BY JODY WEISEL
I look at motocross a lot differently than most people. Years ago, it stopped being the adolescent, macho, testosterone-strutting thing that it was when I was 18. You know what was so good about when I was an 18-year-old motocross racer? I lived through it. I managed, by luck of the draw, to jump stuff just because it was there, let my friends cajole me into riding pieces of junk faster than they should have been pushed, and believed that somehow my worth as a human being came from the ability to go fast on a motorcycle.
I egotistically thought motorcycle racing swirled around me—and me only. In essence, I was identical to today’s 18-year-old motocross racers. I was deluded into thinking that my sponsors were in business to put stickers on my bike, that European promoters paid my way across the pond because they liked me, that I was the only one who knew that the AMA was corrupt, and that every spectator on the side of the track was watching my every move.
Now that I’m a few decades away from being fast, I see the folly of my ways. Today, I understand that my sponsors thought I was a necessary, but evil, putz (because that is what every sponsor thinks of the riders they support). Today, I know that the European promoters only wanted me because I was cheaper than the guys who beat me regularly (and my competitors turned down the money I took). Today, I know that everybody with a pulse thought the AMA was inept (I was the only guy who took the time to tell them to their faces). Today, I know that nobody was watching me as I styled down the track (they were waiting for their brother, boyfriend or the guy whose pants were falling down to come by).
I don’t remember the exact moment when I came to the realization that motocross, even though it was my job, was not really work. Yes, it pays me well, but it garners no respect at a shoe clerk convention. Ricky Carmichael may be a big star to a few thousand motocross fans, but he ain’t doodly to a baseball, basketball, football or bowling fan. He isn’t even as important in the world of sports as Jody Scheckter (look him up). Shockingly, as we go down the pecking order, you begin to see that if Ricky isn’t important in the grand scheme of things, then some D-list racer from the early ’70s couldn’t carry Scheckter’s luggage. Sports stardom is fleeting. It doesn’t just fade as the years go by—it fades as the days go by.
Years ago, I went surfing in Hawaii during the middle of the Supercross series. I didn’t waste any valuable water time looking up the race news for the two weeks that I was gone, so when I got back I asked my friend, “Who won?” He told me, and I said, “Oh.” It actually registered deep in my psyche that once the race was over, I didn’t care who won. A couple days later, I found out that my friend actually got the names of the winners wrong. That only made last week’s results matter less.
I’m not trying to degrade the victories of Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart, Ryan Villopoto, Chad Reed or last week’s hero. Au contraire. They are awesome riders with terrific careers. At the moment when they are winning a race, it transcends the failings of mortal men. But when they aren’t racing, they are just another group of elitist sports stars living a life of idle decadence. Professional racers like to tell you how hard they work and how tired they are, but it can’t be true, because I’ve seen steel workers and I’ve seen professional motocross racers—and training, testing and racing a motorcycle ain’t work compared to smelting ore.
So, unlike you, I’m impressed by professional motocrossers only at the exact moment that they are up to speed—not before and not after. What they do, what they achieve, how much money they make, what they eat for breakfast or what they think doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in my world. Their highs aren’t mine, and I don’t care about their lows. Not surprisingly, they never give a thought to my dilemmas, either.
What matters in my world is more specific and much more important. Was my clutch slipping at the end of practice? Should I change it? Do I have any clutch plates with me? Where could I borrow some plates? Do I have to remove the brake pedal or can I depress the rear caliper pistons to get the pedal low enough to get the cover off? Couldn’t I just shim the clutch springs instead? Do I have to drain the oil filter cavity along with the transmission? Does that guy with the box van have a spare oil filter? What if I tear the clutch cover gasket when changing the plates? Is the tranny drain bolt a 12mm or a 14mm? Did I just drop the brass drain plug gasket into the oil pan? Which clutch cover holes did these long case bolts come out of?
I’m not saying that Eli Tomac and I don’t share the same concerns about our clutches. It’s just that I am a lot more involved in the solution. How do I know? Unlike him, I have oil on my hands.