What was only a month took forever. But before I knew it my finger was ready and healed and I was ready to start cutting laps. My first race back was in Timonium, Maryland, the week before we were to leave for Milwaukee, so it was going to be a good shakedown for me and the bike. As soon as practice started I felt right back in the grove like I hadn’t just taken a month off from riding. And as the night went on my speed picked up. By the time the main event rolled around I was back up to my normal speed. I lapped the field that night and left Timonium feeling great. I was ready to go race out in Milwaukee for the Harley-Davidson 115th Anniversary Celebration.
I was taking a new best friend and racer with me this trip, though. It was his first big Hooligan race and I was glad to go show him the ropes of wrestling these 450-pound machines. Once again I basically packed my entire shop into the van, because it’s better to be prepared.
We left in the middle of the night on Tuesday, and I found a race that was going on the next day, before the Harley races. It was a huge half-mile cushion track at a county fair, and it was a cool backdrop to have the fair going on as I was blasting fans with pea gravel. Forty-seven Hooligans showed up to race, but I decided that I was going to run open pro. It was a huge step for me; never have I run in open pro racing against pros in my class. It’s a different feeling when you’re lining up with guys that you watch race on TV.
The heat went better than I thought and I made the Main. The gate dropped in but to my surprise I actually had a good start. Ten laps into the 20-lap Main l was running top 10. But I wasn’t used to going this hard for that many laps and I was starting to fade. I could barely see and my arms were Jello, but I finished the night in 12th place and made $200 which was a huge help for the weekend. For my first pro race I felt I did OK. I made the main event and some cash but it showed me how out of shape I really was.
Bright and early Thursday we drove into the city of Milwaukee. After catching up with my good friend Ed we headed to the Harley-Davidson Museum which I have wanted to see for years. After playing tourist all day and stuffing my face with good food we went back to Ed’s house for the night to get a good rest. We had practice for the Bradford Beach Brawl early the next morning and I was ready to go win practice. Growing up racing motocross, Dad always said you practice how you race. And that still sticks with me.
Bradford Beach was something else; the fog covering the beach early in the morning made for some great photos. Practice for my class wasn’t until later in the day so I got to watch some guys go out on the track and I soon could tell that this track was soft and deep, nothing like any other track I had been on. Finally it was time for my practice. I came out the gate wide open on the gas, never letting off. First lap around I was up to speed heading into turn one. Making my second lap I decided to tuck it to the inside and try that line. That was a mistake. As I moved my weight up on the tank the front end sunk deep into the sand and flipped me end over end down the front stretch into turn one. I was trying to ride like I was on a flat track but this track was its own beast and was going to take a different style of riding. I was fine and decided to take it easy for the rest of the night, wanting to make sure I was fully ready for Saturday’s big race.
My first heat was at 11:30 Saturday morning and the stands were starting to fill up. The races had a huge turnout; even the great Willie G. came to watch. My heat was an all-Ironhead Sportster class, so it was going to be down to the rider and if your machine could hold up to the tough sand. The flag dropped and I was soon out front in the lead and by turn 2 I had a huge lead. I went flying down the backstretch along the beach as waves were crashing. I went to nail turns 3 and 4 and then a loud bang happened inside the bike and I lost all my power and coasted into the turns. My heart sank; I’m pretty sure I wanted to sink deeper in to the sand. I drove 13 hours for the bike to break on the big day in front of a huge crowd. I had a huge lead and blew it. It was my race to win and all that went out the window.
I ended up shearing off the main drive shaft in the bike. I guess the sand was too hard on it or maybe I was too hard on it all season and it finally let go. My day was over before it even really got started but I didn’t let it keep me down too long. It was hard to be upset; when I looked around there were thousands of people here to watch us race, all having a blast, and I was part of that reason. By the end of the day I’d forgotten about the bike breaking and was back to having a blast.
I drove cross country with my friend to go race Harley Sportsters on the beach, I got to see old friends that I don’t get to see much, I finally experienced the Harley-Davidson Museum, and no one was hurt at all. The Harley Davidson 115th Anniversary Celebration was a trip of a lifetime; it’s something I will never forget. Thank you, Harley-Davidson, for the killer weekend.