With the continuing rise of flat track racing, it should be no surprise that Roland Sands Super Hooligans National Championship (SHNC) is on the rise with it. With only two pages of rules and a low barrier to entry, riders take 2-cylinder street bikes– 750cc or larger– and have at it on a variety of small racetracks, both paved and dirt.
To make things even more inclusive, SHNC has support classes for pit bikes, scooters, air-cooled machines, supermoto, and the like. And just in case none of that floats your boat, the Run What Ya Brung (RWYB) class is open to anyone on two wheels. No trophies, no points… just a day of racing. As the recent owner of a $750 Buell Blast I found on Craigslist, it was a no-brainer: I was goin’ racin’.
It’s unfair to expect much for $750, so a bike that doesn’t need parts immediately, doesn’t leak, and isn’t drowning in DMV fees is a win in my book. Photo: Johnny Killmore.
Sign up took all of five minutes after one too many beers at the Kernville Kampout, so I started looking for friends that could help me occupy a pit space at the Moto Beach Classic: the final round of the 2019 SHNC calendar. The race happens in Huntington Beach, my hometown, so I was able to wrangle up some help from my friend Richard Nowels, a.k.a. Mr. Head.
Head is a retired Boeing engineer so I was a bit worried he might look at my Craigslist special with disdain. It had a front tire mounted on the back, and my air intake was nothing more than a silicone tube stuck onto the carburetor, then a pod filter stuck on the end of the tube. My worries were misplaced though because Head also has a strong work ethic and set about making some decent number plates and helping me guess at what tire pressures would work.
“Race ready.” I had to ride this thing 450 miles to get home the next day, so expectations on race day were set low. Photo: Richard Nowels.
The first thing to contend with was the track. I had been expecting a track like the one from the last two years: a small dirt oval with no banking. Instead, it was a parking lot TT course; that means an oval of sorts, but with a start/finish line jump (made of plywood) and a right turn after the first corner. This made the track big enough that I’d need to shift between first and second gear constantly, speeds would be higher, and I’d actually need to use my mushy front brake a lot.
These would normally be good things for someone with a road racing background like me, but I wasn’t expecting to have much speed or traction to deal with, which would keep things relatively safe. In short, I’d rather be sliding sideways at 20mph than heading straight at a barrier at 40mph, hoping the brakes will work.
I was also worried about the jump. The Buell Blast was probably set up for a 120 lbs. rider at best: I weigh 220 lbs. Also, with the trademark under-engine exhaust found on most Buell’s, I was instantly bottoming out the muffler, no matter how slowly I rolled over the jump.
The Buell Blast was definitely not designed to go off of jumps with a 220lbs rider. Photo: Richard Nowels.
The sound was loud enough that the flagman kept ducking lower and lower each time I came by, his eyes fixated on the bottom of my bike. I was starting to think I was leaving sparks behind or that I had bent something so bad the exhaust was about to come off. Fortunately, I only found some scratches underneath when I checked, but I still had a problem to solve.
I thought back to Evel Knievel and how he always tried to land firmly on the back wheel first. The big Harley’s he jumped didn’t have much suspension travel so he needed to spread the shock out. Based on this I decided to launch faster and keep the throttle on after leaving the ramp. This put the bike in a more nose-up attitude. For the next session, I only bottomed out about half the time. Progress.
On the downside, I was slow as hell. There were 27 bikes in my class and I was 22nd fastest. To be fair, a lot of racers were using the class to get extra track time, so the field was a mix of 450cc Supermoto racers, small-displacement dirt bikes on knobby tires, and the random folks on Sportsters, Dyna’s, and vintage motocross bikes. I was expecting to be slow, but damn…
The mix of bikes in the Run What Ya Brung class was more varied than I’ve ever seen. Race bikes, dirt bikes, vintage bikes, street bikes…so many bikes. Photo: Richard Nowels.
Starting from the second row on a track this small means you are basically guaranteed not to make the podium. With six bikes per row, I was gridded in 11th of 12 for my heat race. Amazingly I got an okay start. Plus, the lead group was gone so quick that I didn’t feel as far back. I found myself chasing someone dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, with a surfboard mounted to the side of his bike.
This was surreal, but I had people hounding me on the outside, so I didn’t have time to fully appreciate things. I was finding a rhythm, dragging the shifter and footpeg in the corners, and even catching a little wheelspin on the corner exits. I was running in 7th and thinking, “well, at least I’m first out of the people on the second row,” when I landed the jump and lost all power. I coasted to a stop on the inside of the track but couldn’t find a problem.
I pushed back to my pit space and began to diagnose. Spark plug wire still connected, ignition fuse not blown or loose, fuel line still on. Wait, why is the carburetor sitting sideways?!! Well, on the Buell Blast the airbox acts as a mount for the carb. My homemade intake just hung off the carb providing no support but instead helping lever it off the intake manifold after landing the jump too many times.
The bike and I definitely clicked better with the flowing roads on the way down to the racetrack.
One Last Chance
Usually, if you don’t finish your heat race, you don’t get to make the main event. For RWYB though, they have a “B Main” to let everyone get their laps in. We didn’t have any way to fix our problem, so we just tried to run some safety wire from the carb to the frame, hoping it could hold the carb in place. I only had to last six laps to do: would it hold?
I don’t think anyone got the memo about the B Main because only six of us were lined up when there should have been 12 on the grid. It felt less frantic at least and quickly found myself in 4th place going into the first turn. Diving to the inside I picked up one spot and was again behind the guy with the surfboard.
Run What Ya Brung brings out all types. Photo: Richard Nowels.
The bike looked like a Suzuki DR-200, which meant I had a few more horsepower but was also carrying about 100 extra pounds; fully one-third more weight. But reality doesn’t mean much when you’re racing, so I set after him in the hopes he might make a mistake on the brakes. This also meant I completely forgot about the carb and, on only the second lap, I lost power again as I landed the jump.
I went right for the carb while I was still coasting, but it wasn’t going back in without a screwdriver. I had even thought of bringing one, but no way was I going to crash with a screwdriver in my pocket. I figured I could jam my knee against the carb and hold it vaguely in place, so I prepared to re-enter the race. Just then I looked up and saw the leader coming around with his fist in the air: the race was over… but my day wasn’t.
More Than Motorcycles
The Moto Beach Classic started as an invite-only race for some friends, but with a flood of people coming to spectate, it was quickly realized that it had potential as an actual event. And because of that, the event is more than just a race. There is a surf competition, bands (Long Beach Dub All-Stars headlined this year), a small track for kids to race, vendor row, food, and a stunt show.
It’s a chance for gearheads to bring their non-gearhead friends out and enjoy some sun, sand, surf, and sounds. Personally I recommend the event to antisocial people like myself because there isn’t a crush of people, none of the lines are super long, and any time a crowd forms for one particular event, there are other things you can check out.
I spent most of my time in the pits because I had friends who came out to visit, but I made sure to look at the bikes on display, see some of the vendors, and look at the Architects of Inspiration art show. It had a low-key vibe that I clicked with. It had the quiet feel of being in an art gallery but you were outdoors, on the beach, looking at work that was varied enough to deserve a closer look.
That’s a Wrap: Almost
I didn’t care that I couldn’t complete a session on the bike. I had fun. I enjoyed the event in a way I never could when I was racing full time. I was always spinning wrenches, looking at track maps, going through notes when I used to race. I couldn’t watch other people race or stroll the vendors.
After spending a decade-and-a-half essentially living at racetracks, it occurred to me that I had been missing a huge part of the experience. I still prefer to have some sort of involvement beyond spectating, but it was a welcomed change to do double-duty as a racer and spectator. I had far more memories as I rode the long, boring stretch of I-5 to get home to Oakland. Usually, I’d be heading home in a van, pulling a trailer, reviewing my entire weekend in a slow-motion turn-by-turn in my mind.
Now I was riding a motorcycle, forced into a sedate pace by strong winds and a serious lack of horsepower. It allowed my mind to wander far beyond the world of tire pressures and cornering techniques. I was able to enjoy the entire experience, and not just the few minutes I spend hauling ass on the track. There’s no doubt about it: I may be done with racing, but I still have countless ways to enjoy riding a motorcycle at speed.