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Racing Dangers

Well, we all know that motorcycle racing is dangerous, but what is the most dangerous part? Some would say the high speed sections, others might say rocky areas, and perhaps silt would be a good answer. But I think the absolute most dangerous part of motorcycle racing is loading the bike in the pickup. See? You agree, don’t you? Everyone reads this and says to themselves, “Yeah, now that you mention it, it is the worst, most dangerous part,” because they remember a particularly bad time.

I had one unloading the bike, which is stupider, because I can’t blame exhaustion for the calamity. Loading the bike after the race can have any number of disasters due to Loader Fatigue Syndrome, or LFS. But no, I was unloading the bike, fresh as a daisy, in the parking lot of the Suncoast Casino, getting ready for Best in the Desert’s “Vegas to Reno”. This was our first Best in the Desert race, and the team was very excited about it. I pulled off the straps and started backing the bike down the ramp.

“Shouldn’t you be on the other side?” Gordie, my nit-picky racing partner asked.

“No, this is fine, AAAWWW!”

I dropped our nice new XR650 Honda right in the parking lot. Nice. 500 mile race, and the bike is on the asphalt, leaking fluids out of various orifices.

“Nice shot!” some guy yells from down the aisle. Jerk. This will take some time with my therapist, I think.

Another fine example of motorcycling danger was my good friend Jerry Stanley. No! I mean Oscar Figglewitz. When I say Oscar Figglewitz, do not think, “Jerry Stanley!” Anyway, Jer- I mean, Oscar had gotten into the truck to unload the bikes, and he bent over with his chest over the wonderful, extremely hard Scotts steering dampener and pressed the release on the strap. Slam! The bike released, shot up and nailed him right in the chest. Oscar said some words then that were quite intense and not meant for the company of ladies and children, but let’s just say he said “ouch” with enthusiasm.

Putting the bike on a center stand is dangerous, particularly with LFS. It’s kind of a clean-and-jerk move. However, just as the bike reaches its apex and you throw it over the center stand, any number of things can happen. On concrete, the stand can slide horizontally away, and you are left in the apex with a snap decision; do I try to throw the bike a little more and catch the stand, or drop the bike and try again? Sometimes NO decision is reached, and you compromise, which means you semi throw the bike, it catches on the corner, and falls on your leg. The worst example of this was in 1986, when Fred Migwortz in Lexington, Kentucky did the compromise move and got stuck under his bike. He was there for two weeks, surviving only on seat foam and water. His interview went like this;

“Yeah, well I wuz stuck under that thang fer two weeks. What cud I do? It wuz a 490 Yamaha, and weighed around 400 pounds, give er take. I couldn’t do nothin’ and nobudy came to help me, so I thought, “Geez, I’m either going to have to cut off my arm an eat it, or snack on seat foam.” Wall, I didn’t have no knife, so I couldn’t cut off my arm. Lucky I run straight water in the thang, or I’d of died fer sure, drinkin’ coolant. It wuz pretty good, except it tasted like rust. Finally, the repo guy comes to git the trailer, and as they say, the rest is history.”

The story sounded fishy to me, particularly because the 490 was air cooled. Maybe Fred drank his fork oil, I don’t know.

How about loading your tool box in the truck? Someday I may take mine to a truck scale to see just how much it weighs. But you know the challenge; you must bring everything, because sure enough, if you leave it home, you will need it. So I bring the clutch perch from my ’71 Bultaco Pursang, the fender bracket from my ’91 KDX250, and the battery box cover from my ’66 Honda S90. I just know they will come in handy someday, right? So, I usually try to get five friends to load it like a casket into a hearse.

I think the most dangerous part of motorcycle racing is pretty women. Absolutely, most dangerous. Because whatever we are doing, if a pretty girl is watching, we will screw it up. Or, we try to impress her with our skills, and it will really backfire on us. Best example, Ralph Warlick, 1974, after the Castle Rock half-mile race. He had a nice 650 Triumph Bonneville. If you don’t know what a Triumph Bonneville is, better ask your dad. Okay, ask your grandfather. Anyway, Ralph had just won the Junior Open class, and was riding back to his pickup with his trophy in his right arm. Right by his pickup were two very attractive girls, both with the most beautiful pair of huge, round, um, brown eyes you ever have seen! Anyway, Ralph was feeling pretty cool, so as he rode up to his pickup, he noticed that the ramp was on his tailgate, ready to load his bike.

Back in the day, a ramp was a 2 by something. More than a 2 by 4, but would be a 2 by 6, or 8. Ralph’s was a 2 by 8. They had nothing to attach to the truck, just a board. Covered with oil from years of leaking. Leaking oil was a Triumph tradition.

Well, old Ralph decided to ride the bike up into the truck. He gunned the engine, spun the back tire, and hit the ramp. The girls took notice. Ralph was liking this! However, he failed to realize he was hitting the ramp crossed up. And, too fast. When those Avon tires hit the ramp, Ralph did the first nac-nac in bike history! Only no one knew what a nac-nac was. The bike flew through the air, crossed up fashion, and the front tire shot sideways straight through the back window. Ralphie flew over the bars, did a complete somersault over the roof of the truck and landed- SLAM!- flat on his back on the hood of his ’67 Ford F100. Now he had the girls’ full attention. Time stood still. Thankfully, the engine died on the bike. Little pieces of glass fell onto the truck bed. Ralph lay on the hood, spread eagle, looking up at the sky. After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably 10 seconds, he took a deep breath, which was good, because it had really knocked the wind out of him. The next few seconds were crucial for Ralph. He had to keep his composure and be cool!

Old Ralph slid off the hood and managed to land on his feet. He staggered to the passenger side of the truck, and grabbed the handlebar. He wiggled it a little, put his hands on his hips, nodded and said, “Yep, she’s secure.” Ralph walked around the other side, jumped in the truck and drove off. Very impressive.

I think Ralph really would have pulled it off, had he not driven over his trophy on the way out.