About half past two in the afternoon on Saturday, April 23, I looked up at the grandstands behind where I sat and realized that, though the crowd was not pathetically small, it wasn’t standing-room-only, either. It should have been. Because that afternoon—sunny, not too hot, a bit breezy—the Salinas, California, rodeo grounds were home to some of the most dazzling displays of American-style TT racing you could ask for, and then some. From where I sat, near the start-finish line, I could see that the other grandstands around the dirt track were nearly empty, despite the skill and talent out there in the form of AMA Grand National Pro and Expert TT racers like CW’s own Mark Cernicky and Team Cycle World Attack Performance Kawasaki’s JD Beach.
Mark shares his experiences at Salinas elsewhere, but from where I sat, he and the others put on the best AMA TT show on two wheels I’d seen since the Johnson Administration, which was the era in which I’d last been to an American TT. (Though I did my own TT racing for Team Cycle World in the Isle of Man.)
No, there’s no excuse for not attending good old American short-track events of every kind, apart from life’s busy-ness. But sharing the sun and sport with famous Bay Area moto-personality Michael J. Wozniak (known to everyone savvy about motorcycle-related stuff around Sodom-by-the-Bay as “Woz”) and his companion, Tonya, made a good day’s motosport even better.
Adding to the enjoyment was Lorin Guy’s show of classic race and streetbikes. Several years ago, Lorin took the annual BSA Owners’ Club “Clubman” event at the Santa Clara County fairgrounds from a Britbikes-only affair to one including vintage and classic European and Japanese bikes, much to everyone’s benefit. I met Lorin when I joined the Northern California Norton Owners Club back in ’06, did an article for their newsletter on buying and racing my then-new factory-built Norton Commando Production Racer in England in early ’72, and then showed the bike at his suggestion the next year, when it won its class in the concours.
Like Woz, Lorin and his wife, Kathryn, are major and very active figures in SF Bay Area motorcycling, so it didn’t surprise me when he told me that, just three weeks before the Salinas TT, he was contacted by the event organizers and asked to somehow pull together a collection of bikes to be shown on the grass. He did so in spectacular style, and the crowds gathered around the very well-presented bikes sheltered under tenting obviously enjoyed the show.
As I wandered around, savoring the splendid vintage and classic racebikes and streetbikes, I found myself standing next to a tall young fellow staring, like me, at a Triumph dirt-tracker. “Great show,” I said, to which he responded emphatically and, of course, that meant we immediately got into a conversation about the event. Turned out that Ben Alameda wasn’t just a spectator: As the craftsman behind his company, “IronCobbler Hot Shoes,” he also makes and repairs the steel shoes worn by the AMA flat-track racers. When he told me he’s studying at Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo to take his engineering and metallurgical skills and knowledge to a higher level, I realized that Ken Maely’s legacy was in great hands. Ben not only makes and repairs bespoke full-size hot shoes but also, amazingly, key chains with miniature hot shoes.
Talking with Ben and Woz and many others at the Salinas TT, I realized that I’d found a once-commonplace relaxed and generally happy atmosphere here, typical of those dirt-track races I’d attended back in the ’60s, as well as a few others. Sure, there were the usual vendors hawking trinkets, T-shirts, hot dogs and posters. But as I climbed onto the CW long-term Can-Am RT-S Spyder to ride back home, I realized that this whole affair captured a small-town ambience that made it like some Disneyworld experience, except that it was real.
Yes, the courteous young Salinas policeman told me when I’d stopped him to chat on my way out of the track area, the media reports of gang activity in Salinas are indeed based in social realities in the town. But he emphasized that nobody visiting his town—of which he was clearly proud—should worry about it.
I certainly didn’t. My only concern as I rode home was that I might somehow miss the next Salinas TT.