This picture was taken at the famous Mammoth Mountain Motocross race in 1988. I am aboard one of the best all-around bikes I have owned, a 1987 Honda CR125. Pre-race nerves aside, and notwithstanding the awesome "Team Fat Boy Nervous" hat I am wearing, I was fully in my element. Moments like this are what I have always lived for, even though I must admit some anxiety, nerves, excess adrenaline, butterflies and apprehension as I went through preparations for the race.
This race was a big deal for me and my buddies. We had, of course, read about the Mammoth race for years and always wanted to sample the legendary track nestled in the confines of the Mammoth Mountain ski resort in Northern California. Every motocross racer who ever rolled a knobby in the dirt knows about Mammoth and for many it is truly the one "must attend" event of the year, a chance to get out of the summer heat, and away from the dry, dusty tracks of Utah, left behind for the cool climes and rich, loamy soil of the high mountains. A chance to roost on hallowed ground that was the playground of so many of our heroes like Jeremy McGrath, Ron Lechien, Ryan Hughes, Doug Dubach and almost any other up-and-coming motocross idol you can name.
The Honda 125s of the late 1980s were super great bikes. They had been spawned from the omnipotent Honda works bikes of the mid eighties, super trick hand-made creations that were hewn from the most exotic materials and with technology that pushed the boundaries of performance and refinement. Honda was known for being the gold standard in quality and speed ever since the early Elsinores invaded the scene in the early 1970s. The production bikes that were offered to the hungry local racers, especially the 1986 and 1987 models, were solid handlers, tight turning, fairly stable, and had quick mid-range-and-up motors. The suspension was good in stock form, but my bike had something special: an Ohlins shock.
I can't take credit for the great modifications this bike already had when I bought it from my good friend Mark. It had been massaged by a great local tuner named Perry Payton (no relation to Mitch) who worked with some of Utah's top pros. Mark always liked to have the best equipment and partnering with Perry was a natural, producing some really smooth and fast motorcycles we were all envious of. By the time I got my claws on it, the lightly-used Honda was ready to rock, well-broken in and meticulously maintained. That easy life all changed when I got it as much happy roosting and berm-bashing ensued.
I was always more of a rider than a wrench. I will say that I was good about keeping the oil changed and new tires installed, but for the most part maintenance was just a necessary evil to keep me in the saddle and doing laps. The life that was left in the mechanicals was the currency I spent on fun, and the ebbing usefulness could be felt draining from one's sled as the months passed, ever advancing to the inevitable rebuild.
That point came in the last few weeks leading up to the spot on the calendar that we had marked off as THE event of the century, the much-anticipated Mammoth Mountain Motocross. As I was making my preparations for this monumentous occasion, I realized the transmission was in need of some attention. I think it was some missed gears, or maybe just some hesitation when the shift lever was forced upward in search of forward thrust, but something was amiss and the timing could not have been worse.
This chapter in my moto-history was post-serious racing. I had long since stopped racing every weekend and had been more of a "practice" rider with some events thrown in just to give the activity some purpose. I had been racing in some +25 veteran class events for the last couple of years and was clearly past my prime as far as speed was concerned. But the fire for the sport still burned bright in me, as it still does to this day. I have always loved the preparations and the ever-narrowing focus that comes from setting a race goal and putting myself on the start line to do battle. There are always moments leading up to the race that cause you to wonder just what the heck you are doing, and if all the emotions, sweaty palms and nervousness are worth it.
This photo reminds me of an exquisite irony I encountered there at Mammoth Mountain. I had spent weeks carefully attending every detail of my race preparation. I rebuilt the transmission on that Honda. I cleaned and re-cleaned every nook and cranny. I had new tires with new tubes just be be safe. I had every spare part you could reasonably carry to California. Every tool was polished and nestled in my tool box. Every detail was inventoried, checked, double-checked and rallied to the cause.
I was as ready as you could be for this race. And I was super wound up as you might be able to see in the photo. Tight was maybe a better word, and I rode like it. It was one of those races that seems like you are just flying at top speed as you are being passed right and left by everyone you were ahead of off the start. I was blowing through berms, braking half way down the big downhill, skimming the jumps, all the while gripping the bars with an iron grip. I had a predictably poor finish and was, honestly happy to get off the track with my good health intact.
As I was riding my shiny bike back to the pits, I noticed a local California racer unloading his bike from the back of his pickup truck. His Yamaha was a couple of hard-ridden years old, and dirty as it could be with mud and dust sticking to every surface. He was wheeling the bike down an aged piece of wood that was as grimy and scarred as a loading ramp could be and as he reached the mid way point of his offloading precedure, the whole carcass of a bike slumped off the side of that rickety ramp and thumped to the ground, chunks of debris flying. Just another race day for that guy. Oh and he was relaxed, joking with his buds and grinning away. It left an impression on me and I vowed to never lose sight of having fun again.