Posted June 8, 2015
Dee and I went to Sacramento to see the 50th running of the Sacramento Mile, and to sell and sign a few books. Dee’s son Russ came along to help out with logistics and toting and carrying around heavy stuff. We were invited by the promoter, Hall of Famer Steve McLaughlin, who was a Superbike nemesis of mine in the late 1970s. Steve made us an offer we couldn’t refuse.
We didn’t sell many books but a lot of interesting things happened during the event. In the morning we set up in the vendor area underneath the grandstands. It was a good place to hang out as it was a really warm 90 degrees out in the open. It stayed a good 10 degrees cooler in the vendor area.
A bunch of notable people dropped by to say hello. First visitor was Larry Lawrence, the noted motorcycle racing historian and author of Rider Files (http://www.riderfiles.com/). Larry has written about a lot of characters in racing history and even did an article about me that was published in Cycle News in 2006. Larry posted a slightly condensed version in Rider Files (http://www.riderfiles.com/happy-birthday-to-the-ringer/) on my birthday in 2010.
Steve McLaughlin dropped by to say hello and see how things were going. Dee and Russ and I had run into Steve at the Los Angeles airport on our way to Austin, Texas, for the COTA MotoGP races. It was our first face-to-face meeting since 1978 when we were competitors in the beginnings of the Superbike class.
Around 2:30 Quentin Wilson, who is a long-time pal with Russ Granger and now works for Ducati, came by and introduced me to Michael Lock, the former CEO of Ducati North America. Lock is now working for AMA Pro Racing. A good man to know I would think.
Next was a surprise visit by 3-time World Superbike champion Troy Bayliss. He was there getting an introduction to U.S. Mile flat track racing, running a Lloyd Brothers Motorsports sponsored Ducati Scrambler. I was able to give a signed copy of my book, Racing the Gods, to him. He acted pretty happy to get it – Troy’s a pretty cool guy and he likely would have acted pleased to get the book even if he wasn’t. To paraphrase Alan Fleming, “There is cool and then there’s ‘giving Mr. Cool himself an autographed copy of my book’ cool.”
A number of old AFM friends dropped by. Marc Wayne Salvisberg visited for a while, then left his hat behind when he left. We mailed it to him. An old AFM racer, Chuck McAvoy, came by, bringing with him James Bunich, a high-school classmate of mine. The connection between Mark and James is kinda complicated but they’re pals these days. I hadn’t see James since 1978 when he came by Sears Point during the AMA National race. We’re both of the Oroville, CA, high school graduating class. I’m not from Oroville but my family lived there while I went to high school. Chuck I also hadn’t seen in a long time, although we’ve been in email contact for over the last year. Chuck is also an ex-AFM racer and a wheelchair user, so we have some parallels in our lives. It was pretty swell to finally meet him face-to-face again after 40 years or so.
We moved from the vendor area to the Legends Clubhouse area of the grandstands around 4 pm. The Legends Club was where the Ducati people had congregated and we thought it would be a good place to sell books. While there I got a visit from another high school classmate, Pat Goodwin. She got a signed copy of my book.
After an afternoon of practice the actual racing started at 6 pm so we closed up shop and became spectators. The Sacramento Mile track at Cal Expo is one of those clay tracks that develops a blue groove, a rather narrow section that actually looks blue from the rubber that is laid down on the dirt. The turns became a follow-the-leader area where if you slipped off (or were nudged off) the groove you would lose traction and could easily drop 3-4 places because your drive down the next straight was ruined. Almost all the passing was from drafting down the straight and getting ahead before the next turn. As an ex-roadracer the drafting tactic was instantly recognizable.
The main event turned out to be a four rider breakaway with a Triumph, a Kawasaki, and two Harley-Davidsons battling for the top spot. After many lead changes, Brandon Robinson and his Triumph led out of the last turn, with the Kawasaki of Bryan Smith right behind. Smith barely beat the Triumph, using the draft to slingshot past just before the finish line, winning by .020 of a second. The Harleys of Jared Mees and Brad Baker were close behind. Multi-brand flat-track racing has returned to the U.S.A.!
Bayliss, I’m sorry to say, crashed during his semi-final qualifier race and broke his ankle. I’m told it would be a straightforward repair and he should be fine after the bones heal. Whether he’ll come back to race in the U.S. flat track series next year remains to be seen.
The three of us couldn’t get out of Sacramento until early in Sunday afternoon, so we started looking for a place to eat around 9 pm in Medford. The first place we tried was closed so Russ asked Siri what was still open. One of the places listed was a brew-pub pizza joint. We all liked the sound of a brew-pub so we stopped there and had some good pizza and beer. Just as we were finishing a couple of shady-looking characters approached. It was our WetLeather pals Fryar Martin and Ed!
“What are you guys doing here?” was asked almost in unison. They had spent the day at the Euro-moto camp out near, I think, Fort Bragg. Martin described it as, “Something like the WetLeather Gather, except they’re not as good at it.” I asked why they were here at this particular pizza joint and Ed said “they have the best pizza and beer around here.” They were spending the night before heading on to the Seattle area, but we pushed on home, arriving around 1 am, tired but happy.
I met a bunch of old and new pals, including two of my high school classmates and a 3-time Ducati World Superbike champion. And we got to watch some fine close racing. It doesn’t get much better than that.