When we were shunted off the track at one hundred and forty miles per hour, I knew I was going to die…
Brainerd International Raceway, Turn One. It comes up after a full mile of drag-strip straightaway, and you are at terminal velocity for whatever motorbike you are riding when this steeply banked 90Â° right-hander looms up at you. Tucked-in, under “the bubble”, it comes on fast. Very fast. And it is beyond anything you have ever experienced on the street. Trust me on this.
It was the last lap of a sprint race, Gogo and I were running fourth. A rider on a CBR 600 had been dogging us all race long. In the tight, technical infield, we owned him, blasting out of the corners on waves of Ducati torque that he couldn’t hope to match. But as soon as we throttled out of turn ten, he began to draft us, and he had a whole mile to wind it out and make his move on high-rpm, four-cylinder horsepower.
That was the chess game we played throughout the race; torque versus horsepower. On the white-flag lap, Gogo and I got a great run out of turn ten, and we still led going into turn one. When we reached the end of the straight, in a desperate move, Mr. Squidly dived down to the point where the banking transitioned, and his bike got into a wicked tank-slapper. He wobbled up the banking, slamming into Gogo and I, and knocked us off the track. The force of the impact stabilized his bike, and he finished the race. In fourth. The Bastard…
Meanwhile, on the shaggy wet grass of the outfield, my 900SS Ducati bucked like a bronco when it’s suspension bottomed out over lumps that it wasn’t designed to take. Clamping my knees around the tank, and trying in vain to hold the bars straight, there was no hope of applying Brembo braking power to slow us down. It was all I could do just to hang on.
As the ditch in front of the access road approached, I felt helpless to stop the raging forces of momentum, and resigned myself to an ignominious end; just another victim of high-velocity physics…
How the heck did I get into this mess?
Brainerd International Raceway was the birthplace of the Central Roadracing Association. In the mid nineteen-nineties, I started hanging around, and it didn’t take long before I caught the racing bug.
Working two full-time technical jobs; eighteen hours a day, ninety hours a week, I was able to save enough cash in six months to buy a brand new 1995 Ducati 900SS Cafe Racer.
It was a brutal Winter. I spent that entire six months of double full-time hell staring at wallpaper of this bike on the various PCs that I was working with at the time. The Italian mystique of those beautiful lines, and their total dedication to speed captured my very soul. That brilliant red image was burned into my retinas, and haunted the few hours of REM sleep that I managed to get during any given week.
But the reality of that Ducati was even better than I could have imagined, and it boosted me into the trajectory of the life I live today.
Immediately, I became a devotee of espresso. Gogo and I haunted “Bob’s Java Hut”, where we would hang out and wait for others of our kind to congregate. At some point, we would reach critical mass, and a Ride would form. That would usually take us onto the Alphabet Roads of nearby Wisconsin, at ton-up speeds and maximum adrenaline overload.
That was where I learned to scrape my kneepucks on the ground and eliminate the “chicken strips” from my tires. That was where I broke in my racing leathers. That was where I acquired the desire to race for real, against other speed freaks on that fearsome track at Brainerd.
And that was where I made a decision which very nearly ended my life.
The crash was a good one. It’s too bad the TV cameras weren’t there to capture the carnage. Gogo dived down into that ditch and threw me a long way over the road, and out into the woods. At some point, my right knee disassembled itself. Ribs cracked, muscles tore, and I hit my head hard enough to break the visor on my helmet. But I never lost consciousness.
What I remember is staring up at the sky, unable to breathe, as I listened to the slap-slap-slap of corner worker’s shoes crossing the racetrack. Then, their heads popped into view around the perimeter of my blurred vision. “Are you alright?”
My reply, of course, was a weak “Aughkt! Argh! Ack!”.
They lifted me to my feet, and eventually I was able to hobble over to the ditch where Gogo had come to rest. She was a pitiful, broken sight, and I wanted to die. But then the ambulance arrived, and I had to take the mandatory ride back to the medical facility.
What followed was many months of recuperation, both mine and Gogo’s. After tending to the bent frame, forks, and wheels, I purchased a set of Sharkskinz bodywork for her, with a Powerbronze dual-round-headlight front end, and a new paint job that I had designed during my rehabilitation.
This took us through the Winter of 1996, and it was Spring of `97 before we got back on the road. My boss at the time was kind enough to terminate my employment with a generous severance package, just in time to enjoy the upcoming riding season.
For six blissful, unemployed months, I explored my new avocation as a cafe racer and budding motojournalist. Those were the happiest days of my life, up to that point. That was when I started writing “Diary of a Cafe Racer” for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly, and when I found my true calling in life.
But my old maxim, “Nothing cool ever lasts…”, was never so true as it was in the years to come. I won’t go into details here, but life definitely took a turn for the worse. There were employment problems, legal hassles, and the constant pressure of living up to my new “Outlaw Cafe Racer” image. When my daughter Emily was born in November of `99, I had to leave all of that behind me.
I did so, with no regrets. Today, my life is much more relaxed. The role of father and family man is a challenge worthy of my best efforts. My motorbikes are slower, but the riding experience is richer. My old racing leathers don’t fit anymore, and that is probably a Good Thing.