Road racing season is approaching, and by the time this story gets posted I’ll be in Australia for the last pre-season test and the first round of the 2017 World SBK Championship. I’m fortunate to get to fly to the races these days, but back when I was an amateur, the transportation was just a bit more… modest.
Almost exclusively, our family got to the races in a box van we used to own, that my dad had decked out in “Earl’s Racing Team” livery. That thing was our garage when we were at the track, and since it had a couch in the back and a “deck” on top of the box to watch the races from, I guess it could technically be called our hospitality unit too. Although we’d often get a hotel room at the races, it was usually so crowded that some people would just use the room’s shower and actually sleep in the van—so it served as lodging as well!
Mainly though, it was our hauler. For many of the races, we’d have all five of us kids, both of our parents and maybe a friend and a mechanic or two, so it could get pretty crowded in there—and that was just the people! It might be one of his fish tales, but my dad swears we used to fit in 12 or 14 bikes sometimes, although many of them were just 60s or 80s. To do that, we had to build a second level in back, sort of a poor man’s version of what the modern factory haulers do; first we’d fill up the ground floor, and then we’d take some folding tables that we used at the track and rest them on a T bracket and the lower bikes to serve as the floor of the second level.
Even that wasn’t always enough though. I remember one time we were getting ready to head home from Florida, and we had somehow accumulated enough stuff—I think maybe we gained a motorcycle, some trophies and a few other things at the race—that there literally wasn't enough room for everything. We ended up having to sell a tent and some tires and leave a couple gas cans behind.
Everybody knows the deal where you try to call shotgun when it’s time to get in the vehicle, but for us kids, the spot to fight over was sitting on the cooler between the two front bucket seats. It may not have been so comfortable, but it gave you a good view of the road and you could control the radio and the CB. The only downside was that when you stood up for something, one of your brothers would probably open the lid so that if you weren’t paying attention, you’d fall into the ice water when you sat back down!
Of course that’s assuming you weren’t actually behind the steering wheel; depending on who's asking, I may or may not have put a pillow behind my back so that I could reach the pedals before I was “of age.” That probably wouldn't fly these days.
I remember one time we were headed across Texas early in the morning, when my dad asked my older brother Tommy to drive for a while so that he could climb up into the bunk and get some sleep. Not long after he drifted off, we kids spotted a sign for a water park, so we made an executive decision to pull over and wait for it to open at 10 a.m. By the time my dad popped his head out of the bunk, he figured we would be halfway home, so it was a bit of a rude awakening when he found out we were behind schedule by quite a bit.
There are a ton of fun stories based around that old box van, and maybe sometime I’ll share a few more. Like I said, it was pretty basic, but back in those days we kids thought it as the ultimate factory hauler.