When the first pack of wild-eyed vintage motorcycle racers slides into turn 1 of NOLA Motorsports Park’s new flat track – either with just back breaks or none at all – there will be one man watching closer than the rest.
Rob Mclendon, or Robbie-Bobbie Mclendonshire as some call him (more on that later), is a man known across the Gulf South for his role in keeping motorcycle racing culture alive and well. After all, he’s been at it since he was a kid, making a hard leap from motocross to flat track racing when he was 14 by just showing up for a race one day.
When asked how that went, Rob took a deep breath and said, “Well, I sucked… horribly. I wrecked a few times and wasn’t sure if this was all that much fun. But I just went out on a race day thinking that because I was fast in other races, I’d be fast here. There’s just so much more technique. Long story short, I kept practicing and got better. In 2002, I got my first pro license.”
Rob's been in the sport long enough to notice the change in the way riders hit turns. “There’s this new age of dirt track where they slide the front instead of the rear. Still, the name of the game is getting around the corner as quick as you can. There’s no getting around that,” Rob says.
When asked how he navigates the dirt ovals of flat track where racers are hitting speeds of 80 and even 100 mph, Rob admits his versatility has been a key, “I might two wheel through the corner, I might push the front through there, or I might go old school and just slide the rear all the way through.”
If it sounds dangerous, that’s because it is. And although the sport has hit a growth spurt thanks to its addition to the Mountain Dew-fueled action of the X-Games, these racers aren’t doing it for the money.
“Guys are risking their lives for $500. It’s intense. They race because they love it."
The NOLA Vintage Grand Prix
Until a few weeks ago, NOLA Motorsports Park didn’t even have a flat track. Then Rob showed up.
“I was out at the track for a road race and noticed this huge plot of land was just sitting there. So I got with one of the general managers and brought up the idea of how they could use some of this land they had, spend two days prepping and you’d have a full flat track. It’s one more thing you can add to the NOLA Motorsports name. You got drifting, road course, karts, motorcycles, and now you got flat track.”
The park’s newest addition is done just in time for the huge 3-day vintage motorcycle festival coming March 18th-20th.
The NOLA Vintage Grand Prix will feature vintage motorcycle racing, drag races, vintage motorcycle and bicycle shows, live music, a huge swap meet, a pin up contest, and now, thanks to Robbie-Bobbie Mclendonshire, flat track racing. (Along with a lot more events and attractions – for the full list, check out their site.) Tickets to the festival start at just $15, so scoop them up now.
And when you come out, be sure to swing by the swap meet. You'll find Rob rummaging through the old motorcycle parts looking for that gem he's been missing – whatever that may be. He's also looking forward to seeing the classic bikes that people have poured their lives into restoring.
"The way I look at it, if someone spends the time to get their bike nice looking and the way the love it, that's what makes me smile. What I like might not be what they like, but you can always appreciate something a person has put a lot of hard work into."
So what's up with that nickname?
"When Talladega Nights came out people kept saying Will Ferrel based his character off of me. I guess I'm a little on the goofy side. Everything I do has to be fun. So many people can take something that is supposed to be fun and turn it into work. Don't get me wrong, I take my racing very seriously, but if you're not having fun, man it ain't worth doing."
And maybe that's why Rob's been such a driving force in the racing community--bringing fun to an intense sport that has a tendency to turn more into a job than a passion once there's money on the line. So come mid-March when the flat track at NOLA Motorsports is full of vintage bikes going impossibly fast with little to no breaks and you find yourself wondering why they do it, remember: if it ain't fun it's not worth doing – these guys just have a different kind of fun.