Red Bull Catalina Grand Prix - Special Feature

Good times return to the island.

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If somebody had told me a couple of years ago that the Catalina Grand Prix would ever be brought back to life, I wouldn’t have believed it possible. The original race, which ran from 1951 to 1958, was a colorful and legendary event, but that was in the Fifties, when people knew how to have fun. Frankly, I thought that era was over—until a few weeks ago, when Editor Hoyer asked if I’d like to attend the 2010 Red Bull Catalina Grand Prix. It was back! Not only that, but 800 riders had already registered to race. There would be 12 races, vintage and modern, all ages of riders, on Saturday and Sunday

So I flew to southern California and hopped on a ferryboat called the Catalina Flyer with Associate Editor Mark Cernicky, and we cruised the 26 (give or take) miles to the island. Cernicky was entered to race on a new Two Brothers Racing-prepped Kawasaki KX250F, while our Off-Road Editor, Ryan Dudek, was campaigning a 2011 KTM 350 SX-F. You can’t take a vehicle with you on the ferry, so all bikes were shipped—empty of gasoline—in containers from the Port of Los Angeles in Wilmington. Fuel was provided in the pits by the organizers. No running of engines, tuning or practice was allowed on the island, so riders would be learning the roughly 6-mile circuit on their first race laps.

The original Fifties races ran partly through the streets of Avalon, but this one started on a motocross-type track in a canyon just at the edge of town, progressed uphill to another motocross section and then headed into the hills on single-track trails and fireroads. There was a short paved section of just a few hundred yards between two single-track trails. A scenic, beautiful course with views of the palm-lined harbor—for those who had time to look.

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Red Bull Catalina Grand Prix

Malcolm Smith gives Peter Egan the lowdown.

The pits were like a Who’s Who of off-road history—Malcolm Smith, Preston Petty, Johnny Campbell, Travis Pastrana, Kendall Norman and Kurt Caselli, to name just a few. Bikes? Ancient Twins and Singles—Triumphs and BSAs—old Hondas and vintage two-strokes mixed in with the newest and hottest KTM and Japanese enduro and MX bikes. Kids on Superminis, Minis; women’s classes...a race for every kind of rider and bike.

On Saturday, our Cernicky led his Senior Lightweight B race, then mistakenly waved second place rider Ed Paulsen into the lead on the last lap, thinking Paulsen was in a faster class. Nevertheless, his second place trophy was gratifyingly huge. Dudek won his Veteran 30+ Heavyweight A class going away, beating the likes of Johnny Campbell and Ronnie Renner. He was so far ahead after the first lap, I thought the rest of the field had accidentally ridden off a cliff.

Sunday’s main event, the 2-hour Red Bull Catalina Grand Prix Pro race, started in three waves, with a $5000 purse. Caselli rode like he was on fire and led until his engine failed, then Norman took over to win. Crowd favorite Pastrana ran near the front, third for a while, until his engine also failed. Sean Collier rode up through the pack to finish a hard-won second, with Colton Haacker third.

And our Ryan Dudek? Starting in the second wave with the 30+ riders, he blazed to the front and finished fourth overall, among the 18+ Pro riders, narrowly missing the podium but beating notables such as Campbell, Renner and David Pingree in the 30+ division.

There was a wonderful intensity to all these races, a feeling that the riders were making history, back on Catalina after 52 years. And the crowd sensed that they were watching history. I didn’t hear one complaint about anything, all weekend, from anybody. The islanders couldn’t have been more hospitable, and this was as close to Totally Blissed Out as I’ve ever seen a race crowd. A perfect scene, and I hope this is just the first of many. Again.

041 Cycle World Off-Road Editor Ryan Dudek.

040 Cycle World Off-Road Editor Ryan Dudek.

039 Cycle World Off-Road Editor Ryan Dudek.

038 Cycle World Off-Road Editor Ryan Dudek.

037 Cycle World Associate Editor Mark Cernicky.

036 Cycle World Associate Editor Mark Cernicky took second in Saturday?s Senior Lightweight B.

035 Red Bull Catalina Grand Prix.

034 Cycle World Off-Road Editor Ryan Dudek gets interviewed after winning the +30 Pro race on Sunday.

033 Catalina Island.

032 Travis Pastrana was running well before his bike broke.

031 +18 Pro and overall Pro winner Kendal Norman.

030 Pastrana.

029 Kurt Caselli.

028 Kendal Norman.

027 Start of Pro race.

026 Scooters, too!

025 Catalina Grand Prix.

024 Catalina Grand Prix.

023 Spectators?

022 Mark Cernicky Cycle World Associate Editor.

021 Kendal Norman.

020 Malcolm Smith gives Peter Egan the lowdown.

019 Triumph tank.

018 Your caption here?

017 Johnny Campbell.

016 Fred Hatch.

015 Vintage stuff.

014 Vintage BMW.

013 Who said Harley don?t do dirt?

012 Seriously, it?s a Velocette.

011 Vintage stuff.

010 CZ and no gloves!

009 Vintage stuff.

008 Vintage stuff.

007 Race ready.

006 Yoshi Kosaka.

005 Yoshi Kosaka.

004 Bagpiper.

003 BSAs!

002 Bike impound.

001 Catalina bound.