by Eric Stearley
Engines roared to life on the south side of town last weekend as Wabash Cannonball MX kicked off the 2014 motocross season with a vintage bike weekend in coordination with Midwest Vintage Motocross. The motorcycles were as varied as the riders in a weekend that started wet and ended dry and dusty.
Wabash Cannonball Motorcycle Club started in 1937. The track on the south side of Wabash is the third oldest sanctioned motocross track in the country, and as such, it draws people from across the country to ride the “old school” course. It was only appropriate that the first race weekend of the year was dedicated to vintage motocross.
Though races were held for modern bikes, the real star machines were those from the 60s, 70s and 80s, which, after all these years, still get the job done.
“The vintage era, it’s an extension of the sport that was nearly lost,” said Woody Graves of Midwest Vintage Motocross who organized the weekend’s races. “We’ve worked really hard to preserve the sport, and were trying to produce more riders with youth.”
The racers in vintage motocross are unique. It’s not your typical twenty-something tempting fate with death-defying tricks on every jump. Many of the riders rode the now-vintage bikes back when they were young and the bikes were modern.
Don Baker is one of them. A Roann resident, Baker has been racing motocross for 35 years. Now, at age 65, he has a 4-year-old granddaughter who is just starting to ride, but he doesn’t just sit on the sidelines. Baker raced in Saturday’s +55 Vintage B division.
“I stayed on two wheels and I’m still walking, that’s a good weekend. I don’t pretend to be super competitive anymore. It’s just about getting my laps in,” said Baker. “It’s so much fun for me, especially with the old bikes, because that’s where I started.”
When asked what keeps him on a bike after all these years, he said simply, “It’s the only thing I want to do.”
Another rider, Bob Zacks, raced a late 60s Penton, one of the first light motorcycles designed for motocross. At 49, he is what he considers “one of the younger guys in the vintage crowd.” Zacks got into motocross after a cross-country rally race in South America. His favorite part of the weekend was the pig roast.
Don wasn’t the only local on the track last weekend. Taylor Poole pulled off a second place finish in the youth 10-15 division on Saturday, while Joshua Lee picked up a win in the same division on Sunday. At only ten years old, Lee already has five years of racing under his belt. Lee has dreams of one day racing in the Loretta Lynn Amateur National Motocross Championship and becoming a professional motocross racer. For now, his favorite thing about racing is “the dangerous part.”
While the locals had home-field advantage, that didn’t stop racers from traveling as much as twelve hours to the event. Along with a multitude of Hoosiers, there were racers from Illinois, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin. No one, however, traveled as far to race at the Wabash Cannonball track as Joann Halpin, who came all the way across the pond from Ireland to race, (though admittedly, it was part of a vacation to the United States, but she scheduled the dates so that she could race in Wabash.
“It’s a really nice track. Absolutely brilliant. The people here are awesome. It’s very family oriented,” said Halpin.
As the weekend came to a close and the dust settled, racers left with a smile on their faces and fond memories of the old school track in the little town of Wabash.