Todd Clark demonstrates his riding ability on the track. (Special Photo: Raul Jerez)
CONYERS — Most men in their 50s have outdoor hobbies that move at a decidedly deliberate pace – golf, hunting and jogging are the first things that come to mind.
But Rockdale County resident Todd Clark, 52, still feels the need for speed.
Clark, an electrician for Smyrna-based Action Electric who works at General Mills in Covington, has been a motorcycle enthusiast for nearly 15 years, and even though he’s cut back on his racing schedule, he has in no way slowed down.
“I can’t ride as fast as I used to, but when I find no enjoyment in it, I’ll throw in the towel,” he said.
Clark’s first cycling experience came as a teenager growing up in Stone Mountain, when his father bought him a dirt bike. After his father sold the bike, Clark bought another motorcycle after getting married at the age of 21, but soon the expense of raising a family won out over the expense of keeping a ride.
“I didn’t buy a bike until after I got married, but biking is an expensive hobby,” he said. “I sold it after about a year and didn’t ride again until I was 39 years old.”
Convinced by a friend to get back on the road, Clark purchased a high-performance sport bike but found he preferred riding in the North Georgia mountains to weaving his way through metro Atlanta traffic.
“I’m probably not a true cyclist,” he quipped. “I don’t like to ride in the cold, rain or the city. It’s too hard to focus and enjoy riding at the same time when you’re always driving defensively.
“So I rode in the mountains for about a year, which was my racetrack. That’s where I learned to ride around corners and to get up into the triple digits.”
But even mountain riding didn’t scratch the itch, so when Clark’s friend rented a 1.3-mile road racing track in Anniston, Ala., he went along reluctantly but soon found his motorcycle niche.
“My friend talked me into it and soon I was hooked – I fell in love with the track,” he said. “I still rode on the streets some, but I realized that sport bikes were meant to be ridden at the track.”
Clark joined a race organization and because of his age was slotted in Novice Division of the “Crusty Old Racer” class (which was later called the Senior Superbike class). He raced as a Novice for three years, finding immediate success, and at the age of 43 won the organization’s Southeast Regional Championship, which meant he was kicked upstairs to Expert status.
“Expert level is a whole ‘nother world,” he said.
“I knew if I got in that class, I’d be racing against former and future professionals and I figured I’d lose interest because I wouldn’t be winning anymore. So I had my first race in 2005 and won it, which told me I had a shot in this class. So I put together a race program to accumulate points and won the Southeast and Mid-Central championships.”
The next year, his oldest son started college, so Clark sold his bike and went into semi-retirement, but he found he could not stay away from the track.
“Once it gets in your blood, it never leaves,” he said.
So he joined with friends to compete in endurance races, where four riders share one bike in four-hour timed races. He suffered his only serious injuries – a broken pelvis and a broke collarbone — in an endurance race when a mechanical failure at 60 mph sent him over the handlebars and into the hospital.
It wasn’t long after Clark healed that he heard the call of the track again, this time in a slightly different format. While Clark continued to race periodically, he also started teaching at the Ed Bargy Racing School and became a coach for X-Act Motorsports.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Clark said of teaching and coaching.
“I still do one or two races a year, but I spent 12 to 14 weekends a year teaching and working at the track. There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush you get on the grid when the green flag drops, and I can just about get that fix through coaching. I’ve found it very fulfilling to work with people, especially the new guys.”
Clark adds that racing has been a family affair. He said his wife Missi (a Rockdale County native who works at Rockdale Medical Center) has always been his biggest fan and is generally with him at the track. His sons Andy and Austin also have had some racing experience, primarily as corner workers at the various venues where Clark has competed.
While his enthusiasm for racing hasn’t waned, Clark knows that at his age “things don’t heal quickly, but they do break easier,” so he has contemplated stepping away from the sport.
“I think about it every year,” he said, noting he’s really not strong enough anymore to expertly handle the high-performance machines he sits upon.
“It’s always going through my mind, and when I make that decision, it will be the hardest decision I’ll ever have to make. There’s a cycle in my garage and a trailer in my driveway and I have refused to part with them.”
Although he doesn’t know what he’ll latch onto next after he finally finishes racing, he already knows what he won’t be doing.
“I don’t think I’ll ever play golf,” he said. “I did a little of that years ago and it’s just too boring.”
Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.