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Common Tread

Dirt Quake USA is racing as it was never meant to be, but lots of fun, anyway

Jun 27, 2014

The idea of a motorcycle race is equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. I have to imagine that racing of some sort has to be the oldest sport in history, with little cave boys challenging other cave boys to race to see who gets first dibs at the dinosaur teeth or something. If I were ever to overcome the terrifying part to experience the exhilirating part of racing, it would be through an event like Dirt Quake USA. Who can resist totally inappropriate bikes ridden by "racers" wearing totally ridiculous gear and, in most cases, not blessed with professional-level talent?

"You should come up in the end of May and race Dirt Quake," read the text from my buddy Joe at ICON. "I have a 1984 Kawasaki KZ500 rat bobber you can race.”

Hmmm… road trip up the coast to Washington, race a borrowed bike, and then ride down through the Sierras? A quick survey of the usual suspects revealed that my buddy, Samson, was going to ride his 1980s police cruiser up and then race, as well. Seems like a no-brainer.

When a race class is flexible enough to accommodate sidecars and choppers, you know things are pretty wide open. Photo by Samson Hatae.

There was even a snowmobile class. Photo by Samson Hatae.

Sideburn Magazine has hosted the Dirt Quake event for three years now, but only in the U.K. The annual follow-up videos always made the event look like quite a party. There's a professional race, followed by open races in three classes: Street Tracker, Chopper, and Inappropriate Road Bike (IRB). The first two are just as they sound, while the IRB class is full of the weirdest creations imaginable.

When See See Motor Coffee Co. and ICON jumped in to help bring the event to the United States, I knew it had the right backing to have a chance at success. This sort of event is tailored to See See creator Thor Drake’s crazy brilliance and, if there’s any gear brand that’s going to be involved in something like this, it should probably be the guys who put a giant fish on a sport helmet and then called it the Basstard.

This turned into a bagger and camping trip, thanks to Harley-Davidson and Victory. Photo by Samson Hatae.

A week or two prior to the race, Samson called and said he didn’t think the cop bike was going to make it. Apparently the wiring harness used to run all the extra lighting wasn’t withstanding the test of time and he was blowing fuses left and right. I’d gotten a similar text from the boys at ICON about the KZ. The whole plan looked like it was on life support. So I started asking around for loaners we could ride up. Harley had jumped on as an event sponsor at the last minute and was kind enough to provide a bike to ride up, but with the stipulation that I could not, under any circumstances, ride it in the race. Victory matched the offer, and we had ourselves a bagger trip there and back. Getting to race looked unlikely, however, because all we had were some vague promises of a few race bikes that “might be running" by the time we got there. Castle Rock, Wash., here we come.

The pro riders actually knew what they were doing and competed on appropriate motorcycles. Photo by Samson Hatae.

We arrived at the track on Saturday afternoon just as the professional races began. We set up our gear near a small city of Poler tents and made our way to the track to check out the professionals. Most of the pros were riding Honda CRF450Xs, and watching them in person was a great education in how the sport is supposed to look. Flat track racing is incredibly fun and very accessible for the common man, given the nature of the bikes and track. So much so, that it often looks almost easy. Watching guys slide around the track as intended gave us a frame of reference for the weirdness to come.

Sean Smith won his heat race on his Ninja 250. Photo by Sean MacDonald.

Sunday, we woke bright and early to the sound of the weirdest mix of engines. The 50 or so bikes camped alongside us Saturday night had doubled and almost tripled in number by the time I left my tent in search for coffee. There were choppers, bobbers, baggers, scooters, sport bikes, cafes, scramblers, and nakeds filling every corner of the lot as people got ready to race. All bikes had to be inspected prior to the races to make sure they could make it around the track without too many parts falling off, and then placed into their appropriate classes.

Raked forks should catch on in the flat track racing world any day now, we're fairly certain. Photo by Samson Hatae.

Walking around the track, it was awesome to see not only the variety of the bikes, but also the effort put into getting them ready for the event. I originally thought Dirt Quake would only really draw people locally and that they’d probably bring whatever they had, as-is, to race. What I discovered instead were people from all over the country, and even some from outside it, who had built or prepared bikes specifically for the event. The ICON guys brought their Brammo electric motorcycle, the Moto Corsa guys had their Ducati Panigale, and I even ran into Sean Smith from my old Hell For Leather days who built a 2003 Kawasaki Ninja 250 specifically for the event. There was definitely no shortage of bike porn and there isn’t enough room on this page to post photos of all of the cool bikes I saw.

Where else are you going to see a Brammo Enertia and a Ducati Panigale racing in the dirt? Photo by Sean MacDonald.

With the bikes divided into categories and the brackets set, the races began. Each class had enough bikes for two or three groups and each class had two heat races followed by a championship race. The Inappropriate Road Bike class was definitely my favorite, as it included Thor on his pizza trike, Sean’s Ninja 250, the Brammo, the Panigale, the Bixby Moto guys’ pit bike with side car, and a host of other oddities.

Kids had their chance to race, too. Photo by Sean MacDonald.

Sean won the first heat and the Bixby Moto bike took second to a slightly more powerful Panigale in the second group. Thor’s pizza trike took dead last pretty much across the board, but it was an accomplishment just keeping that thing on the track. My friends at ICON took third in their first race and then crashed in the second. After buying some bars from a guy in the parking lot, the Brammo was patched together so they could participate in the final race, when they crashed again.

Thor Drake's pizza trike was last in performance, first in style. Photo by Samson Hatae.

One of the main things I was curious to see was how serious everyone took the races. Events like this have a tendency to get too silly and people don't care about the outcomes, so they become boring to watch once the novelty wears off. When Davin from ICON went down on the Brammo, I thought that was the end of his day, for sure. After inspecting the bike and himself, I asked if he wanted to come watch the hockey game with us.

"No way, man! if I have enough points to make it into the final heat, I’m gonna find some new bars and swap these out and race. I came to win."

It was this attitude — serious, but not too serious — that made the races a really special event.

A little of the British style made it all the way to the U.S. West Coast. Photo by Sean MacDonald.

Overall the event was an absolute blast. Everyone from the riders to the track staff were super friendly. The Sideburn guys all dressed up in true U.K. fashion. One looked like Sherlock Holmes and another an English police officer. The atmosphere was incredibly welcoming for every style of rider and it was neat to see such a celebration of the motorcycle. Whenever anyone crashed — and there were lots of crashes — the entire group went out to help the fallen rider get back on his bike and cheered when he returned to the race.

The track owner showed up late Saturday evening and was talking to the Sideburn guys when a guy did a burnout on the grass near them and then took off, zipping across the lawn much faster than the posted 5 mph speed limit. I glanced back for a reaction, just in time to see him laugh and say, "The grass will grow back."

Nightly parties are a key part of Dirt Quake USA. Photo by Samson Hatae.

Both Saturday and Sunday night were accompanied by big parties. The first one, after the pro flat track races on Saturday night, had a live band that set up next to the track and enough beer for anyone who would drink it. The second night, the gang all poured into the little town of Castle Rock to take over one of the dive bars.

A rider puts on his race face - just the right amount of serious. Photo by Sean MacDonald.

Dirt Quake USA was a huge success. It was incredible to see such a mix of bikes and people coming from every direction to participate in such a fun event. I hope it makes its way back across the pond again next year. If it does, I’ll be ready.