AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days

I never finished my story about the AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days rally on Saturday. I mentioned I dumped my bike (in a very gentle way, don’t worry!), and I was rescued… here’s the rest of that tale, in the event I’ve left you hanging…

So the pair of intrepid travelers who came to my rescue were none other than Robert Pandya and Sara Liberte. Robert is the PR Director for Indian Motorcycle. He’s a skilled rider and a bit of a showman, riding an Indian bike connected to a sidecar containing Sara, an accomplished freelance photographer and videographer. The two of them together remind me of old timey circus people. Robert is a combination of a ringleader complete with signature trick (blazing around a corner, leaning hard so as to pick the sidecar – with Sara – off the ground for… long enough for people’s jaws to drop) and Indiana Jones (not just because he wears brown clothes; he just has the vibe of someone who’d successfully skirt a giant rolling boulder for a cool reason); Sara is ageless and lithe, her sidecar shooting style a combination of military-grade tactical maneuvers and gymnast-like athleticism. If the two of them existed 100 years ago, they’d be a traveling act on the vaudeville stages, or carnies on a circus train. Executing daring stunts and wowing audiences from Kalamazoo to Tippecanoe.    

When we finally pull into the chaos which is the AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days at the Mid Ohio Raceway, it was like nothing I’d ever experienced. Tiny paths criss-crossed by every type of bike and rider you could imagine. Racers with tinted visors on asian bikes rapid-fire shooting past. Hicks on crappy dirt bikes wearing nothing but T-shirts and faded jeans. A wide assortment of riders on vintage dual sports, cutting each other off. Adults teetering on too-tiny, illegal street bikes, just trying to get from point A to point B without falling off. A group of bearded hipster dudes on mopeds. Old guys on cruisers with cigarette butts hanging out the side of their mouths.

We were corralled into a very small area near the racetrack, the whine of the road racers whizzing past us every minute or so. Leather-clad and leaning, they were going faster than I thought possible. It was miraculous and oddly inspiring. And we were next.

AMA was kind enough to let us do two “victory laps” on the track, something that novice riders get to do, well, never. But there was about 200 of us plus a pace car. As we bottlenecked our way in, I got the heebie-jeebies. This was going to be scary.

And I was correct. It was scary. Because once we made our way onto the track, the floodgates were opened, and suddenly all those hicks riding farty dirtbikes and vintage dual sports crowded in behind us. Mostly dudes aged 18 - 30, they were primarily gear-less (and brainless?) and whizzed around me in every direction. Total pandemonium. I went around once and was relieved that I was still alive. I went around again and felt a bit better. I wished we could have gone a few more times. Somehow everyone came out in one piece.

After a woogedy ride to a lumpy field where miraculously no one dumped, Sara Liberte promptly asked me if I’d like to join her in the center of the Wall of Death, the old timey show where daredevil stunt people ride motorcycles around and around and eventually mount the wall, zooming sideways, rumbling on the wooden planks. It all works because of centrifugal force and a bunch of other physics-related things my dad would have to explain. But who cares, really. It’s insane to watch. I was literally standing in the middle of the giant cylinder, looking upwards as a crowd of onlookers peeked downwards, 15 to 20 feet above me. The riders navigated the space with grace and magic. After it was all over Sara told me her best friend Sam was the premier female wall rider before she passed away a few years ago. Spending time inside that space seemed to be a healing moment for Sara, and it was a special thing to share.