The ride home is overcast, keeping the prairie cooler. I’m daydreaming about the radical changes flat-track racing is experiencing this year. All these new motorcycles, how fast the sure-fire, winning XR750 setup has disappeared. I catch sight of old Route 66, expansion joints green and fertile. That was the way we came when The West was young, but me, I’m burning down Interstate 40 because the old ways are not fast enough anymore.

All race bikes should be painted like this.
Joe Gresh
Joe Gresh

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