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A short-track obsession

Published: 24 June 2006

Updated: 24 November 2014

Since then I’ve greedily soaked up any snippet of information about the sport and still believe that the Harley-Davidson XR750 is the most brutally gorgeous motorcycle ever.

Over the years I’ve been lucky to get to the States many times to cover the Daytona 200. It’s given me a chance to sneak off from the Speedway and indulge my passion for dirt track racing, not just on the quarter-mile short track at the Municipal Stadium but also on the half-mile at Barberville – more like the real deal as far as dirt track racing goes with a field of bellowing XR750s doing the business.

It’s given me a chance to see (and interview) all my heroes like Scotty Parker, Jay Springsteen, Steve Morehead, Chris Carr, and more. I got to meet all the Haydens way before they started road racing.

And I’ve been to Vintage meetings too so I’ve had a chance to see all those lovely twin-cylinder BSAs, Triumphs and Nortons that I missed years ago – and meet some of the old racers like David Aldana, Mark Brelsford, Dick Mann etc.

AMA Championship racing takes place mainly on half-mile and mile dirt ovals mainly 750cc twins but they also use quarter-mile short-track ovals where they run single-cylinder bikes.

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It’s been possible to see proper US-style dirt track racing here in the UK since 2005 – although it’s called Short Track here, but Saturday night was the first time one of their races didn’t clash with one of my road race commitments and, I’ve got to say, I’m so glad I’ve finally managed to catch a glimpse of it.

The whole event was far more than I’d hoped it could be, in terms of interesting bikes and damn good, no-holds-barred racing.

When the 12-strong final barrelled down into the first turn, it could easily have been the Municipal Stadium. Only the names on the leathers were different. The yellow lights picked out shadows of riders and bikes bucking and weaving as they tried everything to find that little extra traction to get them off the turn.

The leader had it locked sideways then split-seconds later the rear would fish-tail back and forth as someone dived under him.

For 12 manic laps it was that kind of action. There was more overtaking in one crazy race than you could see in an entire speedway meeting. Fantastic.

Even my 12-year-olds, who have a passing interest in bikes but would normally much rather have guitars slung around their necks, were totally captivated - even though the meeting went on well into the night.

Racing was delayed because the ambulance hadn’t arrived! But American meetings drag on to way past midnight anyway.

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Yep, lovely bikes, great racing, cool bunch of guys and wonderful atmosphere. What more can you ask for an evening out at the races?

Here’s to Short Track UK going from strength to strength. I wanna see more of it. Next round is July 30 at Eastbourne, another fantastic little circuit. Must check my diary to see if the kids and I can get to that one.

Short Track UK Championship

Remaining rounds

July 30, Eastbourne, 2pm

August 13, Newport, 2.30pm

August 20, Scunthorpe, 3pm

September 3, Stoke, 2pm

September 16, BMF Peterborough, 4pm

September 30, Kings Lynn 7pm.

The whole UK Short Track thing is the brainchild of Pete Boast, a former road racer and speedway rider who has dabbled in the sport Stateside and had the vision to establish the sport here using our small speedway tracks which are much tighter than the US short tracks.

I reckon short track has the potential to reach a much wider audience among the biking fraternity than speedway because the bikes look so close to the sort of thing you could ride on the road. In fact there’s a whole street-tracker cult in the States.

Speedway bikes look like a bicycle frame with an engine – totally alien to regular bikers. They ride totally different too – with the speedway bike geometry allowing a nice controlled slide all the way around the corner while a short tracker (with more conventional road-based geometry) looks absolutely manic, slipping and sliding from lock-to-lock, teeting on the edge of traction.

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On Saturday the variety of bikes was immense. Just like the States the single-cylinder bikes came in two styles – the original low-slung ‘slider’ chassis built specifically for dirt-track racing and the converted off-road motocrosser (or supermoto) with lowered suspension and dirttrack tyres.

Defending champion Italian Marc Belli rides a genuine US-built wood Rotax dirt tracker, the CCM have a factory team on TF35Rs to promote their road-legal FT35s single. Boast rides a low-slung Honda CRF450 converted crosser, two Dutch guys race modified KTM off-roaders. You get the idea.

It’s not just high-level race stuff though. One guy even had a Suzuki e-bay purchase and just changed the tyres, pipe and bars on the stock roadster to go racing. Oh and PB’s Gary Inman was there on his American-built Knight-framed Rotax while Bike magazine’s Chippy Wood was racing his long-term Suzuki DRZ.

There’s also a ThunderBike class for 600cc to 1200cc twins and mutis – more than a handful on a tiny 260metre track like Mildenhall. Boasty has built his own SV650-powered tracker with a £350 motor from a breaker’s yard, a specially commissioned frame and dirt track wheels . The entire project cost around a very affordable £3000!

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Other twins include James Chapman’s mellow-sounding 600cc Ducati Monster and the outrageous heavyweight Harley 883 of Steve Hazel – a real handful at Mildenhall.

Instead of the four-lap, four-rider team racing you get at speedway, short track is all about individual racing. Each rider gets three six-lap qualifiers.

Top scorers got through to sudden-death eight-lap semi-finals and the top five from each got to the final with the top two from a last-chance race making up the 12-rider, 12-lap final.

The great thing is that, unlike speedway, is more often than not down to who makes the gate, short track is wide open with massive scraps through the entire field. There wasn’t one race all night that didn’t feature some spectacular passing.

There wasn’t one race where you didn’t cheer like crazy as riders bounced off each other to make the moves.

The sport may be in its infancy and there may be a wide range of talent and experience but damn me is it a great show! The semis and final of the single-cylinder races were just unbelievable with Lee Complin and Andy Moore making it a 1-2 for the CCM factory team ahead of Darren Pearson and Marco Belli.

Boasty was pushed back to sixth behind Dutch rider Oege de Jong. But in the Thunderbikes Boasty came out on top with the same sort of stylish sliding that the top Americans seem so comfortable doing.

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After working eight or nine weekends straight covering BSB or other related road racing events for MCN, I had a break before the British GP where I’ll be helping our regular GP reporter Matt Birt. So what did I do with my free Saturday night? Took my two youngest boys to watch some bike racing, of course.

Not just any old bike racing but American-style dirt track at Mildenhall Speedway. I’ve been a life-long fan of the sport. My passion for it started back in the late Sixties when I read an AMA Championship season review in a Yank-mag called Cycle Guide and the top 10 guys were riding Harleys, Triumphs and BSAs.

The bikes looked so cool, the guys wore full face Bell Stars and coloured team leathers. It all seemed so much more glitzy than dull old black leathers and open-faced lids that everyone seemed to wear no matter what bike sport you looked at in the UK.

My interested was cemented for good when I saw On Any Sunday the first time – an epic documentary charting a year of American racing with a huge amount of it covering Mert Lawwill’s 1970 racing season trying to defend his Number One plate.

There was some other bloke in it called McQueen – a real bike nut apparently but Lawwill was the real hero as far as I was concerned.

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