Like Necco Wafers or the Senate barbershop, Speedway racing is one of those longstanding American staples with a continued existence that is both baffling and reassuring.

Every Wednesday night, these guys bring their hopped-up single-cylinder motorcycles—they look more like beefed-up bicycles, really—to the short dirt oval at Industry Hills to slide around and kick up roostertails of dirt to an adoring, beer-gutted audience. It's a deceptively simple ballet of momentum and balance. Said a friend, "It looks like they're always about to crash, all the time."

There's much beauty to be found in the Speedway racer's minimalism. The bikes weigh little more than the motor; combined with the lithe frame, the entire package weighs 250 pounds. You could do curls with the frame, swore one racer. The gas tank holds a little under a quart of fuel; most teams just fill it only halfway, to prevent the invisible burns of methanol. It's all that's necessary, anyway. There are no brakes. There is no transmission, just a one-speed direct drive. There is no starter — pop the clutch and go. The most important structural component of the leading-link suspension is its 3-inch-wide rubber band; racers adjust the suspension to determine how much slip angle they're comfortable with. Next to trials bikes, this is the most simplistic form of two-wheeled competition there is.

The sidecars are the craziest part: 1000cc motors at most, and the smaller-engined bikes make up their difference with nitrous. They launch while popping wheelies, spraying dirt well clear of the walls. The sidecar rider has one leg on the fender, the other nearly dragging on the ground: it looks like the guy on the side tries to climb onto the bike, and the guy in front tries to kick him off.


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