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The Rush Job (In The Vintagent)

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Rush Job (In The Vintagent)


Where were you a year ago?


   


It all looks easy now.
James Rispoli is dominating American Flat Track:
7 Victories in Production Twins this season.
James is the fastest Harley Davidson rider on the circuit.
Finally, Willie G. and the boys have something to be proud of.
It’s the synergy of right rider, right team and right bike.
Rispoli is in that magic flow state,
his riding burns with intensity,
his consistency uncanny.
The competition is rightly spooked.

The sweet taste of victory for James Rispoli. [James Rispoli]
A short while ago, things were different.
James returned to America
after the high of European Superbike racing.
He came home to his roots – flat track.
To prove he’d lost none of his mojo.
Despite the wild contrast between those two worlds.

On our first conversation, the connection was poor.
“Where are you calling from?
Are you still in Europe or something?”
James confessed he was in Mexico
stunt riding for movies NorteAmericanos will never see.
He realized I was shocked into silence by his revelation.
“Hey man, I’m getting paid good money to do what I love.”
I pictured him in some seedy bar checking out the local talent,
a Hemmingway-like existence.
He added that he was getting lots of seat time,
training every day,
but admitted the hours were long on set,
the endless waiting
before pulling off sketchy shit the locals wouldn’t dare.
To James, he was living the dream.
Making bank riding motorcycles.
While working deals for next season’s ride.
Here is a fighter who will not quit,
who knows how it feels to show up to a race with a negative $1000 balance.

Racing has never been easy. If you’ve read our previous article on James, you know the struggles he’s pushed through. [James Rispoli]
James was stoked to land the Latus Harley-Davidson ride for the 2020 season.
There silver lining to the black cloud that is COVID
was the team had plenty of time to train.
They’d turned over 500 laps before the first race.
James spoke of a win-win situation
having the Latus team’s professionalism
plus the savvy of former champ Joe Kopp as team manager.

The Latus Harley-Davidson team is fielding one wicked fast 750 – James Rispoli’s lap times typically would put him first among H-D riders in any class. [James Rispoli]
Motorcycle racing is a team sport:
great riding is not enough,
but a gifted rider like Rispoli puts wind in the team’s sails.
At the Indy Mile, an issue in the Semi meant a 17th spot start for the Main.
James blitzed thru the pack to climb to 4th on the first lap
and brought her home in 2nd place.
The next night, he won the main.
He was 12.32 seconds ahead of the pack when the checkers flew.
Riding like that inspires everyone.
It warms my heart to watch this fighter see such glorious success

A man in the flow, and inches from a major title. [James Rispoli]

[James Rispoli is arguably the fastest Harley-Davidson rider on the flat track circuit today, regardless he is on a Production 750cc twin, rather than a Supertwin factory racer – ed.] 

THE DARK PLACE (In The Vintagent)

was in a dark place.

Home alone yet on the run.
Nothing left and nowhere to go.

Windows open on a quiet night,
I could hear the sound of a muffled twin approaching.
The rider shut her off about a block away,
then the quiet ringing of chains on sprockets
coasting down the street,
into my drive.

Brakes hissing to a stop.

 

Boots knocked my wooden steps.
A brogue in my doorway announced
‘God Bless all here.’

Is this how it ends?
The running was over,
so I handed him a cuppa.
He poured out an inch then added some of his own.
For the sake of the craic, I asked if the exhaust was stock.
He shook his head,
“They don’t need to know if I coming or going laddie, that’s my business.
You’re a good man.
It’s fine to take what you want, but there’s a price.”
He told me what was expected of me.
And not to worry,
I’d find myself on the road.
It was safest for me.
“Follow your voice, you know the one.
Do what’s right versus what feels good.
They need your words boy.
Nothing’s free – there’s a price tag on everything.
Even your freedom.”

I gave him my word.
We locked eyes and shook on it.
“Thanks for the cuppa…be free.”
He coasted downhill, dropping the clutch in second gear.
Odd such a hard man rides a quiet machine.
And just like that, Death rolled back towards New York City.

(For the riders Jack & Duncan)

 

Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our ‘Poet of Packed Earth’, is the Flat Track Editor for TheVintagent.com, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman

Sunday, July 12, 2020

FITE KLUB ! For THE VINTAGENT




I‘ve been trying to go straight my whole life.

– Chris Carr, seven-time Grand National Champ.


Show me the dirt! Bryan Smith (#4) running outside Jared Mees (#9) [Class of 79 / Charlie Roberts]
In flat track racing, in order to beat the other guy, you need to go straight longer and turn in quicker.
Carr has been teaching this for years in a curriculum he developed for the school “American Supercamp”.
They focus on how to get a bike in, get it turned, and get it picked up on the fat of the tire.
To square the corner off and accelerate down the straightaway carrying as much speed as possible.
As Carr points out, ‘they don’t have finish lines in the middle of the corner.’
As a sportbike rider / sometimes road racer, I thought I knew a little about being quick.
But once I got around flat track racers, I realized I knew nothing.


Springer looks back…which is where he’s used to seeing the competition. [Taylor Bellegue]
I crossed paths with Carr on the race track at ‘American Supercamp’.
A mock race is staged for the students at the end of the day.
I was pushing hard, chasing a friend but couldn’t find a way around him.
Suddenly, I was aware another rider was on me.
With zero room, Carr squirted past me on inside.
He squared off the next corner and rocketed by my buddy, taking us both in less than three corners.
We were blown away that someone on an identical bike could pass us so effortlessly.
He sure seemed a lot taller than 5’5″ after that race.


The Bultaco Astro was the hottest 360cc class flat tracker in its day…which was 40+ years ago! [Taylor Bellegue]
I hit YouTube to find race action of Carr in his prime,
battling the greats like Scottie Parker and Jay Springsteen (AKA Springer).
I never though I’d get a chance to watch them race, but I did – thanks to ‘Flattrack Fite Klub’.
The Fite Klub concept is to pit four legends against four current stars.
The race is pay per view (PPV), broadcast in 64 countries.


Jared Mees looking perfectly at home on the Astro…which is a replacement for the one he’d already broken! Flat out or why bother? [Taylor Bellegue]
To level the playing field, riders compete on vintage Bultaco Astros.
The Astros were build before today’s flat track stars were even born,
but are one of the most iconic flat track racers of the last 50 years.
Their origin legend is racer Mike Kidd sent a Bultaco motor to Champion to build a frame.
Mike took it to the Houston Astrodome and won easily.
The bike was sent to the Bultaco factory in Spain, where it was copied down to its bent left footpeg.
The new model was called ‘Astro’ in honor of its maiden victory.
Back in 1974-1975 Springsteen and Parker raced them with success.


Jay Springsteen and Scotty Parker check out their machines.
Do they look ready to race? Were they ever not ready to race? [Taylor Bellegue]

Before you dismiss the Bultaco Astro as a relic and a sop for old racers,
keep in mind that at the Astro Invitational, racers like
Charlie Roberts and Jackie Mitchell ran within 0.4sec. of the current AFT Singles times at the Atlanta Half-Mile last year.
Very impressive considering the riders were vintage too.


Scottie Parker (#1) heads off Chris Carr (#4). [Class of 79 / Charlie Roberts]
For Fite Klub, the racers included four Grand National Champions:
 -Scott Parker: Nine Grand National Championships, with a record-setting 94 wins, regarded as the ‘G.O.A.T.’
 -Chris Carr: Seven Grand National Championships, twice World Land Speed Record Holder
 -Jay Springsteen: Three Grand National Championships, with 43 wins
 -Joe Kopp: 2000 Grand National Champion & 2003 SuperMoto Champion.


Jared Mees and Ryan Sipes prep for practice. [Taylor Bellegue]

The future legends include:
 -Jared Mees: Three Grand National Championships and Two American Flat Track Championships. He sets the bar for professionalism and fitness.  Mees is the man to beat.
 -Bryan Smith: 2016 Grand National Champion. Hard-nosed and stolid, he is known as a master on ‘the Mile’.
  (note: Smith has quite a sense of humor as well. I was walking along interviewing another racer once. It was early race day morning; they had just opened the gates to let the race haulers in. One of the haulers was driving slowly alongside us.  The hauler kept getting closer and closer to me until I walked into the racer I was trying to interview. I looked over to shoot the driver a dirty look and saw Bryan Smith behind the wheel of the hauler, laughing hysterically. The other racer laughed too, saying ‘Smith does the same shit to me…but we’re wheel to wheel at 140mph’)
  -Sam Halbert: 2009 Overall Grand National Champion.  Don’t let the fact that he looks like James Franco’s young brother fool you.  This is one fierce competitor with the ability to reach in deep and make magic happen. With Halbert, all is fair in love and war.
  -Ryan Sipes:  2019 ISDE World Champion, First American to win the ISDE 6 Day in 2015, scored victories in Supercross, GNCC, AFT TT races. The very versatile racer from Kentucky showed up with a mason jar of his states finest… for training purposes only.


Bryan Smith and Jared Mees discuss the state of the track. [Taylor Bellegue]
a charity that supports injured flat track racers in their time of need.
The Rookie Class of 79 raises funds via events like this, and auctioning off unique racing memorabilia.
Often memorabilia is donated from and autographed by flat track champions and racers.
Supporting this noble charity is a great way to help injured racers while acquiring some very cool motorcycle art.
The charity was formed by racers for racers. Providing financial support as well as assisting badly injured  racers get home, and literally get them back on their feet.


Thumbs up for Bultaco! Scotty Parker gets the royal treatment. [Taylor Bellegue]
The race format was run tournament style, racers paired up in a series of heat races and elimination rounds.
Practice started as day transitioned to night.
You could feel the excitement as racers took to the track in pairs.
So many magic moments.
Mees was spectacular, immediately up to speed and burning with intensity.
Watching Parker & Springer going wheel to wheel was a pinch-me moment.
Being wowed by the effortless grace Springsteen possessed practicing holeshots.
Regarding Springsteen, one can only wonder ‘what could have been’ if Harley had a good road racer in the late seventies.
The Bultaco must have been an alien experience for the lanky Supercross winning Ryan Sipes, but he adapted quickly and put in a strong performance considering the Bultaco’s shifter is on the right side.
When the racing started, we had a feeling there might be some fireworks between the Mees and Halbert pairing.
But with Jared being so fast in practice, I thought he could just clear off on Halbert too.
Sammy is always Sammy, he attacked Mees with everything he had,
showing Mees a wheel repeatedly and running Jared out to the rail, with Mees hanging on for the win.
There is more to victory than money when pride is on the line.
Equally impressive was the battle between Mees and Smith.
They crisscrossed each other repeatedly lap after lap.
It was harmony at speed.
You could sense the trust these two have, to race so hard while making such close passes.
The Parker Race turned into redemption for Halbert.
Mees had beat Halbert fair and square in their earlier pairing.
Halbert knew he had one last chance to reach for the checker.
A ferocious battle erupted between Mees, Smith, and Halbert.
At one point they were three-wide coming through turn four, all running different lines.
Flat track racing at its finest.
Halbert, ever the brawler, snatched the win.
It was good to see him smiling again.


Racing is everything: all else is waiting. Bryan Smith and Jared Mees. [Taylor Bellegue]
The final came down a series of three heat races between Mees & Carr.
Mees was fast all day, but every time Carr when out, more rust fell to the wayside, and the faster he went.
Some were wondering if a man of Carr’s age and shape could keep Mees honest.
(Carr joked earlier in the day, that at his age he needs a viagra not to piss on his feet)
As the riders walked onto the track, their tuners pushing theirs bikes behind them,
Scottie Parker, Carr rival and teammate from back in day, came up to the fence to cheer Carr on.
The first race was shockingly close until Mees’ bike broke, giving the win to Carr.
Mees hoped onto a different Bultaco for the next race.
Carr kept him honest but Mees took him in the next two races for the overall victory.
And a perfect day of racing came to halt.
I am looking forward to watching the race again on Pay-per-view.


Sam Halbert runs #69 in honor of his late brother Jethro, who died while racing. [Class of 79 / Charlie Roberts]
The Vintagent would like to Thank Charlie Roberts & Terry Rymer.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

What's Mees Got? (for The Vintagent)

Do I have the best job in the world?
I get to hang out with the baddest flat track racers on earth.
The conversations might surprise you.
Humorously, everything but racing.
From dating apps to getting sponsors – it’s all marketing.
They know I’m a fly on the wall, floating from pit to pit.
More than once I’ve been asked: What’s Mees got?
They’re looking for a simple answer but it’s more complicated than that.
There’s no weak link in Jared’s chain.
Everything is top notch: team, sponsors, and bikes.
It’s not one thing.
Over time Mees built a total package.
His home life is serene,
Jared’s wife Nichole is a retired racer who understands.
His has balanced his life for a minimum of drama.
Not playing Tarzan on Tinder or at the bars.
They’re all just traps.
You can’t take your eyes off the ball at this level.

Keeping the important stuff in perspective. [Jodi Johnson]

Did I mention he’s a terrific racer?
Relentless training and a focused diet have sharpened him.
To some fans, he’s an overdog.
Their voices dismissive
Yeah…Mees won again
But Jared shrugs it off.
Laughing “You’re only as good as your last win.”
He is staggeringly successful for his generation.
Six championships with 48 wins along the way.
Not to mention the Horizon Award and Rookie of the Year.
How did he get there?

Staying out in front, obviously. [Michael Lawless]

His dad started him racing at 5.
Racing was a byproduct of his parent’s divorce,
It was father/son time.
Jared had to wash his bike and do his chores if he wanted track time.
It taught him the work ethic he would later be known for.
And he loved to win.
Racing was fun.
He caught the attention of Moroney’s Harley Davidson.
They offered to pay his entry fees if he wore their sweatshirts.
It was a lightbulb moment – hey, this could save dad some dollars.
Success equals money.
Jared’s life is proof of hard work, as a racer and businessman.
We can’t squeeze his career into a magazine article.
That would need a book.

Jared Mees winning on the regular, with Nicole and their baby. [Michael Lawless]

The COVID downtime has given the Champ time to reflect.
What advice can I give the next generation?
Do the hard work.
Have a plan and stick to it.
He wishes he enjoyed those magic moments a little longer,
let them soak in a bit.
You think it will last forever but it doesn’t.
He’s seen a lot over the years, carrying a target on his back most of the way.
“Most people only see five feet in front of them and one foot back.
Racing is my life, my hobby, and my second love.”
He is grateful for sponsors like Indian Motorcycles, and an army of supporters.
He respects the racers he battles and loves the fans for coming out…especially at Lima.
 “Life could be worse – I could be digging ditches for ten bucks an hour.”

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to work we go. “Beats digging ditches for ten bucks an hour.” [Michael Lawless]

So, would I be right in guessing that The Springfield Mile, Day 2 was your best race of 2019?
You started on the penalty line, row four, battled through the pack to take the lead.
Fought it out with 8 or 9 riders to take an epic win.
“Yeah, it was a good one for sure. The last few laps were sketchy.
Lots of guys up front who weren’t used to being there-just freakin’ chaotic.”
You came from a long way back brother.
“Ah thanks man, yeah, it was good.
If I had to pick one race though, I’d say Lima.
When you win Lima it’s like you’ve conquered the world.
It’s so physically demanding, wrestling that bike through that deep cushion.
Everyone wants to win there too.
I had a real duel with Carver, just slicing and dicing.
We make contact but I was able to get by on the outside for win.
It was super satisfying to win there, in front of all those fans.
I scored my first win there in 2005 on an XR750.
And now I’m the promoter for the event-crazy right?
Yeah, lots of friends and family there.
It was a helluva night.”

Number 1 up front, but a target on his back. [AFTA]

Mees is a man of strong character
and carries himself like a champion.
Sometimes a simple sentence reveals the life inside.
Like ‘flat track is my second love.’
No need to explain his number one.
Nicole is always by his side.

Start ’em early? [Mike Lawless]


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

HIGHER POWERED ( For The Vintagent)

From the outside, I looked pretty normal.
Just another guy walking the pits,
keeping on with my best gunfighter face.
Behind the mask was turbulence,
the fallout from my day job and personal life.
Maybe Chaplain Ray Rizzo saw something.
He stopped me in my tracks and asked if I needed a prayer.
Caught off guard and not wanting to be rude –  I said yes.
He didn’t ask if I was Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim or even Buddhist.
Right there in the pits, Ray put a hand on my shoulder
and the other towards the sky.
“Father, we thank you…..”
I walked away feeling my load a little lighter.
His words put me in the moment.
I realized I was grateful to be at the track enjoying a day with my extended racing family.
And that I was lucky, or dare I say blessed for the day.

Michael Lawless with Ray Rizzo. [Michael Lawless]

It’s risky writing about religion in a motorcycle publication.
Years ago I mentioned God in an article.
The editor cut it.
When I queried, he laughed, “You can rap about anything but Jesus.”
Maybe Kanye was right.

[Jodi Johnson]

Chaplain Ray Rizzo is like spiritual glue
keeping the American Flat Track community intact.
He provides moral support, be it a kind word, prayer,
or even last rites.
He’s at the center of every race weekend.
The Chaplain offers support to all, though not everyone is interested.
One racer flatly declined his offer of a prayer as they lined up in staging.
Unfortunately, he crashed heavily that day.
As they loaded him into the ambulance,
Ray asked if a prayer would comfort him.
This time he said yes.
Ray checked in on the racer during his recovery.
They remain close to this day.

[Jodi Johnson]
In racing, a dream can turn into a nightmare in seconds.
I shadowed a racer over a weekend for an article.
We met with his mother after work on Friday for a long drive out to the race.
In the race, another rider checked up into him,
and it was a heavy fall.
As he lay on the track motionless, his mother screamed his name.
Red flags and EMTs.
Relief as he opened his eyes.
The rush to the hospital,
then the waiting and anguish of uncertainty.
The comfort as the Chaplain arrived.
He offered us prayer and stayed beside while we waited for news.
Ray had ridden across town on a tiny 50cc scooter.
His concern was genuine.
I saw him differently after that.

[Jodi Johnson]
Racing reminds us life is fragile.
Our clock is ticking.
A racer’s life is under the microscope with media and fans.
Success or failure is around the next corner.
It’s easy to go off center
and it can test one’s beliefs,
but we know there is no other life for us.
Feeling connected to a higher power can bring peace
and lend balance.
I asked Ray how he got started.
He dreamed of being a crewman for Richard Petty, but found his calling in the ministry.
Motor Racing Outreach landed him in the flat track scene, and he’s been spiritually supporting our community since 2010.
You can find Raymond Rizzo on FacebookInstagram, or even email.