BEST OF JODY’S BOX: CHEWING THE FAT IS ALMOST LIKE BEING THERE
By Jody Weisel
I was digging through my gear bag last weekend when a young racer I know came over and sat down next to me on the tailgate of the Jodymobile. He was about 15 years old, but despite the age difference we chatted easily about the sport. I was in moto 13 so I had a lot of time to waste before my “four laps and a cloud of dust” came up on the agenda. I think the kid probably wanted to ask me something, but he was more than willing to engage in chit-chat before springing the question. As part of his small talk, he asked, “How did you get started as a racer?”
“My first memories of motorcycles was sitting on my father’s Sunbeam S-7 when I was a little kid. I was fascinated by the steering damper and would spend hours turning it left and right. My biggest thrill was when my father would prop me up on the British twin’s gas tank and rocket around the neighborhood. I hung on to the steering damper knob and whenever we came to a turn I would crank it in the proper direction. My father didn’t seem to mind.”
“No,” said the kid, “Not just motorcycles, I mean dirt bikes. When did you first start riding dirt bikes?”
“Oh,” I said. “I was in high school and my father bought me a stamped-frame Puch 125. I remember that bike vividly; the transmission looked like a watermelon and the air-cooled cylinder was shaped like a pine cone. Gary Jones had one just like it and, even today, we revel in telling stories about popping wheelies so high that the steel rear fender would drag across the ground and shower out sparks. I loved that. My father was a little perturbed when the rear fender of the Puch started to disappear.”
“What’s a Pook?” asked the kid. “Was that your first motocross bike?”
“The first time I saw a motocross bike I was sitting on my surfboard waiting for a wave of any kind to come rolling in across the horizon. Then I heard a rumble. I thought it was a big wave, but it was coming from the beach. It sounded like a runaway chain saw. It blasted out of the sand dunes and did a couple donuts on the low-tide beach. I paddled in and fell in love with its purposeful look. I bought a used Sachs 125 a week later.”
“What year was that?” asked the kid.
“I won’t tell you the year, but Graham Hill was the Formula 1 Champion, Barney Fife was a TV star, Rosemary’s Baby was a hit movie and Paul Friedrichs won the 500cc World Championship on a CZ. That was a great year.”
“WHEN I STARTED RACING, A GALLON OF GASOLINE COST $0.21, A MCDONALD’S HAMBURGER WAS 15 CENTS & YOU COULD BUY
A HODAKA SUPER RAT FOR $425. I BOUGHT MY FIRST BRAND-NEW DATSUN PICKUP FOR $2100.”
“Did you win the first race you entered?” asked the kid.
“Heavens no,” I said. “My ignorance about motocross was tantamount to all-encompassing. At my first race I lined up next to a guy on a Parilla. His rear tire had turned blue from running on the hard-packed dirt. I stared at it for a few seconds and then leaned over and asked him where I could buy a blue tire like his. He reached over and hit my kill button.”
“I must have been cool to be a racer back in the golden oldie days,” said the kid.
“Racing motorcycles back then wasn’t like it is today,” I said. “Bikes weren’t maintenance-free back then. You had to be a mechanic just to get through practice. Those old CZ’s and Bultacos would only get about ten miles per spark plug. Our shock absorbers were junk. We had to learn how to drill holes in our Girling shock bodies so that we could change the oil. In 1973 I turned my Boge shocks upside down to emulate the ones on the Honda works bikes. The first time I hit a bump all the oil squirted out. I didn’t care. I thought they looked trick upside down, so I rebuilt them every week. My bike had solid aluminum handlebars that snapped like a twig in a stiff breeze and my grips were made from surgical rubber that corroded in the smog. Surgical rubber was big back then, we used it as a starting gate also. You haven’t lived until you’ve been whip lashed by 50 feet of snapping rubber tubing.”
“Was racing expensive back then?” asked the kid.
“When I started racing, a gallon of gasoline cost $0.21. You could buy a McDonald’s hamburger for $0.15. The most expensive race bike cost $1100 and you could buy a Hodaka Super Rat for $425. Entry fees were $3. I bought my first brand-new Datsun pickup for $2100.”
“What’s a Datsun?” He asked.
“That’s what they called a Nissan back in the day.”
The kid had been an apt listener. Rarely do you find a 125 Junior with the patience to listen to anything without guitar feedback. Just then some of the kid’s friends came walking by and he got up to join them. As they walked away I heard one of the teenagers ask, “Did he lend you a tube?”
“No, but he probably could have tapped a rubber tree and built me one,” replied the kid.