Vintage Motorcycle Mania At Mid-Ohio

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: James T. Parks, Karen Parks

The American Motorcycle Association's 11th annual Vintage Motorcycle Days at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is almost too much fun for one place and one weekend to contain. Motorcycles are everywhere. Racing bikes scream around the road course, motocrossers spew mud as they careen around the dirt course, the racing paddock is a beehive of preparations, and street riders come and go on virtually every type and brand of motorcycle made while hordes of enthusiasts are perusing vintage motorcycles and parts at the AMA swap meet and attending the many shows.

Set amid the contours of 330 tree-lined acres, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, is considered one of the most technically challenging and beautiful racing circuits in the US. The 15-turn, 2.4-mile, asphalt-paved, permanent road course was established in 1962 by Les Griebling, a local businessman, as a place to indulge his passion for sports car racing; but it was the venue's second owner, James Trueman, who transformed it into one of the pre-eminent motor racing destinations in America today.

Pulling into Gate No. 3 at Mid-Ohio, I'm pretty sure my wife Karen and I were thinking the same thing. Five years ago at this event, I spotted a 1975 Honda CB400F in mint condition at the swap meet, fell in love and shipped it home. I even tried to justify the purchase with the lame excuse that I was really buying it for her to ride. So Karen wasn't about to let me out of her sight this year.

How Do You Spell Vintage Motorcycle Racing?
It's spelled A-H-R-M-A. Mid-Ohio vintage race weekend is just one of ten stops on the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association's (AHRMA) 2005 road-racing schedule. With over 5,000 members, AHRMA is the largest vintage racing group in North America and growing rapidly, judging by the overflowing hubbub in the paddock area. Although these riders don't compete for any big prize money, you wouldn't know that from watching the intense, fast-paced action on the track.

Competition is particularly fierce among over thirty different classes of vintage and modern road-racing motorcycles, and the diversity of machines bridges a wide range of vintage motorcycle racing appeal. For example, there are separate classes for two-stroke and four-stroke engines, single and multi-cylinders, pre-1952 hand-shift versus pre-1952 foot-shift bikes, motorcycles with sidecars and numerous other configurations. A new class was added in 2005 for the Triumph Thruxton 900, a modern vertical twin-cylinder interpretation of classic British café racers.

In addition to hosting exciting racing events, the AHRMA membership is a pretty interesting group of people. According to their website (www.ahrma.org), AHRMA members are, on average, 47 years old and have owned 19 motorcycles. Quickly relating these factoids to Karen, I let her know that I have quite a ways to go in owning additional motorcycles in order to - at least - be average, and not as much time to do it in as the typical AHRMA member.

Mid-Ohio Touring
Although the Mid-Ohio events provide plenty of motorcycling stimulation in the afternoons, I want more. Early each morning, while Karen enjoys the queen-sized bed, I slip into the countryside on my Honda ST 1300, sampling the back roads and discovering quaint villages.

North-by-Northwest Loop - 110 miles
Heading north on State Road 13 Saturday morning, I pass through Mansfield, Ohio, an old industrial town struggling to recapture former glory, and roll into the countryside on two-lane blacktop. The morning is hot, humid and hazy - the aftereffects of Hurricane Dennis passing through the upper Midwest - and after I turn onto SR 545 an eerie apparition is suddenly limned in the early morning mist. What appears to be a medieval castle with boarded-up windows framed by darkened stone conjures up thoughts of the Devil's own prison. Known as the Mansfield State Reformatory before its closure, the building is now a much-used film location. Most of The Shawshank Redemption was shot here.

The terrain is mostly flat, corn-growing country bordered by moraines that were formed when Ice Age glaciers, like giant road graders, scraped the land flat north of here, leaving accumulations of rock and debris piled in small hills.

After making a large arc north and then turning southwest on SR 603, 61 and 98, the route arrives in the charming town of Bucyrus, Ohio. Post-breakfast at the Pelican Coffee House, I stroll down the block and behold a spectacular mural depicting the town's main street in the early twentieth century, back when the Lincoln Highway was the route early motorists took past here on their transcontinental journeys.

Leaving Bucyrus, I ride past another Lincoln Highway icon, do a double take and circle back for a closer look. Carl's Sinclair gas station has been meticulously restored to its original condition, and after meeting up with Carl in the adjacent building, I got the chance to inspect some of the 30 restored vintage cars there and his extensive collection of 1950s memorabilia. Be sure to visit the Elvis room when you stop by for your free tour.

The remainder of this morning's tour proceeds east through Galion and then further south to Belleville, another appealing Ohio village. Heading east on SR 95, I catch O'Possum Run Road back north to the Spruce Hill Inn, take a quick shower, eat lunch and hurry off with Karen to the racetrack for more vintage racing.

South-by-Southeast Loop - 140 miles
As I head east on SR 39, the weather Sunday morning is a repeat of Saturday's, and even in the half-light of a low overcast sky, the Allegheny foothills - blanketed in verdant green fields and dotted with white Amish farmhouses and barns - are spectacular. Leaning and twisting through curves that sweep and swoosh along serpentine two-lane blacktop, I recall that the largest concentration of Amish in America is not in Pennsylvania, but right here in Ohio. State Roads 95, 179 and 3 complete the journey to Wooster, Ohio.

After a quick breakfast, I plunge south on SR 83. Passing through Millersburg, I'm impressed again by yet another of the many picturesque and vibrant small towns in Ohio that have preserved their architectural heritage. Going west on US 62, the two-lane blacktop of US 62 follows a narrow valley along a stream through foothills. This stretch of road ranks a close second to SR 39 for scenic splendor.

Following SR 3 into Mount Vernon, Ohio, it's time to jump onto SR 13 north for a fast trip back to the Spruce Hill Inn. Mid-Ohio is calling us back for the final day of vintage racing fun.

Motoring home on Monday, a little tired from the whirlwind weekend, I'm more than willing to wager that Vintage Motorcycle Days at Mid-Ohio provided an exhilarating motorcycling experience for all who attended. And, just in case you're wondering, I didn't buy another vintage motorcycle. I do, however, have my eye on an enduro bike that would complement my street rides nicely - if only I can come up with a convincing reason why it's essential for us to have it.

SPRUCE HILL INN & COTTAGES
Perched atop a wooded hill just off O'Possum Run Road, Spruce Hill Inn & Cottages combine Victorian charm with rustic comfort in a tranquil country setting only seven miles from the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The property includes 28 cottage units, a Victorian manor and a lodge adjacent to the Snow Trails Ski Resort. Yes, although the slopes are modestly proportioned, there are indeed ski resorts in Ohio.

We were quite comfortable in one of the cottages featuring a bay window overlooking the woods, with a queen-sized bed, futon, Jacuzzi bathtub, separate shower, cable TV and small refrigerator. The other cottage floor plan offers a rear deck in lieu of the bay window. The Rustic Lodge and Victorian Manor, with four bedrooms each, accommodate larger groups. A continental breakfast is served each morning from 7:30 to 9:30am in the main office lobby, located at the bottom of the hill.

The cottage room rates range from $ 99 to $ 199 per night, depending on length of stay and time of year. The nightly rates for the Rustic Lodge range from $ 295 to $ 495, and the Victorian Manor rates range from $ 395 to $ 595, also depending on time of year and length of stay. Special Getaway package rates are available.

We found the staff to be friendly and quite helpful in providing maps and directions to local attractions and restaurants. One cautionary note for motorcyclists, however: Be careful negotiating the Inn's gravel roads and don't forget to bring a support for your kickstand.

Spruce Hill Inn & Cottages
3230 O'Possum Run Road
Mansfield, Ohio 44903
419-756-2200
www.sprucehillinn.com