It was a different feeling this year, waking up in Shannonville on the Saturday morning.
I stayed at the Salmon River Motel, just a stones throw away from the track.
When I stepped out of my room at 8:30 in the morning, I could hear the roaring of engines, the shifting of gears, the sounds that I love, the sounds of racing.
When I began my brief drive to the gates of the track, I left my radio off, and just listened out the window to the ever-louder hum of the bikes speeding down the front straight.
As I approached the gate to Shannonville Motorsport Park, I felt a rush of excitement. After almost exactly a year, I was faced with live racing once again.
As I parked my car, I left all of my gear in the car, and just sat with my coffee and watched the Amateur Sportbike riders file out of the pit lane for their practice.
This was one of the few sessions throughout the weekend that I just sat back and watched, but it was far from the only one I enjoyed.
As the day continued, my joy never faltered. I was elated to be back in Shannonville, surrounded by racing and people that love it just as much as I do, and nothing could take that away, not even my horrible mistake of forgetting to pack sunscreen.
For this year’s article, I didn’t want to just share my own experience, but rather focus on a different perspective, that of the riders themselves.
I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with a lot of the riders this year, about their experiences, their results, and their love of the sport.
After the weekend ended, I got the chance to ask some questions to two riders in particular, both of whom had quite the interesting days on track.
I was lucky enough to chat with Kayla Hannaford and Dylan Leclair, numbers #72 and #33 respectively.
Kayla’s weekend stood out to me first, she did well on the first day, pulling in a good haul of points, a good start to the final rounds of the season during the Saturday qualifying and races, but with some complications on the Sunday.
During the Heavyweight Sportsman qualifying, Kayla could be seen throwing her hand up as she came past the pit-wall, signaling to her father that something was going wrong.
Kayla came into the pits, immediately switching onto Dylan Leclair’s CBR 500.
Before the session was over, she managed to get back and set a qualifying time.
As the day persisted, Kayla ended up trying her own bike again, which lead her to riding a whole different bike altogether.
So Kayla, to start out, tell us about your inspiration for motorcycles, and how you got started with your racing career?
I used to ride on the street like a hooligan with a bunch of friends.
Bikes were my entire life. Both of my parents ride, all of my friends. And I felt the need to push the machines to their maximum capabilities. Which I could not do on the street.
I had a friend named Dan that used to race, he talked about it one night with a huge smile on his face. I turned to him right then, never considering it before and said – get me ready I’m going to race too.
I looked up the first race school which was two weeks away. He helped me drill and lock wire my bike which I had no idea existed. I told my mom I was going racing and her and I jumped in my dad’s pickup truck with my street bike in the back and went. My race class was completely rained out so I did the in school portion and didn’t get to touch the track until my first race weekend where I cried my eyes out before getting on because I was so scared. Now it’s what I live for.
You skyrocketed up the board from 16th in 2020, to 4th this year, 40 points clear of Colin Duncan. How do you feel about your 2021 season in AM Sportbike as a whole?
I could not be more excited. This is the first year that I reconnected with my machine and had an incredible time out there. I worked out super hard at home, and went out on the track in a great state of mind. It made all the difference in the world.
I also had a few “aha” moments on the bike and don’t feel limited anymore.
Just the need to go faster
Let’s talk about the first bike-swap on Sunday, mid-qualifying, you throw your hand up as you speed past the pit-wall, and by the next lap, you were riding into the pit lane and switching onto Dylan’s bike. What was going through your mind during this session?
Oh gosh, that CBR 500 is brand new to us. We had picked it up two weeks prior from a friend. The tires were completely finished.
I was just hoping that the bike made it around the track.
I knew I had enough time over lunch to open my bike up and take a look at it. So all I had to do was qualify for my race, I didn’t have to qualify well.
I had a ball – super surprised. I was laughing on the little weight bike the whole way, I ended up staying out the entire qualifying.
In your last race, you were racing on a totally different bike, one with a different setup than your own. How did you feel going into that race, did you find it easy to adjust?
I had no time to adjust the bike. I felt so bad accepting my friend’s amazing offer to borrow his machine.
The shifter was regular shift (one down, five up) instead of the GP shift which I’m used to. So it was super hard to remember and I botched my start. I also couldn’t reach the shifter because it was made for a man’s large shoe. I was sooooo nervous getting on the track. It’s not just trying out a new bike, it’s pushing its limits in a race. It was such a tall bike and rode completely differently from mine.
It took me about 3-4 laps in the race and I got the hang of the machine. In that time I fell back out of race-pace and to the back of the pack.
Once I got a good feel for the machine – Oh my goodness the power this bike had available! It made mine feel like a bicycle. All of my nerves fell away and I was SO excited to feel the power and the capabilities of the bike, I ran a 1:13 pro track. That is 1 second off of my normal race time.
Needless to say, I want more power now.
Do you have any major plans for next season, anything in the works you’d like to announce?
Nothing huge in the plans except getting more and more competitive over the winter with gym time and bike upgrades. Next year I will be running more series other than just the Super Series. I would like to travel to other race tracks to compete including a round at CSBK.
And of course Dylan will have his first official race year so I am looking forward to coaching him and watching him grow as a racer.
Finally, do you have any parting words that you could offer to any females wanting to start motorcycle riding or racing? Any advice you can give?
Oh absolutely. My advice is just do it. It’s big and scary, it’s a man’s world and can be super intimidating.
So just do it. If you’re afraid, it means you are on the edge of doing something great. And when you’re out there on that race track, female, male, strong, weak. None of it matters. It’s just engine vs. engine – which is the most liberating part of bikes.
I also want to make it super clear that it’s not easy. Nothing great is easy.
Racing tests your physical limits until you want to drop. It pushes you until your muscles have nothing left to give.
And on the other side – mentally it can be extremely draining. You have a life outside of competing and if things are heavy you will feel that mental drain on the track as well.
There is a huge difference between a race and lapping day. There is a whole other level of commitment to the sport.
This also means that the people that now surround you – the other racers; they will become your family. You all have the same level of drive, exhaustion, and emotions. And that family is like no other. Lining up on the grid with your friends on either side smiling at you and going out there rubbing elbows. It’s the side of racing that I feel isn’t talked about enough.
It’s not a race, it’s a lifestyle.
And they’re not a competitor, they’re your family.
That is why most of us race.
It’s not just a “need for speed”. It’s so much greater.
Thanks for chatting Kayla, looking forward to seeing you back out on track next season.
The second rider that caught my eye on the weekend was Dylan Leclair. Dylan celebrated the weekend in an incredible way, by getting out and racing for the first time. During the Lightweight Production qualifying on Saturday, I was made aware that it was Dylan’s first hotlap session in his career, and might I say, he was up to speed very quickly.
There was a nice moment while the Lightweight Production riders were lining up before their first race of the weekend. Dylan was having a quiet moment, looking forward, preparing for what he was about to take on, when all of a sudden, Kayla Hannaford came with his family on a video call, ready to cheer him on.
It was great to get a chance to chat with Dylan after the weekend, here’s what he had to say.
How long have you been riding, and what inspired you to give motorcycle racing a try?
Started riding this summer, got pretty confident on a cruiser. I’ve been coming to Shannonville for 3 years to pit for and support my lovely, talented and lunatic of a girlfriend, Kayla Hannaford, so I knew it was only a matter of time. She got me out for a lapping day on my birthday and I started doing all the lapping days during race rounds. I surprised myself a little at how quickly I was learning and enjoying it. I just wanted the extra seat time the race weekends offered.
Before going out on track for the first time, what thoughts were going through your head? How did it feel to have your biggest fans watching over FaceTime?
I was just excited to be able to get out and ride. It was pretty cool, I told mom it’d be at least a year or two before I considered racing, so I’m sure that came as a surprise to her. Sorry mom!
You had a great battle in your second race, it was nothing less than impressive to watch. How did you feel about that battle as a whole?
Battling with #42 (Miles Keller) was probably the most fun I’ve ever had. We were running our own race, but I know we pushed each other more and more every lap and it gave me a taste of what racing is all about.
What’s in store for Dylan Leclair with the Super Series in 2022, do you plan on returning for a few more battles?
I’ll be there every round. Can’t wait!
Finally, do you think we’ll see you fighting alongside Kayla for positions next year?
If and when the time comes, the pass will be made out of pure love and the gap I create onwards out of sheer terror. I’d probably exit the track immediately after the race and ride straight home and change my relationship status to single.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to match her skill level. I am incredibly proud of her and extremely lucky to have her by my side at the track and in life. She’s fueled my passion for motorcycles and If not for her, I never would’ve gotten on track, so thank you Kayla, for everything.
It was great to chat Dylan, best of luck in your first full season next year.
Over the course of this weekend, spectators saw a lot of fascinating moments, from riders like Dylan having their first race, to Super Series records being broken by Eli Decache. All in all, I was glad to be back, there was nowhere else in the world I would have rather been on those days, than right there, next to the track, watching the most incredible sport on the planet being celebrated by all in attendance.
Thank you to all of the marshals and track staff, for keeping me, my fellow media, and all of the riders safe over the course of the weekend.
Thank you to Domonique Bondar and Shannonville Motorsport Park for having me out, I look forward to being back next season for whatever series I can.
Finally, thank you to Inside Line Auto for making it happen.
See you all next year for another exciting year of fast laps and good times.
Article and Photography by Trent Flower