A bunch of my vintage motorcycle friends race vintage Flat Track in the AMA circuit, and I’ve wanted to try it for years. They’re a great group of guys, and every time I asked about how a beginner might get into it, the answer was always the same, ‘just get in the van.”
This answer was always genuine and heartfelt, and I love all the guys and the sport in general for the inclusive, supportive vibe, but…as a girl it just wasn’t that easy. I don’t wear a size 11 boot or big boy leathers. I didn’t have a bike to race and I was too nervous to borrow one of the beautiful vintage bikes that the fellas race because if I broke it, I’d have felt awful…and they’d be out a race bike.
Miss-Fires me (left), Erika (top) & Valerie (bottom center) and friends Beth & Renee
Racing can be expensive if you have to buy a pair of boots, a steel shoe, leathers and get your hands on a bike…all before you know whether you are even going to like it or not, so when I heard about American Supercamp two years ago, I signed up, got in the van and headed to Delaware.
Danny Walker, the man behind Supercamp provided us with full gear, a fleet of bikes that they dared us to break and best of all, hands on instruction by race legends Chris Carr, E. Bostrom, Edwards, and more. The weekend was a blast and I knew I was hooked, but it wasn’t until I met my now friend and fellow Miss-Fires member Kara, who races AMA Vintage in the Brakeless 250 class. that it started to become a real possibility.
Miss-Fires member Kara, of Five & Dime Racing (now on MotoLady.com)
Kara and I wear the same size leathers and the same size shoe so when she told me about the first races of the season down south earlier this month, and said the same old line to me of ‘just get in the van” I think i literally jumped for joy.
With full gear sorted, the last piece was what bike I would ride. The deal was sealed when I met her team mechanic, and fearless leader Jeff Davis. in trade for a custom seat (which i make for a living as Via Meccanica) for the team’s 1965 BSA 250 brakeless bike, Jeff set me up with a Honda 175, lovingly referred to as The Dung Beetle.
So, after 4 years, I was finally off to the races. We got in the van and drove 3 people, 3 bikes and a ton of gear down to Neeces, South Carolina. There, at the Mid Carolina Speedway, we were able to do practice laps all day on a 1/4 mile track. This was my first time ever on a track, and Kara led me around, showing me ‘the line’. I was slow and stiff but with each lap I got better, faster and more confident. I got the feel for sliding into the turns (where that size 8 steel shoe comes in handy) and started rolling on the throttle more and more. I didn’t touch the brakes once and though i’m sure my laps were slow as molasses to watch, I felt like Speed Racer.
Next stop was Savannah, Georgia for the AMA Nationals, where Kara was scheduled to race the 250 BSA in Brakeless and I would race my first race in the 250 Hot Shoe class.
Due to heavy rain, the races the night before were cancelled and the pits were packed with 70 classes of racers all scheduled to race in one day (about twice as many as generally scheduled). At the racers meeting, they explained that because of this, practice laps, heats and races would be shorter and that things would be rushing along all day to fit everyone in. Just my luck right? But, instead of it being chaotic and stressful, the day was simply filled with the same overwhelming camaraderie that I have always found in the Vintage motorcycle scene. I ran into long time friends from Sixth Street Racing, and made a whole batch of new friends. They were nothing but supportive not just of me, but of each other. parts were loaned, bikes were fixed, and ribbing jokes kept us all in good spirits even when ambulances had to take riders off the track throughout the day.
Too quick to rethink this whole brilliant idea of flat track, my class was called and Kara and Jeff scurried me off to the starting line. They explained the rules, flag signals (none of which i think i heard from inside my helmet) and with big grins and a pat on the shoulder, i was off! My first real practice race…and I was SLOOOOWWW. I got lapped by everyone but didn’t care. I was confident on this much bigger 1/2 mile track and kept my line that Kara and Jeff had taught me at Mid Carolina. When I hit my last lap and slowed down to exit the track, i was greeted with nothing but cheers and hugs. no one cared i was slow, or stiff, or maybe in the way of the seasoned riders. They’d all bee there.
In between my practice laps, heat and race, i got to hang out and watch Kara and the other ‘big kids’ do their thing. It is absolutely amazing to watch racers who know what the hell they’re doing slide around those corners at top speed.
It was also great to see so many women race. Mostly teenagers, and all racing modern bikes. They were every level of experienced and I was excited to meet one at registration who was also about to do her first race that day. For the first time, there was even a ‘Women’s Class”. These girls rode hard with the fellas all day long and held their own to say the least, but watching all of them together on the track was definitely inspiring. In that race there was a very bad crash, and one of the girls was taken away on a stretcher (sadly we found later that she passed away). The race was paused for a few minutes while they cleared the track, and all I could think of was what must have been going through the head of the first time racer who had to go back out again after that just minutes later. But she did, and she didn’t give it any less than she had before. As Hugh Mackie of Sixth Street Racing said to me at the time, ‘its part of it. it happens to all of us sooner or later”. Its true and it’s serious but so is the feeling you get when you follow through with something you set your heart and mind to do. I may have been slow, but i did it. I pushed myself and got better each time I ran the track. I didn’t puss out and stay home. I got in the van and i loved every minute of it.
Kara went on to take 2nd place in her class that night (and then first several days later in Florida). Exhausted and Ecstatic, we climbed into the bleachers and drank beer in the freezing cold to watch the pros race late into the night. Chris Carr who was one of my instructors at American Supercamp was in those races, and watching him race, I realized how much had just come full circle for me on this trip. I am forever thankful for all of the people over the years who encouraged me to, and finally made me get in the van. Biggest thanks of all, of course to the amazing Speed Racer and my dear friend and fellow Miss-Fire, Kara.
1971 Yamaha At1 125, 1968 BSA Lightning 650, 1962 Ford Ranchero