Heartbreaking For At Least One Racer - Mattawa 1970
by Stu Osborn #657
Can we picture this...? Crisp, frigid, dry weather, blazing sun and feeling the effects of coffee, cramps from sleeping on a thin camper mattress, there's frost on the sagebrush and the giddiness of butterflies in your stomach. In your long underwear you reach for your Langlitz leathers, zip them up, pull up your tall, gray, frayed wool hunting socks and shove in your foot and begin to lace up your cowhide 18 hook worn, leather lineman's boots. Those butterflies!! Where are those cowhide-welding gloves? Hope your football helmet face guard you bolted to your orange Bell and wrapped with electrician’s tape stays on. The first “rappa-rappa-tat-tat” reports from the distance, then another, and another and before long the unmistakable aroma of castor bean oil flares your nostrils and the morning quiet is interrupted for good. Can't eat a thing but the energy of last night's pre-race meal of steak does away with any hunger pains.
I can picture that because I lived it. OK... it was different back then. To my bike and join the numerous numbers of 2-stroke machines running next to their campers, trailers and pickups. First three kicks choke start. She fires up in a cloud of exhaust floating slowing away. Only took three kicks cold. Three kicks, 3 laps of 33 miles each. Everything comes is threes… Good omen. I’m superstitious and I hate anyone wishing me “good luck”. That’s bad luck. Good things come in threes and I make three hash marks in front of my front wheel in the sand with a stick and say a quick prayer to my Lord. Black canvas kidney belt with 5 buckles goes on. The 100cc Hodaka Ace 100 has a fresh top end and feels very strong and responsive. She’s a fully built racer. Wish I would have a chance to tune on 'er more... Kill it and stride to the riders meeting finding it hard to walk with rubber legs and those butterflies!! Yeah, we'll wait for the gun and dash some 30 yards to our bikes and head to the smoke bomb. Yeah, there are over 700 riders here and everyone breaks into applause. Yeah, course is marked with white ties around the branches of the sagebrush and if you see several lines of white lime thrown across the course, SLOW DOWN. Yeah. That means there's a hidden well or a sand dune that will drop off sharply. Some dunes are 40 feet high. OK, ok… I can't listen anymore. I want to go back and start my bike again. Rider’s meeting over.
The call of "Line 'em up!!" over a crackly hand-held megaphone and I get last minute instructions from my dad but he has no time to talk because he's entering the race too. I idle down the line blipping the throttle parallel to the main street of the little sleepy town of Mattawa and behind a bunch of guys already lining up and killing their bikes. I go as far as I can behind everyone and line up on the extreme far end of the line... There’s no one to my left. Remembering what my mentor Bob Canfield said to me the night before and last weekend when we rode the course, everyone will funnel into an opening about 50 feet wide up the same sandy draw and on to a plateau a couple of miles in the distance where the smoke bomb is. It doesn't matter how you get to the smoke bomb the marked course begins from there. Last weekend Bob and I found a power line road that points the right way for several hundred yards so the plan is to haul to it crashing through sagebrush and get into 5th gear on the road and outflank the field to the draw and onto the plateau before we have to pick up the course. There isn't anyone to my left and everyone to my right. I'm in with several big Huskys, CZs and Maicos… With my engine running, clutch in I leave it in second gear, rev it up one last time and let it die. Yes, the gas is ON and I amble back to stand some 30 yards away panting and with a high degree of anticipation... Waiting, waiting, waiting…
Seems like forever but all of a sudden BOOOOMM!!! As if in slow motion everyone springs and runs!! I get to my bike, swing a leg over and the butterflies are STRONG!! Like my dad and Canfield taught me, leaving the engine engaged in second gear, I romp on the kickstarter and I'm off in one kick in gear with a rrrRRAAAWWW!!!! Tweak and shift, tweak and shift and the butterflies are starting to disappear. There are power lines in the distance so I angle towards those lines checking ahead and weaving through the stalwart sagebrush standing on the pegs, checking ahead and weaving through the next sagebrush. The unmistakable dull roar of 700 engines can be heard through my helmet to my right over the sound of my own LOUD little 100. No silencers required. None needed. My legs are still a bit rubbery but the butterflies are gone. I join up with the power line road, into fourth, into 5th!! WWWAAA!!!! On my right here comes someone on a big Husky, very, very fast. I get to the power line road first but he passes me in an instant and I feel the sand particles pepper my checks for a second. Red helmet, 400CR, black jacket, this guy is Ken Habeck... one of the overall champions of the race from a year or two back. He's unmistakable. Let's see if I can keep up with him on this road. Open 'er up even more!! He's staying 30 yards in front and man are we FLYING!!! The little Hodaka is strong, very, very strong... we must be doing 50. No dull roar of engines anymore just his and mine.
The power line road peters out and I look up... sand dunes. Whoops, sand and rolling hills and I see Habeck goose it. He's distancing me. What a rider in the rough stuff! OK, let's settle down into 4th.... It’s going to be a long race. No more butterflies. Raaaaarrrr, rarrr, waaaaa... WHOP! My rear wheel LOCKS, engine DIES and I skid to a stop in the sand.... Gas is on... PANT - pant - pant. Let try to kick it over. Kickstart lever is frozen which can only mean one thing, a stuck piston and my day is over. Fornlorn… boredom, good place to watch the race from, I guess. Three hours later, I see my dad in a pickup truck coming my way. Not many words... just disappointment. I tell him I was 2nd overall heading to the smoke bomb when I stuck a piston. His expression says it all but he says, "That's too bad, Stu." Yeah maybe more break in time, next time... next race. To this day, I regret that. Saw the signs... running much too lean on the top end. Make it blubber with a huge main jet next time!! And set up piston clearance a bit looser next time. Next time. Can't wait for next time.
That's Cross-Country racing.
Mattawa, Washington 100 miler - 1970
race starts 10:00 AM
race ends for Stu 10:30 AM
Stu Osborn is MR’s Roving Reporter