Dirt Quake came and went last year and my Cagiva Gran Canyon Hooligan flattrack racer spent the remainder of the summer and all winter resting on a plinth at the Bike Shed HQ - still covered in Kings Lynn shale, much to Vikki's disdain. Despite booking a trip to Hells Race months ago the faithful Ducati 900 motor hadn't even been given the courtesy of a start-up until the day before setting sail for The Netherlands. The total sum of maintenance was the fitting of a new Antigravity Battery, it fired first time and I was reminded why all that fabrication effort was worth it - the sound of an unbaffled L-twin takes some beating. I loaded the old girl into the van along with my CCM Rotax and headed for the Lelystad Speedway Stadium for Round 1 of the DTRA Hooligan series. After missing the 2016 event thanks to being in hospital I was looking to make amends and having visited A&E with an alarming frequency last year I was also keen to come away in one piece and aimed for a weekend of fun rather than trying anything too crazy. Saturday practice was brilliant. The track was ace, hard packed and slick close to the white line and super deep everywhere else, which was fine until it rutted-up. I couldn't gel with the CCM. The new Ford Magnum grey metallic paint job (rattle can) hadn't made it any faster but a stiffer shock spring from Hagon and an extra 15mm in the wheelbase seemed to have cured the pogo-stick handling I'd endured at Rye House a couple of weeks ago, but I still hadn't totally fallen for the Rotax motor. Rather than blindly tinker I asked 2015 Restricted Class champion Ross Herrod (#52) to take my bike for a spin and tell me what was wrong. Grey must be his colour as within a lap he was burying the left peg in the dirt and cutting some decent shapes. Apparently the seat was too low but the rest absolutely fine. So I spent my birthday evening with Chas (#123), Gareth (#131) and James (#TBA) cutting up a pallet we'd found in a bush and raised the seat a couple of inches. The Cagiva though, that was a different story. After just one corner and it was like being with an old girlfriend, everything felt as good as I remembered and making it go was instinctual. After a couple of runs I was questioning why I'd bothered building a new Thunderbike, a few mods and I could use the Cagiva for all classes. I wouldn't win any races but I'd have fun trying. In the deep sandy ruts at Lelystad I did come unstuck a few times when the unorthodox 17" Heidenau in the rear finally gripped-up. Out of the seat with no steering lock left I spent a good few moments counting lucky stars and telling myself to calm down. Race day and the chilled vibe turned to stress as both bikes failed to start prior to the practice sessions. Flustered and angry I threw the CCM on the floor and headed out on the Cagiva. After a great battle with Jonathan Falkman (#5) the world seemed right again and I started to enjoy myself. Which was tricky as the Thunder and Hooligan heats were back-to-back meaning zero rest time, jumping from one bike to the next. The CCM still wasn't working for me and I chucked it down the track after hitting a lethal wet spot on the back straight. Then in the last Hooligan heat I settled for whatever the position was behind french Hooligan hero Dimitri Coste (#87), but not wanting to lose a spot to anyone behind me, and valuable points needed to make the final, I kept the Cagiva popping off the limiter right to the end. Coste tank slapped across the line and exploded into a heap in front of me and I had nowhere to go. The time slowing down thing before impact is a real thing, I've experienced it loads. As the big ol' Indian was cartwheeling in front of me I started to think about Brexit and whether my E111 card was still valid, why I hadn't listen to my mother and bought better medical insurance. There were even a few nano seconds left to try and work out if I could avoid the sprawled Frenchman and ride up the Indian Scout's front wheel, along the fork leg and jump to safety. Then I landed and listened for cracking sounds. None, so I jumped up to see fuel pouring everywhere and ran to see if Dimitri was OK. He bounces pretty well but looked shaken. Thankfully we were both OK and sported injuries that Savlon and a beer could fix. My already bent bars were now like an over ripe banana and the rear brake was completely bent back and around, not just a bit, completely fucked... I looked at it dejected and headed for the shower. I'd gladly ride with no brakes but that's not fair on the rest on the field if there's a problem. Fellow competitors Jamie Courtney (#88) and Lee Sadler (#122) turned up with a ratchet strap and trucker-spec grips. Somehow the aluminium lever was persuaded back into a normal-ish position. Although it was now helical and looked pretty cool I doubted I'd use it, the engine braking on the Desmo motor is pretty strong. I started on the back row for the Thunderbike final and despite taking it easy 12 laps wore me out and the jump straight onto the Hooligan for that final was definitely adrenalin rather than energy fuelled. But it was the same for some of the other guys so I figured I'd just have fun. That's what it's all about, right?! Falkman (#5) was long gone, miles ahead followed by Sideburn's Gary Inman, both on big cumbersome Harleys. As the laps ticked by the other guys were't getting away so I shouted at myself to take it easy and relax, stay upright, enjoy the battle and make the finish. Turns out I pipped two guys to the line and bagged 3rd which was a fantastic surprise. Standing on the podium with Gary and Jonathan in the afternoon sun surrounded by the Hells Race crew and a bunch of mates, it all made sense again. The hours of driving , shards of broken piggy banks and sore limbs seemed insignificant and life's balance was redressed - we're here for a good time, not a long time. The official DTRA race report for the other classes is written by Ian Osboune and can be enjoyed here - Hells Race 2017 . The photos above are also by Ian so please credit if you borrow them. Fancy getting involved or want to spectate (for free) check the Dirt Track Riders Association UK Web | Facebook | Instagram For nostalgic and in-depth flat track nirvana - Sideburn Magazine & Merch | Web | Facebook | Instagram Round 1 of the DTRA review is here The tighter, smooth line seemed to work better with the Cagiva's stock road suspension, lack of steering lock and questionable Heidenau K73 rear tyre. That and Jonathan was devastatingly fast and I had no chance matching his pace out in the deep stuff. (image Mark Meisner) Dimitri Coste taking a nap, not what you want to see when wide open, head down for the line. And here are a few shots lifted from social media (click to enlarge)
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