Are we having fun yet?
Text and photos by Scott and Carla Odell
As the self-proclaimed Isle of Man-iac, I am always scouring the internet for information and stories about the greatest road race on earth. There is a lot of it out there and it keeps my cravings down a little, but the need to experience the sounds and sights is a different story.
I can go to a lot of tracks and see motorcycles racing in the USA, but one thing is missing … sidecars! I have never seen sidecars race in the USA in my lifetime. I punched in a few choice words on a Facebook search and low and behold, South Florida Sidecar Racing popped up!
I went straight to the page and contacted Tony Doukas and was on the phone with him in just a few minutes. He told me about the SFSR, the organization that has been racing in South Florida for a year. “You need to call and talk to Peter Essaff, he is the one that got me into sidecars,” said Tony. Of course, I called Peter and within minutes of our conversation, I knew that we were destined to meet … this man has raced at the Isle of Man!
It was a no-brainer to go see him race and before you know it, Carla and I were at Palm Beach International Raceway for the weekend to dive into the sidecar culture first-hand. In the sea of 2- wheel race bikes were the scattered tents and trailers with sidecars. We found Peter Essaff and had a chat with him. “I have been racing sidecars since 1977, first as a passenger and then as a driver. I have won national championships with the AMA over the years, and I have traveled all across the country racing sidecars. In 2015, a Canadian team went to the Isle of Man and they didn’t have a lot of luck with the weather or qualifying. In 2016 I got a call from them asking if I would drive their sidecar. “Are you nuts?” was my reply. After an hour later and a few beers I called them back and said yes. I made four trips to the IOM and drove a rental car to try and memorize all the turns and nuances of the famous mountain course. I qualified and actually made 21 laps, yes 21 laps around the course! It was a time I will never forget!” Peter exclaimed.
Let me tell you what kind of achievement that really was! He finished race 1 in 27th place out of 41 sidecars. The number 1 sidecar of Dave Molyneux did not finish, Tim Reeves number 5 DNF, the Birchall brothers’ number 2 DNF! In race 2, Peter finished in 28th and Wayne Lockey DNF. Peter would eventually buy Wayne’s 2009 Ireson and bring it to the USA. “It’s a rocket ship!” Peter said with a big smile. “I call it Amazing Grace and it is the last Ireson built for the Isle of Man,” said Essaff.
I ended up talking to almost every sidecar team and I knew right away that they were a very close-knit family of racers. They came from all corners of the United States and the world.
Boris Stroud came all the way from Scotland and has a big part in getting sidecars racing in the states. He saw racing in his homeland in Northern Scotland go from 2 sidecars to over 40 of them! Boris is dedicated to the sport and so is his wife Bonnie, who was racing in the passenger seat with Butch Nelson on another bike.
Let’s get this straight, this sport is for everyone. Tony Doukas’s wife, Lisa, races in the chair position and was part of their championship. Nicole was also in the chair this weekend for the first time. Paul Koehler drove down from New Hampshire for the race and with blind faith had first-timer, Ali from Orlando as a passenger. She was all over the bike and they actually did quite well. “When you are in tune with the bike and are drifting 3-wheels through the corners, it is the most fun I have ever had,” said John who was a passenger on Skippy’s sidecar. Nick, aka “Skippy” has been into sidecars for 10 years and has had Peter Essaff as his mentor and guru for most of it. Wendel Aguilar came all the way from California with a couple of sidecars and is originally from the Philippines. He had a lot of work to do on Saturday, but he got the bike on track for practice.
What has truly helped get sidecars off the ground was Tony West and the FMRRA (Florida Motorcycle Road racing Association). They allowed them to become part of the race series when there were no sidecars. The FMRRA is the most advanced series in the US and was created for motorcycle racers by motorcycle racers. Everything is focused on the racers’ interest. They have reduced the cost of racing, have the latest technology, and is a place for future racers to call home. The overall vibe is like having one big family and everyone is helping others. The bulk of the races are at PBIR, Homestead, and Roebling, Georgia just outside of Savannah. Go to www.fmrra.com and check out the schedule. If you are looking for a great weekend of racing and fun, go to one of the races.
The future of sidecar racing is in good hands in Florida. Tony Doukas of Punta Gorda is building mini-GP sidecars for kids 5-12 years of age as we type these words. They will race on the small track at PBIR and gain experience before they move up to the big ones, and Peter will still be giving advice to everyone. We have made a lot of new friends because of sidecars, it is addictive.
ARE WE HAVING FUN YET?
I came across these words on Facebook that have been added to by many people.
The life that many will not understand, but we do!
We own a sidecar because of a personal life choice.
One day when we are very old and cannot ride, it will be in our garage as a trophy of our memories.
We have met people who taught us something and have the same spirit.
We now meet people who get wisdom from us.
We get wet.
We get cold.
We have been hot.
We have been afraid
We have fell and we have stood up.
We have even hurt ourselves.
We have laughed out loud with the wind.
We have spoken a thousand times to ourselves and still do.
We have shouted with joy like madmen.
And yes … sometimes we cry.
We go out with frustration inside and come home with peace in our heart.
We spend money that we don’t have, gave up many things, but it is all worth it.
Our bikes are who we are.
We love our friends and the joy of great people and motorcycles.
May the angels guard our travels, for they know the race ahead of us.