The Springfield Mile: My Love of Things That Go Fast

Words and photos by Duane Clawson
Back when I was a much younger man, a child even, I had a love for things that go fast.  For me, the attraction has always been man versus machine, and pushing the limits of both.  Setting up ramps made of plywood in the middle of the street, just to see how far we could sail ourselves and our bicycles, was a common event on the long summer days of my childhood.  No calculations were needed for theses death defying acts, just speed, a sturdy machine, and nerves of steel!  Sometimes the nerves would fail, other times the machine would fail, finding a balance between the two always kept me coming back for more.  Moving forward, many years later, watching others attempt to find this balance still keeps me entertained, as I still enjoy many forms of racing.
Luckily, many of my family members also enjoy racing as well, so much so that my uncle builds flat-track racing motorcycles.  So what is a flat-track race you ask?  To give a most generic explanation:  it’s men and women racing motorcycles at high rates of speed on a dirt track.  This form of motorcycle racing is one of the oldest forms of man versus machine and it’s sanctioned by the American Motorcycle Association (AMA).  The Grand National Championship for the racing season is held every year at the mile-long track located in Springfield, IL at the Springfield Fairgrounds on the Sunday prior to Labor Day.
When my uncle pitched the idea of me tagging along to photograph his Harley Davidson of Staten Island, R&D Machine Racing Team at the Springfield Mile, my need for speed began to salivate.  Making the two-hour trek to The Mile went by quickly, my mind raced with visions of what the day would bring.  Surveying the infield of The Mile makes one feel small, as the front straightaway is lined with countless racing teams vying for a win at this prestigious event.  The air is thick with racing fumes, grease, racing fuels, burnt rubber, and those delicious fried delicacies, that can only be found at a race track!
I don’t know if can accurately describe to anyone what is like to stand just inside the guardrail in turn four of The Mile, as these motorcycles pass you at no less than 90 mph.  Breathtaking are the first words that come to mind for this speed junkie.  The riders lean their machines at nearly a 45-degree angle while navigating the turns (think laws of physics), returning themselves to an upright position in the straightaways, hitting speeds of nearly 120+ mph.  The structure of the race day goes something like this:  practice and qualifying earlier in the morning, then a series of heat races, beginning in the afternoon.  Only the top riders in each heat advanced to the main event.
Riders of these bikes are tougher than a two-dollar steak and my uncle’s rider, Danny Eslick, is no exception.  Danny has competed in many forms of motorcycle racing, starting his racing career at 17.  This year finds the 30-year old Eslick returning to his roots, competing on the AMA Flat Track circuit.  Eslick has also been a champion in the Sportbike racing world as well, winning the Daytona 200 in 2014 and 2015.  Danny is pulling double duty in 2016, riding in both flat track and Sportbike races.  Today, unfortunately, 36 seconds to complete a mile was not fast enough for the team to advance to the finals. Nineteen riders took their machines to the 25-lap finale, with veteran rider, Kenny Coolbeth, winning it all on a last lap pass of Bryan Smith in turn three.  Temporarily my love of things that go fast is satisfied, but I’m sure my status will be, 'it’s complicated', in the very near future!  Thanks to Uncle Dan for getting the ball rolling, to the AMA for a great day of racing, and Danny Eslick for making the magic happen.  More photos from the day are below:

Contributed by Duane Clawson
The Springfield Mile: My Love of Things That Go Fast The Springfield Mile: My Love of Things That Go Fast Reviewed by Scott Rowe, Editor on September 11, 2016 Rating: 5
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