GO FAST, TURN LEFT!!

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WTF is Flat track motorcycle racing, and Why the F do i do it??

Flat track racing is about 100 years old. It started with motorcycles pulling bicycles (fixed gear, of course) onto an oval wooden track for velodrome races. When the bicycles were up to speed, the motorcycle would pull off, and the race would begin. That evolved into the team’s motorcycles racing around the track, also called board tracking. As the motorcycles got larger, heavier, and faster they moved onto the dirt oval. Thus, flat tracking was born. Bicyclist Following Motorcyclist    1910  

 Photo credit: Overwood and Overwood       Courtesy The Selvedge Yard boardtrack Date Unknown

Motorcycle Board tracking 4f83c508a9b9b9dc7ee2b71a31d9d4ff 1950’s  

Early dirt track racing. Notice the steel shoe so one doesn’t rip ones leg off. CS5008 1970’s  Crazy nuts on motorcycles

In the 1960’s, they (the race oraganizers) decided to require a rear brake on the new motorcycles. Again, the product of the bikes getting bigger and faster. By the 70’s, bikes were reaching speeds well over 100 mphs on the one-mile tracks.

Now that you know what flat track is. Im going to try and break down my story and why I do this insane sport.

To make a long story short, i met this guy, Jeff Davis, while working as a bicycle messenger in Boston in 1996. He was selling bicycles for extra cash while working as a surveyor. He was a crazy nutball with crazy ideas. I needed a wheel. He had a wheel. We became good buddies. I retired from the bike gig. He retired forever to western, MA. But we still made an effort to hang out, kick around in his barn, and throw back a few beers once in a while.

One day, about 9 years ago he called and said, “Hey, do you want to go for a road trip down South and see some vintage flat track races? I bought this skeleton bare Volvo station wagon. Just have to fix the brakes, but I’m sure we’ll get there.” I probably had about 50 illegal miles under my belt on a borrowed motorcycle, but i was into this motorcycle thing, so why not? Going South in late February? Yes!

After a day or so of driving, and a dangerous brake situation in Connecticut, we finally got to a track in some po-dunk town in E.B.F. cow country. It sounds so trite, but i was immediately enthralled with. IT. ALL. The sound, the speed, the leather suits, the dirt (i’m a gardener. i love dirt), being in the middle of nowhere, the people, the stories, and…the crashes. Spectacular, all of it.

About a year later Jeff calls me up and says he bought some flat track bikes, a couple racing leathers, a couple steel shoes, and that we should have at it. Well Hell’s Yes!! Going from bike messengering to gardening and farming was missing that Do or Die element, know what i mean?

We practiced about 3-5 times a year, for about 3 years, with a couple of races thrown in here and there. Our home track was mainly a small, 1/5 track in Winchendon, Mass. At this point i was racing what we dubbed the Dung Beetle. A 1980 Honda 175. Let me tell you, at first it was a bit of an ego-bruiser to be racing in the 175cc class against 10 and 12 year old kids, but i soon realized that kids were fierce competition! No fear! They pushed me to do better, because, duh, who wants to lose to a 12 year old kid?!  I just accepted that this was the way it was going to be for a while and just went with the flow. I started high-fiving and knuckle bumping the kids before the races. We’d talk smack to each other. I’d say hello to the parents. It was all great fun. Which is what the goal still is today. 1798871_10152059927659608_484285421_n   The Dung Beetle

I got my first taste of real racing at an indoor track in Windsor, Conn. I still sucked, but figured i had to break my cherry racing with the “big boys” at some point. I signed up for the Open Vintage class. I didn’t know what i was in for! I lined up at staging with everything from 350 Hondas to 750 Triumphs. Shaking and clueless even to the fact of what flag meant what, I rolled to the start. Well, after 3 re-starts because of crashes (scary as hell track…now closed) I was out there going left. I saw a blue flag go up. What? Keep going. Huge motorcycles whizzing past me a foot or two away. More blue flag. Huh? Then a black flag. Finally I looked at the flag guy and he was waving me off the track. Now I know the blue flag means ” You are a moving hazard. Get off the track immediately”. And the black flag means “Disqualified”. O.K. That sucked. Live and learn??

Two years later I moved to NYC. Jeff and I had met a guy at a race in upstate NY who lived in NYC. Mr. Van Asher. He gave me a card and said that when I moved, to give the guy on the card a call. Well, it was the # for Sixth Street Racing. Hugh Mackie’s name on it. I went down there within the month of moving here. I walked in, introduced myself, told him what my story was. By the end of that afternoon he told me that I could park my bike there for free. But I had better make good on my promise to go flat tracking on the weekends, and not be full of hot air like a lot of the other fellas. Nice guy, huh?! From there, I met my first NYC family. They watched, gave me tips, supported me, and otherwise generally became my closest friends. Three years ago, Jeff and I decided to race the AMA Vintage Dirt Track Grand National Championship circuit. It’s a points race, with 13-15 rounds of racing at different tracks. _20150226_005432Hugh, me, Jeff, Dennis, Carol, Alan, Brian and Fumi Astor, Florida

Fast forward to present day. I have the #1 plate in the 250 brakeless class. IMG_20150226_145217Did I mention i have the #1 plate?!

Through racing the circuit, I have amassed the most kind, interesting, supportive amazing flat track extended family. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to meet and race against the old pros. OH, that’s DAVE ALDANA pitted across from us!! oh HI MERT LAWWILL! And I can’t forget George Wills! I get to travel and race halfway across America from Indiana to Florida. I have my own leather suit! I see hundreds of amazing vintage motorcycles. A lot of them immaculately restored. I have fans! So many of the wives of the racers and spectators make a point to come over and say how well i did and that they were cheering me on, how much they appreciate seeing a woman out there, and that i am an inspiration to them and their daughters. My heart breaks a little every time this happens. And most importantly, i still get to have some serious hang time with Jeff.

By now you’d think I’d be cool as a cucumber as i slide my ass onto the seat. Nope. And as i get ready for my race, my hands start shaking as i put on my gloves. On the track I beg my brain not to listen to itself when i’m screaming into a corner with no brakes. Because honestly, you’re doing something that defies human logic and natural reaction. Push the bike towards the ground? What??!

I do this sport because i am in love with it. It never gets old. It puts the pep back in my step.  It feels empowering. Gives me butterflies in my stomach. Brings me sleepless nights. It creates this energy within me that is at once draining and renewing. It challenges me. NO GUTS NO GLORY! Sometimes Im totally blissful. Then pissed as hell, and full circle to bliss again.  I’m going to come right out and say that it’s an addiction. A big money sucking, crazy, hell of a ride that i can’t seem to get off of.

I leave for the first 3 rounds of the circuit in 5 days. Wish me luck, ladies. This season I have some tough competition. But, until the season is over…….I still have the #1 plate!! Yeeeee-Hawwwwwww! Also, I want to give a GINORMOUS THANK YOU to my fellow Miss-Fires, whose camaraderie and support have been in no short supply. You babes are amazing.

If you’re wondering about what the hell is going through my head when im on the track racing with no brakes:

Things that go through my head while on the track:

“Who the hell do you think you are, out here doing this sh*t?? You don’t even have your motorcycle license!”

“This God damned throttle better shut off when i let go..”

“Don’t crash now, because you don’t have a mother f’n office job, bitch!”

“Do it for the ladies! We can do it! Wait, where are the ladies?I love Shayna Texter, she’s so great…”

“If youre not screaming in your helmet,  you’re not going fast enough! (on repeat)”

“JESUS FUCKING CHRIST (on repeat when other said mantra isn’t on repeat)”

“Death or Glory” -The Clash “F*ucking hardtail!”

“Go faster, you whore!!!”

“Maybe this year I’ll finally go to Supercamp”

“If someone falls in front of me, im going to beat them when i get off the track”

“This frame better not break. Again.”

“Is my leg on fire?”

“Shut the fuck up, Kara!”.

Apparently a little self-degredation, anger,  and a lot of sailor mouth do it for me.

Track Life 

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My steed   1965 250 BSA/Triumph brakeless hardtail

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Helping Jeff put his leathers on. You want leathers? We got leathers.

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250 Ironman (brakeless) (Ironwoman?!)

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Blue Ridge Mountains, W.V. On the way to Savannah

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 View going into turn #3 Volusia Speedway, FL

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George Wills, Mike Metzler, and Fumi in staging

for  500cc-750cc Ironman brakeless

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SHAYNA TEXTER!!! She’s awesome. My AMA Pro Flat Track Hero One of two women competing on the Pro level

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Hugh wheeling out the bikes at 6th St. after Hurricane Sandy. 

Bikes were safe, but he lost almost everything in the basement.

Sixth Street Racing  NYC

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On my way to Blackrock Speedway Dundee, NY 

with a loner bike from Hugh, and World’s greatest rockstar parking

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The first of what would be seven frame welds over 3 years. 

5 on the track welds, and 2 off track.

It always blows my mind when  someone steps up to help out another racer.

True Sportsmanship.

Wasseon, Ohio  Vintage Days

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Out with old frame, in with the New Sonic Weld frame for the 2015 season

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First day with the 250cc OVRP 1/4 mi.

Cuddebackville, NY

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Jeff keeping it sexy, and Billy on his 1959 Harley flat tracker 

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It doesn’t get any better than days like this.

Tar Heel, North Carolina

IMG_20120310_161538 Sixth Street pit/social club

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The time I rode the 500 and got to race with the 6th St. guys

Lebannon Valley Race Parkway 1/2 mi., NY

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Strangest thing ive seen at the track. Ever.

Well, beside Marty asking someone to 

hold his teeth before he went out on the track

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Post-racing wind down. 

Daytona Beach, FL.

Practice at Oglethorpe Speedway 1/2 mi. Savannah, Georgia. Not me. But filmed by me. Hard packed red clay, considered one of the fastest tracks around. HIT THE PICTURE, IT’S A VIDEO!!!!

“The road goes on forever, and the party never ends”- J.D.

Kara

1971 500cc Triumph Daytona T100R

1965 250cc BSA/Triumph hardtail brakeless race bike   .

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Wow! What a Ride! …Hellbound And Down, part 1

photo-31(photo by Miss-Fire Kristin Johnson)

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride! ― Hunter S. Thompson

10325668_10152200361634608_7627567789328270453_nTeam Hellbound And Down

 In life there are sometimes opportunities too crazy to pass up. Hunter S Thompson lived it, and it’s a moto i’ve decided to live by, or as I call it the decision to just ‘get in the van.’

Get in the van‘ is basically the conscious decision to quit talking about things you want to do, making excuses, or put plans and dreams off for another day, but instead to embrace life, look fear in the face and tell fear to get lost. It’s how i learned to flattrack (read the GET IN THE VAN flattrack post here) among other things, and I wish i’d been stronger and more confident to do this in my younger years but the past is the past and so at 34 I am becoming the daredevil, badass, juvenile delinquent i wish i’d been at 15.

So, when my dear friend Greaser told me about his plans to race the Norra Mexican 500 this year (yep…500 miles across Baja on vintage motorcycles in brutal terrain), I was totally supportive and encouraging. Of course, THEN he followed up with, ‘hey you should race too!’

I thought about it for a minute…and I was fucked. I had to do it. His offer came with a van, a mechanic, and the support of his club The Yellow Jackets MC who have been racing motorcycles since they formed in 1938. Basically all I had to do was find and buy a vintage bike ($2500), a bunch of gear ($$$), learn to ride off road (i’ve never even done 1 mile on dirt, and this is 500!), and raise thousands of dollars to cover entry fees ($1800), transport gas ($1000), race gas ($200), food and lodging ($$$), etc. and do it all in time for the race in early October. Uh, no biggie. Sure, why the hell not? I’ll get in the van!971995_10152189932989608_8264714705718617213_nMe and my 1971 BSA Victor 250 desert sled race bike

A few days later I bought a bike. A 1971 BSA Victor 250 from my motorcycle mentor Hugh Mackie at Sixth Street Specials. I had to borrow money to get it, but i wasn’t backing down. Buying the bike meant this was a reality and not just talk, and though i woke up in a panic every night after for a week, i was excited and determined to pull this off, and the first time i went ripping around the neighborhood, i was in love with this brat of a baby Beezer, and the idea of racing as a woman and a Miss-Fire.

photo-4(photo by Miss-Fire Kristin Johnson)

I mean seriously, its an adventure to end all adventures. a girl on a tiny, old british motorcycle alone (well hopefully not) in a race against the clock for 3 days and 500 miles in Mexico. HELL YEA! I’d be a fool NOT to do it. Right?

photo-21(photo by Miss-Fire Kristin Johnson)

Well, there it is. I’m doing it. My bike has been gone through. I’m ordering protective gear and knobby tires this week. A Bell Powersports helmet and Von Zipper goggles are on their way to me from our wonderful friends at Hell On Wheels MC in California, i’m being trained in core and overall strength building by the wonderful Coach Ray, and in just two weeks Team Hellbound And Down will be hitting the Pine Barrens for the the first of what will be weekly, all day off road training sessions. So, See you in October Baja!

10491086_10152286393714608_6560630621284729587_nThe amazing race jerseys for Myself, Greaser and our mechanic Doc from Jill at Hometown Jersey!

Stay tuned for updates on the race prep here, and be sure to follow us on our dedicated website HELLBOUND AND DOWN where there is information on us, the race, upcoming fundraisers, and even a paypal link to help us get to Mexico. Every dollar helps and we’re blown away by the outpouring of support we’ve received so far. Most importantly from my dear Miss-Fires family who support me in all of my motorcycle shenanigans and came out in force for our first FUNDRAISER a few weeks ago. thank you Miss-Fires from the bottom of my heart…or the gears that are there in place of one.

 

Corinna Mantlo

1971 Yamaha At1 125, 1968 BSA Lightning 650, 1962 Ford Ranchero, 1971 BSA Victor 250 desert sled race bike.