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Sport bike enthusiasts launch effort to help Katrina victims relief

923 Views 2 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  bumblebee

Sunday, October 02, 2005

By Brian David, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The whine came first, like a mosquito on steroids, then the little red bike emerged from behind the hill and zipped down the straightaway, headlight burning, rider sitting tall.

Then a yowl, and three more bikes emerged, riders lying forward, headlights covered. Like predators, they closed on the red bike, swerving past just before the kill.

"Yeah, that's Bob on the red one," Kimberlee Love said, with a chuckle. "He said the other guys put their knees down in the corners; he just puts a toe out." She cocked her foot to demonstrate and laughed again.

But while Bob Hesch, of Cranberry, may have been the most sedate sport bike rider at BeaveRun Motorsports Complex on Sept. 20, he was also the one contributing the most to the cause of the day.

The event was Race for Relief, with a quickly assembled group of sport bike racers hitting up sponsors to donate to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Organized by Mike Seate, of Osborne, a newspaper columnist and Speed Channel journalist, the event raised nearly $25,000 between straight donations and per-lap sponsorships.

Fifteen riders spent the day at BeaveRun, doing laps for 15 minutes at a time. They went out in two groups, a "slow" group and a "fast" group.

Hesch said it was his first time on a racetrack since 1975 -- and that he quit racing then because others could do a better job riding the bikes he built. His motorcycle was a regular street bike and had spent a day under 8 feet of water during Hurricane Ivan last year.

So he was an enthusiastic member of the "slow" group, happily declaring himself "definitely the old man out there" after his first session.

"I didn't mind being passed so much," he said, "but it did bother me when [Seate] passed me twice!"

But while Hesch led neither in speed nor in terms of dollars raised -- that honor went to Larry Grodsky, of Squirrel Hill, who raised almost $6,000 -- he's giving something few others can. He and his wife, Nancy, are packing up their RV and heading to the New Orleans area, where she will work as a nurse and he as a mechanic, helping to get the devastated area back on its feet.

"We were going to go south anyway, so we thought, 'Hey, why not volunteer?' " Hesch said.

There is a desperate need for nurses in the Gulf region, but Hesch said when his wife made inquiries into nursing needs there, "they put her on hold because they didn't have places for people to stay."

That's not a problem for the Hesches, who have spent a lot of time in their RV since 2001.

"When she said we have our own house, they said, 'No problem!' " he said.

Hesch figures he won't lack for things to do either, whether paid or volunteer. "There's a lot of equipment down there breaking, generators and stuff that needs maintenance," he said. "If I can find a fire company using a lot of equipment, I'd volunteer anytime."

As for when they'll be back, that is not certain. They've been living in their Cranberry home while he's been consulting for West Hills Honda, a new dealership in Moon. They will sell the house next month.

It will be the final step in a long transition to a full-time traveling life.

Hesch, a motorcycle enthusiast from childhood, owned Northgate Honda for 18 years. When their kids grew up, he and his wife started traveling extensively, and in 2001 he sold the dealership so they could travel more.

He said his wife generally takes temporary nursing contracts half the year and they'll travel wherever she needs to go, then he'll take contracts consulting for motorcycle dealerships the other half of the year, and they'll travel where he needs to go.

Even living at home, he said, had a temporary feel.

"We dragged the mattress out of the RV to sleep on," he said. "We have a couple of boxes for furniture, and lawn chairs.

"You have to not want stuff," he said of the lifestyle.

Hesch heard about the fund-raiser through Love, who works with him at West Hills and is married to Seate.

Seate said it was an easy decision to put the event together.

"I felt paralyzed watching those people on TV," Seate said. A former Harley rider who moved to sport bikes and a former full-time newspaperman who turned to sport bike journalism, he decided to use his contacts within the sport to do something.

"Harley riders do a lot of charity events, largely because they've gotten so much bad PR over the years," he said. "Sport bike riders haven't done that much because they haven't had the bad press. But I thought this time maybe we could."

The event drew primarily a Pittsburgh-area crowd, with two riders from Westmoreland-based Empty Pockets Racing; Grodsky, who has a business doing rider training and organizing sport bike tours; and privateers like Justin DeSantis, of Butler Township, and Scott Rosey, of Cecil.

But there was a huge trailer on hand with "Indy Super Bikes" painted on the side, supporting riders Chris Fruits and Bryan Didier, who made the six-hour trip from Indianapolis.

Indy Super Bikes is an online parts and accessories business, and Fruits and Didier race for fun and to promote the business. They heard about the event from Seate, who met them on the racing circuit, and hit up their sponsors for donations.

Fruits said they race just about every weekend, and the Sept. 20 event -- which had timed laps, but no actual racing -- was "more just for fun."

The case was similar for Glen Goldman and Mike Mellon of Team Pro-Motion, a riding training business based in the Philadelphia suburb of Warminster.

Goldman is a former professional bike racer. He said when Seate called him, he was glad to find he had a free day between events. "I think it's an amazing event in terms of the goal," he said. "But it's also kind of sad -- doing something I love to help people who are suffering."

One problem with sport bike events is that riding the vehicles at anything close to top speed on the road is illegal and dangerous. They are blisteringly fast machines that corner like amusement park rides; racing vehicles that are designed to run on racing tracks.

BeaveRun, a 4-year-old facility in Big Beaver, took care of that part, donating track time, an ambulance and corner workers -- a total value of about $5,400.

"Track time is extremely expensive," Seate said. "This way people can get as much as they want."

And the victims of Hurricane Katrina will get $25,000, one nurse and one mechanic.

(Brian David can be reached at [email protected] or at 724-375-6816.)
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