With “All Hallow’s Eve” knocking on the door of an already scary trip around the sun, I wanted to offer some downright frightening aspects of our beloved sport of motocross. Let’s break it down into a top five, shall we?
5.) The Modified Pipe and Silencer
This one goes way back to those delicate and sensitive early days. I’m talking, 50cc and 65cc times, circa 1987. Everything is either awesome, weird or intimidating. You have to have cool gear, cool stickers on your bike and things just have to LOOK somewhat similar to the other kids on the gate.
I remember the first time I showed up to Wamego, Kansas, and saw my arch nemesis Robbie Skaggs already had his bikes on the stands in front of their trailer. His ominous “#44” machines were always immaculate, but something was different about his 65cc. As I wiped off the fog from our motorhome window and looked at it, I immediately got butterflies. His normally black muffler was this brilliant silver and it was shaped differently. The pipe itself was also more wild looking. It wasn’t black, it was this amazing bare metal color. I had to get to the bottom of it, so I jumped out of our rig and ran over to his bike. His Dad came out and started it and right then and there and my day was over, he had already won.
It made the most terrifying (but incredible) sound I had ever heard and as the exhaust came out of the oval aluminum silencer I swear it even SMELLED different. And much faster. I had one myself two weeks later.
4.) The Water Truck
You know those incredible days at the races when you were an early moto and the track was perfect? Not the first moto, because it’s hectic getting from rider’s meeting to the starting gate sometimes. I mean like moto 3. You rip a holeshot and the track had lines, traction is optimum, and you feel invincible. Sometimes the problem is there are 20 classes. AND an hour-long intermission. Meanwhile, the sun had burned through the clouds and the breeze had picked up. Yep, it had gotten dry and dusty. You think, “It’s cool, they’ll water right before the second motos start.” Then you remember the first two motos are the pee wee classes. “Oh, no.” You take your number 1 gate pick and push to the line. You think you are in the clear, then you see the sketchy infield worker put down his cigarette and pick up his walkie talkie. “Yep, he’s walking towards the water truck.” To me, there is nothing sketchier than going full send on lap one after a freshly watered hard pack track. No way. I never won any of those motos in 30 years of racing.
3.) Flagger Gestures
Motocross is dangerous and brutal. There just isn’t any sugar coating it. Kids that spend their childhood riding and racing moto are not normal kids. They see things that aren’t normal and by the time they are 14-16 they are hardened. But, every once in a while, a racer will be sitting on the gate, eyes closed, playing his song in his head and getting “right,” when something happens that instantly triggers fight or flight reaction. I was on the line at Ponca City in 1993 for the NMA National Championship. I broke my foot in practice but won my first moto in 85cc stock 14-15 and had a shot at the title.
There was a historic and HUGE jump to the left of the starting gate and the 250cc C class was finishing up their last lap. I was getting ready to fire up my bike when I heard a scream to my left. Looked over and saw a guy mid pack send the double, come up short and get ejected 20ft. off the track. That was bad enough. Then, the flagger runs over to him while waiving his yellow. After the pack clears he drops his flag and waives his arms widely over his head in a severe panic. He was gesturing towards the ambulance. Then, he takes his arms and hands like he is holding a broom stick and makes a gesture like he is breaking it over his knee. Then, he points to his femur on his right leg. He does this twice.
I looked to the rider on my left and he looked at me. We said nothing, just looked down at our gas caps. We waited 20 min for them to load him up. That is fear.
Still won that title, though.
2.) The Bog
There are a plethora of sounds that racers know. Even when asking a bro about how to hit a new double or triple you can hear and know exactly how to hit it. However, there is a sound that all racers know and fear. Sometimes it happens on the holeshot at altitude when you can’t figure out your jetting (most of you may not know what that is), other times it happens in a corner when you get greedy with the clutch in the wrong gear. That said, the only time you don’t want to hear it is on the face of a jump. If it was bad on two-strokes, it was far worse during the early four-stroke days before EFI.
It really doesn’t matter if it is a 90 ft double, or a 20 ft step up out of the corner. When you pray to the throttle gods on the takeoff and they do not respond, you instantly know things are going to get really bad. You can either abandon ship or go down with the ship. It’s a toss-up as to which one works you worse.
1.) Spoon #43 at Loretta Lynn’s
I’m not even sure if they do this anymore, but in my day we drew spoons at the Loretta Lynn’s Amateur National Championship. Months of prep, training, new bikes, new gear and the most intense pressure of your young life. You go out and rip practice and see your lap times are solid and go to the staging area and wait. I always used to go up early and try to see who pulled the spoons in the 40-43 range and watch them put it back in the bucket. Sometimes I would close my eyes and pray. With your eyes closed you envision something like 7, or 12, or at worst 20. The most gut punching fear I have ever felt in my life was opening them and seeing 43. That is bad. All you can do is hope someone is spooked about the far inside gate and leave it open. But, they don’t. Then you push to the far outside gate, look over and see 42 front fenders to your inside. That is fear.
Well, these stories are also what makes motocross the greatest sport in the world. It is what makes the initiated strong people. Suffice to say, above the average line of pain and determination. Have any scary stories of your own? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and maybe he’ll make you famous.