One of the more unique attractions in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country is the annual 4-day motorcycle race, the Susquehanna Speedway. Each year the event is held at the end of July, just at the height of tourist season. While the main purpose of the event is to entertain the motorcyclists who come from near and far, the charm of this little race in Western Pennsylvania is that it really is about the bikes and the riding; there’s a true country atmosphere that envelops the whole event.
Bikes And Boats And What To Do
What makes the Susquehanna Speedway different from the more traditional motorcycle races is that it is a boat race as well as a bike race. The boats come in various shapes and sizes, with the most common being the dutchman boat. The first annual Dutchman Boat Race took place in 1922 and is considered one of the most famous sporting events in the country. The boats typically used during the race are flat-bottomed and extremely lightweight, so they can get into and out of the water quickly. The race director, Jerry Titus, estimates there are about as many as 200 boats entered into the race each year, ranging in size from 10 to 40 feet in length. The biggest race of the year is the 126-boat Johnstown Flood Litigation Benefit Race. The event raises money for the legal settlements of families whose homes were destroyed by the Johnstown Flood of 1934. The Johnstown Flood was one of the deadliest natural disasters in American history, claiming 1,600 lives.
The Grandstand, The Paddock And The Airport
The grandstand at the Susquehanna Speedway is located at the eastern end of the race course. It is an open-air structure with rows of seats running along with the track. The back of the stand is open, with the spectators able to soak in the speedway atmosphere and take photos with the iconic American motorcycle. Behind the stand is a paddock, where the bikes are parked and prepped for the race. The paddock is adjacent to a tarmac, which is where airplanes land and take off during the race. The stands and the paddock are all that remain from when the track was a military airfield during World War II. The airfield is now occupied by a state park and houses a museum as well as a conference center.
An Oval With No Lights
The track at the Susquehanna Speedway is oval-shaped and at least 2 miles and a mile-and-a-half in length. As the name suggests, there are no lights at all along the track, so the motorcycles will have to rely on their high-speeds and the sun to guide them. The longer the track, the more extreme the speeds get. The longest motorcycle race in the world is the Motegi Superbike Race, which is held in Japan. That race is 6.8 miles long and has a maximum speed limit of 189 mph. The record for the Susquehanna 500 is 129.6 mph, which was set in 2010. The course is very slightly downhill for the majority of the race. The average speed for the entire event is about 74 mph. Naturally when the bikes are going this fast, accidents are bound to happen. The safety record for the Susquehanna Speedway is remarkably good, with only two serious injuries having taken place over the past few years. Both of these were related to a collision between two cars. On the positive side, there was one fatality that occurred during practice for the race, which is extremely rare.
The Noise, The Smell And The Stench
When a motorcycle racer takes the wheel, the speed is often such that it is physically impossible for the average person to take in what is happening. The speed and the noise alone are just too much to handle, so for those who live nearby, they suggest staying indoors with the barricades. It is not uncommon for the bikes to reach speeds of up to 100 mph or more during the race, with some experts predicting that the top speed will reach 120 mph this year. One of the most iconic sounds at the races is that of the engines as they rip through their gears. While many individuals can take in the raw power and speed, for those who are less fortunate, it is often difficult to tell what is going on, due to it being so loud. The stench from the racers is something that the average person needs to get used to. While it can help the nose wrestle with cancer, it is probably not something that you would want to put in your mouth. It’s often described as somewhere between burning rubber and rotting flesh. The worst part is that it doesn’t seem to dissipate, getting worse with each passing minute as the heat builds up.
A Country Club Atmosphere
Part of the charm of the Susquehanna Speedway is the whole country club atmosphere that reigns throughout the event. Bikers are often seen in groups, sharing a drink or food together after the race. The spectators are a blend of seasoned bikers as well as families and young children who come out to support their heroes. A country club atmosphere also permeates the event, with the paddock hosting what is essentially a barbeque competition. The event even has its own beer; the “King David” Pale Ale was first brewed for the 2012 race and is named after the father of Jerry Titus. While most of the attendees are there for the action on the track, it would be a shame to not experience the charm of a bike race in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country.