125x125 banner
Stylish Motorcycle Riding Gears
LeatherCoatsEtc

Going Off-Track – the Joy of Road America

Ready for hauling beer and race fans: a JDM Suzuki Carry 4x4 Kei mini truck.

Ready for hauling beer and race fans: a JDM Suzuki Carry 4×4 Kei mini truck. (Anders T. Carlson/)

More than most tracks, Road America is a celebration of humankind’s victory over walking (read the Capturing Road America With The 360fly 4k Camera article). It’s a shrine to the gods of cornering speed, modern rubber compounds and track bikes. Cars and motorcycles race here because they’re too dangerous to operate in public. Like ants on a dropped Popsicle, race fans are drawn here to consume the thing that makes their little lives livable. In honor of the men and women who go faster than we’re capable of, we ride smaller, less powerful versions of their motorcycles. And we walk as little as possible.

The annual motorcycle race at Road America (called MotoAmerica Superbikes at Road America for sponsorship purposes) accomplishes two things. One, it puts plebes like us in our proper place (the stands) and elevates people like Kayla Yaakov and Danilo Petrucci to their proper place (on the track); and two, it offers the chance to use the weird vehicles we’ve collected over the years. Race weekend is a showcase for two distinct abilities: riding motorcycles and accumulating them.

Make no mistake, Road America’s main attractions are the 14 wickedly fast turns that make up the 4.048-mile track, largely unchanged since 1955. But woven throughout the grounds are dozens of paths, ranging from near-impassable woods to enduro-friendly trails. These are the track’s lifeblood. Approximately 15 miles of authorized roads, paths, and trails connect fans with the track, spectator stands, pits, and generous concession spots. Roads meander through camping sites, four separate bridges cross over the track, with groves of trees helping you feel pleasantly lost.

The headline here? Skip your next car or new motorcycle payment and buy a pitbike or scooter.

It’s the one weekend in Wisconsin where Harley-Davidsons become just another motorcycle. The spectacle of the King of the Baggers race certainly draws a crowd, but the real show is ‘90s-era ABS plastics, people-watching, and oddball vehicle survivors. Superbikes are anything but “run what you brung.” But for those of us not racing, it’s a chance to show off miniaturized, much less powerful caricatures of what we see on the track.

Like most of America, weekends at Road America have gotten expensive. In past years, unexpected camping wristbands added insult to financial injury, leading the faithful to feel they were paying for the sins of the no-shows. But this year we pulled in to gate 4, made up a camping spot number, and were quickly ushered into our familiar playground. Maybe we were part of a trend; this year’s attendance was easily twice last year’s. Without getting into politics and/or pandemics, the party was on in 2022.

The racing’s just a small part of the RA charm. As a “racer” with AHRMA, I never saw Kettle Moraine trail or the single hidden bench above Canada Corner. I never rode the dirt trail alongside the main straight wall leading to turn 5 or the one to the Carousel. Although I rode the track, sometimes well, I barely understood the surrounding geography. I had no idea what I looked like when laboring my way up Thunder Valley. Apparently, it’s uphill.

Although you may only ride plated vehicles in RA, five minutes with a screwdriver can legalize any vehicle. Relax, it’s a pitbike; it’s not like you’ll be riding it 6.5 miles to the Kwik Trip for more beer. For your troubles, you can ride, or at least get close to, much of the aforementioned 15 miles of authorized pathways. Kick that pitbike to life and go find a favorite vantage point.

For the view, it’s hard to beat Hurry Downs, set atop turns 6, 7, and 8. For the lazy, there’s food, beer, and bleachers right there. Maybe you like long straights with downhill corner entrances? Find turn 1. Or turn 5. Or go back to Hurry Downs, grab a beer, and watch who drops balls first and brakes last before the left-hand turn 8 sweep into the Carousel. Or maybe it’s uphill charges into the unknown, minus sight lines; park yourself by the Toyota Bridge and watch racers hurtle headlong into turn 6, or brave the forest by Canada Corner and watch the torque-sapping climb up Thunder Valley at turns 13 and 13A.

The Kettle Moraine trail gives you a zoolike sense of danger as waves of bikes thread their way through the narrow Kettle Bottoms section, caged in by debris fencing. Stay left past the go-kart track beginning at the Kink, which motorcycles skip by taking the safer Bend line. An asphalt trail shadows Kettle Bottoms, letting you feel the wake from passing racers at 150 mph.

The unnamed pedestrian bridge by the North Paddock lets you see riders roll the dice while hitting rev limiters on the final uphill sprint to the flag. RA’s marketing director should look into the naming rights. “Cook’s Champagne Bridge” would speak to hopeful podium celebrations at the top of the hill. You’re welcome.

As a “popular-priced” event, MotoAmerica lets you wander the pits on foot. You can rub shoulders with camera crews, frazzled race techs, and even a few surly European veteran riders. Uniformed personnel push immaculate racebikes through flip-flopped, beer-swilling hordes. Dark tire-change tents are fortified by stacks of qualifying rubber, with dirt-smeared men and women laboring inside. Their hustle is your spectacle.

Back to pitbikes, or whatever you hopefully brought. Most fans bring practical and useful vehicles. But some fans bring it, period. It’s your chance to prove the value of something you barely use. This year, our group brought a vintage Scamp camper, an actual ‘80s U-Haul survivor; a Kawasaki KM100; two ‘82 Honda Passports; a Honda Navi; and an UBCO 2X2 ADV electric scooter. But as soon as we parked, we were put to shame by our neighbor’s JDM Suzuki Carry 4×4 Kei mini truck. Not to mention their three-wheeled, tuk-tuk-inspired truck, which they got at an airport auction. Damn show-offs.

And the races? Some storylines stood out. After a lovely Saturday, rain separated casual fans from the die-hards, offering a quick lesson in rain riding for some. Jason Farrell, 46, the pride of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, put almost 10 seconds between himself and everyone else in Sunday’s Supersport race on his “home track.” Fourteen-year-old Kayla Yaakov bounced back from a Canada Corner practice highside to take third in the Junior Cup race, which she led until the last hundred yards, when perfectly executed drafts by Cody Wyman and Joe LiMandri Jr. put her on the podium’s last step. Margin of victory? Only 0.024 second, with LiMandri Jr. beating Yaakov’s Altus Motorsports Kawasaki by just 0.002 second.

Danilo Petrucci, formerly of MotoGP fame, brought his Italian pedigree to Wisconsin’s own. His first outing at RA in the premier Medallia Superbike class netted him second on Saturday and third place on Sunday. A mere wheel length (and 0.015 second) separated his Warhorse HSBK Racing Ducati NYC Panigale V4 R from the Westby Racing Yamaha YZF-R1 of Matthew Scholtz. The South African block-passed Petrucci in turn 5 and somehow held off a surplus of Italian horsepower for the last lap. Petrucci was gracious in near-victory, saying he looked forward to visiting RA after next year’s planned repaving. He’s not wrong to call out the surface; the track’s last full repaving happened in the mid-’90s. The current track features at least five distinctly different asphalt surfaces.

Royal Enfield’s all-women Build. Train. Race. program is doing the Lord’s work of adding fast, talented up-and-coming female racers to America’s tracks. Aboard Continental GT 650′s, 15 women riders and crew get three months to design, develop, and perfect their machines. With chances taken and margins of error challenged, BTR riders raced on Sunday in mostly wet conditions. Kayleigh Buyck and Crystal Martinez, locked in battle throughout the last lap, turned in a fantastically close finish. But lost in their furious back and forth was a last-lap crash that brought out the red flag—which Buyck and Martinez missed, allowing Jenny Chancellor to take home the points. When you’re seeing red, all the flags look the same.

Some sneer at the recently added Mission Foods King of the Baggers series, now in its second year. These people seriously need to lighten up. Perhaps offer them one of your beers? A sport’s purity means nothing without butts in seats and gate receipts, and anyway there’s nothing impure about the racing in KotB; these guys are doing their damnedest to whup each other. Just a guess, but about a third (or more) of everyone at RA specifically came to see the King of the Baggers series. With a concept that channels the genius of loonball baseball owner/promoter Bill Veeck, 620-pound Indian Challengers and Harley-Davidson Road Glides defy gravity, sense, and most laws of physics to turn 2:23 lap times. During practice last year, Kyle Wyman (I believe) hurtled into turn 5 locked in a 200-foot brake slide before tipping in his Road Glide, casually dropping a knee, and painting a 180-sized race-compound stripe all the way up to turn 6. That’s a man who understands his audience. Much respect.

Road America has always been a spiritual homeland for racing and all its Walter Mitty following. Cheese curd smiles and Midwestern manners somehow go right along with ruthless competition, obsessive engineering, and the other more obvious traits of the larger motorcycle racing community; whatever the reason, there’s always room enough in Road America’s rolling hills for hellacious fun when Serious Racing comes to town. It’s a race fan’s chance to raise a little Cain and watch, in the blessed moraines of mideastern Wisconsin, what we all do in our dreams.

And don’t forget your pitbike. We’ll be judging you accordingly.

Score at the airport auction: likely a Piaggio Ape.

Score at the airport auction: likely a Piaggio Ape. (Anders T. Carlson/)

One of 148 1968 Oldsmobile 442 convertibles ever made.

One of 148 1968 Oldsmobile 442 convertibles ever made. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Travis Wyman’s King of the Baggers championship-winning H-D Road Glide.

Travis Wyman’s King of the Baggers championship-winning H-D Road Glide. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Little ones grow up to be big ones: The Motor Company marketing machine at work.

Little ones grow up to be big ones: The Motor Company marketing machine at work. (Anders T. Carlson/)

In order: Honda Helix, political ethos

In order: Honda Helix, political ethos (Anders T. Carlson/)

Ensuring orderly fun: Wisconsin State Patrol Motor Officer Holtz, pulling a plum assignment.

Ensuring orderly fun: Wisconsin State Patrol Motor Officer Holtz, pulling a plum assignment. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Fear this, OBO. This liter beater could be yours.

Fear this, OBO. This liter beater could be yours. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Blue skies, green grass, grab a beer.

Blue skies, green grass, grab a beer. (Anders T. Carlson/)

“I know what I got.” King ’n’ Queen seats, awaiting royalty.

“I know what I got.” King ’n’ Queen seats, awaiting royalty. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Beer bros and fanboys, coexisting easily.

Beer bros and fanboys, coexisting easily. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Hotcha: Rickman-framed Honda CB750.

Hotcha: Rickman-framed Honda CB750. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Barely legal and barely beatable: A 1990 Honda RC30 (one of 296 made) and a 1986 Suzuki GSX-R750.

Barely legal and barely beatable: A 1990 Honda RC30 (one of 296 made) and a 1986 Suzuki GSX-R750. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Something special from Wisconsin: Buell S2 Thunderbolt, with period-correct bags.

Something special from Wisconsin: Buell S2 Thunderbolt, with period-correct bags. (Anders T. Carlson/)

You mad, bro? The Dunlop tent was a hive of activity.

You mad, bro? The Dunlop tent was a hive of activity. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Hard work adds up: the Dunlop tent.

Hard work adds up: the Dunlop tent. (Anders T. Carlson/)

One of the Warhorse HSBK Racing Ducatis is wheeled through the unwashed masses.

One of the Warhorse HSBK Racing Ducatis is wheeled through the unwashed masses. (Anders T. Carlson/)

What they came to see: turn 5, King of the Baggers warmup lap.

What they came to see: turn 5, King of the Baggers warmup lap. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Burnouts and sunburn: Watching the stunt riders put on a show.

Burnouts and sunburn: Watching the stunt riders put on a show. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Race prep: Royal Enfield’s Build. Train, Race program, Trisha Dahl presiding.

Race prep: Royal Enfield’s Build. Train, Race program, Trisha Dahl presiding. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Hold my beer: the Harley-Davidson custom version.

Hold my beer: the Harley-Davidson custom version. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Got boost? Try this 1983 Honda CX650 Turbo.

Got boost? Try this 1983 Honda CX650 Turbo. (Anders T. Carlson/)

The view atop turns 6 and 7.

The view atop turns 6 and 7. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Next stop, Thunder Valley, aka turns 13 and 13A.

Next stop, Thunder Valley, aka turns 13 and 13A. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Kettle Moraine trail on the inside of Canada Corner.

Kettle Moraine trail on the inside of Canada Corner. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Canada Corner, one of the better places to break down. Plenty of shade.

Canada Corner, one of the better places to break down. Plenty of shade. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Bald eagle and American flag watch over Canada Corner, just in case.

Bald eagle and American flag watch over Canada Corner, just in case. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Kettle Moraine trail for fans, Kettle Bottoms for the racers.

Kettle Moraine trail for fans, Kettle Bottoms for the racers. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Wide-angle view of the Kink, and the Bend (for motorcycle racing). One rider down at the back of the pack.

Wide-angle view of the Kink, and the Bend (for motorcycle racing). One rider down at the back of the pack. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Honda Spree Gyro, year unknown, reporting for light pitbike duty.

Honda Spree Gyro, year unknown, reporting for light pitbike duty. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Saturday’s sunglasses, Sunday rain.

Saturday’s sunglasses, Sunday rain. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Sunday’s rain thinned the crowd, but the wet race action didn’t disappoint.

Sunday’s rain thinned the crowd, but the wet race action didn’t disappoint. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Explore and you may find out where they keep all the back tire barriers.

Explore and you may find out where they keep all the back tire barriers. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Kayla Yaakov’s high-side mishap at Canada Corner, Sunday practice. She took third place an hour later.

Kayla Yaakov’s high-side mishap at Canada Corner, Sunday practice. She took third place an hour later. (Anders T. Carlson/)

Cheap thrills: three pitbikes, hauled courtesy of “El Asstro.”

Cheap thrills: three pitbikes, hauled courtesy of “El Asstro.” (Anders T. Carlson/)

View full post on Motorcyclist Online