About the MotoSpecta Project

About the MotoSpecta Project

I once did a bit of amateur road-racing and what I enjoyed the most was the camaraderie between riders and the close communities they create. The MotoSpecta project is my way of staying in touch with and sharing some of the good things that happen in and around these communities.

Early morning riders meeting. STT – Barber, 2004. photo by Darryl Cannon, Powerhead Productions

A Photo-documentary

John Merlin Williams* – STT Grattan, 2004. Photo by Charles Severance.

MotoSpecta is my personal project to document what I think are some of moto-racing’s most interesting aspects: the people, activities, and culture off the track — behind the scenes and around the edges of this fun and engaging sport.

With few exceptions, the whole site is a portfolio of my own photographs with descriptive captions. I refer to this as the “National Geographic” method for story-telling. A few images in the “About” sections were taken by others and are credited wherever I know of the photographer.


MotoAmerica is growing the spectator experience of road racing in the U.S. MotoAmerica – Road America, 2018
Spectating really can mean a lot more than just watching. MotoAmerica -Pittsburgh Int’l Race Complex, 2017

The name “MotoSpecta” was created in part because there is a meaning of “spectate” and “spectator” in historical uses that emphasizes “being there”; to be physically present in contrast to viewing or just watching.

How it started — GLRRA and STT

MotoSpecta grew out of a single day of shooting B&W film photos at a road racing event with the local club I belonged to. I had borrowed a 35mm camera and a single roll of film at the last minute before leaving for the track. That was in 2000 (see “Racing Buddies“)

Since my teens I had been commuting and touring on bikes – all solo activities. In 1999 I ran my first track day at age 49, then went to race school the next year to get my racing license at 50. From 2000 to 2002 I raced with GLRRA, the Great Lakes Road Racing Association, founded by Eric Knacke, a really hardworking entrepreneur, video and events producer, and racer. GLRRA was similar to WERA, tightly run, highly focused on safe racing, with most of the races at two Michigan tracks: Grattan and Gingerman.

At first, being on track was exhilarating but terrifying. But track time and racing soon became one of the best things that ever happened for my mental health. A lot has been written about how that works (e.g., the “Flow” experience); I’ll just say it was great therapy.

GLRRA – Grattan Turn 1, 2000. photo by Nick Devinck
STT – Barber Turn 1, 2004. photo by Darryl Cannon, Powerhead Productions

What surprised me was the enthusiastic community of riders willing to welcome the newbie. That experience of a highly competitive, individualized sport made possible by a close knit community of racers and friends has stuck with me and is the reason I started MotoSpecta to document it.

The most experienced GLRRA racers set the tone for the whole paddock. Once they sussed out that you weren’t a showoff or know-it-all, and you showed you were serious about everyone’s safety, you could be part of a close community based on a shared trust, passionate enthusiasm, and a whole lot of fun.

I was struck by how much everyone was willing to help each other. Tools, spare parts, suspension settings, riding advice – all shared readily – as long as you remained trustworthy and reciprocated. One of my first weekends at a new track, the father of a fellow racer, a former racer himself, walked the track with me pointing out things I probably never would have figured out on my own.

I was also impressed by the spectrum of people who made up this race community and track day participants: engineers (lots of them), a chemist, a dentist, college and high school students, software engineers (lots of those as well), a luthier, home-builders, the owner of multiple auto dealerships, motorcycle dealership owners and service techs, a vice president of the largest electric utility in the state. Even a physician in my own doctor’s group practice was racing (maybe why my doctor gave me so little flack about racing).

Barber Paddock – STT South Trackday, 2004

GLRRA was recast as The Midwest Cycle Fest in 2002, its last season. I raced one more season with a different association at the only rounds they held in Michigan. It just wasn’t the same, so I switched to running trackdays at the time Monte Lutz and Bonnie Strawser launched Sportbike Track Time (STT). They were another great team who created a successful and well-run organization that continues on, 20 years later, under new owners.

Communities of racers probably have a lot in common with other groups of enthusiasts, but I have to believe the risks associated with moto-racing create a special kind of group experience. A fun race, where no one had a serious get-off, seemed to generate a shared sense of accomplishment for everyone in that session. As if we had played a good game as a team even though we competed on track as individuals.

Happy GLRRA racers and friends – Gingerman, 2001. photo by Dawn (Van Kampen) Pisto

I see the same spirit in other racer communities

In the years since I last was on a race track, I’ve seen how the sense of camaraderie permeates all forms of moto-racing and enjoy meeting people in amateur and professional racing everywhere I go.

*John Merlin Williams – occasionally I get asked about the “Merlin” in my name. My dad’s family came from Wales and Merlin is not uncommon; it was my great uncle’s first name and passed along to me. When Google search became a thing I discovered there are many, many John Williams in the world (and a good many John “M” Williams too). I’ve included my middle name Merlin for the last 20 years. Of course, it could have been my maternal grandfather’s name: “Nenotaro”. My mother was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan.