By Jody Weisel
“My husband and I will do anything to help our son Tommy make it to a factory team,” said the mother of a young rider that I know. He’s a nice kid, who has shown a good spread of speed since moving to the Intermediate class a year ago.
“That’s admirable,” I said to the the kid’s mother, “and I want to be the first to wish that you fail.”
“You meant to say, ‘wish that you succeed,’ didn’t you?” she asked with a startled look.
“No,” I said. “I hope that Tommy never gets one iota faster. I hope he stays an Intermediate for the rest of his life and never makes it to the AMA Nationals.”
“That’s petty of you,” she said. “You’re just jealous because Tommy might be the next Eli Tomac and you don’t want him to become rich and famous.”
“You are wrong,” I said. “I hope he becomes rich and famous. Have you ever considered medical school or a career in investment banking? There are lots of ways to make money— motocross is not the best way.”
“How can you say that?” she asked. “Do you know that James Stewart made eight million dollars a year?”
“Did you know that the 20th place guy made $7900 a year and broke both legs at Hangtown. He is just now walking after nine months,” I said.
“You can’t compare James Stewart with a privateer?” she said.
“Sure I can,” I said. “They both put their pants on one leg at a time, they both have AMA Pro licenses, they both go to the starting line at the same time, they both pay the same ridiculous AMA entry fees and they both showed the same potential when they were Tommy’s age.”
“If you’re worried about Tommy not making it, you can put that out of your head. Tommy has a lot of talent. He is going to be a star,” she said haughtily.
“For his sake, I hope you’re wrong,” I said.
“Why don’t you want Tommy to succeed?” she asked.
“Do you know what the best day in a motocrosser’s life is?” I asked.
“No,” she said, “What is it?”
“The best day is the day he turns Pro. It is a rite of passage. It signifies that he has achieved the goal of reaching the elite of motocross racers. It is a glorious day. Do you know what the worst day in a motocrosser’s life is?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “What is it?”
“The worst day is the day after he turns Pro. Motocross will never be as much fun as it was after that day. It becomes a business and every time he rides people will be critiquing him. Every race will be a do-or-die test of his manhood—and for every 40 riders on the line, only one comes away content. And even he is scared to death.”
“What does the winner have to be scared of?” she asked.
“The same thing as the other 39 guys—losing. When winning is all that you are judged on, losing becomes a phobia. And, there isn’t a single AMA Champion out there who hasn’t met past champions and worried that pretty soon he’ll be standing on the sidelines just like them. No matter how fast and famous you are, stardom ends with the checkered flag of your last moto. From that moment on, with each passing minute, you are less famous than the moment before. Until eventually, you become the person that young kids ask, ‘Who was that guy?”
“But at least, you will have been famous—unlike the guys who never make it to the Pro ranks,” she replied.
“No one can miss what they don’t have,” I said. “Beginners, Juniors and Intermediates aren’t embarassed to be called ‘slow.’ They know that the world is populated by people faster than them. They can race motocross for the rest of their lives, happy in their ignorance and slowness. Not so for a Pro—he is constantly worried about his place in the pecking order. He is paralyzed with fear that he will get beat by some guy that is lower in the hierarchy than he. Over time, Pro racers have to quit racing because they can’t take the pressure of having to be fast. Being fast is a burden, not a blessing.”
“Yes, but they quit rich,” she said.
“Rich, but unable to participate in the sport they love because their image would be damaged, their psyche injured and their facade of perpetual greatness cracked if they got beat by a bunch of nobodies. It would be better to be a rich plumber who races, than a rich racer who has to call a plumber.”
“Why would you rather be a plumber?” she asked.
“Because then I could race my whole life without ever worrying about what the mass majority of unwashed critics think about me. A racing plumber doesn’t care if people think he’s slow. He may be slow, but he can always get better. He has room to improve. Not so with AMA Pros—they top out just before they bottom out. As for a plumber who races, all he cares about is going to the starting line next weekend—for the next 30 years.”