BrrrrrrrrrrrrrrBro pop pop brop. The orchestrated rhythm of crank strokes, cam lobes, and pistons sing a chorus of exhaust and intake valves opening, closing, and chattering to the mechanical beat of gas, fire, and power. This is the El Mirage dry lakebed during the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) race season. Nestled in the San Bernardino Forest desert region within close driving proximity to the Los Angeles basin El Mirage is a clay surfaced race track provided by Mother Nature. Since the 1940's hot rodders and speed demons have come to the El Mirage Dry Lakebed to compete for the prestige of Land Speed Racing titles amongst their peers. El Mirage is one of the few places where the genuine desire to go fast and push the limits of design, performance, functionality, and speed rein without pomp, circumstance, online forums, or corporate mega sponsors. These races are for the purists of speed. Many great names in the automotive industry had their start here on the lakebed but the most legendary stories are amongst the groups of racers, friends, and club members who campaign the different race vehicles. The victories and 'not such a good ideas' are shared and put to the test every time a vehicle or motorcycle enters and runs the expertly timed 1.3 mile course. Vehicles and motorcycles participating in the SCTA El Mirage races are all trying to go as fast as they can, with the exception of a few club point sand baggers, while running for personal bests and speed records. To understand El Mirage is to understand one of our base human desires for speed and performance.
The feeling of faster, faster, faster until there is no more gear left in the pedals, pushing your skateboard to the edge of the dreaded and disastrous speed wobbles, cris-crossing your surfboard rails across the open face of a wave, or just jamming as fast as you can down the track field are all part of the primal instinct racers share. As youngsters most of us rode bicycles or skateboards around our neighborhoods with friends, siblings, and neighborhood kids. Inevitability we found ourselves racing each other down the local hill, over a jump, or around a hair pin turn you should probably slow down for but instead speed into. Whether we won, lost, crashed, or survived one of these impromptu battles for speed we were always wondering if we could have, and how we could have gone faster. El Mirage racing is an adult extension of these primal and youthful desires for speed and performance but only this time the machines are bigger, the track is longer, and the timing slips are spot on legitimate. These special race events happen with the coordination amongst 11 clubs and our membership which makes up the SCTA. The ritual of the pre race course walks checking for and removing glass, nails, the occasional bullet, and other debris from the race course, cone and starting line set up, timing towers, nighttime bonfires amongst friends and family, CB checks, waking to pre-sunrise engine warm ups and the beautifully majestic purple, pink, blue, and grey race course horizon are all part of a long tradition we all play a part in. This October meet provided a clean well packed race surface with the only thing lacking being a nice tail wind. To burn off some energy the boys brought their bikes, found some jumps on the out skirts of the race area, and opened up the throttle to blast a few airs.
It was the end. The end of WWII, the end of an epic world battle of blood, industrial machines, guts, heroism, and war torn casualties. Tens of thousands of young American men from the corn fields of Kansas, alleys of New York City, orange groves of Los Angeles, and beaches of San Diego drafted and volunteered to serve our country in defending our rights, liberties, and way of life. One of the byproducts of modern mechanized warfare was the mass use of machinery ranging from complex electronic radar systems, to engines and drive trains found in tanks, jeeps, motorcycles, submarines, and battle ships. A whole generation of young men were trained by our U.S. Government in the use of oxy acetylene torch welding, wrenches, drills, presses, and how to service and break down engines from top to bottom. Carburetor tuning was often directly correlated to a matter of life and death, survival or extinction, and victory or defeat. Standard ’book’ ability and knowledge is only useful to a certain point becoming back ground text to the art of improvised field repairs. Repairs in the moment and out of necessity which when executed properly turn the seemingly impossible into the possible, a stop into a go, the broken into the functional, and the lost into the found. Functioning and high performance equipment did not directly equate to survival but rather raised the odds of survival in a gruesome landscape of death, destruction, and mayhem. The fragility of life and the seemingly nonsensical randomness of who survived and who did not were a part of the time. Everything including human life was used to its maximum and expected to perform at full throttle and beyond what was thought possible. And then it was over.
As these newly minted young Americans with their wartime experiences and skills returned home there was a type of mechanical enlightenment which gave genesis to what we know as hot rods and hot rodding. Dreams could be forged into reality by skillfulness, ingenuity, and resourcefulness. It was possible to build a car or a motorcycle that was better performing, lighter, cooler, faster and cheaper than anything on the shiny new dealership show room floors. Hot Rods and hot rodding became a reality and a movement with a style, lingo, and social interactions all of all of its own. Ford model A’s (1928-1931) and T’s where plentiful, and better yet the 1932 Ford V8, and 1933-34 Fords were perfect canvases to have their fenders stripped, tops chopped, bodies channeled and engines souped up in the quest for better performance and style.
This story is more than just the history of a car type or a trend, it is personal. It is the story of many of our fathers, grandfathers, and now our next generations’ great grandfathers. My grandfather, Victor ‘Vic’ Miller, was one of these WWII youths from English, German, Italian, and Scottish decent, a true cross mix of America, and the son of a widowed minister’s wife with ancestors fighting in The Revolutionary War, and The Civil War. The ‘post war’ story is about how my grandfather and his generation lived their lives and what they did with what was available to them. On any given Sunday with a plain white t-shirt, a wrench in his hand, and grease under his finger nails he worked under the hood of his car. Seeing him in the driveway or on his back under jack stands it would be almost impossible to guess Vic worked his way up from nothing to be the head of a WWII air field and graduate of Cambridge University. His traits were the best of American traits; friendly, calm, straight forward, hard working, and honest with the only air being that of a simple Hemingway-esque clarity. My grandfather Vic and his generations greatness was in the back ground as the their children, the 60’s generation, the generation of social change, sex, drugs, and divorce took the headlines and altered many values for the better and some for the worse. In recent times there has been a re-embrace of many of the good parts of our grandparents’ values, work attitudes, and styles. The allure of restoring and building period correct automobiles and motorcycles lies in capturing the best parts of the past and bringing them back and alive into the present moment and time. For some it can be akin to a kind of zany war reenactment dress up, and for others of us who maintain vintage automobiles and motorcycles it is a part of our everyday routine and regular life. Working on, appreciating, and restoring vintage machines gives us a type of serenity and a throw back to the calm straightforward hard working past of our grandparents generation where it either works or it doesn’t work. The American hot rod mirrors the background of our country which is made up of a patch work of different years, styles, and makes and through thoughtfulness, skill, and innovation turn into something greater and more glorious as a working whole. When built properly these early machines are fast, sometimes dangerous, and just awesome and fun.
I’m not going to get into all the things that went wrong with TROG or The Race of Gentleman 2016 event held at Pismo Beach, CA because there were plenty of them. The event at its best was an opportunity to celebrate a certain narrow slice of traditional themed American automobiles and motorcycles ‘post war’ to pre early 1950’s style, and an opportunity to pay tribute to a moment in time for a generation who started it, as well as making new memories for our generation. It is important to note most of the ‘traditional’ hot rod and motorcycle culture many of us love would most defiantly include panheads, whitewalls, and monster art which came a few years after the era TROG attempts to capture. I guess TROG proves sometimes dredging up the past can be kind of good in some ways and not in others.
IV Flat Track PASS Groovy ½ Mile Motorcycle Races Perris, CA October 8, 2016 Outside of the boundaries and without over regulation the sound of dozens of highly tuned race machines building dreams one lap at a time ripple through the half moon sky. Here on the out skirts of Southern California LA reality lined by neon electric blue glowing circus ferris wheel lights and masses of fairground goers, an inland empire of vastness leans on the grittier side in all the right ways which make our country the most American where everyone with the will is welcome. A brotherhood and sisterhood of racers, flag men, timing women, pit crews, linemen, family, and spectators join in a song of patriotism with moments of silence for those who have passed and given their final lap and last breath of life to the sport, to our country, to the lifestyle, to the competitiveness, to the traditions we all share. Chained fences, wires, and crash bails mark the inner perimeter of the area as the PA announcer’s voice rallies the crowd and racers. Reverberations of an ancient gladiator arena radiate from inside the slopping 1/2 mile banked oval track as a water truck preps the surface for the race. The evolution and the dream of faster, louder, and the pursuit of more wins, more thrills, more power, more performance lingers in a dusty haze as the air fills with two stoke oil and pumped up cylinders burning gasoline. The flag drops, the first heat is off as the racers speed into turn one. The races have officially begun as one heat after another attack the oval track jockeying for position and hunting for the often illusive and prized win. There is some purse money at stake for the pro classes but only as a small token compared to the hours of modification, expenses, time, travel, and often personal peril the sport more often than not serves her worshipers. Just beyond the horizon of competitiveness friendship and camaraderie are the true trophy of the night shared by the many blessed by these moments and relationships between man, woman, and machine. Tonight there is a content feeling of a great race night with no casualties beyond a few bumps, bruises, and broken race parts which can be easily fixed for the next race. This is the new version of the timeless sport of Flat Track Motorcycle Racing. Brian Bell, the conductor of the event, the go to guy, the promoter, the racer, and the everything to get the job done guy does what he does out of pure passion for the sport. As the night comes to a close and after every event Brian checks with all the riders and participants to make sure his mantra of, "If everyone comes to the race and leaves with a great big smile from ear to ear then we have had a successful night." is put into reality. Brian is in large part what makes these events so unique as he is the positive spark igniting and putting into motion a solid group of family, friends, competitors, and volunteers who all pitch in to make these events a go. Brian's version and dream of bringing flat track racing back to the masses and making the sport more accessible has become a reality. IV Flat Track events have single handedly brought the sport of flat track racing back to the masses and palpable for racers of all ages, and skill levels. It is the only event where the latest factory race designs, street Harleys, vintage brakeless Indians, and all things in between have a home on the track to compete. Dust off your old race bikes, build a new one, or just run what you can and come out to experience these special events as a racer or a spectator and enjoy the thrill and great American pastime of flat track motorcycle racing. -MWM website www.ivlft.com Event Sponsors: Vance Hines, Temecula Harley Davidson, Paint by Smokey, Law Tigers, Lifestyle Cycles, Visual Impact Promotions, Speedway USA
We put two new Hot Rod Surf bikes into race action on Saturday night. Here are some highlights of our No.5 early 1970’s style vintage flat tracker ridden by Blake Mehran, and mini No.5 bike ridden by Hans Mehran, No.15 Max Mehran, and No.25 and No. 692 also ridden by Blake Mehran. The difference between our Del Mar 1/8 mile track and the Perris ½ mile was eye opening and exciting. The two new bikes put in a few good laps at a great event as the boys widened their riding experience.