It was at Undera Speedway in Victoria for the opening Round of the 2017 FIM Oceania Speedway Sidecar Championship that I first met South Australian, Mark Mitchell (49), his passenger Sam Harrison (36) and their striking sky blue and canary yellow machine.
I approached Mitchell to ask him a bit about his career in the bustling pit area. He wasted no time in filling me in saying; "I used to ride Speedway Solo's in the 1980s & 90s, because my father rode Speedway too. He won all sorts of titles at Brooklyn and all around Victoria in his day. So you see, I had no choice - it's in my blood. I started on Motocross sidecars before graduating to Speedway Sidecars in 2007, and winning the Australian title in 2009. Now, I have a motorcycle workshop so that I can continue doing it!" He quipped as he busily changed unidentifiable pieces of the bike.
"We have a little bit of time before the racing starts if you want a lap or two?!", he threatened. Before I could blink, it was all organised and I was dressed, helmet, goggles and gloves in hand. Mark was briefing me on all that he could before we had to go out on track, but the butterflies were building. I'd never even seen a sidecar in action!
When you are sitting high atop a hard plastic cowling, on the back of a three-wheeled methanol-breathing, tyre-shredding, un-braked, un-sprung, twin-geared contraption, with the cool night air breezing through your jersey - time has a funny way of slowing right down.
Sure, there's an angry lumpy cammed, short stroked, fast-idling, flame-spitting monster directly under Mark; who at this point is draped over it with arms outstretched on the bars like a drag-bike pilot, or perhaps as you might imagine how Aladdin rides his carpet... There's time to take it all in. The crowd gathered in colourful clusters on the banks behind the concrete wall, the green grass on the infield, the deep rich colour and course texture of the track, the flag marshal with the start flag... Oh wait!.. Am I supposed to be doing something now? What did Mark tell me in the pit garage again? "Get down low and go, go, go! " What am I doing here? Wait!.. Wait!.. Why are you waving that flag Mr Flag Marshal Man?!"
The revs build. That's my cue to grab the metal hoop in front of me with my left hand like a rodeo rider on a bull, Mark with the right and brace for the G's. Somehow the revs snap to a crescendo; Mark drops the clutch, the rear tyre spins up, bogs down, and bites hard... We're off! Suddenly the scenery becomes a blur of disjointed shapes and colours... What was the other thing I had to do again? Swing!
Now with a Tarzan-like grip on my hoop; Mark rolls the throttle back a fraction, I feel the bike start to shift on its axis, and somehow I've already 'swung' into (what I felt was) the appropriate position - with my right hand gripped down somewhere near the front wheel, and my head looking forward a mere few inches off the track... Holy smokes! I'm doing it! I swing up again, the throttle instantaneously winds up to what feels like 'full noise' and the rear bites into the dirt again. We are now doing what I can only perceive to be in the neighbourhood of Mach II, and clearly setting some kind of land speed record at the venerable Undera circuit. No time to dwell.
Another corner! Down I go. The rear kicks out further this time. Was I too late? Was I too early? Am I even doing this thing right? Geez the ground is getting closer to my nose this time! Revs drop, I swing back up, throttle up, rear bites down, and 'Operation: Slingshot Down The Straight' is in full effect.
Corner coming again, reach down, rear steps out - rev limiter this time. Violent steering movements. Mark sawing away on the bars. More throttle. Sit up. Mark is unsettled; bike gets rough and we lose time and momentum as the rear again searches for traction - any will do.
Sit up on corner exit, sling shot down the straight; full vibration this time. Vision blurry. Corner coming. Corner here. Get down. I'm too slow and we get pushed out near the wall, rendering it with mud. Revs build. Fatigue is setting in, and I'm not sure how many more laps I can physically hang on for.
After what seemed like eternity, Mark mercifully shut the throttle. Tempering the bike back to a reasonable pace. Our 1 minute and 4 seconds was over, as Mr Flag Marshal Man had eagerly indicated. I am exhausted and can barely prop myself up on the cowling as we scoot off track into the pits again, but I am alive with adrenaline. "Again!" I shouted through the dusty helmet at Mark.
When it was all over, it became very clear to me that there is an eon inside 1 minute and 4 seconds. Anyone that races any kind of machine already understands this.
Mark took off his helmet and said; "With a new passenger on the back, you have to ride with your head, and wind it up slowly. I didnít want to hurt you or my bike - especially before the meet! I would have been very sour at that!"
He assures me that we were traveling at only half race pace, as the subsequent video footage proved. However, that 1 minute and 4 seconds will be a journey in time that will stay with me forever.
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