When my father died I wrote a “Jody’s Box “column that many people have told me had a profound effect on their lives. They often ask if I will reprint it for them. I did re-run it ten years after his passing. After a continuous flood of requests, I re-ran it again 25 years after his death. It’s no secret that the typical motocross racer of today is much older than motocrossers were back in the glory days of the sport, and as motocross racers get older, the more likely they are to have to come to terms with the loss of the most important man in their lives—their dads. So, on this Father’s Day I have decided to run the most popular “Jody’s Box” ever one more time. It pains me to do it because, after all these years since his passing — it still feels like yesterday. So, here is the column I first wrote in 1986.
I’m sad to say that my father never saw me race. He passed away over 35 years ago, and like most sons I have tried to evaluate every aspect of my relationship with him. This self-examination is partially motivated by guilt about not having been a better son, and by reminiscences about the good times we had. No matter how you compute the quotient of human interaction, a son always comes up wanting in his relationship to his father.
I can’t remember a time in my family when we didn’t have motorcycles. As a child my father used to put me on the tank of his Indian and go roaring down back roads. You’d think with an upbringing like that, my father and I would have shared motorcycles and motorcycle racing. We didn’t. Somewhere between putting a five-year-old Jody on his gas tank and an adult Jody choosing to race motorcycles for a living, my father and I drifted apart.
Maybe it was the long hair of the ’70s. Maybe it was the college radicalism. Maybe it was all the Christmases I failed to come home for. Maybe it was because I gave up the career in baseball he had so studiously trained me for. Maybe it’s because I went surfing in far off places instead of staying home. Maybe because I wanted to put the state of Texas far behind me.
Or maybe it was because we were so much alike that neither of us could bear to look at our own respective pasts and futures. Maybe. Maybe. I’ll never know.
My father never saw me race, and that is phenomenal when you consider how many years, tracks, events, motos, machines and countries I have raced in. My father never asked how I did, and I never told him. Now, he’s gone these many years and all I remember is that I never asked him if he wanted to go to the races with me.
Lots of people go through life the way my father and I did — short talks on the phone, promises to come home for the holidays and occasional cards. I never thought much about the family thing during the “me generation.” And I never thought about the connection between motorcycles, my father and myself. Motocross is a great sport, but it is an even better family sport. My father loved sports. He loved mechanical things. He loved motorcycles. Motocross, unlike football, soccer or a zillion other team sports, allows a father and son to work together in unison to achieve a goal. There is work to be done, advice to be given, jubilation to be shared and depression to be warded off. One twists wrenches, the other twists throttles and not sharing it twists at your heart.
Oh yes, I’ve seen terrible father/son relationships at the races, especially at the minicycle races. Some minicycle fathers get their worlds confused. They forget that when they are at the races they are part of a partnership—a cooperative, 50/50 relationship that demands equal respect. Too many fathers think that they are doing the riding. It’s not true, and when you try to become the Svengali of a minicycle racer, you are bringing the stresses of everyday life out to the track…Take out the garbage, get a holeshot, clean your room, go faster, go to your room, pass that guy in the next moto, do your homework, shift up. Too stressful.
My father never saw me race, and I’m poorer for it. I would have liked to have shown him that I could do something really well (even if I didn’t do really well). I would have liked to have met him on my own terrain. I would have liked to have taken advantage of his eccentric way of seeing things. I would have liked to have driven into a track with him by my side and asked, “Where do you want to pit.”
Motocross may seem like a lonely sport—man against man—but it really isn’t. It’s a sport that binds people together. It makes people share experiences and in motocross these experiences can be quite extraordinary. It is a gregarious sport because a race is never over until it is shared (over and over again). The events become more vivid when they are relived, more real when they are compared and more fun when they can be laughed at.
My father never saw me race. Maybe he wouldn’t have like it. Maybe he would have written “You Stink” on the pitboard, and walked away. Maybe he would have parked next to some tattooed 250 Novice with a penchant for blasting heavy metal from his 1000 megawatt speakers. Maybe my bike would have broken on the part of the track farthest away from the pits, and he would have had to help me push.
Maybe if my father had seen me race it would have been the biggest disaster imaginable. You know the kind of day. You forget your boots. Miss practice because you went home to get them. Get stuck in the gate in the first moto. Run out of gas on lap four because you forgot to fill the tank in the rush to get there. Drive away from the pits with your helmet on the roof of your truck, and have a tie-down come loose on the freeway.
It doesn’t really matter whether the races would have gone smoothly or not, or even if my father never came to another race. If only he had come to one, then at least I’d have shared with him something that is important to me.
My father never saw me race. I hope you can’t say the same thing.