Over the years, there have been many great road racers that have got their racing careers started, or at the very least moving swiftly, by racing flat track. A few of the more recent are the legendary Hayden brothers and Jason DiSalvo. The Canadian flat track scene has seen a reversal of this trend in the past month, however, as four former and current pro road racers have shown up to have some fun in the dirt.
The CMA Norm Carr Classic in Belleville, ON saw former national road racer Karl Daigle show up with a DTX bike (an MX bike modified for the dirt) and jump right into the Intermediate class. After blowing his bike up in practice, Daigle took Don Taylor up on a generous offer and rode Taylor’s KTM for the rest of the night. Riding like an experienced veteran, Daigle was able to grab a couple of third place finishes.
The last race of the year at Paris Speedway saw not one but three pro riders show up, as recently-crowned Canadian Superbike Champion Jodi Christie, Pro Sportbike Champ Kenny Riedmann, and the unretired Ross Millson showed up to slide around in circles. Once again proving that our sport is full of generous people, not one of these riders was riding their own bikes. Christie was riding a Honda (of course) owned by Flat Track Canada president Aaron Hesmer, Riedmann was on a Kawasaki owned by Karolina and Tomas Pelc, and Millson was on board a Yamaha owned by Keith and Steven Nickerson.
Christie explained that he had always wanted to try flat track because of the great group of road racers that have roots in the dirt including Grand Prix stars Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez. A few conversations with Hesmer later and here he was. I can only imagine the thoughts Christie had when rolling into the tiny, dare I say ‘rustic’ Paris Speedway after competing at the prestigious Canadian Tire Motorsports Park only a few days earlier. There, Christie had been competing at speeds in the 300 km/h range, but now, looking at the tiny paperclip that is Paris, he admitted he was nervous. Like any true racer however, Christie found that as soon as he hit the track the nerves and anxiety disappeared.
“It was a bit overwhelming trying to take everything in that other riders were telling me,” Christie said. “By the end of the night I was thrilled at how the whole night went. I learned a lot and got so much more comfortable. I wish we could have kept riding after the races were over.”
Deciding to step it up a notch, the trio of road racers headed to the FTC race at the 5/8-mile Western Fair Raceway in London the next day. While some might be intimidated going from the smallest track on the circuit to the largest, Christie knew this would fall right into his wheelhouse.
“I knew the speed would play to my advantage, so I wasn’t nervous about riding there at all,” Christie noted. “I did get a little stressed as I was wrenching on my bike just minutes before I had to run off to the riders meeting though.” Despite not having a ‘factory team’ to work on his bike for him, Christie mixed it up with the best Novice riders that Canada has to offer and, to the surprise of perhaps nobody, he managed to podium in both of his races. The next weekend Christie and Riedmann returned to Paris for the national and made it look like they have both been doing this for years. Both riders managed to win both of their heat races convincingly and Christie led both finals until Tyler Brown was able to get by him on the last lap.
While perhaps not quite ready to give up road racing for flat track, Christie is hooked and he says he will be back. Christie says that as different as the two disciplines of racing are, they are similar in that in both you are searching for traction coming out of the corners by using throttle control. He says after his first race he felt like he had been part of the flat track community for years and the help and support he received was overwhelming.
“Even the young kids would be hanging off the pit gate giving the riders a high five as they pulled off the track no matter where they finished. Everybody had a smile on their face the whole time,” praised Christie. “It was a great environment.”
For any road racers who want to give our sport a try, I encourage you to contact somebody in our little community. As Christie, Reidmann and Millson found out, there is always somebody willing to help. At this point I’m not sure if Canadian road racing has lost any racers, but I’m pretty sure that Canadian flat track has gained three.