Rippin on the Banks – Atlanta Motor Speedway

I have had a great life of motorcycling. If it were to all end today, I can’t say that I have had many regrets. The Baja Peninsula on a 500 single, Steve McQueen style perhaps. The Pan American Highway on a dual sport, right through to Mexico. Yea, I would have liked to have gotten to scratch those off my list. I have done some good ones: the Amalfi coast in Italy on a Ducati 750 GT; the German Alps with skis strapped to my back on an old Suzuki 500; I did like the Nova Scotia trip last month on my BMW 1200 GS. Even all those mundane years of Daytona Beach were awesome. Great biker memories…

What I now recall as my best biker memory took place yesterday, right here in Georgia. The long and short of this story is that me and two buddies, by mere chance, luck, or God’s grace, were given permission to blast the entire Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS) for 5 laps on our Harleys. No escort necessary, thank you!!! Now mind you, until yesterday I did not know top speed on my S&S modified HD Softail. This is an experience that you can live your entire life as a die hard biker (and NASCAR fan) and unless the Gods shine on you, you still may never get to have. I never gave it any thought, and didn’t think it was a big deal. At least that is what I thought, until yesterday at 2:00 p.m.

The back story is that the March of Dimes (MOD) Ride to Save Babies fundraiser occurred on the infield of the AMS yesterday, with a nice turnout. Early clouds kept the numbers down, but as a sponsor of the event as well as a member of the MOD Committee, I would not miss this one for the world. As is the custom, the contributing attendees, once at the event were allowed to ride the big track with a “pace” vehicle out front in groups of fifty. This alone is an awesome experience and as far as we could tell, the riders doing so were having the time of their lives. Where the main event took place (infield), we could see the packs circling the track at around 60 or 70 MPH, which is pretty fast, but not fast enough to hang ten up on the high banks. We were told that in order to do so, speeds of 100 MPH were necessary to keep the bike at the top of the track’s approximately 35 degree infamous ‘high banks’. Which, if you’ve ever been there, are steep as hell. Standing on the top of a turn and looking down gives the impression that if you were to fall off one, it would be like jumping off a cliff. It’s like standing on top of a four story building and looking over the edge. TV does no justice to it’s precipitousness, in-person height or steepness.

The idea of the pace vehicle taming things made me question whether we should even do some ‘laps’. Receiving strong opposition from my employees working the event, we opted to give it a shot. Sitting in the pits, my good friend Patrick Janson, who is the ‘ride director’ for MOD, approached and looked like he had something weird to say with a half smirk. His headset was blaring, and as it turns out, he had gotten clearance from the track GM to turn let the MOD Ride Committee on the track for 5 laps after the several hundred bikes left. We could not believe what we were hearing. NO pace car, no rules, no pack, just all out FULL THROTTLE, rockin’ NASCAR style!! YEHAAAHHHH! ! I’ve exceeded the speed limit on my bike a time or two but never on the high bank of a ‘super-speedway’ looking left (or down) 300 feet to the floor. The rumors were true and to keep the left knee on the white wall at the top of the banks with the debris fencing flashing over our heads like a chain link cave, a minimum of 100 beans had to be maintained. Five laps, never cracked the throttle back a hair. My motor screamed for what seemed like an hour as if it were on a dyno. My buddy Steve’s HD Dyna with a strong stroker kept a great pace. I remember seeing Steve’s huge ‘two into one’ bellow exhaust gases 10 yards out front, seemingly screaming for more. I could feel Freddy Arnold, committee chair, just left of me and back a few feet screaming along and could occasionally see the front fender of his Heritage eating asphalt. If I blew my motor, it was worth it! !! Damn the torpedoes, “this chance does not come again” was my thought. My memory seems like a video game. We seemingly defied gravity, ‘turn 3’ burned so deep in my soul, my next life’s body will know it as its own.

When all was said and done, we high-fived each other for an hour. We were rock stars, astronauts, heroes, daredevils, if not to all, at least in our fleeting adventure we were to each other. God Bless America is all I could think. But at least now I know. I know that the old Softail sitting in my garage now cold and rested does 105 and not a single hair more. America, I love this place. As Paul Newman, a great racer in his own right, said in the last month in the days leading up to his death: “It’s been a pleasure being here.” Tru-Dat.

Well, signing off for now. Ride strong, ride safe and in the end, make sure you ride home.

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