AMA Grand National Race thunders through Indy mile track

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With a rumbling hum that could be heard all over the Indiana State Fairgrounds, the American Motorcyclist Association hosted its Indy Mile Grand National race Saturday.

With insane speed and knees dragging on the turns, the AMA Grand National racers demanded a huge following and almost filled the State Fair's Hoosier Lottery Grandstand.

Fans Janice Millette and Dave Corey drove 10 hours from Ontario, Canada, just to see this race. The couple rides motorcycles, and Corey is a motorcycle mechanic.

They both love “the speed, the thrill, the sound,” they said. “You have to feel it, not just see it.”

PHOTO: Bryan Smith slides into a turn during practice time at the Indiana State Fair on Aug. 8. During the practice, Smith recorded the best lap with a 37.794 (courtesy Jonathan Miksanek/BSU Journalism at the Fair)

Expert class racer Dan Ingram knows just how it feels, both on the bike and off.

“It's been a dream of mine. I started at 13, turned 18 and went pro,” said No. 31 of Dollar Bill and Zanna Racing.

He rides an XR750 Harley-Davidson with a 700cc engine, which he said costs around $30,000 after all of the tweaking. After each race, Ingram and his pit crew rebuild the engine, which costs about $5,000.

Ingram was injured in 1993 and retired for 17 years. Now he's back and, at 49, is the oldest expert racer in AMA.

“It's tougher now,” said Ingram. “It's harder to get in the right shape.”

Despite his injuries in the past, he said, “It's only dangerous if you fall off.”

PHOTO: Nicole Mees of Michigan prepares for her race during the flat track preliminaries races of the IndyMile Grand National Championship. (photo courtesy Meagan Kingery/BSU Journalism at the Fair)

With speeds of up to 130 mph - racers take turns at 80 mph - injuries are common on the flat track. Most racers have broken something, and almost all of them still race. Third-generation racer Cody Johncox has shattered his femur and both of his hands, but he still gets back up on the bike.

Twenty-year-old Johncox rides a 750cc twin motor and has been riding motorcycles since he was 3 years old.

“It's awesome,” Johncox said. “I work full time and when I come home, I work on bikes all night.”

Not surprisingly, Johncox is a motorcycle mechanic and loves riding in the expert class, which is the top tier in AMA.

His dad and pit-crew mechanic, Eric Johncox, travels all over the country with him. The elder Johncox said racing is “a lot of blood, sweat and tears.”

“Racing is our drug,” Eric Johncox said. “If you can't be out there racing, you gotta be in the pit.”

PHOTO: Brandon Wilhelm, Aurora, Ind., lines up to enter the track to race in the practice and qualifying rounds of the AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship (courtesy Samantha Blankenship/BSU Journalism at the Fair)

The same goes for AMA flagman Kevin Clark, who started out racing but had to drop out when he had his first child. His communication technique with the flag looks more like he is enticing a bull rather than flagging signals.

“A lot of people come to see just him,” said AMA assistant starter and set-up crew member Darrell Brintlinger. “He is the world's greatest flagger.”

“If it can't kill you, it ain't a sport,” said Clark, who has officiated races for about 25 years. “I just have fun with it.”

AMA's next stop is Peoria, Ill., on Aug. 17 for round 12 of the Grand National Race.

Kayla Crandall is a writer for BSU Journalism at the Fair, a Ball State University immersive-learning project placing 25 student journalists at the heart of the Midway to tell the weird and wonderful stories of the 2014 Indiana State Fair.