When the family got back from summer vacation in 2009, I had immediately started to plan my trip to the 2009 US Open Series in NY. But my wife came back from her first day back at work with notice of impending layoff. Crap news on all fronts. So paying for gas and two nights hotel to indulge in some speedway looked a little ostentatious right then.. So I missed out on the 2009 series. It’s now 2010 and my wife is still unemployed, but we made some budget cuts here and there and decided that we could all set off to NY for the Labor Day weekend and the annual US Open series. My wife is not a speedway fan mind you – she uses the time to relax (with a 6 yr old!). So I headed off to Greene, solo, to catch up on proceedings of the first of the two meetings. This year there was a nip in the air. This summer has been brutal, with temps in the triple digits in Boston and dew-point in the mid 70’s, so as I drove up the hill towards Greene from Binghamton and watched the thermometer drop from 68f to 63f to 59f I was glad I brought a jacket as I have been wearing nowt but t-shirts since May. I figured that the drop in temps was bound to affect track prep, bringing the moisture to the surface, it could get very slippy out there.
I arrived later than I normally do for these events and there was a queue of vehicles lined up waiting to sign the waiver and pay the gals at the entrance. It certainly looked to be a bigger crowd than came in 2008. I made my way down to the pits area as I really wanted to finally meet Josh Larsen and the legend that is ‘Flying’ Mike Faria. And there he was, magnificent mullet and all. This years visiting Californians also included the 2009 US Open winner, Tommy Hedden and (ex Kings Lynn Star) Dukie Ermolenko. Dukie and Josh are not competing on the California circuit this season, in fact, neither has ridden on the circuit for a couple of years. I look around the pits for two of my other favorite speedway people, Aaron Hesmer and Kaitlin Davis but (they are not here) Aaron is promoting his last meeting of the season at the Paris track in Ontario. Paris usually runs on a Friday but this last meeting is a Saturday affair (both will show up at the Sunday Open meeting). After chatting with the riders I made my way over to the track shop, hoping that this year there might be a printed program ? Nah. No such luck. It’s a shame, although I appreciate that given all the effort going into getting the event organized plus his (JB’s) commitments in California, that putting together an event program is not high on the list of things to do. Although even something xeroxed (& free ?) would be better than nothing. At the end of the evenings racing I have no idea of the accumulated points positions of the riders going into the second stage of the event. I don’t know if this is an ‘english anorak’ hang up because I didn’t hear anyone else wondering the same thing after the event. Anyway, at the shop I buy a couple of t-shirts (pick any color as long as its black – again I’m guessing market research has proven that black outsells all others) but I also find out that there are no bumper stickers, shame, but there will be some available tomorrow at Champion – yay ! My current bumper sticker is coming apart after 3 winters of being frozen and scraped etc.
As the evening progressed I got the idea that the PA announcer was getting paid by the word. It’s a 3 hour event and although he tried his hardest to inform the fans about the riders on show, a lot of the heats he didn’t have a clue who was actually in the race (a race card to look at would have helped me of course). And by the end of the evening, if you didn’t know Dukie Ermolenko was once a British League rider and that Josh Larsen was once #9 in the world and he (the announcer) was a rider that got banned at NY tracks, you are deaf and I claim my $5. I know it’s hard to think of something to say without repeating yourself over the course of three hours – so I suggest next year he have some short snappy musical interludes to help liven up proceedings. Maybe they could have someone on a live wireless mike roaming the pits doing interviews ?
And so onto the racing. The track looks slick although there is dirt up against the fence and I can see a ‘crack’ across the inside of turn one that stretches out about 3 to 4 feet. There is also a hole in the apex of bends 3&4 on the inside line and it causes progressively more bumps to riders as the evening progresses. In the second race ‘Rider X’ that’s his moniker, he doesn’t ride under a name, comes a cropper has he goes across the crack on bend 1 and is spun around and dumped in the dirt (although given the rest of his riding that night the crack have incidental to the fall). A number of the junior riders are buffeted, some lose it altogether on the first bend, most usually end up having a change in bike direction as they are pivoted towards the safety fence. Josh Larsen in fact goes from 1st to third in one heat as he cuts the throttle after being propelled towards the safety fence rather suddenly. And talking of safety fences, you often see fans at these events, arms draped over the fences, feet propped on the fences from the back of pick up trucks parked up against the fences. You do hope that these fans are actually paying attention to what’s happening on the track in front of them. As the evening progresses, the air temp keeps dropping and the crowd thins out considerably. I notice a couple of people actually retire to their camper van around the back of the stadium office.
With the issues on both bends we do end up with an exciting night’s riding as the NY boys Mittl, Buman Clark and Donholt really mix it with the Californians. I have seen Mikey Buman ride better than tonight’s showing and I hope that this form is temporary. He is joining the US Touring Team to the UK in late September and will need to step up a notch from tonight. Adam Mittl of course has already toured with the Dream Team a couple of years ago. When asked by me what his favorite track is, without hesitation he yells, “Sheffield, man you just open it up and go”. After a lifetime riding on what we could call ‘trick tracks’ stateside (and yes there are some of them who ride the half mile track in Indiana) , I think it’s great that these boys love riding the big tracks. Mittl certainly could have kept talking all night about his experiences with the Dream Team. Another reason to win the lottery – bring Jason B and his boys over to the UK as the New York Yanks Racing team. We can dream.
OK. Here’s video of the final heat, won by New York’s Adam Mittl. Keep an eye on the added bumps to the ride on the apex of 3 &4 which almost costs Mittl his win. Part two – the Champion part – to follow.