So apparently a Mac and Cheese Fest is a thing. Throw in thousands of butter tarts, some food trucks, as well as some random vendors, and suddenly you have a destination for a motorcycle ride. Paris Fairgrounds played host to this mishmash of culinary delights recently and I must admit the boss made a good call in pointing us in that direction. Not only did it turn out to be probably the nicest day for a ride that we had all year, but I also managed to snag a few treats to keep my sugar levels slightly above normal for the next few days.
It has been a few years since I’ve been to the fairgrounds, and our return brought back some amazing memories of a decade and a half spent racing on not only the half mile but the short track as well. With the relatively close proximity to our house (38 minutes door to track), we rarely missed a race in Paris over the years. I think I covered all the bases in Paris as well when it came to the racing world. Most of those years were spent as racing dad/pit crew, but along with that duty I spent some time as a corner worker, track groomer and fence painter. Maybe most importantly, Paris is where I started my announcing career so it will forever hold a place in my heart. I have also done my imitation of a motorcycle racer there many times, and no matter the result, the day always ended with smiles and pops.
Although we didn’t run the half mile every season, there were some amazing races there over the years. While looking at the track last weekend it seemed a bit narrow in the corners, but the riders never seemed to shy away from going three or four wide and using every inch of the track while shooting a rooster tail ten feet in the air. In 2015 the Paris Half Mile hosted one of the most incredible flat track races I have ever witnessed. The race was eventually won by Hall of Famer Chris Evans, but it was no easy task as he spent the whole race battling fellow Hall of Fame member Steve Beattie, former national Champ Doug Lawrence, and a slew of other top-notch talent. After the race the crowd was buzzing, and I can remember Evans being so exhausted that he could barely hold the checkered flag on his victory lap.
In conjunction with that incredible race, I wrote a five-page spread about it for Inside Motorcycles magazine and it is one of my favourite pieces I have ever written. I should also thank photographers Karolina Pelc, Shelley Gamm, Bob Szoke and Outlaw Productions for making this feature look so good. You guys rock! The piece was titled “Gunfight in Paris” and the title suited both the story and the race itself quite well. If you are bored look back in your collection and pull out the July/August 2015 issue and give it a read. It will spark some amazing memories if you were there.
Along with the half mile track, the fairgrounds were also home to the Paris short track. The track was a 1/8-mile, paper clip shaped bullring, where getting to the checkers usually involved a bump and run at some point during the race. Originally built as a Speedway track, Paris Speedway was unique not only in size and shape, but also because the track surface was ever changing. One week the track would look like a miniature cushion track and next week it would be like pavement. Some nights this transition would happen over the course of a few heat races and the track always kept riders guessing.
The first ever race there involving 450 cc machines was back in 2010 and had a total of three riders in it. Dale Thompson, Braden Vallee and Paul Reneaud were the first to give the big bikes a go there, but word quickly spread, and the class continued to grow. A few years after that first 450 race the short track became part of our national series and during those races things really got spicy. With twelve Expert riders battling on that little bullring things got a little hairy sometimes. One of the more notorious races there ended up in a couple of riders sporting plaster for a few weeks and prompted Steve Ball to give it the nickname “The Bloodsport National.” I once compared racing in Paris to taking a ride in a clothes dryer. You were going to bounce around in circles for a bit and every once in awhile somebody might lose a sock or two.
Along with national races and a regular Friday night program (as many as 14 races some years), Paris also hosted practice nights on Tuesday nights. These practice nights not only turned into many laps on the track, but hours of socializing, bench racing, and beer drinking, long after the track lights had been shut off. Although Paris Speedway never felt like the big leagues, it always felt like a league where anybody could play regardless of their talent level.
One thing Paris Speedway was great for was honing the talent level of upcoming riders. Learning to read the track, control slides, and race in tight quarters, has proved beneficial for many of the riders still involved in our sport. Some of the names I call on a regular basis when I am announcing got their start on 50cc machines at the track. Current Experts Boyd Deadman, Hunter Bauer, and Jimmy McCullough are among those who cut their teeth at the track spinning thousands of laps in the process as well as now AMA racer Dalton Gauthier.
Paris will always have a special place in my heart and those memories will last forever. On the way home from the Mac and Cheese Fest we passed the old ball diamond in Ayr where a couple of youngsters were riding around on a CRF50 and a PW50. I couldn’t help but wonder if they would have joined us at the track if they had only been born about five years earlier.
- From Todd Vallee