Flat Track racing is deeply rooted in motorcycle history, especially here in North America dating back to the early 1900s. For many people, the invention of the motorcycle was a new way of transportation, but for some it was a new lease on life. For those that saw the motorcycle as something more than just getting you to and from work, little did they know they would be on the ground floor of building the longest running extreme sport. Although Flat Track racing may not be for everyone, it is easily respected and appreciated by anyone who has thrown their leg over a motorcycle.
With Flat Track being Americas oldest extreme sport, it's safe to say there is a lot of history and a lot of legends out there walking among us. Flat Track racing tends to be a family sport, and the drive for racing is passed from father to son. But for many, there comes a time when the risk vs reward just isn't worth it anymore. Unfortunately when that time comes, the bikes are usually parked and sit neglected for many years. But, that's not the story we are here to tell you today, in fact its the exact opposite! Sit back, relax and enjoy our interview with a family that has been deeply rooted in flat track racing from the early days and are still carrying on the tradition.
Let’s start with the basics, What’s your name and where are you located?
My name is Troy Erichsen and I’m from Columbus, OH
I know you come from a big motorcycle family, when did you start riding? And what was your first bike?
For sure came from a big motorcycle family which I love, but had a little bit of a different path along the way. I actually didn’t really start riding until my mid-20s. Growing up I’d get on my dad’s Honda XR80 every once in awhile but I didn’t really get into it until I was 25. And I actually started on the TT500 he had raced back in the day. So basically went from riding a little mini bike every once in awhile to a 500.
Give us a little backstory on when you started racing and what racing is like for you now.
So I got into racing a little later than most. I knew I wanted to race most of my life, but with siblings and other things going on, I just wasn’t able to when I was younger. So when I was in my mid-20s I started to really ride and took about a year to just get used to being on a bike. In the middle of that time, we went to Springfield, IL over Labor Day weekend and we were at the Short Track on Saturday night, and I remember telling my Dad…I’m racing next year. I didn’t care how bad, slow or inexperienced I was, I was going to get out on a track and race.
So the following year, we got the TT500 ready and we went. I was honestly terrible haha But I was living my dream of racing flat track and that’s all that mattered to me. I’m pretty competitive so I obviously didn’t want to remain where I was at. So I just set goals for myself to just get faster and more comfortable on the bike week in and week out. And I feel like I’ve come a pretty long way over the past 3 years on the bike and honestly am just having a blast right now riding and traveling to races with my family. It’s literally a dream come true for me and I’m just trying to make the most of it.
Tell us a little about the bike (Year, Make, Model, frame modifications, engine build, any details you think are cool and interesting)
The bike is a 1976 Yamaha TT500. It’s in a Dick Mann frame which is probably the most interesting and cool thing about that bike. I say that because Dick Mann is a legend in the sport and to have a frame that he built is pretty cool and it is probably the best handling frame I’ve ever personally ridden.
We know racing takes a ton of effort and drive. Especially for guys who are out there doing it for fun and keeping themselves young! Is it hard to balance your regular 9-5 work life mon-fri and then racing on the weekends? And what keeps you motivated to keep racing?
Yeah it can definitely be a challenge to keep in shape, get the bike ready for the weekend and all while working a regular job. But honestly, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do and now I’m doing it. So knowing that I am able to do what I love is what keeps me motivated to keep doing it. I want to keep getting better each time I ride and I just want to make my Dad and my family proud while doing it. They are huge supporters of me and knowing they are behind me just makes it all worth it.
We know the upkeep is heavy on these bikes, so racing a few times a month really adds up when it comes to bike maintenance, travel and everything else that goes into it. Are you and your dad wrenching on bikes in the evenings during the week to prep for the weekend?
Yeah these bikes are definitely heavy on the maintenance piece. We both wrench on the bikes during the week to make sure everything is ready for the weekends. We typically start looking everything over on Monday nights and just tinker on stuff throughout the week if nothing major happened the previous week. It doesn’t just happen on the weekends with this sport. It’s a 24/7 ordeal if you want to be competitive and make sure everything goes smoothly on race day.
When we saw you at Wauseon, we talked for a bit about the bike and you had mentioned this was a bike your dad had raced back in the day. For those of you who aren’t aware, Troy’s dad is Darrin Erichsen, former national #68 who had a long career competing against the best of the best from the 70s-90s.
It has to be a pretty wild feeling knowing you’re regularly racing one of your dad’s old bikes. Could you speak to that point, how’s it feel knowing you’re carrying on that legacy and keeping that vintage bike on the track where it belongs?
Man, it’s one of the best feelings in the world to be able to race this bike, knowing that he raced it back in the day and did pretty well on it. It means the world to me to be able to carry on the legacy of this bike and keep it out on the track. I would probably say that the best moment for me on this bike was winning the short track at Western Reserve in Salem, OH in 2020. Both my Dad and my Grandpa were there to see it which made it even more special. I know they have a ton of memories with this bike and it was pretty cool being able to add another one to that. It was a very special moment for all of us and one I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.
Knowing this bike has quite a history behind it, does Darrin have any notable race stories or highlights from his time on the 500?
Yeah, I would say back in 1976. The first time I rode this bike with the new Dick Mann frame we were at Methias Raceway in New Philadelphia, OH. My grandpa and I had just got it the week before and then I won the open class main even by a straight away and they wrote in Cycle News that that was the fastest 500 they had ever seen.
Shifting things over to your dads career, Darrin you’ve had a pretty storied career on a motorcycle, Take us back to the beginning, when you did you get your first motorcycle? And what was it?
I was 8 years old and I got a blue Honda Z50.
Like many of us involved in motorcycle racing, you probably grew up at the track. Do you recall your first time actually getting out and racing? and we’re you hooked from that day on?
The first time I raced was at Honda Hills. It was funny, it was my first race and I actually fell off. But that didn’t stop me because I got back up and wanted to race some more!! I was hooked ever since.
We saw a photo you posted earlier this year of you and Mert Lawwill, For many people Mert was their Idol, the guy is a legend on a motorcycle. I’d have to assume Mert was someone you looked up to as a young rider, so what was it like meeting him, and did he share any good riding tips?
My Dad and I went to Ascot park every week and after the races we would go to the pits and I would get Merts autograph and my Dad would talk to him. Halfway through the year, after the races we went down to see Mert like we always did, and He told me “that after the race, the following weekend, He was going to take Dad and I out to dinner because we came and saw him every weekend”. Mert was National Number 1 at the time and I was eight years old. That was literally a dream. So, the following week, Mert won the main event and took Dad and I out to dinner. It had a huge impact on me and my racing moving forward. He didn’t share any riding tips to me at the time, but he did later on tell me that if I would have still been living in California when I was Junior, He would have let me ride his bikes. That was a pretty cool feeling to know that.
We’re avid followers of the Flat Track WFO facebook group and many other Flat Track pages, you’re regularly posting photos and videos of yourself and many top guys from the hay day of flat track. You were going up against guys like George Roeder II, Steve Moorehead, Jay Springsteen, Chris Carr, Garth Brow, the list goes on. I’m sure during that time, it was just another day at the track racing with some friends, but looking back on it now it must feel awesome knowing you were competing with and beating some legendary names in Flat Track. Could you speak to that point, have you reflected on your career and the accomplishments you’ve had?
I had a lot of fun on the cushion tracks racing with and competing with those guys. They were tough. Every once in awhile I could keep up with them. It’s pretty cool to know that I could hang with the best of the sport and hold my own against them any given week. It was great to be able to race during that era of flat track.
You were lucky enough to have raced one of the most legendary motorcycles, the infamous Harley-Davidson XR750. You weren’t just racing any old XR750 either, you were racing a Carl Patrick built XR. For those of you who don’t know, Patrick was the go to guy for the XR, in fact he was named the “worlds best XR tuner” by Motorcycle-USA. What was it like riding that XR? We’ve heard many stories about Patrick built bikes and have been told many times that the power plant he builds is un like any other.
Carl Patricks XR’s were definitely the fastest things I’ve ever rode. My personal XR he built more for reliability because we couldn’t afford to break them too often. So my bike was fast but not so much done to it. The bikes he built for me that Ted Frost owned, those were absolutely the fastest XR’s I’ve ever rode. And they also were very reliable. If I rode them hard enough, his bikes could definitely win any main event around the country.
Looking back on your long racing career, what were some highlights that stand out to you?
For me, there are so many good memories and highlights that I could touch on. But I will just name a couple here.
One that really stands out is when I was rookie expert and it was the start of speed week in Florida. I made the expert main event at Valousia. I was the only rookie expert to make the main event. I made the front row and looked to my left and right and saw Steve Morehead, Bubba Shobert and numerous others that were legends in the sport. It was a thrill to race with those guys at that point in my career. And it let me know that I belonged there.
Another highlight would definitely be me as a rookie expert winning the Barbara Fritchie Classic in Frederick, MD.
And earning my first national number by making the National at Lima, OH in 1982. That was probably the highlight of my career to be able to earn a national number.
Flat track is very much a fun friendly environment, everyone is working towards a common goal and thats to have fun and race. Hanging out in the pits you see a lot of camaraderie, your bike breaks and one of your competitors lends you a part to get you back on the track, they’d lend you their backup bike if it was needed. Not every sport is like that, and I think that’s what makes flat track special. With that being said, some of the best times come from hanging in the pits, do you have any good pit stories from over the years?
Yeah there was one pit story that stands out to me over the years. There was one year at the Lima National, a part broke on the XR and we didn’t have it with us. I searched around and nobody had one cause it was a part that normally doesn’t break and nobody really carries it with them. I went to Scotty Parker who rode for Factory Harley-Davidson and he had one and gave me the part to be able to continue racing that night. We ended up making the main event because of that. It was a pretty cool thing for him to do being a factory rider.
We see you and Troy out and about at many local races around Ohio, is it safe to say you’ve shifted from being the full time racer, to being the full time mechanic and coaching troy from the sidelines?
Yeah, I had my fun for 20 years and now it’s Troy’s turn to have fun. I focus on getting the bikes ready for him. It’s pretty funny, I used to watch my Dad work his tail off and never stop for me. I helped a little but didn’t do a lot. When my Dad would go to the races now, he would sit there with a smile on his face and I would go over and say “I appreciate you more now than ever, because I know how much work you did for me….and now I’m going through it haha”
Seeing you guys in the pits is always a joy, it seems you two work together pretty well and just about any time we walk by your trailer you two are cracking smiles and having a good time. It has to feel pretty good knowing you two can carry on the tradition of flat track racing in the family and have fun while doing it.
For many of us who grew up in a flat track racing family, it’s rare to be able to sit on, let alone race our dad’s old bikes from back in the day. We are glad to see you held on to some of your bikes, what made you do that? It has to feel pretty cool knowing troy is out there on one of your old bikes.
I know Troy wanted to race really bad and I knew that the TT500 was a really good running and handling bike and he could learn pretty quickly on it because he was a late starter. And he has come a long way and really is riding it good. I’m very proud to see Troy riding the TT500. I had a lot of fun on that bike and I know he is having a lot of fun on it now too. It’s pretty special.
Wrapping things up, are there any people or sponsors you both would like to thank?
Troy – Yeah I first and foremost want to thank my grandpa Mike Erichsen. He passed away back in January but He was without a doubt my biggest supporter and I can’t thank Him enough for that! He never missed a race and was always behind me. I also of course have to thank my Dad for everything he does. I couldn’t do any of this without him. My mom who never misses a race and always gives encouragement.
And there are so many others in my racing efforts to thank: Ted Frost, Jack Wilson, Motozilli, Amsoil, Motion Pro, Vortex, Cycle Gear, and Bell Helmets.
Darrin- Definitely my mom and dad. My grandpa. Ted Frost. Carl Patrick. Ed Cowart. Murray Hutchins who originally owned the TT500. Lloyd Noel. Bell Helmets. And the list goes on.
Thanks again for taking the time to tell us a little about the bike and the Erichsen race history, we look forward to seeing you guys out at the track more often!
Interview by Zane Cook
Photos by Mike Vandegriff
Historical Photos from the Erichsen Family