Pro cyclist keeps self on track


Last month, Scott Saunders completed a successful campaign at the indoor motorcycle races in the Cow Palace in Timonium. The Hampstead resident placed third in points in the Pro-Expert Division to two full-time riders, Georgie Price and Rodney Farris.

Now he is preparing for the first race of the 1994 American Motorcycle Association Grand National Championship Dirt Track Racing Series in Daytona Beach, Fla., in March.

Saunders is only one of a few professional motorcycle riders from Maryland who races nationally. He has competed on the Grand National Tour from California to Florida.

During the winter, he keeps in shape by competing in indoor events. His last outing at Timonium, a six-race series in five weeks, was one of his best.

"It was awesome. We certainly had a lot of fun," said Saunders. "We were competitive with an old 1976 Harley Davidson 250 c.c. We finished fourth in the first race, then blew our No. 1 engine in warm-ups in the second. But we were able to install a new engine by time trials and turned in the fourth fastest time. But we blew that during the race and finished eighth.

"The third race we didn't do any good because the new engine that we put in was so different, so we didn't get it figured out in time and didn't qualify. On the next race we had it figured out and we set fast time. We led all 15 laps for the Expert Pro win. It was great.

"The fifth race was interesting. We were leading the semifinal race, but having trouble getting off the corner. A guy slammed into me and I did a 360-degree turn and crashed into the wall. At the same time, there was another crash and the race was red flagged when another rider broke his ankle. I ended up getting the win since the race reverted back to the previous lap.

"In the last race, I led 15 3/4 laps and lost it in the last corner, but finished third a half-bike length behind."

Indoor and half-mile dirt racing are quite different. Both have their own dangers.

"Indoor motorcycling is roller-derby type motorcycle racing," said Saunders. "You get a few scrapes and bruises and skin off the elbows. Outdoors, it's another game at 90 mph. I've been fortunate, I have only broken a collarbone, leg and two ribs."

Saunders grew up in a neighborhood where everyone had mini-bikes. He got his first bike at 11. So it was only natural that they raced them and he remembers winning them all.

"I was never athletically inclined," said Saunders. "So motorcycle racing was a nice sport that I could compete in."

It took him two years to convince his parents to let him race. Once he did, he quickly showed signs of being a winner. After high school, he attended Penn State University and raced on weekends. By the time he graduated, he had won seven national amateur titles.

With a mechanical engineering degree, Saunders retired from racing and began to work for Goodyear Rubber Co. in Akron, Ohio, as a machine design engineer. He enjoyed his work, but each time he passed the department that produced motorcycle tires, he missed racing.

Four years later, he left Goodyear to start his own business, ASTEC Inc., a design and manufacturing firm. At the same time, he returned to motorcycle racing, turning pro in 1986.

Since his business was booming, Saunders never ran the entire Grand National tour, but always raced as much of the series he could.

In 1988, he finished eighth right behind Jay Springsteen at Hagerstown Speedway and was ranked nationally.

His sponsors include Zipper's Cycle of Laurel, his bike owner John Kitzmiller, Shoei Helmet, Zoom's Cycle Accessories of Santa Clara, Calif., and Taylor White Racing.

Saunders, 34, thinks he is nearing retirement age, but he keeps coming back. Each time the indoor events start, he returns to compete against the other pros.

He is excited about the AMA Grand National schedule that includes two events close to home, Hagerstown Speedway and Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

"If it wasn't for those races I may have retired," he said.

When the day finally arrives that he retires, Saunders hopes to stay in racing as either a mechanic or owner. Right now, Saunders is looking forward to the Grand Nationals in Florida.

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