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Cycle race a big draw

August 10, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Speed limits? Ha.

Saturday night, Hagerstown Speedway was the place to see motorcycles streak on the straightaways and slide through the curves.

A crowd estimated at more than 3,000 came to see the 23rd Annual Hub-City Classic, a stop on the American Motorcyclist Association's flat-track championship tour.

Eight days ago, it was Arrington, Va. Next Sunday, the tour hits Peoria, Ill.

Hagerstown Speedway is one of the best places to see dirt-track motorcycle racing, Mike Koppenhaver of Lebanon, Pa., said in the parking lot as friends grilled food next to their van. He said he likes racing for the skill and fearlessness that riders need and for the speed and heft of the bikes.

A Harley-Davidson 883 might weigh at least 450 pounds, Koppenhaver said. As it flies past, it's probably going 75 or 80 mph.

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Packs can get tight and racers sometimes go "handlebar to handlebar," Dean Padgett of Waldorf, Md., said as he laid back on his Harley Classic.

The way racers cut sideways around turns and slide past opponents creates a different twist, he said.

Fans' motorcycles dominated the gravel patch closest to the speedway, and Harleys ruled the motorcycle pack. Vendors and groups rooted in racing came along, too. The Christian Motorcyclists Association of Hatfield, Ark. - which bills itself as "an international ministry that takes the Gospel of Jesus Christ to bikers and befriends all" - set up a table.

The booth next door sold a mix of cigarette lighters, leather bracelets, T-shirts and buttons, some sporting crude graphics and messages.

The first heat went off about 8:30 p.m. Mike Hacker of Colonial Heights, Va., led most of the way and won.

A tight battle for second went badly for Bryan Bigelow of Au Gres, Mich., in the homestretch. Apparently, something broke on his motorcycle and he slipped to fourth place. He eased across the finish line staring at the left side of his bike.

Only the top three finishers in each heat qualified for the finals.

Steve Buckingham and Chris Miller of Huntingdon, Pa., were among those who camped in tents in the parking lot, cooked out and drank beer. It was Buckingham's eighth time at Hagerstown Speedway and Miller's first.

Buckingham, who rides a Kawasaki motorcycle, said he loved having a "relaxing 24 hours away from home."

"I ride a Chevy Tahoe," Miller cracked.

Every year, former Hagerstown residents Helen and Steve Kotch of Arkansas come back for the AMA race and to visit two children who live in this area. Saturday, Steve was a flagman in the fourth turn. Helen watched from the bleachers with Cricket, their 9-year-old toy poodle. Cricket doesn't mind the noise at the track, and even tolerates the 1,100-mile ride to get there if the couple decides to ride by motorcycle.

"Every once in a while," Kotch said, "she'll look at me and will say, 'Mommy, are we almost there?'"

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