Top 10 Terrific Tales From the Del Mar Flat Track

John Burns
by John Burns

Where Crashing Waves Meet Dashing Knaves

It seems like motorcycle events do best when they climb onto the back of equestrian ones. The horsey set has a lot of nice facilities that don’t require you to drive beyond the Pyramids. Bing Crosby and his buddies started racing ponies at Del Mar, California, in 1937, when Pasadena and Santa Anita grew too hot for their liking. Twenty miles north of San Diego, Del Mar was where the surf really did meet the turf.

Today the state of California owns the sprawling beachfront facility and leases it to the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, and it’s also hosted motorcycle races and shows off and on for quite a few years. Last weekend, the good people at IV League Flat Track put on an ⅛-mile event in the Del Mar Arena, right next to the big mile track. Quite a bit more casual than the last flat track event I attended, the Pomona Half-Mile, the Del Mar deal definitely had its own attractions. Shall we scratch the surface…

10. Briggs & Stratton class

I didn’t even know any of these things were still around. Can you still get plans to build your own in the back of Boys Life magazine? Guess which one is famed dirt-track builder Ron Wood’s son? (Hint in next photo)

Rob Morrison won the Ascot Championship in 1974. Actually Ron had two sons out there. Gar Wood won, Ron Jr. got third.

9. Various Other Things that are Still Running…

Old Japanese motorcycles never die (until you really need them to run, anyway), they just get turned into flat-trackers. The plethora of old-two strokes and Yamaha SR500s and Honda XRs running around under everybody from rotund old guys to little girls was time-warp amazing. Did you put gas in?

The Hurst four-speed shifter ball catches my eye every time. Nick from Oceanside says he rides his ’54 H-D 40 or 50 miles a day every day, it’s his only transportation.
Lining up for the Low-Class No-Chance Qualifier…

8. Roland Sands Design Star Bolt

This one just got back from the European show circuit. According to RSD Project Manager (and flat-track racer) Cameron Brewer, the Bolt is a pretty hot item. RSD modified a bunch of its H-D parts to fit and run up the proverbial flagpole. It uses the stock Bolt gas tank, but with RSD’s Cafe Sportster tailsection, custom sidepanels, RSD Nostalgia bar risers and handlebars and other bits. Fast guy Aaron Colton rode it to third place on Sunday in Run What Ya Brung, but Roland himself won the race on an RSD custom Sportster. In fact, RS won two races that day. Not bad for a mogul.

7. Classic bikes and classic people

The 1937 “Yellow Tearer” Big-Base Scout factory racer has won races every year since it was built, under more than 25 national-caliber riders. Its current owner is 1930s speedway rider Bob Nichols. Smokey from Smokey’s Classic Cycles in Long Beach, keeps it running.

Somebody’s baby BSA Scrambler.

6. This guy

I never did manage to track him down in the crowded pits, and in the results he’s ironically referred to only as “Sissy Bar” – the man without a number. But he should be the star of many beer commercials whoever he is. If anybody told him a Yamaha XS Twin-powered chopper has no business being on a dirt oval, he didn’t listen. And he lived through a few hairball moments to tell the tale. To somebody.

Keep the gas on, you’ll be fine.
Not to mention the guy on the V-Max.

5. What Teddy Said

“It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly … who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at best, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

– Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

“… and who sit in the stands with beer and a camera,” he could’ve added. We toyed with the idea of grooving the Super Duke’s tires for me to ride and really test the traction control, but cooler heads prevailed. Probably just as well. Then again, I didn’t see that many crashes, and nobody got hurt on the ⅛-mile oval. See Troy Siahaan’s electrifying story from the event.

4. Richard Pollock

Our friend Mule walks the walk as well as he builds fine custom street-trackers and things. Somebody told me he took all the gears out of his CRF450R except second, which sounds just like something he would do. It worked: He won the 50+ and 60+ Mains Saturday night, and gave lots of kids fits in his practice heats.

Didn’t get a chance to ask Mule what’s up with Harley-based Single project. Still in the works I imagine. Mad scientist of flat track.

3. The Actual Preston Petty

Say, who’s the other guy racing a Zero besides Troy Siahaan, and where’d he get the swell coveralls? The Preston Petty?! I know that name from the plastic fender he invented back in the ’60s that pretty much defined what a dirt bike looks like, but I didn’t know there’s a lot more to the man than that, much less that he’s still racing motorcycles at 74.

PP says he raced a lot of flat track at Ascot from 1959-61, but then focussed more on motocross. “Then a few years ago I was helping a friend who has an electric automation company. He asked if i thought an electric motorcycle would be competitive? I said it might work for short tracks like Perris if we set it up right. He bought it, I set it up, he got some other guys to ride it, without much success … Well, maybe since I set it up, I could do better riding it in the old man class. It goes pretty good.”

Me: Is it easy to ride?

Not really. It has quite a bit of torque right off the bottom … it’ll start spinning instantly if it loses traction, you’ve got to not give it too much throttle – gas bikes take a second or two to spin up.

Is TC legal in dirt track?

I don’t know, but that’s what we need. In AMA Class C, it’s not legal. But out here, that’s what I’d like to do. Electronics could do it a lot faster than us humans.

Will it go all night on a charge?

Usually it will, on one battery. It comes with two, but each one weighs 45 pounds. So I take out the front one that sits up high, it steers better.

Are electric bikes going to make it?

It’s nice to hear the announcer during the race. It’s science fiction now, but once they come up with the atomic battery, the size of of a pack of cigarettes that’ll run your house or bike all year … we just need to harness the power of each atom. Electricity will prevail everywhere.

How far off is that?

I wish I knew more about dissecting atoms, I could tell you. With the way electronics is advancing lately, it could be sometime tomorrow. You don’t want to fall asleep, you’ll get behind.

Did you ever have to work again after you invented the plastic front fender?

We did a lot of other stuff besides the fender: rear fender with taillight, number plates, skid plates. I sold the business in 1980 and got into computers, did that for a little over 20 years. Now that I’m near retirement age, I’m back to my hobby … it’s fun to try different things.

The 60+ class is a tough crowd indeed, but PP did bring the Zero home fourth in Run What Ya Brung Saturday night.

Preston Petty (top) asks, which of you sorry sisters is gonna finish second?

2. Deep End of the Talent Pool

Like so many things, the people who are good at it make flat track look easy and graceful. #87 Jeff Johnson knows exactly what he’s doing on the old SR500 but still got beat by 13 punks in the Open Pro Main. Fierce competition doesn’t begin to describe it.

There are a lot of fast ladies out there. Kenzie Rae Fales won the Beginner Main while managing to not look much like a Beginner. Or a lady. (Photo by Judd Neves)
This is not Mikey Rush’s first rodeo. The kid from Gilroy won the Open Pro Main Saturday night. (Photo by Judd Neves)
Travis Horn, ladies and gentlemen, winner Youth 50. Almost makes you want to breed again, doesn’t it? (Photo Judd Neves)
Oh noooo, not another Cernicky! Twenty-year old Nathan dusted off Uncle Mark’s #50 Cycle World project CRF to win Open Knob on his first flat-track attempt.

1. Four-Time AMA Superbike Champ Josh Hayes

I wouldn’t have known #41 was the Champ at all if I hadn’t bumped into him in the pits. I know Josh Hayes is a good MXer, but I don’t know how much flat-track he’s done. Not enough, apparently, as a bobble on the last lap shuffled him to the back of this ferocious dogpack – another good indicator of the level of competition and lack of respect out there. Luckily, his lovely wife Melissa Paris carded a 6th and an 8th place on her YZ250F to bolster the family pride and give them something to talk about on the ride home. Flat track is too fun. I may have found a purpose for my moldering XR400 at last.

John Burns
John Burns

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  • Old MOron Old MOron on Jan 28, 2015

    Oh man, this looks like fun! I think they're going to do a few races at the Ventura County Fairgrounds this year. I need a bike.

  • MSCUDDY MSCUDDY on Feb 07, 2015

    Something alluring to me about a cute woman in racing gear, once I saw Sue Fish's eyes through one of the 1st Bell Star helmets (tiny eye port) and saw two beautiful blue eyes with long lashes, I was immediately smitten. For good.