Atlanta Motor Speedway

A few of months ago I spent the weekend down at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. It was that time of year again,  the ABATE spring Rally. It was a great rally this year, subject of a whole separate story. There was greasy food and used parts strewn about tarps and loud rock music and dust and beer and bra-less women, just like the good ‘ol days. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t Lakewood. Those days are gone to the ages. This story is not about that. This story is about one of the activities some of us ABATE members participated in on Sunday, the last day of the rally. The “laps” around the Super Speedway. The Big Track, the Atlanta Motor Speedway, the ‘high banks’. That hallowed ground of old fashioned southern speed. The place where the opening scenes of “Smokey and The Bandit” (1980) were filmed, where “Stroker Ace” (1983) was filmed, where Jimmy Carter worked as a ticket taker as a kid, and where speed heroes like where Dale Earnhardt has won the most races (9), and Richard Petty has posted the most top 10 finishes (33) and the fastest lap ever recorded was by Billy Boat (224 mph) in an Indy car. The place where southern racing culture comes together. Racing history indeed!! Now it should be said that the entire ABATE Spring Rally took place at one of the many exterior lots outside the inner sanctum of the motor speedway. There are many parking lots and camping areas around the speedway that handle the hundreds of thousands of NASCAR fans that show up to the car racing events. Some of the lots are ‘camper’ friendly and have ample crabgrass and paved access roads. I’ve done these ABATE rallies for years, some great, some not, all with purpose. They come in phases, depending upon a lot a factors, mostly ‘participation’ and ‘venue’. This year, things are lookin UP!

We dragged our American Biker Lawyer truck and trailer with supplies and vintage bikes. My girl Mandy and I made no sleeping accommodations for Saturday evening and planned on ‘winging it’, as it were, biker style. We thought for sure we could grab a Super 8 for $89 bucks a night or double up in someone’s camper last minute. The best-laid plans, or lack thereof… After a long hot day of meet and greet, we decided to go to dinner with our friends Randy Snyder and his girl Liz to grab a steak at the local Outback once the festivities at the track cooled down. We had a great meal and caught up with our friends exactly like a biker rally is supposed to be. The shadows in the parking lot grew long at meals end and just as the sun was setting we hugged Randy and Liz and started looking for a room. No luck. The local hotels were all full, but THEN, I had a brainstorm of an idea. Feeling nostalgic, I announced to Mandy we would get some blankets and sleep right on top of the trailer under the stars! (It’s a bike hauler, not a camper). We scored some cheap chamois blankets a local Big Lots and some $5 pillows and climbed atop the trailer in the dark to gaze skyward. It grew exceptionally chilly dipping into the 50’s unexpectedly and we shivered and laughed at ourselves. Our bedding, comprised of leather jackets and itchy woolen blankets and some shop towels along with the cheapo blankets we bought did little to ward off the cold dew soaked night air. We laughed at ourselves setting up our sky view ‘camp’, joking how ridiculous it was and how unprepared we were despite the romanticism of our effort. We reminisced that we reminded ourselves of some “Easy Rider Magazine” article in the 70’s where ‘biker-life’ ruffians camped roadside out of necessity on a cross country run. This was just self-imposed roughing it, perhaps subconscious fodder, just to have this story, fun nonetheless.

Well, come morning we were wet with dew, cold, sore but happy the sun was peeking up over the super speedway, warming us a bit as you can see in the attached pic (of our unmade ‘bed’). Black coffee in a paper cup never tasted so good. We shook the cobwebs and took hot showers in the public bathhouses that were surprisingly clean. We walked the grounds and ate BBQ with Ronzo of ‘American-Twin’ who has been doing ABATE rallies even longer than I. We made our way over to the official ABATE tent where the volunteers were scuttling about getting ready for a ride. Someone announced that if you wanted to ride the track you needed to sign a waiver and pay 12 bucks. Mandy grew excited and asked if we could go? I surmised to her it was a chaperoned event with a speed limited pace car. Surely “a snoozer” I said. “Oh, Please…” she asked again, “I’ve never done it, lets go anyway”. I succumbed and thought I’d pilot a few laps for posterity sake and to make her happy even though I thought it would be a ‘parade lap’. We were parked nearby having just scooted around the fairgrounds to cool off. I thumbed the big Road Glide to life and before you knew it, we were in the tunnel coming up on the infield track of one of the biggest speedways in America. I must say, that just doing that was a cool experience and worth the 12 bucks. Seeing the empty bleachers where hundreds of thousands of people sit and cheer for real drivers is a once in a lifetime experience given we were on our bikes and about to navigate the steepest banks in NASCAR. The pace car waited at pit row and somehow I knew to get in front having done this before. I knew road debris, rubber pellets from soft race tires and tiny plastic pieces fly up from bikes or cars out front and hit you. The front of the pack for us. I looked to my left and my pal Danny Godfrey had the same idea. He revved his big 110 CVO Harley and smiled devilishly. Did he know something I did not? The pace car driver came back and made an unexpected announcement. He told us because there was only 20 of us and we were with ABATE, he’d go as fast as we wished so long as we stayed right behind him!! Fall back and he’d slow down, stay tight and he’d speed up. Danny and I must have looked like Cheshire cats and hunkered down in our saddles grinning widely. I looked behind me and saw Randy and Liz, Brian Clifford, David Neal and many other familiar faces smiling in a sort of disbelief. Well, the pace man got in his car, buckled up and slowly started out the pits. It didn’t stay slow long. Second gear, third gear, 60 mph, 70 mph, 80 mph and still in 4th. Two gears to go and an oval of smooth pavement stretched 1.54 miles before us. I recall pinning my throttle in each gear, testing the 103 inches on the Road Glide. My pretty stock the bike huffed and puffed forward pulling hard towards turn one. 5th gear, the clock said 100 and still pulling. I could hear Mandy screaming something  as the 24 degree bank approached FAST looking like a 100 foot wall in front of us. WHAM, we hit the transition between straight and bank and I pulled hard right pounding into 6th gear climbing the high bank two-up with Randy Snyder on my tail and Danny 2 feet to my left. We hugged turn 1, my right knee inches from the wall and with debris fencing flashing over our heads. We roared through the top of the turn and transitioned into turn 2 at 115 miles an hour and felt like we were picking up speed coming off the bank. Frankly, I stopped looking at my speedo, focusing on the track. We white knuckled across the back straight and I could feel Mandy squeezing me tight yelling an indiscernible message. It wasn’t ‘speed up’. The throttle remained pegged the whole lap. We never let off and never downshifted. We started exactly on a quarter tank of fuel and with about 320lbs in human cargo and another 20 or 30 in gear I figured we had plenty of gas for a few laps. We passed the spectators in the pits and pumped our fists in the air. Hitting turn one over and over, bottoming the suspension on the drastic incline it took to climb the steep bank. Each time the pace man gunned his throttle as we tailgated him around and around. Finally, after what seemed like just a couple of minutes, he slowed in the last straight and headed for the pits. We followed, breathless. It was then that I realized we weren’t even wearing helmets. Crazy, yea, but cool as hell!!! The pics don’t do it justice, as it’s just someone zooming a smartphone pic as we went by in the straights. Although the ‘finish line’ pic is admittedly cool. Throttling down, adrenaline pumping, I looked down and noticed my gas gauge. Just about empty. I remember thinking “How the hell did that happen”? Well at 120+ mph, the big twins drinks some fuel baby. I figured we did 4 maybe 5 laps. It wasn’t until later we were told we actually did 15 laps, almost 25 miles at FULL THROTTLE. The fastest I’ve even piloted a Harley for that distance. Where else can you do that? We dismounted and high fived and hugged each other like we won a race. Our 15 proverbial minutes, crammed into 12 minutes. We were exhausted. It makes you think. The big boys do it for 150 — sometimes 200 miles! We did it for 23. Richard Petty, he’s raced across that same finish line 17,513 times! 15 for us, and it was enough. We’ve got the story, the knots in our hair and a few pictures to prove it. See you there next year.

Remember, ride hard, ride safe, and in the end make sure you ride home.  –Irish

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