This article is about one thing. One thing we miss, one thing we love, one thing that sticks out in the minds of motocross fans or at the very least, this one.
Under the category of endangered species, you’ll find some form of numbers which are placed individually on your number plates. Made from one solid colour of glossy vinyl material. In the early days of motocross, individual numbers weren’t just the most popular way to identify you motorcycle, it was the only way. As a replacement for physically painting your number one the number plates themselves, numbers, and the placement of them, was one of the ways to set yourself apart from the rest of field.
When motocross was in its infancy, your number was not as much ranking or used for status as much as it was simply a way for race officials and lap counters to keep track of the competitors coming across the line. In fact, until the 1990s AMA rule stated that a competitor’s number had to be visible from all three number plates as well as both sides of the competitor’s helmets which is why you’d over see a racer’s number incorporated into their helmet paint job as well as displayed on a plastic flag fastened to the helmet in the case of a mud race. By rule, it had to be there. After all, lap counting was commonplace and still used a backup in case of transponder failures all the way up until 2001 or so.
Until the invention of preprinted backgrounds and “graphic kits” racers and mechanics had the tedious task for lining up numbers nearly every weekend. More durable than painted numbers but for those who have had the pleasure, lining up numbers the night before or even the morning of a race was pure frustration. Much like installing graphs, there were a select few smooth operators who made sticking numbers on straight look like a walk in the park and there were even a few tricks of the trade but for most mere mortals like me, placing numbers was just a pain.
Some of you might be old enough to remember how certain racers would set themselves apart from the rest of the pack by altering the numbers just slightly to create a font that would become a calling card for that athlete. Ricky Johnson’s number 5s from 1986 are maybe the best example of this.
Although individual numbers have been replaced be preprinted number plates and graphic kits, you can still grab some nostalgia from your local shop and relive the nerve-racking experience of having one shot at lining things up just right on your number plates.
Whether Individual numbers falls into the category “Here’s the thing we miss” or “Here’s the thing that drove us nuts” is very much up for debate, but one thing is for certain: there aren’t many feelings quite like getting your numbers positioned just right along with a hand full of stickers on your back fender from companies who definitely do not sponsor you.
If you feel like your life isn’t frustrating enough, get yourself a flesh set of number plates and go man go. I wish you luck.
Big Dog, out.