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Good, unclean fun roars at the races

June 07, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

The race sounds like a chainsaw chorus as dust blooms above the track.

Riders line up like extras from a "Mad Max" movie, engines gunning as wheels move close to the metal gate.

They wear vivid multi-colored boots and nylon suits, chest protectors like external skeletons, helmets and big bug-eyed goggles. Almost all are dirty, dusted with grime and steaming in the sun.

A man standing in front of the horde holds a sign aloft, and the riders tense, gripping their machines. The sign turns sideways and they go, tires eating mud as they lurch forward in a pack.

They tear over rutted humps called "whoop-de-dos," swerve around tight curves, catch air on the high-hilled "rollers" and soar suspended over the steep-sloped "tabletop" before landing on earth again.

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Good, unclean fun.

It is Sunday at Antietam Motorsports Park, a one-and-a-half mile dirt track twisting around steep hills in the southeast edge of Hagerstown.

A blue arrow on a small sign points down the gravel driveway. Except for the motes swirling above it, the raceway is almost invisible from Howell Road. But that's the way Jeff DeLauder likes it.

The forklift salesman is president of Antietam Motorcycle Club, chartered by the American Motorcycle Association. For 30 years, the club has sponsored races at the park, which holds one of only four tracks in AMA's district seven.

DeLauder is happy to have the track in a well-hidden location where neighbors and passersby aren't bothered. To him, motorcycles have a bad reputation fueled by media and movies like "The Wild One."

"This is a very family-oriented event," he said.

People crowded the woods around the track, many of them camped in tents with radios, coolers and lawn chairs. Some sprawled in the backs of pickups while others watched from bleachers beside the raceway.

The club holds races about a month. Sunday's race had 330 entries in 20 different classes based on age, experience level and engine size.

"Veterans" are older than 30, and "seniors" are older than 40.

The "50" class is for youngsters who ride bikes with 50-cubic-centimeter engines. In motion they sound like giant, angry bees.

The races consist of four laps - an average time is about three and a half minutes. Olympic scoring determines the winner based on results from two races in each class, yielding a purse for the expert class and trophies for others.

It's not a sport for the delicate. "Obviously two wheels requires a lot of balance," said DeLauder. "You do fall down." An ambulance is always present for serious injuries, but DeLauder said most don't get hurt.

"Obviously, racing appeals to a certain personality. It's not for everyone. It is an adrenaline sport," he said.

Riders say the sport is physically demanding but a lot of fun.

"It's great exercise," said Jamie Jordan, 23, of Clear Spring. "The momentum just carries you right through. It's a rush."

Deborah Plank of Mount Airy came to watch her 13-year-old son, Stephen, race. "I think it's a great sport. It's competitive, it takes concentration and self discipline. The people are wonderful. No matter which track you go to, the people are like family."

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