Most highly competitive two-wheeled fun in the Sea to Sky corridor comes from mountain bikes, but the Vancouver Flat Track Club (VFTC) is looking to change that.
The young club, which is helping to revive flat-track motorcycle racing, is hosting its home races at the Pemberton Speedway. The track's first scheduled race of 2016, which was slated for late May, was rained out. However, action will return later this month on July 31 at 2 p.m. Admission is $20 at the gate.
After the Vancouver club scoured the region for a suitable home track, it ultimately zeroed in on Pemberton and found mutual interest from the host club. VFTC board member and racer Billy Parks, a former Whistlerite now living in the city, was thrilled with the partnership.
"We just looked anywhere in the Lower Mainland for a track and that basically was Pemberton that accepted us as a potential partner. We tried it out and it worked greatly between the two clubs and we moved forward with that," he said. "It's a quarter-mile track and most of the ones in the Lower Mainland are quite (a bit) smaller than that... It's pretty good because you get some pretty high speeds going whereas on the smaller tracks, you can't get those higher speeds."
In addition to higher speeds, Parks noted some classes can feature a high number of entries, resulting in "close quarters" and thrilling racing.
Parks joined the sport thanks to his friend, Sam Villanueva, who explained that while the sport had some spotlight in the city decades ago, it faded. As a mud-loving motocross and dirt-bike racer, Villanueva tried out flat-track racing with a friend south of the border, but admits it didn't fully hook him the first time.
"We used to go down to Hannegan Speedway in Bellingham and would enter vintage there," he said. "We both crashed out and got hurt a bit. We didn't do much flat track after that immediately. We come from dirt biking and choppers and stuff, so it was just something we were playing around with."
However, Villanueva went down to Dirt Quake in Washington state and stoked his enjoyment for the sport beyond anything he had experienced before.
"After that race, we got bit by the bug and it was something I needed to do a lot more of," he said.
The scene has improved recently, though, as a Vernon venue started growing the sport, which has also expanded to Merritt this summer.
"Four years ago, when I first raced at Hannegan, there was nothing. There was an annual event at O'Keefe Ranch in Vernon and then Grant (Robinson) took over and started hosting a bunch of races per year there. Now we're doing our thing up in Pemberton and Merritt's doing races now. It's starting to come back," Villanueva said. "More and more people are getting into it.
"It feels like every couple days or couple weeks, I have a friend saying 'We're buying a bike' or 'We just bought this bike.'"
Getting riders from Merritt, in particular, has resulted in some fun racing, Villanueva explained.
"They all come from an ice-racing background, so we noticed some of the ice-racing guys who we would have never met before," he said. "Their ice-racing bikes are kind of similar to flat track (bikes) but obviously the tires are much different. It's a cool transition to see."
Parks hopes to see the relationship with the track in Pemberton continue, noting the club strives to grow the sport in the community with fan-friendly programming and mini-bike classes while also giving back to the host venue.
"We respect the land that we're given. With Pemberton, we've really put a lot of work into the existing (track). We went over all the outhouses and really put some hard work in there and got all our guys out there digging track and cleaning the track up," he said. "We're just showing the respect that we're there and we're not just there to take advantage of the track. We coexist and respect what you've done now for 20 years."
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