In 1991 there was a bit of a transition in Canadian road racing. After a six-year run at Sanair, the series saw the Quebec round move to Autodrome St.-Eustache. Although I had attended the race at Sanair the year before, I never actually got to race as I had suffered a hard get-off shortly before that round so I decided maybe it would be best to play spectator for the weekend. My biggest memory from that Sanair round is actually the trip there and back with three of us as well as three RZ 350’s piled into Phil Schilling’s old two-seater Chevy van. One of us was designated to lay across the top of the bikes during the journey and although we took turns in that precarious position, I’m guessing the time up there was divided up according to talent level because I’m positive I spent double the time risking my life than the other two occupants of the van.
We made the trip to the 1991 Quebec round and as excited as I was to hit the track, I was caught off guard by a few of the surprises that the track had in store for us. Rolling into the track on Thursday night with my driving partner Mike Hammond, the first thing that caught our attention was the track itself. A combination of a tiny dragstrip, combined with a tiny oval and a few more twisties, the 1.1-mile circuit seemed like it could fit into about a quarter of the area of the track at Shannonville which was where I had done all my racing up to that point. What was a little alarming though was that although the actual track surface looked fairly decent, for some reason they had painted lane markings all the way around the circuit. While wondering how good the traction may be when leaned over going across painted asphalt, I also secretly wondered if they expected us to put signal lights back on our bikes so we could flick the blinker whenever we wanted to initiate a pass.
Practice day at the track brought a few surprises as well as a couple of off-track excursions that provided not only a few laughs but a bit of a shock as well. First to venture off the track was our buddy Gary Cooper who went in a bit hot towards the left hander at the far end of the circuit. Deciding the best option at that point was to stand the bike up and run off the track, Cooper found himself in a very unique situation just a few seconds later as he was now sitting on his race bike in the middle of a corn field. Regaining his composure after a good belly laugh, Cooper slowly made his way back towards the track travelling through nine rows of corn on the way. After making it back to the pits, Cooper gave us a heads up about the far end of the track as he removed corn stalks from his bike and chased off the small woodland creatures that had followed him back.
A little later in the day it was our turn on the track and after a few laps I was starting to feel comfortable out there. Approaching the area where Cooper had excited the track, I leaned over in the double apex left hander when out of nowhere Franz Walker starts coming around the outside of me. For about half a second my ego took a kick to the stones because Walker was going so much faster than I was. That feeling didn’t last long however as much like Cooper, Walker decided he was going much too fast and he stood the bike up to run off on what looked like a nice flat patch of grass, that seemed to stretch on as far as the eye could see. Imagine my surprise when I came around one lap later and saw Walker stumbling around trackside with his bike nowhere in sight. It turns out that about fifty feet off the track there was a drainage ditch that was about twenty feet deep. Unable to be seen from the track, Walker was shocked when he launched off the edge of the ditch before centre punching the far side and then tumbling to the bottom. Although his bike sustained some incredible damage and Walker’s voice might have gone up a couple of octaves, a group effort saw Walker’s bike repaired so he could rejoin the weekend festivities. Track workers also decided to mark the area with hay bales as we didn’t want anybody flying off “Walker’s Bluff” again.
Perhaps my favourite memory of that weekend wasn’t from the track at all. It was a scorcher that weekend and while most of our buddies were camping at the track, Mike and I were staying at a hotel in town. Our buddies were wondering if they could come to our room for a shower so we set up a time to meet them in the hotel parking lot. Remember this was 1991 and rooms didn’t have card swipes then, they actually still had keys. On our way down to the parking lot we noticed a key sticking out of a door and without missing a beat Hammond grabs it and a minute later proudly presents it to our buddies. Trying my best to keep a straight face as they head off to “our room”, I am just a bit horrified as I wonder what they are about to walk into. Does the room contain a couple of newlyweds? Girl Scout Troop in town perhaps? Elderly couple on their way home from a wedding or a funeral? The anticipation was killing me when I got my answer just a couple of minutes later as our buddies ran back outside looking embarrassed and laughing at the same time. Turns out it couldn’t have worked out better as when they entered the room, there was a mechanic from one of the top Superbike teams (not going to mention names) sitting naked on the couch watching Star Trek. Now I am not a Trekkie but is this how you normally watch this show or was this mechanic boldly going where no man has gone before? Regardless it was a hell of a laugh and just added to the fun times of the weekend. Well played Mike.
The racing itself was a blast and I managed to stay upright and finish fifth and sixth in my two classes. The memories of my results will fade over time, but it is the rest of the weekend that I hope will stick with me forever. Although I still haven’t watched Star Trek naked, I have been known to strip down to my skivvies to watch the Sons of Anarchy.
- From Todd Vallee