By Jody Weisel
Old guys at speed.
In a parallel universe, I would be a gray-haired college professor teaching gerontology to a bunch of students more interested in doing Jagerbombs than learning the importance of chi-square in the scientific survey. I’d probably be wearing a cardigan, peering over reading glasses and attending staff mixers at the University of Texas. One thing is for sure: in that alternative reality, I wouldn’t be taking any chances (save for flirting with the occasional young coed). That is life for most men of my era, age, education and mind-set. It is the life I was prepared to live by virtue of nine years of working on my Bachelors, Masters and Ph.D.
In that world, the riskiest thing I could do was fail to publish an updated version of my seminal work on the “Local/Cosmopolitan Orientation Of Aged Blacks And Whites.” It would be a staid life made all the more secure by university tenure and social security. When it comes to taking chances, the biggest risks people of my potential ilk take is to play poker, parasail at Sandals or take the Atlantis Submarine ride at Waikiki.
Three-time Over-60 World Champion Bill Maxim.
So here I am, barreling down a long, fast, steep and
bumpy Glen Helen downhill on a 54-horsepower motorcycle with a bunch of
men of a certain age. They could be dentists, insurance agents, car
dealers or plumbers, but to me they are arch-rivals, enemies,
competitors, and soon to be the honored dead (if only I can catch up to them). In my never-lived
parallel universe, we’d be sharing cocktails at the country club
between rounds of high-handicap golf. Instead, we are racing motorcycles
at the highest level possible and at the oldest age imaginable.
19-time World Vet Champion Doug Dubach.
HOW DID IT COME TO THIS?
How did it come to this? In my case, there is a simple reason for my
transition from future somber college professor to maniac motocrosser—I
got paid to do it. Plain and simple—I'm a mercenary. Going to college allowed me to pursue my motocross career without having to work for a living (kind of the opposite of the current high school drop-out scenario), but there came a point
where the money from testing motorcycles was greater than what North
Texas State University was willing to pay me to teach Social Research
Methods 101. So, I know why I’m racing motorcycles. I’m a hired gun, but
what is that 67-year-old Volvo dealer doing next to me? We are locked
in mortal combat with little to gain and a lot to lose.
Talent wise, Vets are to Ryan Dungey what the Mexican Air Force is to
the Blue Angels. But thrill wise, we are getting more than enough of an
adrenaline rush to power 100 defibrillators (which the guy we just
passed on the uphill looks like he is going to need after the moto is
Pete DeGraaf has won the Over-50 World Championship four out of the last five years (Toon Karsmakers beat him in 2008).
"Old guys going fast." That may sound good, but it isn’t exactly accurate. Perhaps, old guys going way too fast
for their age is more to the point. We, and by that I mean all
motocross racers over the age of 30, are the saving grace of American
Read that again...carefully—because it is important and
rarely said. In a motorcycle market where bike sales have gone down 20
percent every year for the last four years, how much longer can the
sport of motocross go on without new blood? The answer? As long as there
are old codgers with money to spend on the sport of their youth. With
$8400 motocross bikes, $100 tires and $450 helmets, this isn’t a sport
for the young at heart (and weak of pocketbook). Nope, you gotta be old
to afford to race motorcycles, or cars, or airplanes, or offshore boats
or just about anything short of strollers. Older motocross racers
are what is keeping race promoters, dealers and hop-up shops alive.
These gray-haired old dudes are the power-elite. They are the heroes of
American motocross—even if they aren't heroes in terms of speed anymore.
Six-time World Vet Champion Gary Jones has won titles in the Over-30, Over-40 and Over-50 classes. Oh yeah, he also won the 250 National Championship four times (when he was young).
The best thing about motocross is that it is the cheapest Grand
Prix-level sport in the world. For $10,000, men of a certain age can
race on the same equipment as the high-paid stars of the sport and on
the exact same courses. You couldn’t buy the tires for one pit stop in
NASCAR for what it costs to do a full season of local motocross.
And, 16-year-olds, (which we all used to be) are no longer
the consumers that fuel the motorcycle economy...in fact, it hard to
find very many 16-year-olds (except at the motor home conventions that pay contingency money). But, if you throw a stone a
few feet at most SoCal local races, you will easily hit two 40-year-old investment bankers and one
50-year-old fireman. In fact, at the tracks I race at, with two rocks I
could hit a majority of Hollywood's stuntmen.
Do you find it hard to believe that Ron Lechien is over 40 years old?
IN OUR YOUTH-OBSESSED CULTURE
In everything but motocross, men of a certain age are virtually
powerless in our youth-obsessed culture. Time is no longer a friend as
much as an enemy. The psychological factors of growing old in a society
that favors abs over experience can only lead to what is
euphemistically called a “mid-life crisis.”
There comes a time when
knowing how to fix a washing machine means little in a consumer society
where they just throw broken things away and buy new ones. You know when you buy something that has electronic controls that there is no way you can ever fix it (think fuel injection and programmable ignitions).
That is something that your grandfather or father never had to
consider. Things were never truly obsolete back in the good old
days—now, not only are "things" obsolete, but so are men of a certain age.
They have skills, but no place to use them.
Lars Larsson was the professional racer that Edison Dye brought over from Sweden to introduce motocross to Americans. He won the Inter-Am 500 Support class championship in 1970. Then, 31 year later won the Over-60 World Championship in 2001. Then, ten years after that he won the Over-70 Championship in 2011.
For many of the old men still racing motocross, they often think back 30
years ago when they were 18-years-old and had scraped up enough money
to buy a used RM125 two-stroke. They reminisce about the joy of working
on it, jetting it, changing the fork oil, and racing it with the
reckless abandon that is normally only reserved for a night on the town
with Charlie Sheen. They remember how their mothers felt when she found
out that they were racing motorcycles. She cried. Somehow, when she
cried, they knew that they were onto something really fun. I think
Sigmund Freud wrote that anything that makes your mother cry is worth
Doug Dubach just keeps on ticking. "The Doctor" won his first World Vet title in 1993. In fact, in 2007 and 2009, he won both the Over-40 and Over-30 Pro classes.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s a shame to waste young lives in the
meaningless pursuit of motocross stardom—because when young people
achieve something, they don’t know enough about life to appreciate it.
To me, it is much cooler to waste old lives in the pursuit of
motocross stardom...at least the Vet class version of it. There is
nothing like the head rush that a 54-year-old, dressed in cosmic-yellow
nylon, gets from stuffing a chiropractor from Atlanta at speeds
approaching 13 mph.
Motocross racing is wasted on the young. There is nothing sadder than
some 12-year-old minicycle racer showing up at the races with a bevy of
bikes, a 54-foot motor coach and a middle-aged dad sweating in the sun.
For this picture to come into proper focus, Junior needs to be sitting
in the motor home playing “Call of Duty” for the tenth straight hour
while dad gets dressed for his moto. If Junior wants to race, he can get
a paper route and pay for it himself.
That's what I did.
There are those who say that motorcycle racing is too dangerous for men
of a certain age. That’s stupid. What are the dangers left for a
63-year-old...after all, he’s really just marking time until his
oncologist tells him what kind of cancer is going to get him in the end.
It’s sad that old people don’t risk their lives more often—it would
make living a few more years seem more precious.
Ryan Hughes has won the Over-30 World Vet Championship four times.
OVER 26 YEARS AGO
Over 27 years ago, Tom White, who is now racing in the Over-60 class,
asked me, “Why don’t we hold a motorcycle race and only invite guys over
the age of 30?” It seemed like a good idea at the time, largely because
both of us were over the age of 30. Thus, the World Vet Championships
were born. When you think about it, the World Vet Championship is, in
essence, an event that wouldn’t have happened if Mr. White’s mother had
believed in birth control back in 1950.
Ryan Hughes (4) and Doug Dubach have traded the Over-30 World Vet title between them for 15 years, but their string has been broken on occasion by Erik Kehoe (1996), Spud Walters (2003), Casey Johnson (2006) and Kyle Lewis (2008).
Over the following 27 years, all kinds of cool things have happened at
the World Vet (and in Vet racing across the nation). It is easy to
recite the highlights, like wins by four-time 250 National Champion Gary
Jones, Rocket Rex Staten, Warren Reid, Erik Kehoe, Ryan Hughes and Doug
Dubach; but the real highlight is that the men of a certain age who
showed up at the first World Vet Motocross Championship in 1986 are
still racing the same event in 2011. That first year they only had classes
for riders over 30-years-old and over 40-years-old. Today, there are
racers who have won World Vet Championships in the 30-, 40- and
50-year-old classes ...and they aren’t that far away from turning 60. If
you look back to the 1986 AMA Nationals, you won’t find a single rider
still racing at the top level anymore...no Dymond, Holland, Bowen,
Warren, Liles, Storbeck, Bailey, Ward, Johnson, King or Fisher. Not so
at the World Vet.
It is not unusual to go to a local race in SoCal and find that the vast
majority of the racers are over the age of 40. Why? Obviously the high
costs of racing favors riders who are well established and leading
stable lives, but this has probably always been true to some extent.
real reason is that the old guys care about the sport. They didn't
start racing because they heard that you could make a buck at it. They
don't want to be Bubba. They aren't slaves to fashion. They don't need
to be cool. The truth is that most modern Vet racers had raced motocross in the
1970s and 1980s—and they loved it. That love never died...and while they
may have gotten a little paunchier and a lot slower, the passion for
racing still remains.
BSA factory rider Chuck "Feets" Minert was a star of American motorcycle racing in the 1950s and 1960s. The Catalina Grand Prix winner has never stopped racing...and he raced his first race in 1947. That was 64 years ago. You can find him still racing today.
Yes, but where does Vet racing all end? Where does a crazy life like
this lead? Motocross is hard work—even at reduced speeds. Obviously, you
can’t keep going on forever. The oldest big-name racer at the World Vet
Championship has traditionally been 80-year-old Feets Minert. The former BSA factory rider, Trans-AMA racer
and Catalina Grand Prix winner (in 1956) started racing in 1947, and 64
years later he’s still at it. The AMA told him back in 1971, when he was
40, that he was too old to keep racing.
He didn’t listen to them. I
hope you never do either.