BEST OF JODY’S BOX: WHY “HOME SCHOOLED” IN MOTOCROSS PARLANCE IS CODE FOR “UNSCHOOLED”
By Jody Weisel
Motocross has become about the wrong things in the last three decades. When you pull into the pits and see gigantic motor homes with equally enormous trailers, disgorging six motorcycles for little Johnny Junior to ride in the 9-to-11 Beginner class, you know that something is wrong with the system. You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Johnny is home-schooled, which in motocross parlance is code for “unschooled,” or that mom and dad are living vicariously through this ten-year-olds exploits. A glance at the license plate on these”Taj Mahals on Wheels” reveals that the family has come from ten states away to race a relatively meaningless event held in some remote corner of the country just so that Johnny can claim to have won something to pad his resume. It is a resume, that in 98 percent of the cases, will only succeed in getting him more illiterate, less socially adept, and increasingly unemployable as he works his way up the amateur ranks. Its no secret that I come from a different generation; but I’m not embarrassed by my roots enough to start wearing a diamond earring, a crooked hat, a beanie in the summer or have ear buds permanently attached to my head, just to try and stay in touch with the times (that I think are totally off base).
Call me a curmudgeon. I won’t be offended, because that only means I’ve been around long enough to have seen the growth of the sport from the very beginning (and it case you don’t know, I’ve seen its shrinkage since the days when they sold one million dirt bikes a year) and come this weekend, like every weekend, I will see what it’s like today. I’ve seen motocross history through the handlebars of my 1966 Benelli, 1968 Sachs, 1972 yellow tank CZ, 1974 Hodaka Super Combat, 1981 RM250 Full floater and on every motocross bike ever made as my job as an MXA test rider.
Modern motocross isn’t what it was 10 years ago, 20 years ago or 30 years ago. It’s worse. Much worse. And I’m not talking about AMA professional racing. The AMA has been royally mismanaging Pro racing since time immemorial (I’ve never had any expectations that the AMA would ever get anything right — ever). I’m talking about local amateur racing. And its lifestyle of excess and stupidity.
Would I have liked for my father to pawn the house, quit his job and spend every waking minute devoting himself to my racing career (albeit back in 1970)? No. First of all, the parents of the first generation of American motocrossers didn’t know what motorcycle racing was. It was inconceivable for them to support a brand-new sport that they thought was somehow related to the Booze Fighters trip to Hollister (yeah, yeah, yeah, you don’t know what that means). Would I have liked my dad to have bought me a bevy of machines so that I could attack the Amateur circuit? In truth, my dad did buy me a 1966 Benelli 125, but there was no amateur circuit for me to attack. In the end, my father never came to a single one of my motocross races. He was busy putting food on the family table and bombing other countries for the U.S. Air Force. Am I angry at him for not being there for me? No. I respect what he chose to do and know, in retrospect, that by doing what he did best, he instilled in me a desire to do what I did best.
Because my family supported me by feeding me, paying for my education, and loving me (regardless of how long my hair was), I struggled to become a motocrosser on my own. I learned most of my lessons by making mistakes. When I couldn’t afford a new part, I tried to jury-rig a replacement out of paper mache or whatever would work. Did I struggle? Not really, because I loved what I was doing. No one was forcing me to do it. And, I was the sole judge and jury on whether I was fast enough or not. My dad, unlike Jimmy Weinert’s dad, never wrote “You Stink “ on a pit board and drove away from the track before the race was over. When I stunk, I knew it (and probably had time to stop and write it on my own pit board). I learned the lessons that come from working for what you get. When someone gave me something, I cherished it beyond belief. I didn’t expect it. It wasn’t my birthright. Thus it was like manna from heaven.
I think that the racers of the ‘70s enjoyed the sport more than the racers of today. We weren’t under any pressure to perform (other than the pressure we put on ourselves). There was no pie-in-the-sky multimillion dollar career at the end of the rainbow back then. We didn’t race to become rich…quite the opposite. We came to the races in Datsun pickup trucks, with one set of three-year-old leather pants and a well-used open-face helmet. If we had extra cash, we invested it into our machines. If we got a deal, it was a ten percent discount and a free shop jersey. If we hit the big time, it was for bike and parts.
I appreciate every race I was ever in. Not because of how I did, but because I was rider, wrench, truck driver and chief bottle washer. I had to learn how a bike worked because lots of times they didn’t work like they were supposed to. When I couldn’t afford new Girling shocks for my CZ, I drilled holes in the worn out ones to drain out the oil, replace it and braze the holes shut. I laced my own wheels; testing cross-three, cross-four and, amazingly, cross-six patterns to try to keep the spinning orbs in one piece. I slept in my truck at the front gate. I drove 16 hours without stopping on Friday night and 16 hours back on Sunday night, so that I wouldn’t miss any school. I made friends that have lasted me a lifetime (largely because we shared the same hardship and joy). We were forged by our common experiences.
Nobody bought it for me. Nobody told me what to do. Nobody critiqued my performance from the front seat of a motor home. Nobody mortgaged my future so that they could live vicariously through my success. And, you know what, nobody did that for the guys I raced against either. We may have been teenagers, but we weren’t kids.
Today, when I see one of those rolling pit palaces pull into our local track, I’m not envious. I feel sorry for the kid.