After being cooped up in my garage for six months, I was itching for a good opportunity to pack my saddlebags, hop on a motorcycle, and ride anywhere but the grocery store. A plan began to form over a few beers during a Zoom happy hour with a few friends. The American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) was hosting a race 2.5 hours south. We couldn’t get on track, but why should that stop us from getting as near as we could to full race-prepped, go-fast motorcycles and sharing a few beers with other enthusiasts?
In a normal year, my friend and I would spend a decent chunk of our time on the road for both business and pleasure, and 2020 had us feeling more stationary than ever. We had the gear to get out of the house, so even with short notice we went for it.
Our plan was thinly veiled as taking two retro-inspired machines to a vintage race. My friend strapped a tent to a Kawasaki Z900RS, and I lay my saddlebags over a loaner Royal Enfield INT650. Despite the romantic thesis of the trip, our actual objectives included a bit of scouting, a healthy dose of learning, and a lot of relaxing.
We laid a “blue highways” route, keeping off the super slab as much as possible as we motored from Traverse City south to the 2.21-mile circuit located just outside South Haven, Michigan. A leisurely ride, really—some straight-shot roads mixed with a few fast-sweeping turns that interrupted the monotony of 55-mph cruising. The relaxed ride itself was part of the escape. When we arrived at GingerMan, we ate brats purchased from the paddock food stand and took a stroll to see what interesting machines and riders had congregated in southwestern Michigan.
The race weekend was hosted by the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA), which meant the vast majority of the grid was filled with bikes that had survived at least one scrap drive in their life, if not two or three. The grid was a bit smaller than usual, due to the the global pandemic, but the AHRMA road racing group is very tightly knit and often forms a veritable convoy between events. Follow a 7×14 trailer with a vintage Honda sticker on its side and you’re more than likely to end up at an AHRMA race.
The range of financial investment in the paddock was wide. A toterhome with five prepped Ducatis sat across from a group of four guys with tents pitched in the grass behind a late-model pickup hauling a Honda CB160. The contrast was eye-opening, but it also suggested that the barrier to entry was lower than I had expected. As I chatted up racers and mechanics that night, vaguely hoping to be handed a free beer, the most dangerous thought in racing flitted across my mind: “I think I can do this.”
I reminded myself that my riding partner at this very event had gone to a different race and become so caught up in the experience that he bought a CB160 race bike that needed an engine rebuild. Two years later he sold it, still with no engine in the frame. Even the “minimal” race efforts were not cheap, I told myself; I’m no magician who could make a race machine appear out of thin air for $20. To go racing would take dollars, and in the end would make little sense for me.
Or would it? A counterargument began to congeal. Everyone I talked to over the course of the weekend was having a blast. Maybe it would be worth my money just to go and have fun a few weekends a year. Particularly appealing was the LeMans-start class, which kicked off the racing on Saturday. Class rules dictate that the rider stand on one side of the front straight, their bike held by a friend on the opposite side. When the green flag drops, said rider hustles to their machine, starts the engines with a running bump start, and takes to racing.
As was only appropriate, we stayed up late drunkenly trying to solve the world’s problems. The pea-shooter exhausts from the small-bore practice group became our alarm clocks, and for two days we sat and simmered in a motorcycle haze comprised of a 50:1 mix of Castrol pre-mix oil and glassy-eyed, two-wheeled dreams. We imagined our knees skipping along the pavement, rolling on the throttle exiting onto the front stretch. Thoughts of making the leap from spectator to participant were never far from our minds.
Surprisingly, our dedication to trying to making that transition reality has not waned. Winter is approaching faster than the superbikes climbing into GingerMan’s turn three, and we have some time to sit on an idea that just might hatch. Even if that plan is stillborn, a weekend at the track was a welcome reprieve from real-world responsibility. We will be back, either on two wheels or hauling two wheels.