ZO. WetLeather pt 3 – The Blackbear 100

Posted 7/26/2014
Parts A & B combined 12/28/2014

The Blackbear 100 Endurance Race: “The Buildup”

Blackbear is a WetLeather member who lives in Pollman,Washington. He was a frequent contributor to the list and had earned his nickname because he was tall, dark and rather gruff in person. He spoke with a low-pitched, gravelly voice and always got directly to the point. A good guy once you got to know him but on first impression he could be intimidating — bear-like.

The 1998 WetLeather Gather was going to be at the same campground as the 1997 Gather, the Crescent Lake group campsite in Oregon. In October of ‘97 Blackbear announced plans for a YSR50 endurance race at the Gather. The Yamaha YSR50 is a cute ¾ size motorcycle with road racer styling and a peppy 50cc two-stroke motor. In spite of its small size an average person could squeeze into one and actually ride it. Blackbear, the race promoter, said the event would be 100 laps of the camp site loop, with minimum 4-man teams. It quickly became known as the BB100.

The BB100 rules were refined during the next several weeks following the original announcement. The four-man teams became four-person teams as each team was required to have at least one female member. The rules were relaxed to allow 50cc two-stroke and 80cc four-stroke bikes, thus opening up the field to the Honda XR80, a small, dirt-oriented play bike that a number of Wetleather members owned. SSMark innocently mentioned to the list that he had an XR80 “in race trim (no front fender)” in the back of his garage and I found myself listed as the captain of the SSOG (Squidicus Sandbageri Old Guyz) team, also known as team TMSAISTI (That’s My Story And I’m Sticking To It). Members included myself, SSMark and the Wizard, another “older” Wetleather member, with the female team member to be named later. Eventually we talked Ln into joining thus completing the SSOG team.

Teams formed up quickly. By November there were eleven teams, some with themes. Team Too Tall, aka T2T, featured men of 6’4” or taller, with the height requirement waived for the female member. WART (Wide Ass Racing Team) was for men with, um, big butts, again with the wide ass requirement waived for the woman member. Other teams included Slo-No-Mo, Butt Naked Racing, team LURK, team RAT, team SoC (Spawn of C’thulu), the RR team (Rosebud Racing), and the OW! team.

Blackbear had never intended to have an actual race at the Gather campsite. His main reason, he told me later, was to generate some entertaining email traffic on the list during the winter when snow halted the riding season in his hometown of Pullman. However, the thing took on a life of its own and by springtime there were nine or ten teams who were preparing race bikes. People were expecting an event. But that was several months in the future; in the meantime Blackbear got the list traffic he was hoping for.

BB100 List Traffic

Trash talking on the list began immediately. Butt Naked Racing started with

BNR has signed some of the finest butts in the list. We'll be tanned and ready come August.

This caused an immediate rejoinder from the WART.

Oh YEAH? Well, WART(tm) butts are bigger, purttier, and a whole lot FATT^H^HFASTER!

A member of T2T taunted:

Team WART might just grid up and run the course on foot, how you gonna know if there's a bike under there?

As the snows started falling in Pullman there would be various BB100-related announcements. Blackbear would post an updated entry list every time something changed. The list included the team name, the team members and their race bike. Teams posted updates as well. From team RAT:

Goatboy has just joined our team!!! We rule!!

Whenever things started to slow Blackbear would send out an update of teams, or announce a change in the rules. For example,

It's 50cc two strokes, or 80cc 4-strokes, ALSO, anything under 75cc that's at least 25 years old, will be considered...(that's for any of you Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiast types.... got anything laying around?)

As new teams formed there would be a fresh wave of bravado.

HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!! There's yet ANOTHER team... The captain is LARK, the riders are: [names of four women] And, if I may be so bold as to speak for my team, we are taking applications for CABANA GIRLLLLLLL!!!!
PS - Prepare to LOSE, folks!

Katherine Earns her Nickname

Katherine, who had been a member of Wetleather for a few months and as yet had no nickname, was getting into the spirit of things when she sent this message to the list:

HA! My 3 racer boy teammates are going to whip your butts and I am going to be the token female puttering my way around the track. But beware. Underneath the surface of my innocence - quit snickering - is a female Mitch Doohan just waiting to break loose. I'm going to look like Wile E Coyote - no wait, I mean the - what is the name of that island - oh! The Tasmanian devil. Yup, all you grrls are going to see is a dust tornado.

Her message was completely within the spirit of the event, but Katherine had made one little mistake. Another member caught the error and posted on-list:

Uhhhh....who's Mitch Doohan? What does the female version of him do?

In a moment of creativity I fabricated this story and posted it to the Wetleather list:

Oh dear. Katherine has really let the cat out of the bag now. Since she's revealed the secret I might as well let you know the whole sordid story.

Mitchell Doohan, also called "Mitch", is the younger brother of Michael Doohan, also called "Mick", who happens to be the current-and-for-the-last three-years (or is it four?) 500cc GP Motorcycle Racing World Champion. The Doohan family doesn't talk about Mitch, and if he hadn't briefly escaped from the cellar about three years ago, none of us would know about him today. It's a sad story.

Mick is a very skilled rider (obviously), good looking, intelligent and with good social skills. Mitch is, unfortunately, none of the above. The few who saw him during his short period of freedom describe him as clearly intellectually delayed and barely presentable. "As ugly as a wombat's arse" is how one local described him. As for his motorcycle skills, he did manage to grab the family's dirt bike, tried to ride it sitting backwards, and ran into the homestead's tree, the one and only tree within two kilometers of the house. (Lots of Australia is nearly treeless, you know. The vast Nullarbor Plain isn’t named from an aboriginal word; it’s Latin. It’s called that because there are no trees: Null arbor.)

In fact, it was while stunned from the impact with the tree that the family was able to grab Mitch and get him back into the cellar. He hasn't been seen since, but sometimes service people who have been to the homestead report hearing grunting from the basement.

How do I know this? I can't tell you. But That’s My Story And I’m Sticking To It. ;-).

A day later Katherine made this post on-list:

Ah, saved by the Squidicus Sandbagerus (oh, please, please let me have spelled that correctly...). And the endless, self-inflicted public humiliation continues...

It didn’t completely save her though. From then on her Wetleather nickname was “Mitch.”

After the winter trash talking and team building for the BB100 race, list traffic on the subject quieted down to a low level. It started to pick up again in early summer as the date for the Gather neared. Like many, the SSOG team had been preparing its race bike. I bought a pair of dual-purpose tires that claimed to be 80% street and 20% dirt to replace the bike’s 100% dirt knobbies. SSMark made a carbon fiber (high-tech!) racing megaphone that produced a nasty rasping bark much louder than one would expect from 80cc’s. I decided to join the on-line chatter with a little SS-style trash talking and made this post to Wetleather:

There's good news for competitors in the BB100. I tried but could NOT find pavement tires for our XR80. Under the circumstances I don't see how we'll be able to keep up with those YSRs and their sticky little gumball road tires...

Oh, we'll still join the event, for the camaraderie and to help fill the grid, and we'll try really hard to stay out of the way of the serious teams as they rush past.

SSPaul, team captain.

What, you’re not buying it? I don’t think the WetLeather folks did either.

The Blackbear 100 Opening Ceremonies

Blackbear’s trick to generate list traffic during the winter had worked well, perhaps too well. People were preparing race bikes, and they expected an event. So did most of the WetLeather members who had enjoyed the on-list banter and team vs. team taunting. As mentioned earlier, Blackbear never intended to have a real race at the campground, but he had to do something to avoid folks getting pretty annoyed with him. A real race at Crescent Lake was out of the question; there were trees everywhere along the course. He came up with four separate events that would be scored “motocross” style with a final overall winner.

The “racetrack” was an oval through the campground about a half mile around. Right after the start line, which was near the dining shelter, the road dropped sharply downhill then slowly re-gained the lost elevation as it began curving left. The gradual climb continued around the corner, leveling out after the turn ended. There was a short level straight leading to another left curve to get back to the dining shelter. Very simple.

Blackbear described the four events, then introduced UnixGuy as the official starter, measurement czar and score keeper. UnixGuy was fully equipped with a green flag, stopwatch, chalk, measuring tape, a 24-ounce graduated beaker and notebook. Blackbear settled into a chair near the start line. There was a healthy crowd of spectators; as I recall there were well over 150 people at the 1998 Gather. They clustered around the dining shelter and on either side of the track’s downhill part.

At one point during the morning the Wizard said to me, in a quiet voice so no one else could hear, “I know this is just for fun, but I really want to win.”

I looked at him and smiled, and said, “Me too.” I guess the competitive spirit never totally dies out. Once a racer alway a racer.

There was a very colorful pre-race grid, five rows with two bikes per row, and costumed race teams. For example for team SSOG I had donned my old road-racing leathers from 1979 (yes they still fit, although a bit more snug at the waist), SSMark suited up in his desert racing pants, boots and jersey, and the Wizard wore his trials riding boots and jersey. Some other teams had similar outfits. Many of the bikes were imaginably decorated with bright paint, handlebar streamers, team logos, etc. The spectators were allowed to wander around the grid and inspect the various race bikes and chat with the teams. After a bit Blackbear stood and ordered the grid cleared to allow for the ceremonial starting of the bikes. All 10 bikes were fired up and allowed to rev their engines for 5 minutes or so; if there had been a prize for loudest our XR80 would have won, but not by much. It was a healthy racket.

At the end of the allotted time Blackbear stood in front of the grid and gave us the cut-off signal. There was a very brief moment of silence, followed by a huge cheer from the crowd of spectators. Blackbear strolled back to his seat at the start line. It was time to race!

The BB100 Race Motos

The first moto was a coasting race: each racer was allowed one push with a foot then had to coast as far as possible down the hill and up the rise. The longest coast would earn their team one point; the next longest coast earned two points, and so on. Teams were started two at a time, with the starting order determined by a draw. Our team drew the last pairing, against a Team2Tall rider. UnixGuy positioned himself partway up the far hill but within view of the start line, and would wave the green flag to start each pair off. I was first up for team SSOG. When UnixGuy waved the flag I was out-pushed by my long-legged opponent so I went into a full racing tuck directly behind him.

You might think at 10 mph or so drafting wouldn’t make any difference, but it does. The other teams had raced side-by-side down the hill and up the other side and most of the finishing distance chalk marks were clustered near one spot, some a bit farther, some a bit less.

I started gaining on my opponent near the bottom of the hill and put my front wheel just to the left of his rear wheel but stayed as close as possible. As we both slowed on the uphill he lost speed more rapidly and I pulled alongside, and then rolled ahead, grabbing the front brake as soon as the bike stopped. UnixGuy drew a chalk mark where my front tire touched the pavement, looked at the cluster of chalk marks behind me, then looked at me and said simply, “The old guys win.”

Score! I kicked the bike to life and roared around the rest of the oval. As I approached the crowd at the dining shelter I thrust my index finger into the air, causing a round of clapping and cheers.

Moto 2 was a dead-engine go-slow race. Starting at the top of the hill the racer went downhill as slowly as possible over a measured distance. The event was timed; the clock stopped when the bike reached the finish line or when the racer put a foot down. The longest time earned the team one point, the next longest two points, etc.

The Wizard had some trials riding in his background so he was our choice for this event. There was a little confusion at the start as the Wizard began rolling before UnixGuy had waved the flag and started his stopwatch.

“Hold it!” UnixGuy shouted and the Wizard stopped and put his foot down. Some of our competitors wanted that to be the end of the SSOG run, but the official starter/timekeeper declared that the Wizard’s run hadn’t started yet. An appeal to the race director was denied without comment. The Wizard lined back up and waited for UnixGuy’s signal. This time he got it right and, standing on the foot pegs and feathering the front brake, he crept down the hill toward the finish line.

There’s not much excitement in a one-at-a-time go-slow race, not much to cheer about, but the other teams somewhat made up for it by shouting at the racer, trying to distract him or her into making a flub. There was, of course, a round of cheers from the crowd when a racer reached the finish line, and polite clapping if the racer put a foot down before reaching the finish line.

After all the competitors did their runs the Wizard had taken longer than all the other teams. Two motos, two wins, only 2 points. We were beginning to like our chances.

The only live engine moto was a “beer carry.” Each team was given a 12 ounce plastic cup that would be filled with exactly 10 ounces of water (it was going to be beer but spectators and competitors both protested against spilling good beer). The racer could hold the cup or it could be taped to the bike with duct tape. The racer would take one lap at whatever speed they liked. The amount of water left in the cup was measured and the winner, the one who spilled the least, earned their team a point, two points for the next less spilled, etc.

Some of the teams started using the duct tape to partially cover the opening of their cup or to extend the sides to make the cup taller. A protest was filed. Blackbear rose from his seat, looked at the attempts to prevent spilling by using the duct tape, and declared them illegal. No duct tape above the top edge of the cup would be allowed, and UnixGuy would inspect each installation before adding the water. Some started to complain about the ruling but Blackbear simply rose to his full 6’ 4” height and held up his hands for silence. When he had everyone’s attention he intoned in his best basso profundo, “The race director has SPOKEN.”

Yes, sir!

SSMark was our choice for the beer carry. He was known as a very smooth rider, even at speed, and had many miles of riding with a small poodle in his tank-bag. The motor on the XL80 shook quite a bit and we didn’t expect much from this moto. SSMark did well; even with the shaking from the motor he scored 4th place in the field of 10. We still had the low point total with only 6 points.

The final moto was a dead-engine single lap around the track. There were only two rules, 1) one team member had to actually sit on the bike, and 2) only three other team members could touch the bike – any help from a non-team member meant disqualification. This was not a timed event; there was a mass start with grid positions set by the scores in the first three motos and the winner would be the rider who crossed the line first. With only 6 points we started on pole.

We asked Ln to be the rider because she was the lightest but she declined, so I was up again. Each team had a member who pushed the racer at the start until gravity took over. One of the picnick tables was carried out of the shelter and UnixGuy stood on it, holding a green flag. At Blackbear’s nod he extended his flag arm to full height then, after a short pause, he whipped it down.

There was hilarious chaos at the drop of the flag, with riders mixed up with pushers and pushers trying to not get run over by other team’s bikes or run into by other team’s pushers. At least that’s what I’m told; since I started in front this was all going on behind me.

We had spaced our team members along the track so I was handed from one to another like a baton in a relay race. The other teams adopted the same strategy. Ln started me off giving me a good push downhill then, after almost getting rum over by another team’s race bike, she ran reverse course to meet me coming around. The Wizard pushed me up most of the hill where SSMark took over and got me the rest of the way up the grade and around the turn. I’m helping by pushing with one leg. SSMark pushed until he wore out, but got me up on the flat. At the end of the curve one of the other teams, with their female member on board, crept past me. I was now on my own, pushing with one leg, trying to catch the WetLady just ahead of me. She’s “rowing” with one leg too. I was yelling to try and distract her.

“Watch out for that pothole right in front of you!” I said, and things like that, but she just yelled back, “Oh, shut up!” and kept going.

Really, kids aren’t taught proper respect for their elders these days.

I reached Ln and she started pushing; although she was a bit out of breath from the original push then running back to meet me we started to gain as we approached the finish. The other team had the same strategy as us, though, and a teammate showed up to push my opponent and we could no longer gain on her. We ended up second by a bike length, with the other teams close behind. Everyone got a great round of applause from the crowd.

Team SSOGTeam Squidicus Sandbageri Old Guyz. Left to right SSMark, Ln, Wander (alternate), SSPaul, the Wizard. Photo courtesy of Havoc.

The BB100 was complete. It was a blast, even the losing teams had to admit they had fun, and the spectators loved it. Our team finished with two firsts, a fourth and a second, for a total of 8 points, well in front of the second place team. On the Gather webpage the report read simply, “The ‘Old Guys’ (Team Squidicus Sandbageri Old Guyz) kicked butt.”

We were very happy with the results.

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