OUT OF RETIREMENT

Scott Bishop races the Le Minz 24-Hour Scooterthon

My last race was in 2006. I haven’t raced a motorcycle since then and was enjoying my life in retirement from the millions I had earned winning local Southeast Queensland races and the odd club day here and there. But after relentless pressure from Simon Maas of Racesafe fame and Stephen Gall, some swapper who raced a lifetime ago, I was back on the start line.

After minutes of preparation, I arrived late and, with little to no experience on the weapon of choice, I was back in the racing game and ready to pick up where I left off in 2006. My event was the toughest of them all — not some girly sprint around a local track. I was elbows deep in the 24-Hour Scooter race and teamed with a crack squad of Dan Stauffer, Dan Reardon, Stephen Gall and Dr Michael from Racesafe as the Racesafe All-Stars team.

We lined up a brand-new, never-been-started and certainly not run-in TGB 50cc Scooter. Top speed was 70km/h but only if you were on a slight downhill and breeze assisted. Uphill and into the wind, you could comfortably knock 5–8km off that. Our competition was fatigue — I hadn’t done an all-nighter since a big night on the tinnies back in the early 90s — and possibly the other 44 scooters that lined up.

There was some road hacker named Troy Bayliss. People claim he won a world championship but that didn’t bother me as I once snapped a scooter in half at a BMX track back in my teenage years, so I know scooters. A guy who goes OK at left-handers was there: Jason Crump. Again, some say he won something in Europe but no one confirmed anything with me. And there were a couple of other high-profile road dudes who may have won a championship or two.

So, in my mind, I pencilled the All-Stars team in for a win and started drafting the podium speech. I mean, all we had to do was ride a scooter around a go-kart track for 24 hours in shifts with my All-Star teammates and I would be adding some zeroes to my bank account in 25 hours.

Dr Michael fired us off first while I did a whole range of pre-event warm-ups for my stint a little later in the afternoon. While he did a sensational job of getting us off to a solid top-25 start, I pounded half the lolly jar in the Racesafe truck, drank 100 litres of Coca-Cola and, when I wasn’t dosing up on caffeine, I was drinking some slushies that Gally had bought along. I must have gained 5kg just from the start of the race to my time in the saddle.

Gall was up next. He was fired up and ready to let loose on the scooter. His warm-up routine had me in a bath of sweat and I was just watching: push-ups, sit-ups, a light 20km run, sports bars and sports drinks. Then he benched-pressed the damn scooter, full of fuel, all before he’d spun a lap.

Then it was down to business. Gall, in his 90 minutes behind the wheel of the powerhouse TGB, got us well inside the top 20 and, despite losing some time to the leaders, with Reardo, Stauffer and myself to come I thought this was the beginning of the end for the competition.

Reardo leapt on board next after a second faultless pit stop. He wrestled the scooter like a man who’s won club days on both sides of the Brisbane River and charged his way around the track until all hell broke loose on the hairpin left-hander and the scooter hit the tarmac. Sparks flew, Reardo scraped and then the huge cloud of dust rose as they both skidded through the run-off area, stopping metres from the safety wall.

The huge 32km/h wipe-out tweaked the rear brake lever but the scooter was intact. Our shot at victory was still intact, although it’s probably worth mentioning at this point that we were about 30 laps down on the leaders. Apparently those Bayliss and Crump guys can ride. Reardo iron-manned it for the rest of his session and with a waning rear brake managed to maintain his lap times.

Stauffer was next. He’d been complaining of some kind of virus that had him bedridden for days and pooing like a water pistol but I just thought he was making excuses and there was no place for that in our team, so I shut that down real fast. The former road race champ got down to business and put the scooter on the limiter and left it there. He was killing it out there and picking off dudes all over the place. After his 90 minutes, we were top 16 and still only 30 laps down on the leaders. But, with me still to come before the halfway point, there was no reason why we wouldn’t be back up front within the next 90 minutes.

Within 200 metres of getting on board, I wanted to protest. Our scooter was maxed, throttle screwed and the slide coming out of the carby and I was getting smoked by these other so-called standard scooters. If this had been a junior race and there was a purple flag, I would’ve been all over it. But I soldiered on.

My road skills are poor but my ego is impressive, so I just went balls to the wall. I was on the grass more than once. I hit a few guys in turns. Reardo’s crash was playing havoc with the rear brake but I just told people it was my aggressive riding style. I screamed, I yelled and I got on the horn at every opportunity.

I also got in the way, made a nuisance of myself and laughed at others when they crashed. After my 90 minutes, bugger all had changed — we were still way behind, the other teams hated me because I kept getting in the way and my cheeks were chafed from crawling all over a scooter for an hour and a half.

The cycle continued until 11pm when we called a change of direction. This was a game changer as it now ran mainly right-hand turns, so there was fresh rubber on the right-hand side of the tyres and the exhaust came out on the right. So, when I pulled my Randy Mamola power slides through turns, the pipe hit, left the back wheel and it’s good night Irene.

So, I was back on board at 11pm and heading the other way for a two-hour stint so the other princesses could have a sleep. I was tearing it up. I’d been off the track more times than the Leyland brothers — I’d forgotten it was a night race and only had tinted lens so I’m blaming a lack of vision, while the headlight was draining a couple more horsepower from our race rocket. I went through to just after 1am and my backside felt like it had been raped by a scooter. Note to self: pack some Lycra next year.

Fast forward to 9.30am. We’d all had another run through and it was left to the heroes of the team to bring this bad boy home. We were a lock on 18th place, some 151 laps down, but with Stauffer and then me to finish us off I was confident in a barnstorming finish that would see us on the podium and a win wasn’t out of the question.

With lap times just over a minute and only 90 minutes to go, my ego refused to believe we couldn’t win, even though mathematically we couldn’t win hours ago. That was until Stauffer killed the damn scooter. He’s a murderer. After 23 hours 15 minutes and with 1129km on the clock and God knows how many laps of the go-kart track, the scooter gave up the ghost. I threw some spanners at it, swore a few times and tried the Fonzy punch to get it going. Even though it fired, Stauffer got only one more lap in before it died for good.

From the jaws of victory, within sight of a huge upset, we snatched defeat. I launched the scooter at the team in a fit of rage. How could they do this to me? Don’t they know who I am? And what about that scooter? Can’t even get a day’s riding out of it? Don’t build them like they used to, that’s for sure!

But I must say it was a fun event and I’m glad I did it. Tossing a scooter into a turn at 70km/h is just stupid; doing it for 24 hours is even worse but, damn, it was fun. And those guys can ride them good. Sure, some of them were performance enhanced and my demands of a complete field tear-down for inspection fell on deaf ears, but the mid-corner speed of the good riders is pretty cool.

Hanging with the Racesafe team was also good fun. Usually, the only time we see those guys is under difficult circumstances when a rider is hurt, but to be able to spend some time with them and see how things work was awesome. They have become an essential element in racing and every rider feels much safer knowing they’re at the track.

I was knackered at the end of it. I had spent six hours flogging the crap out of this poor scooter that was designed to run around the streets of Hong Kong, not wide open for a day around a go-kart track.

I also learned a few things. Ride it like a road bike, not a dirtbike. I tried to put my foot out for a turn MX-style and all I did was smash my knee on the bars that stood the bike upright, ran it off the track and took three other riders with me. It’s knees down, not leg out. Run leathers; nylons don’t really cut it when you’re cartwheeling down the bitumen at any speed. Research your scooter — apparently they need oil. That’s all I’m going to say on that one!

But, if that weekend is free for me next year and the Racesafe team will have me, then I’m back. I want top 10 and there’s no messing around. My scooter career is on the upswing and the Baylisses, McCoys and Crumps of the world had better start looking over their shoulders.