Canada has Victoria Day, and the following weekend, the US has Memorial Day. One perk that the US has over us is that Memorial Day weekend also happens to coincide with the running of the legendary Springfield Mile at the fairgrounds in Springfield, IL. Since the majority of the flat trackers here in the great white north will never get the opportunity to run the mile, I talked to a couple of Canucks who recently did and got their take on what it is like to go 135 mph on a flat track bike.
Doug Lawrence is a veteran of riding the miles now, and the biggest word that comes to mind when he talks about them is strategy. “During a race on a half-mile there are lots of chances to make up time in the corners, but on the mile it isn’t like that,” he says. “You spend 25 laps trying to figure out who you want to draft with and who you think is making a charge to the front that may tow you along. Generally, the Harley guys will hook up with another Harley, Kawi guys with another Kawi and so on. Half-miles are more physically demanding, but the mile is more of a chess game. You are constantly looking for drafting partners, watching for hand signals, and backing off the gas so you don’t run over the guy in front of you when you are getting pulled along in the draft.”
That’s right, he said backing off the throttle! Even at 135 mph, Lawrence says once you are in the draft it takes a lot less throttle to maintain that speed. If you happened to be the rider in last place but still holding onto the draft, the amount of dead air in front of you is incredible. It’s only when you pull out to try to make a move that you will have to twist the throttle to the stop, and things get a bit hairy. “In the draft it will seem relatively quiet and calm, but when you pull out, the noise and wind are incredible,” Lawrence notes. “Your arms, chest and head all feel like a kite.”
With the speeds involved in racing on a mile, there is more preparation involved when it comes to the bike as well. Wheels have to be perfectly balanced, wheel bearings tight and you should have a top notch motor ideally in the 100 hp range.
Unfortunately for Lawrence, that top notch motor caved under the strain of the Springfield Mile and he came up one mile short. Leading his semi on the last lap, Lawrence pulled onto the straight out of turn two and then heard a sickening squeal from the bike. As the bike lost power, Lawrence watched other riders pass him as his chance for making the main disappeared also. As disappointed as he was in the outcome, Lawrence still says riding the mile is the coolest thing he has ever done.
Welland rider Mike Labelle has ‘unretired’ this year and took his shot at Springfield as well. Although he has raced on miles before on a 450 cc machine (even winning a few years ago in Arizona), this was Labelle’s first effort on a twin. Unlike Lawrence, who rides a Harley, Labelle’s bike of choice is the Kawasaki 650. What Labelle does have in common with Lawrence, however, is the use of the word strategy. He says that, although things happen way faster on a mile, you still have to make time for the thinking game while you are out there.
Like Lawrence, Labelle failed to make the main at Springfield. He echoed Lawrence’s thoughts that it was the coolest thing he had ever experienced. “Throwing the bike into the corner at over 130 mph was such an adrenaline rush,” he says. “I wouldn’t even say it was scary, I was grinning from ear to ear the whole time. I lost 16 pounds during training and the bike ran great. I can’t wait to try this again here in the fall.”
Most of us will never get the chance to ride a mile, inches apart from other racers at 135 mph. Lucky for us we have guys like Lawrence and Labelle who are willing to share the thrill of the ride with us.