In October 2014, American road racer, Ottis Lance was involved in a serious motorcycle accident while riding to work. It seems that the lady driver in the car was determined to hit him, crossing across a multi-lane road before colliding with Ottis’s bike.
Under normal circumstances it would be polite and appropriate for us to express our concern and a degree of outrage as well at this incident involving a fellow motorcyclist. But there is a little more to this story so let me explain.
Ottis Lance, or “Otter” as he is known to his friends, is somewhat of a legend in his own lifetime. A road racer who started out racing in the 80’s, he achieved success in the hurly burly of AMA racing, rocketing to the top of the tree almost as soon as he had his first road race meeting.
As well as his racing exploits, he held, for many years, the Guinness Wold Record for the longest wheelie on a road bike and the annals of American racing are filled with not only pictures of him but also a library of crazy and unbelievable stories about his exploits both on and off the track.
Fast forward to today and it was in January 2013 that he entered “our” sphere as the Captain of the USA Team at the Island Classic at Phillip Island. Persuaded to join Team USA along with two of his best friends, Deano Swims and the urbane and talented ex-pat Englishman, Erv Kollek, Otter brought with him his 1983 model GS1000 Suzuki superbike. A bike that had not even been started for 27 years, the #57 Suzuki looked pretty much the worse for wear when it was hauled out of the team shipping container. No work of any great substance had been done on the bike with the exception of fitting a new set of plugs and firing it up to ensure that there was life there.
Aware that he would be seriously disadvantaged if he were to try and race on the existing 18” wheels, Ottis ordered a new set of Kosman 17” alloys. Unfortunately, these did not arrive in time to be fitted or even to be included in the shipment to PI. In fact, the wheels did not arrive until the Thursday of private practice when the awful truth emerged that the wheels fitted all right, but they would not have the appropriate clearances for the disk brake carriers.
There were black looks in the Team USA pit as heads were scratched trying to solve the dilemma. A local enthusiast, realising that the team didn’t have the resources or the time to figure it out for themselves, hot-footed it down to the Robbie Phillis pit where the sad story was told. I’m sure that you have already figured out where this story is heading but the complexity of the story hadn’t even STARTED to be evidenced yet.
Robbie came up to the pit and collective jaws were scratched. To nobody’s great surprise, Robbie proposed a solution. A good mate of his, Scott Owen, happened to be at the track. “Scotty’s your man,” says RP. “If he can’t fix it, it can’t be fixed.” Sure enough, Scott appeared shortly after and, after being briefed on the situation, he and Otter got down to it, and I mean literally, got down to it. Bearing in mind that Scott was still recuperating from a serious car accident that included back injuries, it was quite a sight to see him lying on the concrete floor of the pit trying to assess the situation and devise a solution.
No matter which way they juggled it, it was soon clear that the brake callipers would not fit no matter what they did; the measurements were wrong, the bolt spacings were wrong, the whole set up was wrong. In the mean time, precious practise sessions were taking place and the engine hadn’t even been fired up yet.
Finally Scott announced that the only thing that could be done was to make a new set of alloy brake caliper holders. With no facilities in the pits or even on the island for that matter, Scott took the measurements twice and drove back to Melbourne to his home base workshop where, by 2 am on Friday morning, he had fabricated a new set of carriers. Driving straight back to the island without sleep, the carriers were offered up to the front end and they were perfect. Tyres were fitted to the Kosmans and the bike was ready to go. By now it was mid-morning and, wouldn’t you know it, when the bike fired up, it was running like a dog. Fuel was spewing from the carbies and the bike was popping and fizzing like a popcorn machine.
So, new plugs (again); carbies torn down and cleaned and the bike started. Otter went out for his first crack at Phillip Island, which lasted just one lap before the bike expired on the side of the track. Back to the pits on the pickup and back to work again trying to solve an electrical bug. Finally it became clear that there was a short circuit in the kill switch. New wiring soon took care of that and, despite the fact that some were expressing considerable concern about the fuming engine, Otter went out and managed to qualify. The bike was still far from race-ready. A borrowed set of carburettors was the short-circuit solution to ongoing fuelling issues and the bike was running, though poorly as it was not tuned for Australian fuel.
Dramas continued to bug the bike (which, incidentally, had the very cylinder head that had been on Graeme Crosby’s GS1000 when he won the Daytona superbike race way back then). But it ran, and we had an opportunity at last to see just what the fuss had been about with this extroverted Texan. Despite running in the same class as the Team Birrell Katanas and numerous XR69’s Otter put the bike into solid mid-field finishes on an antiquated and totally out-gunned machine. Come Sunday evening when the points were added up, Otter was the top-scoring American in Team USA. An astonishing performance.
But this isn’t just as story about a bike, though that alone would make the yarn worth telling. Like most of the Americans in Team USA, Otter came to a gunfight equipped with a knife and the end result was always going to be a massacre. There were some outstanding rides by the Americans and, while soundly beaten on the track, they won the hearts of all who had anything to do with them off the track. Polite, dedicated, willing to learn and totally focussed, they were the epitome of racers. And their Team Captain led by example, overcoming the most amazing obstacles to fly the flag for his team. Yes, it was a team and it seems a little unfair to single out an individual, but Ottis Lance is just that larger than life person that lifts what he does out of the ordinary and places it into the realm of the extraordinary.
Otter should have been at Phillip Island at the end of this month. He has a new bike that he was confident would take it to the best of them. But he won’t be. The accident tore a 5” piece of his femur right out of his leg and smashed it to pieces. To date he has endured 12 operations with many more bone grafts and skin grafts yet to come. He is in constant and racking pain despite pain medication and his recuperation will be long and agonising.
Like a true hero, he remains upbeat and grateful for the messages of support that he is receiving from his fans, both in America and here in Australia as well as a legion of people who know nothing about him except for the fact that he is gritting out a horrendous period in his life.
A fund has been set up so that fans can donate, even just a small amount, to help with his on-going treatment and rehabilitation.
Without a doubt he will be here for the Island Classic 2016 and he will receive the reception that survivors like him always do.
Messages of support are a hugely important part of helping him to bear what he is going through as well.
Otter has a Facebook site maintained by his mother and his daughter and I encourage you to check in there and keep track of this emerging story. As a survivor of a similar type of accident (though nowhere near as devastating) I can understand a little what he is experiencing and I’m riding this one out with him.
Otter’s Facebook page is goteamotter. Trust me, he will.
MCNEWS.COM.AU is a specialist on-line resource that provides motorcycle news for motorcyclists. MCNews covers all areas of interest for the motorcycling public including news, reviews and comprehensive racing coverage.