To Hell and Back

Turning a stock bike into a pukka flat-tracker can be devilishly difficult, and making your race debut on it will surely be a nightmare or not. Ross Jackson just went out and won...

I’m trying to get back to sleep, but my rolled up jeans aren’t the comfiest pillow. The smells are soothing though – tent canvas and two-stroke oil. It turns out the Lelystad Speedway Circuit is next to a motocross track, which starts up at 8am every Saturday morning. Our tents are pitched about two metres from the track and the constant drone of flat-out two strokes and a cloud of thin dust wafts through our camp.

I’m here to watch the racing on my side of the fence though: the Hells Race at Speedway Lelystad in Holland. Practice gets underway and riders from Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy, Spain and of course the UK sink their tyres into the soft-red dirt, slide out, find grip and fly into the next corner. The unanimous opinion is that the track is up there with the best in Europe.

We catch up with Ross Jackson, a UK flat-track first-timer who’s competing on a machine he’s just built. He brought his Yamaha MX360 two years ago as a stock bike that just about ran. It had just come over from the US in a shipping container full of old bikes and Ross set about giving it a full strip-down and rebuild from the ground up.

He made some aesthetic changes, like the DT400 tank and a Knight seat unit; he had to put a new rear end on to take the seat unit but the tank just bolted into place. He then cut the usual stuff off to make it as light as possible. The front end is from an XS650 and he got some really stiff custom Hagon shocks for the rear.

“The exhaust is a Jemco unit from the US,” says Ross. “The old boy still makes them. Someone put me onto him and I gave him a call – two weeks later I had a mint custom flat-track exhaust specific for the MX360. I went for a total rebuild, handled by Road Race and Performance in Coventry as I don’t have much experience with two-stroke motors. It took six months to get it done as the parts were so hard to get hold of. Nick did a top job and the bike ripped around the track. There’s so much power for a 1973 bike, I couldn’t believe it.”

Finally, Ross powdercoated everything and sent the tank and seat unit off to Dream Works for a mint paintjob, which of course had to be Yamaha speed block yellow.

Ross re-constructed the bike in his little workshop at home: “It’s been a tough build, trying to get things to fit and work, but it’s turned out better than I could have hoped.”

So after all this effort, is Ross nervous about taking the bike out on track? “I was always going to race the bike. I wanted to do a mint job on building it and I think it looks the part. More importantly, I wanted it to be fast and useable. I don’t have any problems with thrashing it and whatever damage it picks up I’m happy with. A few people have asked how I can race it, they think I should put it in my lounge… Nah!”

And race he did. There are some good riders in the Vintage class but Ross and his MX360 laid waste to them all. There is something special about seeing an old yellow Yamaha sideways on dirt that grabs your attention; just ask fans of Kenny Roberts. It wasn’t just the bike that grabbed my attention that weekend, the way it was ridden was classic too. Especially as it was the rider’s first race.

“The first race felt like a practice session. I didn’t want to put any pressure on myself, I was just there for the fun of it. I really didn’t feel nervous, I was just enjoying it so much, hoping the bike held out for the weekend.

“A few people had said I looked quick but I really am a complete novice. I did the Pete Boast race school and about four practice sessions up at his farm and that really helped get my head around it. Without that I wouldn’t have a clue! It wasn’t until the first Vintage heat which I won that I became a little nervous. I thought ‘I could get a podium here if I keep it on the track...’”

Right: The other riders head out on track, unaware that a rookie is about to destroy them all

Left: Ross not only built a beautiful bike and is a wildly gifted rider, he also brought his own grid girls. Respect