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, ivy covered walls 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.
But instead, 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 as a tenured college professor, I’d be sharing cocktails with the headof my departament 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.
The winningest World Vet Champion ever — Doug Dubach.
VETS ARE TO RYAN VILLOPOTO WHAT THE MEXICAN AIR FORCE IS TO THE BLUE ANGELS
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 to old coot on a scoot. I got paid to do it. Plain and simple — I’m a mercenary. Going to college for nine years 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 and products was greater than what North Texas State University was willing to pay me to teach Social Research Methods 101. So, I quit the academic scene and went racing full-time. Thus, 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 slow-motion mortal combat with little to gain and a lot to lose.
Talent wise, Vets are to Ryan Villopoto 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 over). “Old guys going fast.” That may sound good, but it isn’t exactly accurate. Perhaps, old guys going too fast for their age is more to the point.
Canadian Pete DeGraaf won the Over-50 World Championship 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011 (Toon Karsmakers beat him in 2008, Pete Murray in 2012 and Doug Dubach in 2013).
We, and by that I mean all motocross racers over the age of 30, are the saving grace of American motocross.
Read that again…carefully — because it is important and rarely said. In a motorcycle market where bike sales went down 20 percent a year for five straight years (starting in 2007), 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 $9000 motocross bikes, $120 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.
Seven-time World Vet Champion Gary Jones has won titles in the Over-30, Over-40, Over-50 and Over-60 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’s 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?
I THINK SIGMUND FREUD WROTE THAT ANYTHING THAT MAKES YOUR MOTHER CRY IS WORTH DOING
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 pro 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 years later won the Over-60 World Championship in 2001. Then, a decade after that he won the Over-70 Championship in 2011-2012.
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 doing.
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. He just keeps on winning and is now in his 50s.
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 and while injuries have ended his dominance — he still remains an inspiration to older riders.
IT SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA TA THE TIME , LARGELY BECAUSE BOTH OF US WERE OVER THE AGE OF 30
Back in 1986, 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 (and sponsored by Tom’s company, White Brother’s Cycle Specialties). 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 was broken on occasion by Erik Kehoe (1996), Spud Walters (2003), Casey Johnson (2006) and Kyle Lewis (2008).
Over the following 28 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 2013. That first year they only had classes for riders over 30-years-old and over 40-years-old. Today, there is a racer who has won World Vet Championships in the 30-, 40-, 50- and 60-year-old classes. 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. Many of the riders who were at the first Vet World Championship race in 1986 are still at it today.
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.
The 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 just kept on racing into his 80s…and he raced his first race in 1947. That was 67 years ago. This year he will be honored with the Edison Dye Lifetime Achievement Award at the World Vet.
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 83-year-old Feets Minert. The former BSA factory rider, Trans-AMA racer and Catalina Grand Prix winner (in 1956) started racing in 1947. 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. Come to the 2014 Dubya World Vet Championships and shake Feets hand.
The 2014 MTA World Vet Championship will be held on November 1-2,2014, at Glen Helen Raceway. For more info to the www.glenhelen.com