BEST OF JODY’S BOX: SHAKESPEARE COULDN’T WRITE A BETTER SCRIPT THAN THE WEEKLY MOTO WARS

By Jody Weisel

To many people, modern professional motocross racers are the human equivalent of veal: pampered, coddled, well fed, unaware of the world around them and grown for slaughter. They hide in their semi trucks, far from the prying eyes of the public, then emerge, garbed head to toe in a harlequin disguise only to vanish back into the cloistered world of the big rig. They are heroes, moto-rock-stars; above the fray.

I’m not sure that I agree that athletes can be considered heroes in the classic sense of the word. There is something shallow about a society that thinks that diving higher, jumping further, slam dunking better, singing louder or riding faster makes an athlete into someone that we should emulate in our everyday lives.

Even though we have a foolish desire to think of them as heroic figures, they are just men doing a job (and remember that this is the same job that millions of Americans pay to do as a hobby). So, why do we idolize them? We are caught up in the melodrama, the stagecraft and the theatrics of athletics. Shakespeare couldn’t write a better script than the weekly moto wars. On the field of play every man struggles to overcome the obstacles placed in his path—the leading man does it with ease.

TO THE PUBLIC THAT ADORES HIM, A MOTOCROSS STAR IS LIKE A WAR HERO—BUT WITHOUT THE BULLETS, SACRIFICE, PATRIOTISM OR RESPONSIBILITY (ALTHOUGH HE DOES HAVE A UNIFORM). HEROICS ON THE PLAYING FIELD ARE IMPRESSIVE, BUT IN THE GRAND SCHEME OF THINGS ISN’T IT ALL GOING TO BE REPEATED NEXT WEEK?

To the public that adores him, a motocross star is like a war hero—but without the bullets, sacrifice, patriotism or responsibility (although he does have a uniform). Heroics on the playing field are impressive, but in the grand scheme of things isn’t it all going to be repeated next week (and wasn’t this same saga played out weekly on American soil since 1968)? The accolade that best applies to sports stars is not hero, but winner. It is concise and doesn’t make direct comparisons to firefighters in burning buildings or Marines dragging wounded buddies out of a fire fight in Fallujujah.

Historians agree that the role of the American hero has changed in the last few decades. The public’s expectations are different than when Lucky Lindy braved the Atlantic. Because of our intrusive electronic community we know much more about our sports heroes than in any other era. Tomac, Webb, Roczen, Ferrandis, Anderson, Barcia and Sexton can’t have toilet paper stuck to their shoe without the internet posting photos. The backlash is quite obvious: because we have the capability of knowing so much about our sport’s stars, we actually know very little about them. Because they cannot stay pure and untainted in a world where anyone with a computer can defame their character, they take the same route as the reclusive Howard Hughes.

In reality, motocross fans know nothing about today’s star except that he makes lots of money, appears in advertisements and is someone they want to be just like (until he starts losing, in which case they want to be just like someone else). Too much TV, too many flashing images, too much stimulation, too short of attention spans and too little lives of our own have made fans turn sportsmen into Betty Crocker heroes (just add water).

The question that begs to be answered is who are the heroes of motocross? I have my personal list, and it will different from yours, Roger DeCoster’s or your Aunt Mildred’s because it doesn’t use speed, victories or income as a basis. My list is based on human qualities. Who made my list?

That old gang of mine. From left to right: Bill Keefe, Lance Sallis, Steve wiseman, Jody Weisel, Mitch Payton, Mike Monaghan and Steve Ballmer in the days of Pro Circuit Husky.

Mitch Payton. You don’t get to be the “world’s great tuner” without dedication, hardwork and a passion for what you do. I never think of Mitch as being in a chair, I think of him as a guy who knows no limit in what he can achieve.

Doug Henry. Tragedy is the forge that produces men of steel. Henry’s tale is one of overcoming epic reversals. Bravery in the face of insurmountable odds is conspicuous.

Tony DiStefano. When three-time AMA 250 National Champion Tony D was seriously injured, his career shattered and his life permanently altered, he never missed a beat. Life after his accident was the same as before—and so was he. It is a lesson that he credits Mitch Payton with teaching him.

Bob Hannah. It’s easy to bite your tongue and spew the corporate doublespeak. Hannah never took the easy way. He walked the walk, but, best of all, he talked the talk. The Hurricane never left you wondering what he thought.

Chuck “Feets” Minert flat-out, sideways in the rocks with only an Armco barrier between him and swim in the Pacific Ocean. This is what it took to win the Catalina Grand Prix.

Feets Minert. He raced his first motorcycle race before I was born (and that was a long time ago). Most importantly, the BSA factory rider still raced every week until the age of 83. And, he did over over 5000 races with grace before leaving us.

Jim Weinert. Nobody walks away from a factory ride over principles. The Jammer did. It effectively ended his career, but you have to love a guy who doesn’t let a paycheck run his life.

Mark Blackwell. When fate handed Mark lemons he made lemonade. A stone in the eye ended his motorcycle career, unless you count being Vice President of Suzuki, Husqvarna, Polaris and President of Victory Motorcycles.

Kevin Windham. Everyone has human failings, but Kevin is the only modern day racer to wear them on his sleeve. I love him for fighting the good fight against the demons we all face.

Pete Snorteland. You don’t know him, but he was a top five AMA National rider who struggled with cancer. He would race, have stomach surgery, race again and have surgery again. He never mentioned it. He just gave life his all (until he lost it).

Travis Pastrana. Recklessness doesn’t disqualify a person from hero status, especially when it is done in such a charming, personable and outgoing manner. A smarter Travis Pastrana would be a ten-time AMA National Champion today, but a smarter Sergeant Alvin York would have just stayed in his WWI trench and forgot about the Congressional Medal of Honor.

BEST OF JODY'S BOXjody weiselmotocrossmxa