I started racing motocross back in the early 80's. I came into the world of motocross just as some major modern era changes started to show up. Travel was reaching 12 inches, water cooling and single shock rear ends were new, amazing technical works bike's marvels that had actually made it into production. Penton had become KTM, Maico was still making the best open class bikes, reed valves were becoming the norm' and Kawasaki was "Letting the Good Times Roll"!
Here I was, 135 lbs, young, dumb and on the world's WORST head shaking monster - a 1979 CR250, my first real motocross bike. Twin shocks, banana swing arm, LEFT SIDE kick starter, drum brakes and a power band that was about 200 rpm wide.
To make matters worse, I suffered from three main problems:
1) Being a fairly inexperienced rider, and on a nasty 250 to boot.
2) Major lack of adrenaline control - the flag would go up, I would pretty much just loose it.
3) Just being a teenager.
But, I had some things on my side too:
1) Youth! Endless energy (and appetite - three burgers was just a "snack")
2) Youth! Strength, agility and endurance.
3) Youth! Hurt from a crash - Nah. Sore after riding - What do you mean? Lack of "sense" - "I can make that jump." - Definitely!
At our local track (please use the word loosely), in the bottom of a sun baked, concrete hard, South Texas floodway, I'd meet my buddies after school and every weekend and we would ride for hours (ah the days of endless energy and no soreness), chasing each other, honing our skills and attempting to get faster and better.
It seemed that I never had any problems with nerves on those days. I never had that serious case of the jitters where my hands shook, knots in my stomach, the sweats; any of those dreaded adrenaline surges. (Well, except when I came close to "the big one" - that dreaded near crash that scares the Hell out of you.)
Then race day would come. I lived for race day. We had, maybe, four or five races during the summer at the real motocross track - another South Texas floodway, but it actually saw a disc once in a blue moon, so it was hard AND lumpy! The local stock car track also held motocross races for half time entertainment twice a month. Anybody with a bike was at the races.
This was what it was all about - racing!
That quest for the checkered flag.
To pull the hole shot
To be the first into and out of the first corner
To be the first one across the finish line
To dominate over the guys I rode with every day after school and on the weekends
To beat the competition that showed up on the line.
Too bad for me - I suffered from serious adrenalization, I became a total flounder!
I'd pull up to the line, wait for the rubber band (yea, you read that right, rubber band!) to snap clear so I could launch my machine towards the first corner and I would just plain loose it. My hands would shake so badly that I couldn't control the clutch. I'd get the sweats so badly that my goggles would fog and drip into my eyes. I'd get stomach cramps so badly that I'd be doubled over on the bike. Sure, it looked like I had my body in the launch position, but I was just trying to hold myself up!
The rubber band would suddenly disappear from view and I'd let the clutch out and get a great view of the sky. I'd fight and claw to keep the bike pointed more or less in the direction everyone else was going. Slamming through the gears, accelerating towards the corner and then reaching that point of "OH NO!! I'm going TOO FAST to make the corner!" By this time, most of the other riders were long gone. I was now fighting with the other guys that suffered from the same dreaded adrenaline surge running through their bodies. I'd grab the brakes - which would put the "monster" into a full lock to lock tank slapper - and just pray that I'd slow down enough to make the corner. If I was lucky, I'd settle down a bit and break into some sort of rhythm with the track and wait for the fast guys to come on by and lap me on the way to the checkered. Like I said, Flounder - complete and total Flounder.
And so went my racing days for the first few years. I still had fun trying to race and loved going out and riding, but the reality of it all was I just couldn't control my nerves. I was in the best physical shape of my life, but the worst mental state for racing. Bummer!
My last bike of my early years of racing was a 1988 CR125. I got married and sold the bike.
Then comes along 1996. I'd been playing with a heavily modified Honda Pilot for a couple years. The idea of racing off road had been a dream for years. I was once again in the dirt, practicing and playing as much as possible. Hoping one day to race my Pilot.
My buddies are all motocrossers. We'd go thrash the tracks together, me in the Pilot, them on the bikes. I was back to the motocross tracks, but in a different light. The problem was that there were few places that would let me run and most of the bikes didn't want a six hundred pound machine flying through the air with them. I was down to only being able to run at Haspin Acres in Indiana and then they banned "off road cars" on the track. I was out of luck. No place left to ride.
On the way home from a snow skiing vacation with my motocross buddies, I decided that I'd had enough. I wanted to get back on a bike. Enter the 1996 Suzuki RM 250 - Bike Of The Year.
I bought my RM on a Friday, I entered an Arenacross race on Sunday! I had a total of about five minutes time on the thing. I'd not been on a bike in eight years, but there I was, sitting on the starting line wondering what in the world I was doing...
The gate dropped, I promptly stalled the bike. Kick, kick, kick - I was away.
WOW!!! Where did all this power come from???
WOW!!! This suspension is amazing!!!
WOW!!! Look at all these guys passing me (I was a lap down in less than a minute). I came in dead last in my heat race, BUT, I noticed something strange: I wasn't shaking. I wasn't sweating. I wasn't doubled over in knots. I was having FUN! Gee, this is a new feeling!
Through out the day I stayed consistent and finished dead last in every qualifier and heat I was in. The following weekend we headed up to Indy for the Supercross race and on Sunday - amateur day - I proceeded to keep my record intact. Dead last in every race I was in. But that dreaded adrenaline surge was missing. I was also experiencing something new - Arm Pump. Gee, why can't I hold on to the bike? Why do my arms hurt so bad? Why can't I pull the brake lever hard enough? Man, I'm outta shape! No, I just wasn't young anymore.
I kept up my racing through the summer and actually begin to get the feel for the bike and break my streak of dead last finishes. I ended up fourth from last at Treaty City! Things were looking up! No more "Pre Traumatic Stress Syndrome". This was great!
I also noticed that if I raced on Sunday, I couldn't move on Tuesday. This phenomenon of arm pump kept rearing it's ugly head and seeing the white flag was the "I Think I Might Make It" sign. ONLY one more grueling lap to go.
I finally got to chase my dream of racing off road. In 1998, Pace Motorsports (the Supercross people) decided to bring indoor stadium racing back to the public. It just so happened that I had a Honda Pilot that was set up for this sort of racing in a class called Stadium Lites. I headed to St. Louis for the first race and ended up winning! I raced against other Stadium Lites from all over the country and by the end of the season, I was in a points battle for first place overall and a real shot at winning the championship. I ended up loosing by two lousy points.
I ended up taking second place overall again in 1999. My racing mentality had changed one hundred percent. In fact, I was so relaxed before a couple of the races that I actually fell asleep in the staging area. It was pretty rude too - "whap whap whap" on my helmet - "Hey, wake up, you need to head out to the track!" No longer did I get so pumped up that I couldn't function. Instead, I was so relaxed and focused that I was able to go out and do battle and do it well.
To this day I still feel very relaxed out on the starting line for a motocross race. I still get a good dose of adrenaline when I manage to screw up and come close to "the big one", but I'm not in it to win it anymore. I know that there are other guys out there that are a LOT faster. But, I always end up with the same group of guys that are my speed and we have one heck of a blast battling it for some position in the latter half of the pack.
I find it quite funny now that the original weakness and strengths of my younger years seem to be just the opposite now.
Things against me now:
1) Being 35 Strength and agility and endurance - yea, I was in shape - 17 years ago!
2) Being 35 Endless energy??? What??? We have to run FOUR LAPS???
3) Being 35 Hurt from a crash - I CAN'T BREATH! Oh, what was that snapping sound?
Sore after riding? - What do you mean after riding? How about during riding and for the week that follows!
Lack of "sense" - "I can make that jump." - Definitely not a problem any more. It's more like "Man, that looks like it would be bad if I missed!" And even though you know you can make it, that little twinkle of doubt keeps you from scaring the snot out of yourself and trying it.
Things on my side now:
1) Being a fairly experienced rider. "Sure, I've done that - it HURT". See the lump on my collarbone?
2) Adrenaline control - the flag goes up, I yawn and wait for the gate to drop. Huh? Did we leave the line?
3) Looking at the 16 - 24 and school boy races thinking "those guys are CRAZY!" Glad I'm not out there with them! Ever watch a 125 C race? Talk about carnage!
There's a scenario of sorts that wanders around the 30+ racers in comparison to the younger guys.
Ever notice that when a kid gets off a bike, if he's physically able (meaning no bone is poking though the skin anywhere) he'll be up and back on the bike before the corner marshal can even begin to wave the yellow flag? They hit, bounce and are often back to the bike before it's finished crashing.
Then there's the 30+ers. We hit the ground and if we're lucky, we'll get rolled over enough so that our face isn't still in the dirt. About this same time the corner marshal will have made his way to us and always seems to mutter the same phrase: "You all right?"
Usually, you've had enough time to do the "nothing's broken" self check and reply back "Yea, but I think I'll lay here for a while."
"What's a while?" the marshal will query.
"Tomorrow morning."Return Home