By Jody Weisel
I have been very lucky in my racing life. In many ways I’m probably the luckiest man the sport has ever seen. Note that I don’t assign any of my good fortune to an abundance of talent.

My first stroke of genius, which is a fancy way of saying I had nothing to do with it, came from an accident of birth. I was born at Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco at just the right time to be old enough to race motorcycles when the sport came to America in 1968. Any sooner and I’d have been a dirt track racer and any later and I’d been part of the great unwased masses who discovered the sport through the movie “On Any Sunday.”

My second stroke of genius was to get fast enough, at the right place, and right time to make the cover of Cycle News in 1974. There was no internet back then, there were barely any jungle drums to communicate who was who in the sport, but there was the weekly issue of Cycle News. It sat on the counter of every motorcycle shop in America and sold for $0.50. Being on the cover was a big deal, it sprung me from my obscure Texas racing roots to media darling overnight (of course a week later I was under the ejection end of 10,000 parakeets).

My education was important to my parents—and there was no way that I could disrespect the faith they had in me by dropping out of the University of Texas or later North Texas State University to chase around the country in a van with my bikes in the back. So, I spent nine years in college pursuing a Bachelors degree, Master’s degree and Ph.D in gerontology. I scheduled all of my classes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, even though it meant signing up for some three-hour night classes in order to free me up to drive around the country in a van with my bikes in the back. I’ve used the education many more times than where the best place to start on the gate at Lake Whitney was.

My luck held in that I had help when I was rising through the ranks and, more importantly, sinking back down through them. Marvin Foster at Hodaka, the Bradshaw family at Big R Cycles, my loyal mechanic/competitor Laroy Montgomery, Cycle News owner Sharon Clayton and my boss of 40 years Roland Hinz. For every time I got cocky, they brought me back to earth.
My sudden fame, after toiling as a test rider for products and motorcycle manufacturers, got me bigger and better offers. And because of “stroke of genius number one,” I was old enough to see the light at the end of the tunnel—and that light was looking a little dim for a guy with only a modicum of natural talent. Or as they say in cycling, “Leg speed goes before leg strength.” I was grinding out results with determination against guys who never lifted a weight or cycled 100 miles in their lives. They were fast without understanding what a blessing that was. I was ready to give up the weekly grind of trying to earn a living by doing well. I was on to something much grander—earning a living no matter how well I did. As a test rider I got paid—win or lose. You don’t know what kind of relief that is for a racer who is pushing past 25 years old. I was where Ryan Dungey is today, only 40 years ago (and without the $1,000,000 bonus checks).

Some are born to fame and some have it thrust upon them. I was thus thrust. After my cover boy gig, Cycle News made me offer to come to the head office in SoCal and run the newspaper. Once there, I got offers from every motorcycle magazine to join their merry bands of prankster. In December of 1976 I chose to go to MXA. It wasn’t the most money. It wasn’t the biggest magazine. It didn’t have the merriest pranksters. It was in fact, a very small magazine, And, when I got there, there was no one else around. Editor Dick Miller was in a body cast, and would be for the next year, Associate Editor Paul “Bazzer” Boudreu ran off to become a priest and cartoonist Curt Evans disappeared. But it was the only magazine exclusively about motocross—and that’s what I was about.
Because of lucky happenstance I have ridden virtually every motocross bike made since 1972, most works bikes and untold thousands of project bikes. I know in great detail everything there is no know about the 2017 Honda CRF450, but also the 1973 CR250—and every Honda in between. It is a vast reservoir of worthless knowledge, but it was pure joy collecting it.
In motorcycle racing you start out slow and get fast, but what no one ever tells you is that eventually you return back to slow again. Oh, it may take years for Ryan Dungey to get to the speed that I find myself at today, but he will make it. I can only offer him this sage advice—I’m happier slow than I ever was fast. I’m happy just to still be racing every week.


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