Fundraising, noisy fun all in night at the races

Motorcyclists kick it into gear for Optimist Club


The riders take their spots at the starting line and wait for the light to turn green. When it does, they roar off on the first of eight laps.

They're racing around an oval on what is, most of the time, a corral for horses. But on some summer evenings at the state fairgrounds in Timonium, the sand in the animal pen is pushed to the center to make way for the loud fun of motorcycle racing.

For three decades, the Cockeysville Optimist Club and the Baltimore County Trail Riders Association have raised money by staging races at the fairgrounds. For all that time, they've run races indoors in the Cow Palace. Since 1995, they've run an outdoor series in the summer, and this year's edition is under way.

The races kicked off last Wednesday, and they continue at 7 o'clock tonight and the next two Wednesdays. Races are also set two Friday nights, Aug. 4 and 11.

Taylor White, a former president of the association who still races, said the competition is family fun. The riders range in age from 4 to 60.

"We do it because we love it, and it does keep the kids out of trouble," White said. With a laugh, he added, "It keeps us out of trouble as adults."

White, 44, said the outdoor races raised about $12,000 last year. Of that amount, $3,500 was donated to cystic fibrosis research, to honor former association member Kevin McNicholas, who died in 1994 of the disease.

The Optimist Club and the riding group also dedicated the outdoor races to McNicholas, who used to race indoors with the other participants.

"He was a big part of us," White said.

Money is raised through ticket sales and racers' entry fees.

Totals weren't available for the first night's races, White said, but a record 223 riders paid registration fees -- $25 for amateurs and $30 for the expert riders who competed for cash.

That group included Paul Lynch and Jake Johnson, who have been riding at the fairgrounds races since they were in elementary school. Lynch measured the distance between the seat of Johnson's motorcycle to the midpoint of the bike's tire. The professionals, taking a break between races, were checking to make sure everything was set.

As a pro for nine years and a rider for 20, Lynch, 27, of Bel Air, said the outdoor short track races are too entertaining to get nervous about.

"I don't get too worked up," he said. "I try to have fun."

Lynch and Johnson registered for three classes, which are broken down based on age, skill and type of motorcycle. Lynch placed sixth in one race, fourth in another and third in another. Johnson, 22, of Franklinville, N.J., rode in the same races with Lynch, placing fourth, first, and second.

At the fairgrounds, barns are used as trophy and registration areas. Sand in the coral is scraped away to leave only the dirt foundation to form the track for racing. Walls are then constructed around the roadway to keep spectators away from the racers and to guide the racers and prevent injuries.

More than 900 people filled the surrounding bleachers last Wednesday, many of them watching their relatives or friends compete. Randy Copp, 45, of White Hall, had never seen the races but came with his daughters. They both have friends from school who were racing.

"It's inexpensive and it's something to do," Copp said.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. Concession stands sell beer, hot dogs, hamburgers and snowballs. Between the concessions and track, an announcer sat on scaffolding just above the starting point for the races.

Racers entered from the back side of the track, circled eight times, and exited at another point that leads to an area for resting and preparation. Many racers declare certain areas their own by setting up canopies or trailers above or around their bikes.

Dale Verzi, known around the track as Dangerous Dale for his aggressive riding style, wandered the area between his races. Verzi, who placed second in one class and fourth in another competition, has been racing for 15 years.

The 36-year-old riding association member from White Hall said he likes the family atmosphere at the Timonium races.

"Everybody takes care of everybody," Verzi said. "Everybody's here to help each other and have a good time. It's not out for blood."

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