I've been riding motorcycles for a decade, writing about them half of that, and this year I attended my first public trackday (a truly eye-opening experience). And now I can add motorcycle racing to that list.

Normally, some average rider's first time going racing wouldn't be much of a story (and, hey, this might not be either), but I realized that from the jump and decided you guys deserved more. So instead of joining some supermoto or 250cc-class sportbike race (something I might actually be prepared for), I decided to enter all three forms of racing at Roland Sands Design Moto Beach Classic in Southern California recently. That meant I'd be racing flat track, minimoto, and drag racing—and I'd never actually ridden flat track or been on a dragstrip.

Fortunately, what I lack in racing talent I make up for with words, and I was able to get Triumph to give me permission to race the 2017 Street Scrambler I've been tinkering with and Kawasaki was keen on letting me borrow a Z125 to ride as well. BMW was hosting the drag race and putting everyone on the same pair of BMW R nineT Pures (to make it even), and Roland was kind enough to squeeze my name on the participants list for all three.

Triumph Scrambler
The Cycle World Race Team looking far more official than the Cycle World rider.Sean MacDonald

The Triumph is mostly stock outside for some aesthetic pieces and exhaust, and a set of Fox shocks. While most of me loves the exhaust, it wasn't lost on me that they're a racing prototype, that the only other guy on the planet with them is flat track maniac Joe Kopp, and that showing up with them to a race sent the message that I meant business. I, most decidedly, did not mean business. Additionally, the Z125 Kawasaki had waiting for me was not a stock model but one that'd been fitted for a 24-hour race with an upgraded exhaust, bars, crash protection, and graphics kit. I really need to stop showing up to events looking like a full factory rider until I have the skills to match.

Now the only trouble was that I’d never ridden anything bigger than a Yamaha TT-R125 on a flat track and that I’m far too big of a sissy to try drag starts without my life depending on it.

Roland said there would be a practice session the day before the race around 10:00 a.m., so naturally I was parked outside the gate with my gear at 9:30 wracked with nerves. I kept telling myself that I’d lived through learning to backflip at Pastranaland and I could live through this. Sliding a motorcycle had to be easier than flipping on it, right? A half day of practice and I’d get myself sideways and I’d be fine, though likely not fast, but I could live with that.

Triumph Scrambler
My 2017 Triumph Street ScramblerSean MacDonald

Sadly, practice day turned into setup day, and they spent the five hours I sat in the parking lot preparing the track and moving fencing around to better corral the next day’s attendees. There would be no experiencing flat track on a big bike before race time. I almost called the whole thing off then, but by this point people had heard I was racing and I’d started to see people in the pits or get texts about it.

I ran into Jordan Graham—who races in the Super Hooligan class on an Indian Scout and paints some of the raddest helmets on the planet—and it blew my mind how excited he was that I'd be joining in the fun. He's a crazy-talented guy I've looked up to for a long time and who I've really only met in passing, but his enthusiasm and offers to help with anything I needed come race day changed the feel of the event. I also heard from Frankie Garcia, a jack-of-all-trades in the moto world who was actually the guy who led the ride on my very first press trip (and led me to my first time hitting 186 mph). He was racing a Ducati Scrambler that he and my buddy and Ducati PR guy Nathon Verdugo had built.

Moto Beach Classic
Not the biggest track or the best track, but today it was our trackSam Bendall

Basically, I wasn’t getting out of this without looking like a even more of a sissy than usual, and this time in front of literally everyone I knew. So I was going racing. Fortunately, I talked my buddy Justin into coming along so I’d have at least one person I could maybe beat.

A Southern California flat track event with lots of odd classes brings a ton of riders out of the woodwork, and there were a ton of qualifying classes come race morning, so I decided to enter a practice session or two on the minimoto track.

Here, I quickly learned that while the SoCal flat track scene may be burgeoning, the minimoto scene is incredibly well established. It took about two laps to realize that the one race I was feeling pretty good about was also the race I was going to likely get smoked in the worst. These dudes (about half of whom were barely in their teens) had insanely well-built bikes and rode in a way that said this was just another race for them—not a one-off event like the flat track race was for most of us.

Justin Chatwin
About to head out for our first time on trackSam Bendall

I was getting the hang of the track (and by getting the hang of it, I meant I at least stopped getting lapped by these kids), but a low-side kept me just outside of qualifying. To be honest, it was a gift (and it should also be noted that tracks on the beach get dirty and it’s based to keep to racing where dirt should be on the track).

Finally, it was time for the "Run What Ya Brung" class to have its qualifying, and I lined up behind the entrance to the track with my heart pounding in my throat. I caught eyes with Graham, who always has a big, goofy smile on his face, and he gave me a big thumbs-up, but I diverted my eyes quickly as this situation was far too dire for his jovial attitude. Justin and I locked eyes in a “what did we get ourselves into” look, but it was too late to back out as someone started yelling, “You’re up!” at me.

I looked down to triple-check that traction control and ABS were disabled, guessed that second gear was probably where I wanted to live (and cursed myself for not asking for help from all the people who’d offered), and let out the clutch until I found myself on the dirt. I glanced to my right as I entered the track to see hundreds of people clutching the chain-link fence, hoping to see some guys go fast or crash, and I said a quick prayer that I’d get off this track without anyone taking notice of me and then reminded myself not to worry about them.

Sean MacDonald
Can you tell I've never done this before?Sam Bendall

I'm not gonna lie; those first few laps were uuuugly. The Scrambler felt incredibly heavy, the stock tires weren't giving me much to work with, and I couldn't really figure out how to slow down (which meant I couldn't go very fast).

But I made it through and by the last lap was starting to get the back end a little loose on my corner exits in a way that felt controllable and dependable. Sadly, these qualifying sessions were incredibly short, but fortunately, our class was small enough that everyone was moving on to the next round. I couldn’t nearly keep the pace with the other guys though and Justin ditched me out of the gate, and I knew the next qualifying would probably be pretty ugly (and for a much bigger audience).

Sean MacDonald
Looking slow and stiffSam Bendall

I was greeted by Jordan Graham’s huge grin as I entered the pits. “You did it! You’re slow as s—t, but you did it! How do you feel? You’re gonna do great, I’ll tell Roland you’re racing with us next season.”

It’s hard not to be affected by that sort of enthusiasm, and I liked that he didn’t have to wait for my answers to know I was in love. There’s nothing quite like the face of a man bit by love.

I wouldn’t have much time to revel in it (or ask questions about how to suck less in the next race), as it was time for the drag race.

Sean MacDonald
I'm not so sure this is the best ideaKevin Jackson

Have I mentioned how much I hate abrupt things? I've always been a slow learner, in big part because I like taking things in very small increments—something that isn't quite possible when it comes to things like wheelies, backflips, or drag starts.

Additionally, the R nineT is definitely not my first choice of bikes to learn drag starts on. That big opposing twin moves like a bag full of fighting cats, and the bike carries a lot of weight should things go sideways.

By this point in the day, most people had caught wind of Justin and my trash talking, so I wasn’t surprised to see our names slotted against each other for the first round of races. I joked that I’d been training for this race my whole life and that I had a big weight advantage over Justin, who has 30 pounds on me—but my attempt to stave off my nerves only last until Jamie Robinson kicked off the first race with a massive slide.

Justin Chatwin
There were insults, many unkind things were saidJon Beck

At least the principles of this race made a little more sense to me: keep traction, keep the front wheel down, keep my weight low and forward, nail my shifts. I hadn’t quite accounted for the fact that all eyes would be on us and there was no way to go unnoticed, but I tried to push everything from my brain as we rolled to the start. I made one last attempt to lighten the burden of the event, giving Justin the bird as we waited for our cue, but was pulled back to reality as I heard someone say the video cameras showing the feed from the event were live and on us and we had 10 seconds.

Leticia Cline was launching us, and my heart jumped as she raised her flag. Three, two…the flagged dropped and I did my best to release the clutch and smoothly as possible. Justin’s tire inched out in front as we banged through first, second, and third gear, the front wheel lofting slightly in each. I felt myself close the gap slightly and heard him short-shift just barely as I milked the last power from third and reaped the rewards as I pulled past him in fourth gear, carrying that into fifth and across the finish line with almost half a bike length on him.

We turned around and headed back to the start line, and I couldn’t get off the BMW fast enough. I’d just stared death (or at least embarrassment, which feels like death) in the face, and I wanted the safety of solid ground as quickly as I could. I got my helmet and gloves off, but my hands would not stop shaking from the adrenaline for what seemed like an eternity. Drag racing (and winning a drag race) is terrifying, but it’s one of the most incredible rushes I’ve ever had.

My streak didn’t last long, however, as a botched shift into fourth gear saw Garcia beat me in the second heat by just a few inches. If you’re going to lose to a guy, Frankie is the best guy to lose to as he both looks completely unassuming while he rips at everything. He raced superbikes, supermoto, and is incredible to watch on a motocross course, and he went on to win the whole drag contest after barely besting me. To say I felt good about it is an understatement.

Sean MacDonald
Heat #2 has a new jersey and new speedSam Bendall

Our next heat for the flat track race wasn’t for two hours or so, and it took the better part of an hour for the adrenaline rush to wear off and for me to clear my head—though it fired back up when a schedule change meant I had five minutes to get ready for it instead of the 20 I would have normally given myself to get ready.

Justin and I were the last two to line up for our heat, and I was actually the only rider lined up on the second row. While unprepared, the lack of time quelled my chance to get in my head and my nerves were far more under control as the flag dropped.

I reminded myself to point my inside arm toward the apex of the corner, to be smooth, and to use the rear brake. After a corner or two, I hadn’t died yet, so I pushed further into what my brain was telling my body to do. I began to find lines with a little grip and found a way to control the bike as I slid toward the wall on corner exits. My transition from brakes to gas was still pretty abrupt, but I was finding speed and I began passing riders. The point-and-shoot method was working a little better than trying to connect the track in one fluid oval, and I made it around the outside of one guy and then on the inside of two more.

Sean MacDonald
Justin out in front on the left, the Sportster in the middle, and me giving chaseKevin Jackson

I looked up to see a rider I’d met the day prior on his Harley-Davidson Sportster was the only thing standing between me and Justin, and the gap between the three of us was shrinking rapidly. Today was the day I was going to learn about red mist.

A wave of energy flowed through my hands and feet, and I started really pushing the Scrambler. For a big bike, it had super-neutral handling and I was surprised how much I was able to push it down in corners. The fueling is so spot-on that—despite having completely stock tires (and at stock pressure because I didn’t learn about running more until after)—I was able to keep the bike pointed where I wanted out of pure throttle control.

Sean MacDonald
Learning lessonsKevin Jackson

It was with all of that in my mind and body that I tried to dive under the Sportster, only to not make it in time. I tried to scrub off speed, but he went to make the corner and I clipped his back wheel which sent me tumbling. I was back on my feet and on the bike before the pack of riders made it back around and fortunately it was the last lap, so I made it back around and off to safety.

I hadn’t escaped the race without scratches, but the biggest mark was the impression left by my first time sort of doing it right. If the first heat didn’t do it, I was now hooked on flat track racing. I also think I could have had him if we had a few more laps.

I made the last spot in the main event but opted out of it as they were running 16 riders instead of the six we had for the heats and I’d seen enough crashes for one day.

I did what I came to do, but at the end of the day I was more struck by the motorcycle community involved in this burgeoning flat track scene than my own personal triumphs. It blew me away that people were so warm and inclusive of someone with zero experience or skill, a courtesy that was extended to tons of other new racers that day. It felt like one big family in the pits, with racers all cheering each other on and celebrating each other's successes.

Ducati Scrambler
Frankie Garcia on their home-built Ducati ScramblerSam Bendall

My buddy Frankie Garcia went on to win the main event for the Super Hooligan race, beating pros and flat track legends alike, ending the night in the most perfect way possible. He is proof that anyone can go out there, have a good time, and maybe even do pretty well. And the reaction to his win—with dozens of us in the pit screaming his name on his last few laps— is proof that this is an incredible family to be apart of.

I don’t know if I’ll be good enough to race a ton next season, but come 2019 you better watch out for me. I’m coming for you Jordan Graham and Aaron Guardado!

Frankie Garcia
Frankie's win was special for all of usSam Bendall
Roland Sands
Roland Sands getting around in styleSam Bendall