By Jody Weisel
I’ve never been the fastest guy. Most of what I achieved on a motorcycle I did with determination, fitness or blind luck. Oh, I have a 1976 Closed Course World Land Speed Record, was the CMC number one Vet Pro in 1984, finished second in the Over-40 Expert class at the 1988 World Vet Championship, won the REM number-one plate in 1994 and got the Edison Dye Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018. If I dig deeper into my resume, I could dredge up a third in the 1979 Mexican Supercross Championships and a handful series wins. Not a great career, but the best I could do with my limited talent.
My biggest regret? I always wanted to win the World Vet Championship. Well, not always, but once I became too old to win anything grander. I love the World Vet Motocross Championship—perhaps because it came into being at a time when motocross racers used to be put out to pasture. It saved thousands of racers from spending their golden years mowing the yard on Sunday and turning their garages into storage for their wive’s pottery collections. With the explosion of Vet racing, not only did old guys like me get new life breathed into their racing, the sport got a boost that has kept it alive during the lean times.
I don’t find it too much of stretch to see motocross bikes becoming very much like hot rods. Whenever you see a ’47 Ford Woodie or ’57 Chevy Apache pickup truck tooling down the highway, the guy behind the wheel always has white hair (if he has hair at all). Strangely, hot rods were once the entry-level bastion of teenagers who couldn’t afford a Fairlane or Roadmaster. Today, only old coots can afford to tuck a small-block 327 into a ’32 T-Bucket. It’s not a stretch to see that the future of motocross will be dominated by old guys with the money to build the trickest bikes and the free time to race them.
I am one of a very small handful of riders who have raced 35 straight World Vet Championship since it was founded in 1986 (largely because Tom White, Alan Olson and I brainstormed the idea of a Championship race just for riders over 30). I have raced in the Over-30, Over-40, Over-50, Over-60 and Over-70 classes to no avail. Over the years, I’ve had good days and bad days. I even came close to winning, lo those many years ago, when I was a much younger man. In 1988, in the Over-40 World Vet Championship, I finished second overall to nine-time World Vet Champion Alan Olson. In 1990, I finished fourth in the Over-40 Championship, and 25 years ago I was sixth in the 1997 Over-50 World Vet Championship. Except for my one trip to the podium 33 years ago, I’ve watched from down the leaderboard as Gary Jones, Alan Olson, Tom White, Kent Howerton, Rich Thorwaldson, Zoli Berenyi, Lars Larsson, Eyvind Boyesen, J.N. Roberts, Hans Hanssen, Thorlief Hanssen, Jim O’Neal and Brent Wallingsford beat me.
I’m not angry that they beat me. They were faster and deserved it. I’m more familiar with losing motorcycle races than I am with winning them. I’m proud to have shared the track with these greats—even if I still had a half a lap to go when they were popping the champagne cork. It should be noted that I never expected to get younger or faster the longer I raced. I accept my increasing decrepitude as part of the cycle of moto life. I still feel good on my bike. I’m still racing hard. I’m still taking chances. I’m still fighting for my place in the pack, but now my place in the pack is near the back. Que sera!
For me, racing has always been about the camaraderie of competition. There is something special about hanging out with a group of like-minded racers who share your passion. They speak the language of motocross. Better yet, their experiences, cultural references and sports knowledge are all in sync. We have a collective consciousness of Mantle and Maris, Heikki and Ake, and Nixon and Carter. We lived through the transition from the telegram to carbon paper to rotary phones to mimeographs to ticker tape to FAX machines to email. Yet, we all know the true meaning of “down for low.” We race because it is what we did when we were young, and we see no reason to stop now.
Best of all, Vet racers are ears-out as opposed to ears-in.