I don’t like parking my hybrid in dirt parking lots, but I do enjoy a damn good motorcycle race. Could some kind of compromise have been reached before I was dispatched to Glen Helen Raceway this weekend?
Glen Helen Raceway is geographically bound by suburban Fontana to the south, I-15 to the east, I-215 to the north and Muscoy to the west, all somewhat visible from the hilly, dirt, off-road course. Yet somehow it’s still in the middle of nowhere.
For the record, I think holding a motorcycle race in the middle of somewhere would intrude upon its outlaw culture. Nowhere leaves infinite room for tattoos, alcoholic revelry, two-story energy-drink haulers, hot biker chicks and of course, the bikes themselves. The middle of somewhere, more commonly known as civilization, does not. It’s why AMA motocross will never visit west of San Bernardino, and on the East Coast sticks to places called Mechanicsville, Maryland, and New Berlin, New York.
Despite being in the middle of somewhere from a technical standpoint, Glen Helen does its best to approximate nothingness. A series of 2000-ft elevation mountainellas shield your eyes from the 15; a dirty, smoggy haze shields your eyes from everything else. The ridiculously exuberant PA guys consistently refer to the track as the “High Desert”, ignoring the local usage but not the dictionary definition. And when I pulled my hybrid onto a dirt shoulder to park, the tightly-packed dirt took a couple chunks out of the underside of my front bumper. Mission accomplished. Welcome to nowhere, Guero.
I can’t emphasize enough the tattoos, two-story energy-drink haulers and hot biker chicks. They’re everywhere, and they’re impressive. Each in their own way. Most sports have more history than motocross (and its indoor dirt-course cousin, supercross), but few have more culture. Being a social observer, I feel less compelled to decide whether I love or hate this culture than to respect its authenticity. NASCAR seems suit-and-tie corporate by comparison.
Just about everyone says that Glen Helen Raceway is the most difficult course on the 12-date AMA motocross circuit. Those three 2,000-plus-foot hills are integrated into the course and emerge from a 1,800-foot baseline. Talking to veteran rider Andrew Short, he posed rhetorically, “It’s like, do we really have to go all the way up?” Yeah, they really go all the way up, and it’s honestly one of the most death-defying things I’ve ever witnessed covering sports. You just know that in NASCAR, NHRA, IRL and Champ Car those cars are built nearly safe enough to be childproof. And there’s walls around the track. Here there are no walls, and only a helmet and jumpsuit to protect the rider upon impact. Imagine losing it at the top of a 2,000-foot cliff, with a near-vertical 200-foot drop to the ground below. Now imagine 80 motorcycle riders teetering on the edge of losing it over three different cliffs, during two separate 14-lap races, in the same afternoon.
That is motocross at Glen Helen Raceway. In the racing vernacular, it’s gnarly. My university education didn’t properly train me to edit vernacular, so I’m going to leave it at that: This weekend was gnarly.
So is the underside of my front bumper.