Springfield Mile Race Update
NEWS May 28, 2014
Photo by Michael Boston
Courtesy of Fight for Dirt Track's Tyler Porter:
May 28, 2014 - Hey everybody! I know it's been a long time since you saw a race report from me, but there is a fantastic reason behind it...I haven't been racing! Work has been insanely busy with travel and so forth, but over the weekend in Springfield Illinois, I got back to the world of green lights and checkered flags. I haven't totally been off of the bike in my time away from the track though. I have been able to ride a little motocross, and two weekends ago, my Kentucky racing family got together in Owensboro Kentucky to have a ride day at the Gillim family compound. It was a great weekend of some of my best friends and a lot of XR100 abuse, but it also helped get a little rust out of my system for Springfield.
Springfield was no easy event for me to get to. I had a work event in L.A. on Thursday night, and then I had to red eye it to Memphis to pick up the RV to take to Springfield. Memphis Shades sponsors both the All-Star Series TT on Saturday night and the Mile on Sunday, so we like to have our big rolling billboard displayed at both tracks. I drove all through the night Friday to get up there in time, only to realize I forgot to bring pillows and blankets to sleep in the RV. Rookie mistake. However, I'm a dirt tracker and we are a resourceful bunch. I pulled the cushion out of the buffet table and I had a pillow. Later in the night when the temperatures dropped, my leathers proved to be a suitable blanket. There's no shame in my camping game!
Saturday night was the All-Star Series TT event inside the multipurpose arena. After a morning of detailing the Memphis Shades RV and putting finishing touches on my JMP Kawasaki KX450, I headed over to set up my pit area. The track was very nice this year. The Steve Nace Racing Promotions crew went back to a layout they used several years ago when this event used to be a Grand National and it really opened up the racing action by making the track much longer with wider corners to boot. The jump was steep and actually had some "pop" to it, so you had to time it a little bit instead of just hitting it wide open and guessing where you would land. I haven't ridden a TT since the Peoria National in August of last year, but Springfield is so fun, it just doesn't matter. There were 43 entries into the Pro Singles class meaning that you had to win one of 8 heats or finish top 2 in one of the two semi's. My chances for making the main were between slim and none when I ended up in a STACKED heat race. However, it's the Springfield TT, the closest thing to Supercross that our sport has. The dirt is primo, the layout is cool, the whole facility is top notch, it can't be beat. While I didn't make the main, I felt like I rode very well, I made some good passes and I had no problem with the bike or set up. It was a great night to get the ball rolling for what was left to come on Sunday.
When you ride the Springfield Mile, your day starts early. After getting to bed at 2am after the TT, that alarm started blaring at 6:30am for me to head to the world's fastest mile for not only my first race on the mile, but also my first race on a big twin cylindered motorcycle. With our pit set up, it was time to install number plates, change wheels, pass tech and then get suited and booted for one of the most scary things I have ever done. I've never been so wound up emotionally in my life. We fired up the Knight Racing Harley Davidson XR750 and though I've been around the mile and XR's for a long time, they have never been "for me". This bike was MINE for the day! XR's are an odd bike to race. The left footpeg is up high near the swingarm pivot, the right one is in a lower more neutral position. Both air cleaners jut out the right side of the bike, just behind the back of your knee. There are no levers on the left side for foot controls. Nope, just two on the right. The lower one, the brake...the brake which is only used when you pull into the pits or onto the starting line. The upper one is for rowing through the gears. If that wasn't enough, it's not your typical "1 Down 4 Up" transmission. Nope, it's "1 Up, 3 stomps down" to get into 4th gear.
To make matters even more nerve racking, I was 1st up in my practice. Having no mile experience at all, I rolled out slowly and let everybody go before I hammered off into the unknown. The track was super wet and tacky and as I stomped into 4th in the entrance to turn 1, it was very obvious that this was no OEM Framed 450. That bike wanted traction and it didn't care if you wanted to find it or not, it was doing it on it's own. Probably 80 or so in the corners, this thing is bucking and clawing while I'm praying and hoping. The track didn't seem that big. The motorcycle is so busy and you are going so fast that it really felt about like a half mile to me. You tuck in for a few split seconds and then boom, you are popped up and setting up for your corner.
The second qualifying practice nearly ended my day. Again, I was out first, but feeling my moxie, so I went for it when I got the signal. I hammered down all of that American V-Twin power and was "winning practice" all the way down the back straight. Talk about a cool experience. Around the outside of turn 4 came JR Addison on his Scott Framed Kawasaki. He passed me and headed down the straight. Being one of the best in the sport and being on a rocket ship Kawaski, he left me pretty quickly when I noticed his bike start to wobble. It got pretty violent and then calmed down. I think he may have checked up on the throttle and then it went catastrophic. Keep in mind, I'm still rolling at well over 100 miles an hour towards him. JR's feet get blown off the pegs, he went over the front of the bike and hit the ground, the bike starts flipping violently towards me. In a moment like that, your brain has no way to compute what is going on, I just knew I had to get as far away from that bike as possible. I escaped unharmed. As I rolled through turn one, I knew we had lost another racer to the mile. I was done. I wanted no more part of this. This was too much. I pulled into the hot box and we watched them load JR onto a back board. He was moving, He was awake, it was certainly a miracle. I was clearly very shaken up by the accident, but I promised myself I would do one more lap. If I was too scared to go on, I would pull in and forever say I spun laps at speed on the mile and be happy with that.
We fired the Harley back up and I once again stomped through the archaic transmission. The track had brushed off, I was feeling comfortable, the bike was smooth through the corners. I was able to get it spun up and sideways on the exit. This was starting to go from cool to awesome, to incredible. I was knocking lots of time off of my laps as they wore on and I ended up qualifying 21st. In the heat race I got a great jump, but didn't have the bike revved high enough and when the clutch fully released, it bogged a little. Then I missed my shift to 3rd...I worked hard, made a couple of passes, but could only muster a 10th in my heat. The top 7 transferred. I felt like I was actually racing now! For the last chance, I lined up on the front row and again, got a great jump, but missed a shift again and ended up battling for a spot in turn one. One guy came in below me and pushed me high, another guy came from up high and pushed me low and I was about to be a harley sandwich. I chopped the throttle off and the bike went into a tank slapper. Luckily I was still in 3rd gear and had a lot of RPM's and power to use, so I punched it and shot out from between them and clicked 4th mid corner and took off. There was a pack of 3 Kawasaki's ahead of me, and I knew those were the transfer spots.
From here, it was not my first ride on the mile any more, it was a race. A race where I tried. I could see my first ever National Main event ahead of me, and it was time to go to work as the late announcer Donnie Bargeman would say. I pushed that XR to my limits. Yes, I was wearing myself out, I was nearly riding over my head. I was spinning it up and getting my foot on the peg early. Tyler Porter was setting sail and I didn't care what the consequences were. I was being a REAL racer. Try all I could, I COULD NOT catch those bikes in front of me. I would gain mid-corner, but those Kawasaki's were just too fast for my 32mm restricted Harley Davidson. With the top 4 transferring, I was 6th, just two spots out of my first main on my first mile, on my first twin.
At the end of the day, we burned some fuel, shared some laughs, went on an emotional roller coaster and had more fun than I've had in a long time. I have to thank Ben Knight from Knight Racing for loaning me the bike, his uncle Andy and his brother Jordan for helping me in the pits (Ben is still on crutches from a very serious car accident) and for all of the racers like Steve Murray, Jake Johnson and of course Ben Knight who gave me a lot of great advice leading into the race. I thank each and every one of you for your support and hopefully we'll have some more reports coming up soon!