FAIRFIELD – Farmer Al Anderberg peeled off his helmet, sweat trickling from his graying hair into the collar of his colorful shirt. A grin stretched across his face.
Harvest may be bringing good times to Eastern Washington farmers this fall, but there’s nothing Anderberg would rather do than speed old motocross bikes across 20 acres of bluegrass.
“What could be better than just carving out a racetrack on a hillside and then go race it?” he said.
A normally quiet Sunday morning in farm country was set abuzz by dozens of vintage motocross bikes near the small town of Fairfield. More than 100 enthusiasts of racing motocross bikes from before 1974 gathered on the land owned by Jack Felgenhauer, whose family homesteaded the fertile fields in southeastern Spokane County before Washington earned statehood in 1889.
“I can’t believe all these are parked on my property,” said Felgenhauer, “It’s become a city.”
Recreational vehicles, campers and trailers made a camp at the farm during the long Labor Day weekend. The racers gathered to share stories and racing tips, and help get the track in shape by lining it with hay bales and orange tape.
Among the racers was Jennifer Holzbach, a fourth-grade teacher from Portland. Enjoying her last summer weekend among friends and racing her 1974 Czechoslovakian-made CZ motorcycle, Holzbach said her students enjoy the pictures and race updates from their daring teacher.
“They love it,” she said, anticipating a new batch of students on Tuesday. “Racing has become my passion.”
Growing up, her parents frowned on motorcycles. Her husband, Chris, however, indulged her lifelong wish to race and bought her a new Honda XR100 for Christmas three years ago.
The bike fostered an immediate interest in vintage motocross racing. She now owns several older bikes, and the couple spends up to 15 weekends a year on the race circuit. The racers and vintage bike community make the races more fun without the speed demands and priority on big jumps that runs with modern motocross, she said.
And the racers are, “um, more mature,” she said, respecting the age of some enthusiasts.
“It’s competitive, and at the same time, everyone has a job to go to on Monday,” she said.
Racing fan Tripp Rogers of the radio station Rock 94 1/2 Spokane said he idolized motocross racers as a kid and relished his role calling the races and interviewing riders.
Though the vintage motocross community is friendly, Rogers said, “the friendly talk stops when the bikes start.”
Motocross bikes built in 1974 and earlier are considered vintage. That’s a time when most bikes were manufactured in Europe – before Japanese motocross bike makers began dominating the sport with high-performance machines.
The weekend races were officially called the 3rd Annual Novation Racing AHRMA Vintage Weekend – that’s American Historic Racing Motorcycle Asssociation. Special guests included legendary motocross champion Dick Mann, whom the Motorcycle Hall of Fame described as “one of the most versatile racers ever to throw a leg over a motorcycle, and John “The Flyin’ Hawaiian” DeSoto, one of the fiercest champion motocross racers, who traveled the world racing bikes and was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Having the event rip across fields of bluegrass was Anderberg’s idea. Because of the state’s burn ban, farmers now tear out fields of bluegrass every three to four years to plant wheat, lentils or other rotation crops. Growers harvested about 50,000 acres of bluegrass seed in 2006. That’s about the same amount that farmers were growing before the state banned the burning of grass fields, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Services.
But that’s not the whole story. Tearing out healthy grass stands is expensive, and farmers still talk about the inequities of a state-by-state approach to burning regulations.
Politics aside, to these fans there may be no higher use of raw acreage than vintage motocross racing.
“I look around, and the track has drawn nothing but smiles,” Anderberg said.