My last weekend in America was spent in Texas. America, as I have noted before, is big, really big. The flight from San Diego to Dallas/Fort Worth airport is over 4 hours and that still only gets you half way across the states. The purpose of my visit to the Lone Star state was primarily to visit and check in with my good friend Ottis “Otter” Lance. Otter has been a fixture in the Team USA outfit at the last few Island Classics at PI and we have formed a strong friendship which I hoped to bring to bear when I visited.
You see, last October, Otter was involved in a very serious motorcycle accident. An unlicensed and uninsured woman driver crossed to the other side of the road and totalled Otter’s GSX-R1000 and nearly killed him. He was taken to hospital with multiple injuries the worst of which was a leg injury that, under normal circumstances, would have resulted in amputation of the leg. 5 inches of the femur was completely obliterated leaving only skin and muscle holding it together. Were it not for the quick action of his best mate, Paul Schaeffer, the doctors WOULD have amputated immediately but Paul refused to let them until family had been notified and consulted.
Since then Otter has endured 19 bone and skin grafts as well as numerous other procedures. The leg has been saved and he is able to walk and drive and take care of himself. However, his right hand still experiences loss of feeling and his index finger is still unusable. The appalling state of the American medical system has meant that he has been duck-shoved from doctor to doctor and specialist to specialist without any of them apparently knowing what to do and how to do it. Despite having medical insurance, the US system requires that payments be made by the patient before the company reimburses for the expenses so the financial burden has been intense.
So the state in which I found Otter was depressing to say the least. 18 months after the accident he still has only 72 degrees range of movement in the knee and because of the bone grafts that have been made to rebuild the femur, the ROM is actually decreasing. He needs 130 degrees in order to be able to ride again and the doctors’ answer to this dilemma is that, in 3-to-5 years, they can perform a knee replacement. Not really good enough.
What was needed was a trip to the track and, in a wonderful case of serendipity, my visit was timed to coincide with a 2 day meeting at Motorsport Ranch at Cresson, SW of Fort Worth. It soon became apparent that a Texan’s idea of “not far” didn’t quite coincide with my understanding of the term. Despite howling along the interstate at 95mph (152km/h) it took nearly 90 minutes to get to the track.
Now Motorsport Ranch at Cresson, isn’t quite what you’d expect from the name. You’ve heard of golf resorts where the perk of living in the estate is that you have a golf course as part of the complex and you can play anytime you want to? Well, MSR is a RACING resort.
Yep, that’s right. MSR is a racing and residential area melded into one. Only instead of a golf course, the estate is built around a road racing circuit. The first of its kind in the USA, it offers the opportunity to LIVE at the track, literally. There are three track configurations available and the race meeting on the weekend was using the shortest of the layouts.
Ignore the green “passing zones.” These only apply to cars. Races can be run in either direction, the track being especially laid out to provide this option. Last weekend, the CMRA (Central Motorcycle Roadracing Association) chose to run the races in the anti-clockwise direction. The start-finish line is on the long straight between Tombstone and Big Bend and the pits and control tower are on the outside of the track along the straight between Big Bend and the Pit Lane. There is a considerable change of elevation and the riders love riding MSR.
A word about CMRA. The race meeting on the weekend was a two-day event with an all-comers Six Hour endurance race on the Saturday and sprint races for all classes on the Sunday. I cannot remember seeing what was basically a glorified club day being run with such efficiency and good sense. Everything ran like clockwork, the communications were excellent and it put many Open Meetings that I have attended to shame.
The Six Hour was run in 105 degree heat with most teams only having two riders. The team to whom I was introduced was running a BMW S1000R and pitted each hour for fuel, a rider change and a new rear tyre (tire) 🙂 The team eventually finished 3rd overall behind two R6 Yamahas, confirming my original assessment that the track was more of a Supersport track than a Superbike one.
But, while the racing was, of course, interesting, I had really come to the track to hang out with the boys from Island Racing Services, Otter and the guys who I have come to know while attending the Island Classic at PI. I received a Texas welcome like you wouldn’t believe. Everything was laid on and nothing was too much trouble. David Hirsch, Manager of IRS, the Michelin distributor for the whole of the southern states of America, had his motorhome, tyre fitting trailer, hundreds of tyres, a pit bike and a huge shade tent in place by the time I got there and then Paul Schaeffer and his fellow conspirators turned on a Texas BBQ the like of which I had never seen at the conclusion of racing.
It was made clear to me that I was the Guest of Honour and that arrangements had been made to cater for whatever I wanted…it was a very humbling experience. Mike Petitpas took me aside and told me that he had arranged an Access All Areas pass for me and for me to be the club’s guest in the commentary box on the Sunday. A photographer’s vest was provided and, after a conference with the Clerk of Course to rough out the “no-go” areas while photographing and I was let loose on the circuit.
As it turned out, photography was pretty difficult, what with the heat, the considerable distances to walk and the glare and I was less than impressed with my efforts.
The pit stops ranged from frantic to leisurely, but the ban on tyre changing and refuelling at the same time, meant that less urgency was required.
But the highlight of the day was the appearance of Ottis Lance at the track. This was Otter’s first time back at the track since his accident and it was clear that he was finding being at the track and being unable to ride a very difficult situation. If you have had any contact with the Island Classic at PI you have probably heard the many stories and folk tales that surround this man, but nothing could prepare you for the affection with which he is regarded by his peers in the roadracing world of Texas. Otter is truly a legend in his world and it was great to see him hanging out with his buddies.
Like every race meeting, some of the most interesting sights are seen in the pits and some that I saw pushed the boundaries of “interesting” way further than I expected.
The gentleman in the orange singlet is “Bill.” He is a well-known tinkerer and has produced some wild creations in the past, but, according to the locals, he has excelled himself with this one. Based on a centrally-located Bandit engine, the frame is hand-made and the machine is road registered! In fact, the local authorities must be so used to Bill’s creations that they didn’t even ask him to take it off the trailer when he went to the registration office.
The heat was just as oppressive on the Sunday as it had been on Saturday but the racing was still hot and it sure was fun to take some more photos and do some race commentary as well. At lunch time the track was opened for a free-for-all ride by anyone who wanted to do a slow lap behind the pace car. David offered me the use of his pit bike and I had the dubious honour of setting slowest time of the day as I wobbled around on an unfamiliar mount. The fast ones did the usual “leave the pits last and then scream around to catch up with the pack” and I learned the skill of holding my line and the technicalities of “speed differential” again!
I attended my first road race meeting in February 1976 and I still get a thrill every time I enter the gate at a race meeting and my weekend at MSR Cresson continued that tradition despite it being on the other side of the world.
MSR is located SW of Fort Worth at the “171” on this map. Yes, Texas is big, real big. BUT, so are the hearts of the people who live there and I have some very precious memories of my weekend deep in the heart of Texas.
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