I am celebrating our 150th Canadian Celebration in my column by taking a holiday from the Tech side of things… Graeme asked us to consider Canada day in our scribing and it got me thinking about some of the thoughts and memories I have that are quintessentially unique to Canadian riders.
I am not sure why most of us are so nervous crossing the border. It is the same needless stress that some of us get when we use our credit or debit card, always holding our breath until we see the ‘approved’ message. 20 odd years ago, my buddy Mark and I were on a perfectly innocent racing trip down to Road Atlanta where we both raced our TZ 250 GP bikes, but as we slowly progressed towards the American Customs gate, there was an eerie silence in the old grey van we borrowed from his parents. You see, Mark was born in England, but has been in Canada since he was a toddler, so the answer of “Canadian” when his citizenship was questioned was both automatic and expected, if not totally correct. On previous trips when he answered “British, or Landed Immigrant”, long stressful discussions ensued, usually accompanied by a half hour search to inspect the bikes, compare VIN #s to those on our filled out Green Cards and inspect our personal belongings. So, the temptation to answer ‘Canadian’ was extreme. As we inched closer, I wondered what he would say today, not wanting to influence his decision and share in the repercussions yet hoping his answer wouldn’t be challenged. I grabbed the last Arbys roast beef sandwich out of the bag, in an effort to remain visually, if not actually distracted. We moved closer, only one car to go. Mark and I were both Pro Road Racers in Canada and in the US, and we were headed to an AMA Pro National, so the possibility of winning money was real, which further concerned the customs officers when they started asking questions. I nibbled on my sandwich nervously. Sometimes the driver window didn’t roll down when you needed it to in this old beater. I started to sweat. We pulled up to the Customs officer. Mark’s window rolled down smoothly, whew. We looked over at the bottoms of two crossed feet up on the window’s edge and 8 fingertips holding a newspaper. That’s all we saw. The top two fingers bent the top of the paper down and a voice boomed out “SSiisinshp!” in a thick Detroit drawl. Mark and I sat in stunned silence, mostly by the view, but secondly, we didn’t understand the statement. “CITISINSHIP!?!” the voice repeated, slightly clearer but much louder as we were obviously inconveniencing him by our presence. “CANADIAN!” Mark and I nervously shouted together, for some reason feeling the need to answer with the same volume and urgency as we had been questioned. “GO” was all he said as the paper flipped back up. Mark looked at me nervously, perhaps expecting immediate and fierce repercussion for the technical inaccuracy in his answer. I looked at Mark dumbfounded and smacked him, “you heard the man…. GO!” I said with medium volume. We were maybe 5 miles down the I-75 before we burst out laughing at the top of our lungs. To this day we always use the word ‘CANADIAN’ when asked an odd question, because it sure was the right answer that day!
I am sure we all have memorable road trips and destinations that being a motorcyclist in Canada has facilitated. Racing in the US has given me the opportunity to attend Daytona Beach at least 5 times for Bike Week. Unbeknownst to most of the thousands of bikers that descend on this Florida town every spring, there is actually a pretty huge motorcycle race that occurs at the massive Daytona International Speedway during Bike Week. “What’s it like?” my friends ask me that haven’t made the trip. Well, it’s like a week-long beer commercial, is my standard reply. A walk down main street, the beach, or the A1A if you can free up the time, is PG-13 at best and always entertaining. Mark and I would meet up with our great friends Andrew Trevitt, sometimes with brother Pete or Steve in tow and Pete Snell. After registration and sign in, along with the mandatory Jumping of the rental car out of the tunnel, we proceeded to our first security checkpoint. Daytona Security personnel, we were told, were usually armed, retired NYPD. These guys were serious. I am sure they were hoping for the excuse to shoot at least one of us every morning. Our first day, we found our garage area, and, like our hotel room, it was always shared with as many of your friends as could be crammed inside to spread out the cost as much as possible. We got our bikes through tech inspection, which, like customs was always a nervous yet enlightening experience, and then we prepared to head out on track. My first lap was a crowded hectic experience that had you head down the massive pit front straight and into corner 1. You then jockeyed for position through the infield and things started to spread out a bit on the banking as those with the faster bikes cleared away from the others. The chicane slowed things down momentarily, then you ran up onto the big bowl portion of the banking that curled you around to the front straight and back towards corner 1. The chicane exit was a gradual slope up to the banking, and you really didn’t notice the track steepen as your climbing speed glued you to it. The faster bikes could run climb higher up the banking, and the slower bikes tried to take the shorter option down closer to the apron. The longer way around the top of the banking however, paid dividends as you could come ‘down’ the hill as you approached start finish. This was all incredible fun, as was learning the ‘draft’. We draft here at our little tracks in Canada, but it really doesn’t do much till you are well over 200 km/h for a long period of time. Closing in on a rider ahead at 250km/h is much like finding a turbo button that you didn’t know was there. Your bike needs to be geared for the extra 15-20 km/h attainable as you pull out and slingshot by them. All was going well on my first practice session until the last lap. After passing the checkered flag, it is common to slow down and take in the surroundings, wave a thank you to the corner workers and enjoy the sights a bit. Well, no one had bothered to tell me that you HAD to go fast on the banking, they thought I just knew… Well, I wandered out of the chicane and sped up to maybe 140 km/h or so and really took in the speedway. I really didn’t notice the pavement below me tipping steeper and steeper as it transitioned into the SuperSpeedway designed to hold 200mph NASCARs glued to its surface. If you ever tour the speedway, they take you to the steepest part of the banking and at 31 degrees, you need to climb it on all fours, it is too steep to walk up or down. Well, I proceeded to embarrassingly ride / fall / slide on an angle down the banking, as physics had decided my speed wasn’t high enough to keep me there. It was a nervous trip down to the bottom with many a shoulder check to avoid a stupid accident.
Foolishness aside, we Canadians always felt proud, lucky, and blessed to be able to travel where we did to race and ride our bikes. I firmly believe, we are incredibly fortunate that fate and / or luck, mixed with some hard work and hopefully good decisions, has permitted us to live in this, the greatest country in the world.
Maybe next month I will tell you about the two kid brothers from Kentucky that befriended us when we raced at Gratton Michigan. Till next month have fun and stay safe.