The sun shown bright on the treeless Kansas landscape, dust rolled in wafting sequential clouds with the whir of engines passing before each cloud, the crowd and announcer talked excitedly, and through the lens I was perilously closer to the track than in reality. As I attempted against their speed to focus on the details of the racers, I realized this would go down as one of the great birthdays of all time.
The whole thing started on the Dakota run as my mother had wanted to see Lindsborg Kansas (aka Little Sweden, which is a darling town fyi) and en route we happened to pass a highway sign for the Kansas Motorcycle Museum a mere eight miles away in Marquette. Sold. It’s that easy. The museum itself is the brainchild of the late Stanley Engdahl, a native son of Marquette and racer of over 50 years with some 600 trophies, including five national championship wins. But more than his amazing ability as a racer, the museum pays homage to his good nature as a man of the community as well as his ingenuity with both racing and bikes. His homemade sidecar is an excellent example of that ingenuity and has to be seen to fully appreciate. And although that sidecar, his bike, trophies and more of his personal effects are on display, the museum also includes tributes to other natives of Marquette and Kansas influential in motorcycle and racing history as well as a fine collection of bikes with something for everyone in the mix, from a remarkable bunch of Indians to some of the prime examples of Harley production, a selection of rarities and of course an abundance of racing bikes.
The only vistors in the museum the first time we stopped, we chatted with the gal working the desk that day who stopped just short of handing us a flyer, asking where we came from and commenting Oklahoma City was probably too far to come up for the flat track racing they were reintroducing to their annual fundraising events. No it isn’t. Especially when that no frills, back to the way it should be racing was happening on my birthday. A nice ride and racing? There isn’t a better way to celebrate.
And so, there we were a few weeks later on my birthday, making a quick stop at the local joint for a cold beer and bite to eat before heading to the dirt track up the road a piece. Riding west on K-4, all rolling prairie hills and the odd farmhouse or barn every so many miles, in the distance, fast as a blink, stand a grain elevator and clump of trees. That is Marquette, unimposing and pure charm. It could be any other Kansas plains town, sleepy and still on the surface and easy to miss if you’re passing by, but there is something in the water in Marquette. Racing is somehow engrained and a humble culture of bikes is as normal there as the farming culture. The environment from the bar to the track was comfortable and gregarious, with none of the pretention found larger towns and races, but rather a confident knowledge of bikes blended with small town genuineness. Just good folks with a real appreciation for racing and bikes of all kinds, at the race itself, the crowd was a mishmash of bikers and race enthusiasts and even Josh was enamored albeit curious as to how in the hell so much motorcycle culture could come out of small Midwestern farm communities. As I laughingly explained there is little else to do for innocent thrills half past nowhere, I realized just how at home I had felt all day.
Leaving sunbaked and deeply happy, I found myself turning back to look at Marquette admittedly a bit forlornly but only until our next visit. Nearer to home, pacing through the still warm night, tower clouds rolled on the distant horizon lit intermittently by streaks of summer storm lightning, the temperature dropped with each passing of a pond and each passing minute and bright light splashed the roadside periphery with each fireworks stand we passed. Heady in the air that love of summer nights had returned. And as Venus and Jupiter raced each other above the last purple of sunset, into the heavenly blue all bright and ethereal, it occurred to me, for any Sunday, it was a perfect Sunday.