Friday, May 05, 2006


On Saturday, April 29, I drove to Virginia City for the Virginia City Motorcycle Club's Grand Prix Outlaw Race 2006. I took Highway 341 over Mount Rose - a straight shot from Incline. Two hours, tops.

I parked on C Street at Carson and hiked up C past Solid Muldoon’s, the Red Dog Saloon, the Silver Queen Hotel, The Bucket of Blood Saloon, Happy Hoofers’ Carriage Tours and the Delta Saloon, home of the famous Suicide Table, where, ironically enough, registration for the race was set up. I continued up the wooden plank sidewalk, under the Victorian eaves of saloons, restaurants and shops, to the end of the block.

The street was filled with hundreds of bikes revving and bucking into position, kicking up an acrid cloud of smoke and dust. An ungodly, high-pitched scream of two- and four-stroke engines filled the air. The combination made my solar-plexus flutter. I could imagine the same street filled with cattle and horses back in the 1800s, kicking up a cloud of dust and dung. Same assault on the senses. Same giddy excitement. Same sense of barely bridled power. Same cowboys.

I was just in time to see the start of the race. One row of ten bikes across got the yellow flag, ten riders stomped on the gas, skidded around a ninety degree turn and down a steep street while the next row of ten bikes bucked and skidded into start position. After the last ten bikes disappeared around the corner and down the hill I stood with the remaining spectators in an empty street full of dust and gasoline fumes.

We casually followed the fumes down the hill then I turned left onto pit row. I’ll see one of the dogs first, I said to myself as I began looking for my people. Sure enough, I spotted Luke weaving through the crowd, headed in my direction. Attached to him was Kimmy. I hugged Kimmy and patted Luke on his bony red head.

We took all three dogs for a walk. Bo was pulling on his leash much more aggressively than usual and I chalked it up to his Alpha status. Luke and Pismo look more like brothers, one black, one red, both thin and greyhound-looking. Bo looks like a wolf. He insisted on being out in front of the others. I was surprised at his personality change around his homeys. Kimmy laughed at my naievte. “House Angel?” I asked, and we both laughed.

She left me in charge of all three dogs while she carefully selected one of the many green portapotties lined up at the end of pit row. After locating our pit we took the dogs to her car, which was parked in a little lot below the cliff where the ancient cowboy town was perched above us. There was a festive group of people tailgating in the spot across from Kimmy. They had lawn chairs, a cooler, a barbeque grill, a boom box and a killer view of the race course spread out in tiers across the valley below. We tied the dogs up and then I went to get the truck. A parking spot opened up just as I pulled into the lot. We locked Kimmy’s stuff in the truck and left her SUV hatch open so the dogs could get in and out from where they were tied up to the trailer hitch. I decided to climb the back stairs of one of the old-timey clifftop saloons in search of indoor plumbing before heading to the pits.

We walked down the hill and found the rest of the crew - Kim, Sean and Patrick – under a blue tent-top on tall stakes. They'd set up lounge chairs and a table with supplies for the racers. On the ground were gas cans ready to be hoisted and shoved into the bikes’ tanks as they came screaming into the pits.

Who’s racing today? I asked. Just Tom and Chris, answered the crew. It was all quiet in the pits after the racers had come through the first time. Neither Tom nor Chris had stopped. Chris did a wheelie as he bypassed the pits and four minutes later Tom tore by standing on his pegs.

The shreik of a wide-open engine fighting gravity cut through the air. It was either the first of the third lap or a straggler from the second lap, headed toward the gate. The bikes came flying straight up a steep hill then took a hard ninety-degree right turn at the top before proceeding along pit row only inches from the track other racers were using to bypass the pits in the opposite direction going for the next lap. When they took that last turn in bunches, someone usually got hung up in the orange plastic mesh separating the two tracks. There had been a few pile-ups already. It could get hairy when riders start scrambling in both directions, I said to myself.

Kim looked at her watch and said, "They’ll be coming back around in fifteen or twenty minutes," and everybody started eyeballing the supplies: clean goggles, water, energy bars, gas, rags and tools.

MotoMouth was on the PA announcing racers coming through the gate and heading back to the pits. "Hey! Get that bicycle out of the pits! There’s a bunch of dogs in the pits! There’s a motorcycle race going on here, people. Absolutely, positively, no dogs in the pits! Leader in! Leader in! Steve Tichenor!"

The second lap was coming in. Everyone in the pits was standing by. Checking watches. Getting cameras ready. Looking across the valley for a glimpse of their rider. Chris rolled in and ripped his helmet off. His face was bright red and wet with sweat mixed with a layer of caked red dirt. Somebody handed him a water bottle.

He poured water over his face and head as I handed Kim his goggles. They got splashed with water and he had to wipe them off. Bad pit-craft, I said to myself and made a mental note to keep fresh goggles protected until the rider reaches for them. Better yet, take pictures and keep out of the way. Pat unscrewed the gas cap. Sean poured the gas while Pat checked out the bike. He wiped the number plate clean and Chris peeled away.

As soon as he was out of sight, I eased over to the spot right at the top of the hill where the racers would take the last turn and held my phone-cam in ready position where I thought Tommy would appear.

You can always tell when Tommy’s coming because of his orange jersey, I heard Kimmy say.

I kept my eyes on the track a few switchbacks down the hill so I could spot the orange jersey before it disappeared at the bottom of the hill a few seconds before popping back up at the top.

As soon as I detected movement through the viewfinder I pressed OK and got a shot of Tommy taking the last turn in perfect form.

I made it back to the pits just as he raced in.

Where’s Chris? He gasped before the bike rolled to a stop.

Four minutes ahead of you, answered the crew as they got busy.

Kimmy and Kim did water, food and goggles – in that order. Sean gassed up the bike. Pat checked gears and tires and cleaned off the number plate. Seconds later Tommy was back on the track trying to chase Chris down.


Blogger beelers said...

Nice stuff. I could smell the gas.

Sorry it took so long to comment, but I wanted to devote my attention to your piece. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Happy trails,

1:18 PM  

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