Nine years later, flat track racing is back

By Jordan Duncan, @jordanduncanDE

For the first time in almost a decade, the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds buzzed with the sounds of motorcycles and people cheering during the AMA Pro Flat Track race Saturday.

The race took its hiatus after the Illinois Motorcycle Dealer’s Association stopped promoting at the fairgrounds nine years ago. It returned when the promotion company Family Events took on the event for the southern Illinois track.

Bryan Smith won the final mile-long race, crossing the finish line less than one hundredth of a second before Jared Mees.

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“That was one of the most intense races I’ve ever rode because this track is fast,” Smith said. “The corner speed is probably the fastest track you’ll go to. So you’re balls to the wall this whole time”

Flat track racing, the oldest form of motorcycle racing, has motorcyclists ride in groups as they let off the gas while sliding around each turn at about 100 to 140 mph.

“You got to dig down deep and do things you don’t think you can do and just grit your teeth and say a little prayer going 130,” Smith said.

Francis Meehan, of Shilo, used to race flat track in the ’60s and 70’s and said a fast track has better traction, which allows better control and gives way to higher speeds.

“Some of these guys won’t hardly let off,” said Chew Larcom, of Radnor, Ohio. “They’ll just be on the gas and stay on it all the way through the corners.”

Smith said he gave too much room to other riders earlier in the day, so he closed the gaps in the final event, earning him the win. He said racing is in his nature.

“I’m a racer, man. It’s born into you,” he said. “It’s something that you can’t buy or sell, you either got it or not.”

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Mia Moore, of Radnor, Ohio, said flat track racing has a very tightly knit community.

“Flat track is one of those kind of sports where you might be competitors, but you’re also a family,” said Moore, who photographs the events. “It’s the first sport I’ve been to where someone could have their bike break down and someone else will strap their number to the back of their bike so they can get out there and race against each other.”

While the sport is competitive, opponents also rely on each other, she said.

“You know that your life is depending on the person beside you not making a mistake, and their lives depend on you not making mistakes, so they all work together too,” Moore said.

She said there have been four fatalities at the track.

“It was actually too difficult for some to return because the memories are still fresh, but at the same time, it is part of our history,” Moore said.

She said while the sport is on an upswing, it deserves more attention.

“This is probably the least recognized, least appreciated, but most exciting and most addictive sport I can think of,” Moore said.

Leah Burdette, marketing coordinator for Family Events, said the fairgrounds is an excellent facility for the race. She said the track is beautiful and provides excellent viewing, as you can see the entire track from any seat.

“I love Indy, but I just fell in love with this track,” Burdette, of Indianapolis, said.

Larcom said although it is a great track, its location is not conducive to filling seats.

“You’re out in the middle of corn country, where the other venues are right off the freeway,” Larcom said.

He said part of the reason flat track’s popularity is rising is because you can stream the races on the Internet, but he prefers to be present at the track.

“We would rather be here and see it, touch it, taste it, smell it,” he said.

Terry Goodwin, of Waterloo, said he started racing at age 18 until he got married and had kids at 25, then started up again when he was 40.

“I’ve had quite a bit of fun and won my share of races and fell a few times but still nothing serious, luckily,” he said.

Goodwin said while racing is dangerous, he got hurt more playing fastpitch softball than when he was racing.

Burdette said flat track racing has taken a downturn since the 1980s, but has recently been on the rise since its inclusion in the X Games and a younger generation’s introduction to the sport. She said they hope to host the race annually in Du Quoin.

“We’re glad to be back next year to keep it going and be back for good,” Burdette said 

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