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60 months ago

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An Interview with Vancouver Flat Track Club's Niki Kendall and Sam Villanueva

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Nick Caldwell bombing down the straight on his Husqvarna FT350 during a practice lap.

Nick Caldwell bombing down the straight on his Husqvarna FT350 during a practice lap.

Last year I had the opportunity to check out Vancouver Flat Track Club’s final races of the season. It was an epic weekend full with fast bikes, sweet new friends and typical moto-based tomfoolery. VFTC’s home track of Pemberton Speedway is located 2 hours north of Vancouver, directly up the 99. Nestled in the mountains, the setting alone is worth the breathtaking ride.

With VFTC’s first race of the season coming up this weekend I decided to catch up with President Niki Kendall and Vice President and Co-Founder Sam Villanueva to find out a little more about VFTC’s history and how things have changed since it all began. We also chat about what to expect as they enter a new season of competition.

Read on for more pics from VFTC's 2018 season closer.

View from the stands looking toward corner one as a water truck maintains the track's surface.

View from the stands looking toward corner one as a water truck maintains the track's surface.

Riders battle for position on corner one.

Riders battle for position on corner one.

Spectators look on as the races begin.

Spectators look on as the races begin.

Coming in hot into corner one

Coming in hot into corner one

Back in August we spoke a little about the grassroots origin of VFTC, tell more about how it all began.

Niki - "Once upon a time…” Haha. Well, it aaaaall started when a few friends stumbled across a 3/10th mile stock car track about 150kms north of Vancouver, called Pemberton Speedway. Up until then, people had been racing in the states or at a small track up in Vernon, BC that used to host annual races (RIP O’Keefe’s!). After we met with the stock car club that ran the Pemby track, we were invited to a test and tune day with them…it was kind of like a meet and greet for both parties to see what’s what. A bunch of our friends came out and two wheels hit that track for the first time ever. After that, we were invited to host a race there, which took place in August 2015. Looking back, is kinda funny to even call it a ‘race’, but holy hell did we have a blast. We’ve come a long way since then!

How has the race weekend changed since then?

Sam - Oh man. Drastically. Tons of volunteers. Food trucks. Paramedics. Professional racers. Cash payouts. Much larger attendance. The list goes on. It got a lot more serious and professional, yet still maintains a very outlaw feel.

N - In almost every way! I came across some old photos the other day and it was nuts what improvements have taken place in such a short amount of time. Especially considering we’ve really only ran I think 7 or 8 races total since we started (one season 2 out our 3 races were rain outs). Like Sam said, even though we’re now a Flat Track Canada sanctioned track and we take safety and rules very seriously, it still feels outlaw and fun, which we strive to maintain, even though it’s getting pretty competitive out there.

Riders and volunteers get together to quickly help push start a fellow competitors bike before a race.

Riders and volunteers get together to quickly help push start a fellow competitors bike before a race.

Mini-bikes serve many purposes at a track. At VFTC they even get their own races.

Mini-bikes serve many purposes at a track. At VFTC they even get their own races.

Pippa Stowell on her New-to-her fully prepped race bike which she purchased the day before competition.

Pippa Stowell on her New-to-her fully prepped race bike which she purchased the day before competition.

With the competition getting more serious, is there still room for noobz like me to get out on the track?

S - Absolutely! We offer a beginners class that is perfect for people who have never flat tracked before. Some of the other classes are geared for more novice riders too.

N - For sure. In addition to having classes that accommodate new folks, we also run annual riders clinics with Flat Track Canada. It’s a great opportunity for people to get out and try flat track racing as all the gear, bikes, etc are provided. You just show up as-is and give ‘er a go.

What advice would you give those heading onto the track for the first time?

S - Try to not be intimidated by other riders. Everyone is so helpful. Even when the pros are on the track, they will just go around you. You aren't in any ones way, no matter what speed you ride at. Just ride your own race and try not to focus on anything else.

A good start will put you ahead of the pack and out of the dust kicked up by other bikes.

A good start will put you ahead of the pack and out of the dust kicked up by other bikes.

Shelby Clarke (41)

Shelby Clarke (41)

Anything you need to know while on the track is communicated using a variety of flags.

Anything you need to know while on the track is communicated using a variety of flags.

The best track conditions happen after the sun goes down. When the moisture in the dirt isn't being evaporated by the sun.

The best track conditions happen after the sun goes down. When the moisture in the dirt isn't being evaporated by the sun.

I really enjoyed watching the hole shot competition on practice day. Do you have a favourite race to watch? What makes it your favourite?

S - I would have to say the ladies class. There are some really good close battles that go down in that class. We also have a solid group of serious and dedicated women who are no stranger to traveling every weekend to various tracks to go cut laps.

N - I’m with Sam on that one. Every season that class grows in numbers and in skill. After almost every race weekend, I can say my favourite epic battle has taken place in that class.

Pippa Stowell and Marissa Mills stop for a quick snap before hitting the track.

Pippa Stowell and Marissa Mills stop for a quick snap before hitting the track.

Shelby Clark lining up to get on the track for her warm up laps.

Shelby Clark lining up to get on the track for her warm up laps.

Plenty of trophies to be won. From pro classes to fun races. I myself won 3rd place in the Mad Dog Class.

Plenty of trophies to be won. From pro classes to fun races. I myself won 3rd place in the Mad Dog Class.

One competitor I spoke to talked about the track [Pemberton Speedway] and how it’s a bit more challenging than a typical flat track. How is it different?

S - If you look at the other tracks in the general Pacific Northwest area, they are mostly blue groove quarter mile clay tracks, which are harder and stickier. Pemberton is a cushion track which means the dirt breaks up and forms a cushion, which can get deep and rough at times. It makes for a super fun surface, but is different that most tracks in the area and therefor seems a bit more challenging.

What are you most excited about going into the 2019 season?

S - Camping and racing at the track with 100 of my closest friends.

N - Seeing the improvement in everyone’s riding. It’s been so awesome watching everyone get better and better each year. And, seeing more of our American peers cross the border and come race in Canada! We race a lot in the states and it’s been really cool watching our hometown riders hold their own out there with the competition.

With plenty of down time, there are lots of opportunities to experience Pemberton Speedway's unbelievable setting.

With plenty of down time, there are lots of opportunities to experience Pemberton Speedway's unbelievable setting.

Camping is free all weekend long. And there are plenty of pooches to pet around the campsites.

Camping is free all weekend long. And there are plenty of pooches to pet around the campsites.

Are there any competitors or rivalries we should be paying closer attention to this summer?

**S **- In the Vintage class, one of our more popular classes, you can always be sure to see Roger Goldammer and 'Downtown' Keddie Brown swapping positions all night long. I’ve always loved watching them race each other. Good clean fun.

N - I’m looking forward to watching Kyrstin Orr, who’s moving from Novice to Intermediate this season. She’s a force and will definitely throw down. Even though we offer a Ladies class, which not all tracks in Canada do, all ladies can run whatever other class is suitable based on their skill level. I have to say, I do enjoy watchin’ a gal give the boys a run for their money out there.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about VFTC’s 2019 season?

S - Our first race on May 25th is also round 2 of the NW Championship series. Other than that, see you at the track!

N - Check out our site for race day info (https://www.vancouverflattrackclub.com/) and give our insta a follow to see what we’re up to throughout the season (https://www.instagram.com/vancouverflattrackclub/). Hit the Go Flat Track site to get more information on the riders clinics we offer with Flat Track Canada and to register for this years’ sessions on June 22nd and 23rd (http://www.goflattrack.com/).

VFTC's race day operations are largely handled by a dedicated group of volunteers.

VFTC's race day operations are largely handled by a dedicated group of volunteers.

Nick Caldwell's Husqvarna FT350

Nick Caldwell's Husqvarna FT350

Niki Kendall and Sam Villanueva talk safety and rules during the riders meeting.

Niki Kendall and Sam Villanueva talk safety and rules during the riders meeting.

#eatsleepride #vancouverflattrackclub #flattrackcanada #pembertonspeedway

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