Community Commentary Lieback’s Lounge: From Injury to 200-Lap Endurance Mini Moto Racing

Lieback’s Lounge: From Injury to 200-Lap Endurance Mini Moto Racing

Heading into July, I put around 7000 miles combined on my Ducati Multistrada and KTM 1190 Adventure R, and about 1000 miles on my sportbikes. My goal for this year was to ride at least 15,000 miles across my collection.

This goal appeared simple, considering I couldn’t travel the world to test motorcycles due to the pandemic. I also didn’t have a long-term test bike in the garage, as in year’s past.

In July, the riding halted just days after arriving home from a short motorcycle tour up north with some friends during a Kawasaki ZXR1200R rally (um, I was riding a Multistrada). When I returned home, my arm was numb and I could barely squeeze the front brake.

The diagnosis? That effeminate-sounding tennis elbow, which I wrote about in my September column. The injury arrived from throttling and kickboxing, and I had no clue how long I’d be off the bike.

Months passed, and except for one or two extremely slow rides on the KTM (no off-road!), I barely reached 100 miles of riding throughout July, August, and September. My goal of 15,000 miles was now way off, so I had to make up for it.

My friend Jay texted my buddy Issac and me—the same two wackos I rode with at the ZRX1200R rally—about some Mini Moto race at Sandy Hook Speedway in Maryland. Since 2019, Robert Miller— former flat track racer and owner of the Service Pavilion, a do-all shop for Arai Helmets—and his wife Brianna have taken over operations.

Besides weekly Mini Moto racing on smaller bikes like Yamaha TT-R125s and TT-R110s, the track also offers two endurance races during the season.

That’s what Jay’s text was all about—entering the Mini Moto 200 race. He asked about five days before the event.

Jason Belz at Sandy Hook Speedway
Jay having some fun on the TTR

Great idea, Jay. What better way to see if my elbow is healed besides competing in a 200-lap Mini Moto race? That’s undoubtedly the way to get back into the groove of riding. Of course, I said yes. And the other cool part? It’s a family-focused track, so the wife and son came along.

I had about 100 miles of riding in three months, and the last time I was on a racetrack was in February. That’s when I tested the Metzeler Sportec M9 RR at Ascari, and also when I broke my 12-year record of zero crashes at a press event. That was my first sign that 2020 was going to be hell.

Many think Mini Moto, and they think, “Easy riding.” Far from it. Due to the three-man team, I would get a total of five minutes of practice, plus five minutes of qualifying before my first 25-lap session around the karting track. It is as redneck as they come for fun riding—tight switchbacks, uneven and cracked concrete, and, of course, a NASCAR style left-hand bowl that you cannot go fast enough on.

I struggled to get the bike to do what I wanted. I never rode there and never rode Jay’s TT-R. Practices were short for me, and I knew I’d be slow. The Flat Track racers were running 25s (funny, right!), and I was running 30s in qualifying. I couldn’t figure out the front-end chatter I was experiencing until I was advised to basically sit on the gas tank. The front-end chatter disappeared, but I felt about as comfortable as racing a raked-out Honda Fury.

Because we had a three-person team, two of us would have to ride an extra 25 laps. I already knew I wanted one of those spots.

Jay began the race from a standing position and found himself in the top five by the end of lap one. You can quickly tell the flat track competitors and supermoto racers, all appearing super comfortable and dominating the lap times.

I went second and again struggled, but found a groove knowing that endurance is all about consistency and zero crashes. Isaac was next and had one small off on the track, though he would get back onto the track and continue. Jay again, then me again. This time around, I found some rhythm and ran a bit wider lines, using my knee pucks to guide me through the corners.

Isaac was up again and had an issue. Another rider ran into Isaac on the quickest part of the track, sending both to the ground. The bike’s front-end got a bit twisted, but Isaac was able to finish his session.

When he pitted, we had to crank on the handlebars to align them with the fork. I hurried and went back out. The bike felt awkward for about 10 laps, but I overcame the lack of feeling through left-hand turns. As I call this stuff, “Stupid fun.”

Near the end of my session, a dude ahead of me crashed, flipping his bike over a small wall. To miss, I had to run off the track slightly. When I returned, the left feeling was even worse. I thought it was rider error and decided not to pit. That was likely my slowest lap, so I decided to pit a bit early.

The tire was nearly touching the left fork leg. The wrenches came out, and we lowered the fork in the triple tree and pulled and pushed on some things to make the thing ridable again. Jay was going out to finish it, regardless of whether the bike turned or not.

And he did, looking more comfortable than ever. He also had a guy crash before him and was forced to run over the guy’s leg and bike. Jay literally launched the bike into the air like three feet, went through the grass, and returned on track without incident, finishing.

Thankfully, the guy that crashed was uninjured, though he had a nice black-and-blue tire strip on his lower leg.

Jay finished, and our team, jokingly called “What Ducati Riders Do” because of the ass-busting among us three, was nowhere near the top. We finished 40 laps behind. And at least 20 of those came from crashes and wrenching.

I never had so much fun for $75—the entrance fee for the endurance race. And the TT-R? It’s already back to normal after a few beers and some wrenching—not a bad way to get back into the groove of riding in 2020.

The best part is that I truly tested my elbow’s strength, and I think I’m 100-percent recovered from tennis elbow. As for my mentality for riding so slow, that will only recover once I return next year for some more Mini Moto racing and get up to speed.

Enzo Lieback hanging at Sandy Hook Speedway
Enzo got his first taste of Mini Moto action – looks like the TTR50 will get some fun use next year.

I’m hooked on Sandy Hook. This type of riding makes you an all-around better rider because you can’t rely on excessive power or braking (or electronic aides). You must rely on proper riding techniques, with body positioning being the number-one player.

And nothing beats hammering on a motorcycle that cost pennies to fix even if crashed multiple times, and uses about a gallon of gas per day.

That was my true test and reunion with the 2020 riding season, but I still have about 7000 miles to go to reach my goal of 15,000 miles this year. Time to hook up the heated seat on the KTM and get some studded snow tires ready. If 2020 continues as hellish as it has, I’m assuming November and December will be colder than ever here in the Northeast.

Action photos by EdgeOfSpeed

Ron Lieback
Ron Lieback
One of the few moto journalists based on the East Coast, Ron Lieback joined the motorcycle industry as a freelancer in 2007, and is currently Online Editor at Ultimate Motorcycling. He is also the author of "365 to Vision: Modern Writer's Guide (How to Produce More Quality Writing in Less Time).

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