Hooked on Scooter Racing: Salton Sea TT Scooter Race

Ultra-Extreme Scooter Endurance Race: 320 Miles of Awesome Scooter Racing… Redefining Success Definitely Helped.

Scooter racing: I’m new to it. Not being a competitive-sports person, I find the concept of trying to defeat someone else to be very daunting. Throw in the possibility of public failure and I’m officially pretty terrified. To get myself amped up and especially clear on the idea that it’s ok to make an ass of oneself in public, I decided to create my race profile portrait. These photos are selfies, using my neighbor’s garage door as a backdrop and the timer on my camera as the photographer. I live in a walking neighborhood, so there were actual people actually walking by, watching the spectacle of the selfie photo shoot. This constituted Step One: Remembering Not To Care What Other People Think.

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This was me, remembering to be calm, confident, ready for the race, knowing that the outcome wasn’t important, that doing the hard thing could be amazing, that having fun takes real work.

This was me with the Eye of the Tiger, strong, ready for action, ready to win my race class. … Did I mention that I’m the only rider in my class? So the benchmark for success was race completion. That’s easy, right? Especially since I worked hard at prepping my vintage 1980 Vespa p125 for the event.

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On the morning of the race, I was geared up, set with a Camelbak of water to help stay hydrated in the desert heat, extra gas, race route directions taped to my glove box, extra gear and parts just in case. The bike was ready to race, and so was I: calm, smooth, collected.

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The race was organized by the Motor-Scooter International Land-Speed Federation, and this 3rd Annual Salton Sea TT (Tourist Trophy) started at Vespa Motorsport in San Diego, traveled along twisty mountain roads to Desert Tower, dropped down the back side of the mountain range past El Centro, went all the way around the Salton Sea, and wound back up the mountains to Escondido. Race fees raised money for the Wounded Warrior Project. Here’s the race route, and the challenges are visible even in the satellite map: some highway speeds, steep grades, twisty roads, and big changes in humidity, temperatures, and altitude. The highest elevation point of the race was 73000 feet, and lowest was 225 feet below sea level. Temps ranged from 65ºf (18ºC) to 90ºf (32ºC). It would be a tough day for my 125, and I expected the wheeze up the big hills and likely overheat the bike… which is why I brought along a spare Vespa, my trusty p200, the bike I rebuilt myself, the bike that would absolutely finish the race. Actually, this wasn’t my idea; my chase driver took one look at the p125 and urged me to bring a backup at the last minute.)

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We lined up, me all stoked behind my very own lucky race number, and then we were off! My Vespa was shrilly screaming and running at blistering speeds, keeping pace with the bigger 200+cc bikes. I was sweating bullets, as the bike hadn’t been run at all in eight years, and the around-the-block test-ride didn’t seem at all adequate, especially not when I was now zooming at 70mph on the freeway. I’d never been so alert and aware of keeping one finger on the clutch lever, just in case the bike seized. Hopefully I’d be able to pull the clutch and keep the Vespa upright.

The morning sun was bouncing off the freeway, obscuring my vision, and I missed a freeway exit within a few miles of the start. Feeling like I was risking death (or a ticket) anyway, I gritted my teeth and jumped the dirt median between the freeways to get back on the right path.

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Now I was really on the gas, WOT, clearly pushing that poor little tuned motor way past the limit, and …. Died. Of course. No seize, no fanfare, just coasting to a stop. After waiting for a few moments for both the bike and my mind to reboot, the Vespa kicked over like a boss, idling smoothly. Perhaps the fuel-air ratio was all off from running wide-open like that, though, so the new plan was to keep the throttle below ¾ open and slow down a little bit. Two racers passed me, and a quick signal let them know that I was fine… until I died out another mile down the road. And then another mile after that. Damn. That Vespa’s role in the race was over.

But wait! Remember, I had another Vespa, locked and loaded and ready to ride! My chase truck pulled up, I accepted my expected ration of teasing, and Jammer helped me swap bikes. I was back in the running. See? And while you’re checking out the video, please subscribe to my YouTube channel for more videos.

And then… well, then Old Faithful died, too. The spark plug was sparking, but the tip was too wet to function properly. A new spark plug didn’t solve the problem, either. There was no real way to fix the thing in the field. It was official, I was out of the race and stuck in the passenger’s seat, disillusioned and miserable.

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We (meaning my mechanic) discovered later that it was a bad CDI box, an electrical component that regulates the charge to the spark plug. I guess it’s a good thing I bought a Tacoma, after all, and my agonizing here turned out to have garnered a good choice in a new vehicle. What made me ever consider a hatchback, again? Because I’d pretty-much had another vehicle (quad, motorcycle, scooter, bicycle, surfboard) in the back of my truck since the day I got it.

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At least my chase truck driver had a copilot to keep me company on the trip home. His company was a good consolation prize.

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… and at least I could watch the race from between my two defunct Vespas. Can you see Eric on the road behind me? So, all in all, the day wasn’t what I expected or hoped, but it was a fun event anyway, and I was happy having tried my hardest. Even though the race was unsuccessful for me, the day was fabulous.

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Oh, and I made an appearance in an article in the Union-Tribune, too. Please click here to check it out. I’m on the second page of the article. Everything in the article was correct except for the facts, but I think it gets the idea across.

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Congratulations to the winners!
1st Overall/1st Place 350cc “CV” Class: Alex Cohn/Piaggio 350cc
2nd Overall/1st Place 600cc “CV” Class: Marta Woodfield/Honda 580cc
3rd Overall/1st Place 250cc “CV” Class: Scott Jones/Vespa 250cc

Please wish me better luck for completion of my next race in the comments below!

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3 Responses

  1. Richard Spahl says:

    That same thing; happened to a friends of mines’s Triumph TR: run for a while … die … run for a while … rinse … repeat. Turned out to be something in the fuel line (in his case a bee. When the car was running it would suck the bee against the filter and the car would quit when the float chamber of the Carb emptied itself. Once the car quit, gravity would cause the bee to move back down the line into the tank.

    I don’t know enough about Vespa carburetors to know if they work the same as car carburetors, but it sure sounds similar.

    PS: You are Amazing!

  2. jaleesa says:

    Will you be doing the race this year? I live in El Centro,Ca and would love to see you guys go by and cheer you on!

    • Raven says:

      The next Endurance TT is in Arrowhead in January, and I’m definitely excited about that one. ^_^ Thank you for your enthusiasm! That’s awesome. I’m disappointed that we won’t be in your neighborhood this year.

I'd love to hear what you think!