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A History Of The Catalina Grand Prix

By 21 marca 2020No Comments

As motocross legend Travis Pastrana puts it, „as the world progresses it gets harder and harder to do really fun stuff.” To him fun stuff includes things like disembarking airplanes at 30,000 feet without a parachute, jumping rally cars over nearly 269 feet of ocean onto a barge, and the Catalina Grand Prix. The story of the Catalina GP is somewhat spotty, similar to a Grandpa who can only remember stories from the summer of 1955 when he was a little taller, had a lot more hair, and was way more carnal. The GP was created in 1951 by the island’s motorcycle club as an invitational race only. However, the small number of entries did not stop the semi-annual race from gathering furious momentum, until it was called off in 1958… Then the island went quiet. No two stroke Triumph’s, no competition, and no glory. From 1958 onwards all Catalina had going for it was a swath of sunburnt tourists, sadly indifferent towards what Travis would call 'fun stuff.’

Then in December 2010, 59 years after Walt Fulton’s victory in the first Catalina GP, the race returned to grace the small island off the coast of California. According to Wikipedia, Catalina is historically famous for being home to smugglers and Russian Otter hunters, a fact that motorbikers likely care little about. The 2010 GP was incredibly well attended, 2 dozen containers containing 25-27 bikes, vintage motorbike racers, modern motocross demigods, and groupies were all in attendance. Some of the riders included Travis Pastrana, five times Baja 1000 winner Kendall Norman, highest jump on a motorbike record holder Ronnie Renner, and seven time AMA national championship winner Ricky Johnson. Thankfully for motorbikers, Catalina is no longer just an island for yuppies looking to get some bronzing. It has been restored into a grand prix which caters to both the upper, and lower echelons of the motorbiking community.

In addition to the established names of the current era, the Catalina GP was also thrashed by some racers who had ridden the original GP in the 50′s. As Ricky Johnson put it, „it’s awesome to see all the different champions and riders, the heritage is bad ass.” Part of the bad ass heritage came from the vintage class. Although most riders from this class neither rode the original Catalina GP, nor do they make six-figures a year racing motorcycles, they do ride machines that have long expired warranties. The reason why motorbikers like the Catalina Grand Prix so much is because it is open to both the very gifted/very sponsored riders, right down to the police chief of Los Angeles, Charlie Beck. For bikers who don’t ride in order to put food on their family, the Catalina GP is a time to de-stress, especially for Mr. Beck; „when i’m out there I don’t think about the city of Los Angeles, I just think about the course…it’s very relaxing to be honest.” And how could the Catalina Grand Prix not be relaxing? Tearing around an island on a motorbike, dodging palm trees, and attempting passes on motorbike legends is enough to make any motorbiker forget there are people with sub-par intelligence who oppose god’s biggest gift to humanity, motorbikes.

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