The stars aligned last weekend. Editor-at-Large Jim Downs is heading to Miller Motorsports Park for the AHRMA race and Dodge was gracious enough to let us review their Dodge ProMaster van on the trip. We also picked up a couple Honda dirt bikes we loaned to our friend Nick Zano. Add that all up to the very same weekend as the Hell on Wheels MC Hot August Nights flat track race and it was meant to be.
This is Tommy on the Honda CRF125F during practice. Photo by Belinda Kiser.
Put on by Hell on Wheels MC (HOW)—which is pretty much a guy named Meatball and his family—it’s one of the most grass-roots, laid back, but fun racing event you’ll ever attend. My first major assignment for RideApart was covering the Hell on Wheels vintage motocross event, but outside of that I knew few riders and even less about the operations.
So I, along with my wife and dog, set out in the van for Perris Raceway. We also woke up her cousin Tommy, who is a motocrosser that visits Perris and 29 Palms regularly. I’d been bugging him for weeks to get involved in flat track and somehow he said yes. Probably because there was a “First Timers Class," and although I had an extra bike he still insisted on bringing his Honda CF450F in stock motocross form.
I was riding the CRF150F, wearing some Alpinestars Oscar gear.
The flyer said that the gates opened at 2pm, with very little information after that. Our friend and current writer, Bryan Woody Wood, emailed me the link to pre-register—beyond that I knew nothing of what to expect. I didn’t know when racing would start and Hell on Wheels MC’s listed phone number is no longer in service.
We arrived in the middle of the pack, as a dozen or so racers had already set up camp. Clapped-out campers, bitchin’ street-freak vans, ProMasters, pickup trucks new and old—the pits were filled with a more interesting mix than the races to follow. We unloaded and found ourselves with about three hours to kill.
How We Did It
We were loaded for bear with our hi-top, long wheelbase Dodge ProMaster. It was excessive, as we didn’t really need three bikes, but we still had enough room to carry two more. The big van allowed us to make a little house away from the sun.
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For normal flat track racing, you can't use a front brake—simply removing the front lever is generally enough. Why? First off, you don’t really need a front brake as it’ll just wash the tire out from under you. Second, this type of racing involves riders racing bar-to-bar, and if another rider’s bars hits your brake lever, it can cause you to wash out mid-corner.
HOW offered a First Timers class, which I encouraged Tommy to run in with me. It was an open-CC class, so he opted for the 450, naturally.
We started off with practice, followed by a heat race then our main race. Running two classes was just right as it allowed enough down time for a water and wet rag on the head to keep a heat-stroke at bay, and it was also enough time to not become bored.
Our First Timers class consisted of a couple of young people on a variety of new and old bikes: a girl in full road race leathers and a Japanese guy on a borrowed Speed Merchant Harley-Davidson Sportster set up for the flat track.
We rolled up to the line for our heat race—I was lined up beside the Sporty. I looked up at him, down at my little 150cc, and back. I then looked at Meatball, who was lining us up. I was looking for some sort of reassurance from him that I wasn’t about to get trampled in the first corner. None came.
When the light turned green, the three 450 motocross bikes, including Tommy, jammed to the first corner, cutting me off in fourth.
That’s essentially how the heat race finished out, me in 4th and with Tommy finishing second. The rider of the Sportster didn’t speak much English, but after the race I asked him about his first experience and he told me, “Slippery, very slippery.”
Our main race started and ended in a similar fashion, but Tommy barely scratched out the lead this time. It was a last lap, last corner pass racing against two young motocross racers from Two Dicks Racing. I finished middle of the pack, with the three motocrossers a half-track ahead and the rest of the field a half a lap behind.
This was only a third of the total entries for the mini class.
For our mini race, there were more entries than I’d ever seen before. Worried that I may lay it down and be crushed by a pack of riders, I waited in the back in order to see the skill level of the riders before our main. Out the gate, I had a hard charge for the middle of the pack as Tommy, who staged on the outside of the front row on the 125cc, had broken off into the front group.
I battled slowing through traffic. I cut on the inside of a young kid on a white vintage bike, although I couldn’t make out the model from the fiberglass body work. He scraped the inside as I grabbed a handful of rear brake to keep from taking him out. As we rounded the apex, I went back on the gas to find that he didn't do the same. I ran over his boot as he started looking to see what had just grabbed him. Like Jaws pulling you under, it was a quick moment of shock for him. I gave him an apologetic gesture after the race. I was unaware of how I finished, but I assumed mid-pack. Leaving me only partly satisfied with my performance.
My finish in the heat race proved to be more beneficial than I thought, as Tommy started dead center of row two of the A main, and I was up front for the B main. In case you don’t know anything about flat track, the most desirable spot is the inside of the front row—moving outward gets worse. I was staged at almost the middle of the front row, so I was okay, but not great. If you're on the inside you have the ability to hold your line, just so long as you aren't cut off. My start resulted in a little of both.
Right into the first corner, I found myself in fourth place, with the inside rider holding his line and a couple of the outside guys with hard charges to the inside. I had caused a gap in traffic as I’d grabbed too much brake entering the first turn—this was to keep from running into the rider in front. It taught me to get on the gas before you know the other rider has. Once you know the rider you’re racing is on the gas, it’s too late.
Nothing makes you ride faster than competition. I found myself mid corner, surrounded by a group of riders before I realized I had gone faster through this corner than all day. Or at least the speed was perceived that way.
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After we thinned out, I battled with another rider for several laps before taking his spot after passing a lapped rider. He had more entry speed, but I had a better line. I was able to hold him off for the rest of the race, gaining me a third place trophy. I was battling with someone who I thought was one of the Deus Ex Machina guys on Julian’s (the owner) borrowed 100cc Honda, but I now know it wasn’t him after reviewing the photos.
At the awards ceremony for the First Timer’s class, they announced my number as the winner despite being fourth overall. Meatball later realized they shouldn’t have let the 450s run in that class as those riders had previous experience. So, naturally Tommy was pissed as I returned to my group with a first place trophy. I ended up relinquishing it to him as he had to actually fight for his win scraping it out on the last corner of the last lap, also he’d never been on the flat track before. I had also cheated—well, sort of—I’d raced at least one other race before, so I was happy to pass it on. I still consider myself a beginner, but I won't run that class again. I also received a third place trophy for the Mini Class B main, one trophy I won't be giving away.
This was my first trophy at a motorcycle race to date and I couldn’t have been happier. About half of the group remained camping at the track while we headed home.
Ultimately, I spent about $150, which included food, gas, admission to the track and pre-registration. I would say that’s pretty good for a race weekend, especially since a typical track day would cost you well over $200. My parents had attended the AMA Pro FlatTrack race that night as well, with their ticket admission for six people—it would have been twice the amount we spent to go race. So I’d say that’s pretty good.
Meatball in our Rider's Meeting.
Hell on Wheels
HOW is nothing like, say, Southern California Flat Track Association, which always uses Perris Raceway. But the lack of organization is also accompanied by a a lack of rules, and I don’t mean get drunk and ride kind of rules. But instead, there was never a feeling that wasn’t welcoming.
There was every bike, every skill of rider, and every style of rider at this event—from the hipster in sneakers with a 3/4-helmet, to the full-on motocross guy, to the guy who just wants to have fun on his flat head Indian Born Free winning motorcycle, to the guy who just wanted to go fast as hell on his flat head Indian too.
The thing I dig the most about Hell on Wheels MC is despite the influx of vintage and cool bikes, no care cares what you ride, just so long as you actually ride it.
Alpinestars was cool enough to let us try out some of the new items for the race. Namely, the Oscar Charlie denim pants and the new Tech-1 boots.
Pants: OSCAR CHARLIE DENIM PANTS, $259.95
We opted for blue jeans as this was more of a casual event. Also, these weren't regular jeans; they are reinforced and feature knee pads, so it's the basic protection of motocross pants (in my opinion, it has more protection). The first impression: They're awesome. They also look great and are terribly tough. Although, probably too expensive for dirt riding.
The new Tech 1 boots are a piece of gear we're really excited about—entry-level price with great looks, so we're going to find out if they perform as good as they look. So far, they're comfortable and easy to walk in; they didn't leave our feet the entire day. They've broken in very quickly and now feature some movement inside the boot, but it's too early to give a good review. We'll have a more in-depth review soon, but so far we love them.
Possibly the best option for off-road riding of any sort, is a one-piece breathable piece of armor like this. It features armor in the back, shoulders and elbows, all built into one piece. Worn like a shirt, it zips right to your skin, although we did wear a small undershirt under it. We were able to fit it under an Oscar shirt (to complete the total "I love Alpinestars" look). It's very light and breathable, and it also makes you feel stronger than you are.
Tommy with the 1st place trophy for the First Timer's class.