BEST OF JODY’S BOX: SHAKEN, NOT STIRRED
By Jody Weisel
Ryan Hughes, who was no stranger to the occasional on track swingfest once said, “If you’re not fighting over first place, it’s hardly worth the fight.” But often it is riders who are having bad seasons, personal problems or self doubt that end up in these embarrassing pit-side brawls. There is always the post-fight finger pointing about who started what, but most pros should be aware that a race track is their job site. I don’t know about the corporation you work for, but there aren’t many who smile upon one of their employees giving a round tattoo to a guy from accounting over by the water cooler. The AMA doesn’t have time to play Judge Judy to find out who fired the first shot in anger. Thus, often the guilty and innocent both get the heave-ho from the rest of the activities.
From my experience, a motocross fight normally hands out damage equivalent to that of a pillow fight in the Delta Phi Epilson sorority house on prom night. What is scary isn’t the fight, but the actions that lead up to the majority of motocross slap fests. Motocross bikes are 220-pound guided missiles. When piloted with the intent to do harm, they are weapons. Dangerous weapons. Someone could be killed. It may sound melodramatic, but I know from experience, because in my racing career I’ve used my bike in the same way that Dirty Harry wielded his Magnum .44. In the process, people, not me, went to the hospital. Shamefully, I always ended up going to the hospital too—to apologize.
A fight always starts the same way. The guy behind you makes a move that you consider to be too aggressive. You, or in most cases, I, retaliate with a world-class brake check in the next corner. He takes the same umbrage to my, or your, retaliation that you, or I, took to his first move. To get even, he runs it in so deep in the next turn that a collision is only avoided by you, by which I mean me, swerving off the line. Now, you (which is really I) are very angry, so you hold your bike wide open into the next turn with the full intent of knocking him down. Sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t, but regardless, you have started a war not unlike the Israel-Palestinian affair—it could drag on for years.
Once, at the Sand Hill track during the California Golden State series, I was racing in the Vet Expert class against George Lazenby, whose claim to fame was that he played James Bond in the movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” I felt that George, who was in fact a good racer and a nice guy, was aggressively blocking me by swerving. With each questionable move I got hotter and hotter. Unfortunately for James, I mean George, a lap later he failed to protect the inside line at the bottom of the downhill. I plowed him. He went down—both shaken and stirred. I’m not exceptionally proud of what I did, but there was a certain amount of self-admiration in the little flip of my elbow that I gave his bars as he ricocheted off the course.
Perhaps I should mention that while George, I mean James, was a Hollywood actor, he had been a Sergeant in the Special Forces of the Australian Army (with a specialty in unarmed combat) before he became a movie star (with the emphasis on the singular of “movie”). After the moto was over, all six feet, four inches of James Bond, I mean George Lazenby, strode over to my pit with all the swagger that you would expect from an angry Aussie. I thought about putting my helmet back on, but it was too late. The can was about to be opened. He towered over me, backlit by the late afternoon sun, and glared with his fists clenched. I expected a Mad Max explosion, Mel Gibson rant or at the very least a Russell Crowe mumble.
Slowly, with lips curled into a snarl, he said in a lilting twang, “G’day mate, you were riding like a bushranger out there. You owe me a new set of handlebars.” I started to laugh. Not knowing what a bushranger was, I wasn’t sure how to react. Certainly Mr. Bond, James Bond, was the first rider that I ever knocked down that asked me to pay for the parts that I broke on his bike. I gave him the Aussie salute and mustered up my best Queensland accent to say, “Hit the frog & toad, you bludger.”
James, I mean George, let out a hearty laugh and we were fast friends for years. But, I never ever thought about replacing his handlebars.