Sidecars, Eels and Flaming Arseholes

Road Tales by Kelly Ashton

IF YOU’RE travelling any distance, you’ll get there much quicker solo than in convoy. Adding one vehicle to a three-hour trip makes it a four-hour trip; adding two vehicles makes it a six-hour trip. It’s exponential, I tells ya! And adding more people in each vehicle is just asking for stoppages.

Some years back, I was scribbled down to race at Lakeside in Queensland. The plan was simple: take 1954 Triumph sidecar outfit and 1962 H-D Sportster solo to Lakeside circuit, thrash around the track, steal some trophies from the way-too-cocky Queenslanders, and head back home to Sydney for some real beer.

The Triumph sidecar was mine. I steered, fettled and shovelled money into it, and I was having gearbox problems. The Harley 900 Sportster was owned by a mate, Greg, but I was the fettler and ‘sponsored’ rider. The Sporty had gearbox problems, too.

The sidecar’s gearbox problems stemmed from a recent conversion from four- to five-speeds. I’d run the five-speeder once before, and it was horrible, over-shifting and under-shifting. Stuffing the dissimilar internals from a 1973 unit-construction 750 Triumph into the tiny gearbox cases of a 1954 Triumph rigid does go, but needs some massaging, and I was still discovering exactly what was needed to make it the smooth, slick shifter it is now.

The Sportster box was a different bucket of poop. Greg had decided to get his competition licence again and make a triumphant return to the track. We were to share riding duties. But, as he’d always wanted to do, he’d altered the gearbox’s internal ratios to close them up and sadly was missing one crucial part. It was late on Thursday night, the time we were supposed to be leaving. Luckily, Morgan & Wacker in Brisbane had the part in stock, and with no time to send it down, we’d pick up the bugger personally on Friday morning, before scooting out to the track for a leisurely Friday practice session. Ha, ha, ha…

Transport to the Sunshine State was makeshift. The Harley would travel in Greg’s Toyota Hi-Ace work-van. Greg had been working through without sleep to get the time off, so the plan was for us two to share the driving, with my girl, the Goog, as a spare driver to relieve us when necessary (sounds rude, eh?)

Normally, the Goog was my sidecar passenger, but she was giving the caper away for a while to recuperate from some health issues. My mate Cam was the passenger, and yee-hah, he owned a Datto Twin-Cab ute into which the sidecar fitted nicely.

I got home from the bike shop late on Thursday arvo, just hours before departure time, and Wendy, another housemate, had the front wheels and discs off Cam’s ute to re-grease the bearings because, “It’s nicer on a long trip with new grease in the wheel bearings…”

“Arrrrgggghhhhh!” was all I had to say to make her quickly put them back on and step away from the vehicle.

Things weren’t going that well preparation wise, and it was way after midnight when the decision was made to load the two incomplete bikes into their respective rides and set off.

The Goog, who up until that time had been keeping the workers supplied with toasted sandwiches, cups of tea and/or coffee, had decided to duck around to Greg’s place for a quick ciggy and coffee with Greg’s missus, Deb. 

My “Arrrrgggghhhhh!” descended into a defeated gurgle when she arrived back with Debbie, Debbie’s four-cylinder Commodore and both her young children in car seats.

“We’re coming with you,” the girls declared, like it was something good.

Yeah, great, fantastic. We just added a slow car loaded with women and kids to the convoy, and lost our spare driver at the same time! All so the nicotine-addicted Goog could choof on gaspers which would not be possible in the non-smoking Hi-Ace.

No matter, three unlikely vehicles ventured into the crisp air of a Northern Beaches night. Lakeside, here we come! It was great to be on the road, and I told Greg, “As soon as you’re tired, I’m still good to go.”

Still on the Newcastle freeway, a long way from the Queensland border, the first stop was made. Greg pulled over, muttered, “Must sleep,” then crashed next to the Harley in the back of the van.

A quick slash was in order, but the Commodore pulled up too. No, no, no; don’t get out; don’t get the kids out; please don’t fire up another cigarette until you get back inside where the kids can get full benefit of the pollution. I knew this would happen.

Needless to say, the journey from Sydney to Brisbane took 16 hours and that didn’t even include a sleep stop.

The spares bloke at Morgan & Wacker even held the shop open for a time after closing Friday night so we could get the Sportster gearbox part (Yay M & W). Although slightly delirious on Friday night after not sleeping since Wednesday, we’d made it to Lakeside. And things could only get better.

The few hours sleep I caught under someone’s bike trailer fixed up the mind and body a bewdy, and the weekend just got better.

Greg already had the Sporty gearbox back together and was heading down to scrutineering on the booming 900. Passenger Cam and I showed the outfit to the scrutineers before wheeling it back and pulling the recalcitrant gearbox apart. It’s always a hoot doing delicate, internal exploratory work on bikes in the grass-floored, roofless workshop that is a race paddock. We were doing the mechanical equivalent of open-heart surgery in a bloodhouse pub, with some precision grinding being performed with a hand-held 4-inch Makita angle grinder. Things were looking good, with bits going back inside and making all the right moves.

Harley-Davidson iron-head Sportster race bike
Greg’s 900 Sportster with fresh, new gearbox.

Of course, with all the gear-boxing, I’d missed both sidecar practice sessions, and Greg was claiming the two remaining sessions for solo machines so he could get back in the groove after a few years away from the track. 

Luckily, we were camped right next door to Team Tankslappers, a huge mob of country boys and girls from the Camden area who treated their racing as serious fun. They infested the grids of classic racing for many years, their bright blue Team Tankslappers T-shirts standing out like the proverbials in almost every event. Their number was large enough, with enough wives and girlfriends and assorted pit crew to make a race weekend trouble-free. Their unofficial Team Manager was Rod, who upon seeing our predicament, wandered over to suggest I take his Vincent Comet out for the second last practice session just to at least sight the track. The truth was I’d never raced Lakeside before so the offer was gladly accepted.

Damn! Why can’t I ever have my shit together like the Team Tankslappers? Rod and team had travelled from Camden to Lakeside (further than we had) with many more bikes to prepare and a huge convoy of vehicles to contend with. While we struggled with machinery problems, he was enjoying a leisurely breakfast. It was heartening to know he had his own problems, though. Breakfast bowl? Check! Cornflakes? Check! Milk and sugar? Check and check! Spoon? Dohh! Racers are resourceful people, it’s true, but it was hilarious to see a bloke eat cornflakes with the only utensil available — the barbeque tongs! Every goodness-packed mouthful came with a poke in the eye.

Tankslapper eating Cornflakes with tongs
Motorcycle racers are resourceful. When no spoons are available for the Corn Flakes, tongs will do. Sorta.

I togged up and blasted out onto the track on Rod’s 500 cc Vincent Comet single-cylinder racer.

The first lap of practice completed, I was hooked on Lakeside — what a fantastic circuit, apart from the stupid Bus Stop chicane they’d installed at the top of The Carousel. From the Start/Finish line, the main straight veers slightly left, then down a short distance to the uphill right-hander known as The Carousel. That beautiful turn is then totally de-knackered by the inclusion of the infamous Bus Stop chicane, a nasty, un-natural jump to the left, then a leap to the right, before resuming the long, luxurious downhill lunge towards the left-handed Hungry Corner. A bit of friggin’ around up the top of the circuit then leads to a beautiful, down-hill straight that turns right onto the main straight again; a special corner designed specifically so poor people with big balls and slow bikes can show the rich tossers with fast bikes and no ticker how to ride.

I love this track, apart from the Bus Stop.

Even before I went out in the second-last practice session, another Team Tankslapper, Rex, kindly offered the use of his 1940 Silver Star BSA for the last session just so I could get in some track-time. Sliding the Vincent back into Rod’s pit-bay and thanking him profusely, I went looking for Rexy’s Beeza for a final sesh. I find it, alright — Rex was rolling it down the hill to park it for the weekend; some ominous-looking cracks in the crankcase had indicated not all was well in Beeza Town. A quick strip down of the engine revealed a completely shattered piston and destroyed motor. You can dodge a bullet sometimes, and while very sad for Rexy’s predicament, I was glad all over that the thing didn’t explode while I was on it!

Tankslappers racing team
The Uh-Oh Squad about to discover a piston in 10,000 pieces.

With the first sidecar race called to the grid, Cam and I had enough time to button up the gearbox, tighten the helmets and leathers and test the new five-speed box on the way to the grid. It felt like it was gunna be just fine, and it was! We never even made the warm-up lap, sneaking onto the starting line from the dummy grid. Lining up for our first race of the meeting, against the top runners in Australian classic sidecar racing, I was feeling pretty darned good. I’d at least seen which way the track went, while Cam was still in the dark as to which way to jump about.

But as they say, ‘when the flag drops, the bullshit stops’ and when it dropped, we got away like a scalded cat with its balls on fire. Through the left kink in the straight and down to the entrance of The Carousel, we led the frantic charge, with all manner of Triumphs, Harleys, Vincents, BSAs, JAPs and Nortons snapping at our heels. Into The Carousel we slid, up and around the steep, uphill, tight right-hander in a wild, opposite lock power-slide. 

A quick glimpse over the left shoulder had me a bit concerned. I was holding a tight line, over on the right hand side of the exit, and wondered why the competition were all being very generous with the track space available. ‘All these bastards are trying to slip up the inside of us on the entry to the Bus Stop chicane’, I thought. Another thought I had was, ‘Oh no they won’t,’ as I speared violently left towards the Bus Stop, even though it seemed my passenger Cameron wasn’t really with me on this one.

Now, dear readers, there are times — usually times of high stress or pressing situations — when a realisation that something is about to go terribly wrong begins to trickle into your conscious thought. The trickle becomes a torrent and soon converts to a full-blown ‘Oh shit’ revelation. I was right in the middle of a savage late-braking swerve to the left into the Bus Stop, when a tidy line of bright orange witches hats on the side of the track alerted me to the possibility that THEY DON’T USE THE BUS STOP CHICANE FOR THE SIDECAR RACES, YOU DICKHEAD!

Immediately behind my dumbest mistake ever committed on a race track, a large, snarling pack of sidecars was spraying in every direction, braking, swerving, sliding and just generally avoiding running into the leading outfit which, for some stupid reason, had slowed and violently turned left in front of them while they were on full noise and drifting.

Talk about laugh.

Miraculously, a large, snarling pack of sidecar teams were right on the ball and nobody hit anyone or anything, and even more miraculously, I only lost a few places in the ensuing melee. Even though I caused the hassle, almost everyone else had to brake and find a couple of lower gears to get going again. Jeez, they hated me, though.

The rest of the weekend passed without incident, or if anything incidental did occur, I was totally unaware of it, as the few hours sleep I had since Wednesday were starting to wear off. From memory, we were just off the podium in every sidecar race. With Greg’s Sportster, the results weren’t much better. See, Greg, being a lanky bastard, had fitted rear-set footpegs and clip-on handlebars so his own bike would suit him better than it suited me (the cheek of him). I just couldn’t get to grips with the riding position; the Sporty was a brute of a bike which needed to be manhandled in a manner most forceful to get anywhere.

But two things from that largely forgettable (results-wise) weekend will stay in my mind forever: The first was my first and last taste of eel. One of the racer’s sons had caught some eels in the lake at Lakeside. They were duly put on the barbeque and cooked as good as an eel could ever be cooked. I was one of just a few silly bastards to try the alleged delicacy. It was crap. Surely the single most greasy, indescribably disgusting thing I’ve ever eaten in my entire life and that includes the blue-vein cheese I mistakenly ate as a child.

The other thing I remember from that Lakeside trip was what was possibly the best-ever rendition of ‘The Dance of the Flaming Arseholes’.

For any overseas people, or Australians living a sheltered life who may be reading this, The Dance of the Flaming Arseholes is a Rugby Union trip/scumbag bikie party tradition and is performed thus wise: 

Step One. The Dancer/s shall firstly pull their trousers down, or preferably remove them entirely.

Step Two. The Dancer shall take a sheet or two of newspaper and lightly roll it up into a long, funnel-shaped affair. (Author’s Note: Broadsheets are preferable to tabloid newspapers, as you will deduce from the following).

Step Three. The Dancer shall insert the tighter-wound end of said rolled up newspaper into his (or her) bottom. (Author’s Note 2: Never having done it, I can’t say whether said newspaper is clenched by sphincter or bum cheeks).

Step Four. The Dancer shall — possibly with the help of an equally-stupid friend — set the anally-trapped newspaper alight.

Step Five. The Dancer shall proceed to run around like a fuckin’ lunatic yelling “Woooo-wooooo!” until the fire goes out or he or she suffers third-degree burns to an embarrassing part of his/her body, hence the name Dance of the Flaming Arseholes.

Really, folks, there are no winners in this game, but to a drunk audience, it’s gold-plated entertainment.

And on a Saturday night, camping in the pits at Lakeside that year, one bloke went that little bit further to produce a platinum performance. Not for him was the ludicrous running around like a headless goose with his arse on fire, no sir! This bloke produced an award-winning performance with the help of a mate on a Harley Softail. The dancer stood on the pillion seat, some sort of flag on a pole held aloft and a long trail of flames shooting out of his arsehole as the Softail motored slowly around the pits.

I tell ya, from a weekend where I can’t recall much of the racing, and none from the drive home to Sydney, that is one Dance of the Flaming Arseholes that I will remember for ever and a day.

BSA 500 cc single racing bike
Rexy Tankslapper’s beautiful pre-war Silver Star BSA.

Road Tales by Kelly Ashton

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