“You gotta come out and see this,” Dave said to me one Friday.
“I’m all about seeing things I have to see,” I replied. “What are you showing me?”
“Here’s the address. I’ll be there around 10,” he replied.
As it turned out, Dave and I were attending the final round of the club championship of the Central Coast Motorcycle Club – a dirt-track event which helpfully and with some top-notch racing, reaffirmed my views on motorcycling.
Casey Stoner raced at this track on his path to MotoGP glory. Tracks like this and events like this are what forge the world champions of the future. If ever the old saw about mighty oaks growing from little acorns applies, it applies here at Somersby.
There were maybe 60-odd riders of all ages – from kindergarten-aged children to leathery old dads – banging handlebars, powering off walls they used as berms (!) and engaging in racing every bit as ruthless and exciting as anything I’ve seen on MotoGP.
The track (for Track events) is a vague oval of compacted dirt (it can be altered with an extra half-turn kink added if the event is classed as Dirt Track) surrounded by barriers, tyres and concrete marshals’ nooks.
But it really doesn’t matter about the configuration. What it really is is a fighting pit of snarling, furious, no-holds-barred competition – pure, feral motorcycle racing where the surface is loose, the walls are hard, and the ambulance crew sits under a tree never further than 50-metres from where it might go wrong.
It’s as exciting a thing to watch as you can imagine.
And it’s non-stop. Race follows upon race – three-lappers mainly, with a two-lap warm-up to get a feel for where the bloke in front might tank it.
The races are loud, bold and often brilliant short-lived chess-matches of balls and brains – and even come with that haughty over-the-shoulder glance the winner often bestows upon those he just bitched.
I walked around the pits, the infield, and hung with a few of the marshals, and felt I was seeing something rather primal and very crucial.
The people who race here, their families and friends, are all bona fide motorcycle nuts. This is Old School Motorcycling in an age of Facebook riders – most of whom do not even know this kind of thing exists. But they should. Because this is motorcycling – and even the smallest kid thumping his 50cc minibike around the oval displays more skill in three laps than most of those Facebook warriors will manage in their lives. I’m not even going to mention the older monsters, who hammer around that oval at speeds which take your breath away.
I found one of these older monsters…
Dave Smith (#426) is 29-year-old plumber, and has been racing dirt for 23 years, most recently on two Hondas – a CRF 450 and 250 – because “We get a good package from the engine builder.”
“Dad raced cars,” he told me when I asked him how this all began for him. “He wanted us to have a go, but we were too young to race cars at the time.”
So it was dirt-bikes. Dave did eventually try the four-wheelers, but they just didn’t do it for him.
“The thrill just wasn’t there,” he smiled.
I wanted to know if after more than two decades the thrill was still thrilling.
“I couldn’t imagine life without it,” Dave laughed. “It’s a great way of re-setting yourself each week. An escape where you meet different people, catch up with mates…”
“So why not make the jump to road-racing,” I asked when he told me had tried it on the bitumen.
“Dirt is it,” Dave replied. “Dirt is affordable. I loved the experience of road-racing, but dirt-track is just more viable.”
Not far off, Nathan Thompson and his two sons, Carter, 11 (#295 on the dirt and #21 on the road), and Hudson, 9 (#294), were having a quiet moment, so I inflicted myself upon them.
“Is this like being a soccer dad but with petrol and chains?” I asked.
Nathan laughed. “A bit. But both the kids are competitive and enjoy being on the bikes. I just try to guide them, I guess.”
“Is mum at home worrying?” I asked.
“Nathan laughed again. “Christie is marshalling out on the track. In fact, she’s the one usually urging them to go harder.”
“Just out of curiosity, does all this racing stuff have an impact on their schooling?”
Nathan looked serious for a sec. “The teachers say they are more driven at school. I think the track competition translates to normal life.”
“Mind if I have a word to the kids?” I asked.
“Go for it,” Nathan said, and called his boys over.
“Carter prefers the road to the dirt,” he said. “And Hudson, who grew up around all this – he actually used to be called ‘Hotdog’ by the ladies in the canteen because he just loved them so much – is all about the dirt.”
“So you prefer racing on the bitumen track, yes?” I asked Carter.
He nodded. “It’s a lot funner,” he told me in all seriousness. “There are more turns and you can get your knee down.”
Carter had raced at Port Macquarie, Cameron Park and Albury, told me Jack Miller was his hero and MotoGP was his dream.
He also told me that “Everyone in school is interested in what I do.” Which led me to remember that no-one at school was ever interested in what I did on weekends, which is probably why I am so dysfunctional as an adult.
I then addressed Carter’s younger brother, Hudson.
“You’re more into the dirt stuff, huh?” I asked.
Hudson nodded. “You can learn how to do loose stuff,” he said. “It’s really about fun. I used to play soccer, but I chose dirt-racing because I liked it more.”
The kid was going to be a superstar, I thought.
Hudson’s hero was Motard demon, Gage McAllister. Hudson planned to grow up to be just like Gage.
I figured mum and dad were parenting just about right.
I rode home that afternoon wondering why the track wasn’t teeming with spectators. The racing certainly warranted it. The people were friendly, family-oriented and mad bike nuts. The canteen served up decent food, cold drinks, and everywhere you looked you could see people totally engaged in doing something they really loved.
Primal motorcycling – it’s happening at a venue near you on most Sundays. Sadly, it’s happening without you even seeing it.
But that’s easy to change, right?
By Boris Mihailovic