ONE PHOTO & ONE STORY BY JOHN BASHER
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By John Basher
Motorcycle manufacturers have unique ways of showcasing new product. During my tenure at MXA I’ve been witness to the various ways that brands try to gain exposure with the media. From invitations to dealer meetings, flying to the Canary Islands for a world model launch, shooting skeet in Upstate New York with the media relations manager from Husqvarna and singing karaoke in South Bend, Indiana, with the Kawasaki brass, I’ve done it all. In my younger years I loved traveling around the world. It was all in the name of motocross. There was a time when I didn’t care where I was going, just as long as I was going somewhere.
The 2012 Kawasaki KX450F introduction was a doozy. The marketing team at Kawi brainstormed ways to unveil their radically new bike. After all, the 2012 model was the first KX450F with Launch Control, adjustable footpegs, plug-in maps, and a host of refinements that were made to an already great package. Hence why Kawasaki wanted to break out the red carpet. Greg Lasiewski and crew decided break ground with the KX450F on the prolific Red Bud circuit. Once the track was decided, they booked rooms at a swanky upscale hotel. The stage was set. I should admit that by the summer of 2011 I wasn’t so excited to hop on a plane as I once was. I had set next to more than my fair share of crying babies. Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist the urge to go, especially given that I could bring one of my closest pals, MXA test rider Dennis Stapleton, along with me.
Two days at Red Bud was more than enough time to ride the 2012 Kawasaki KX450F. However, there were several things working against us in our quest to put the most time on the hour meter of any magazine. (1) Southern Michigan in the summer is brutally hot. It was 95-degrees outside with 100-percent humidity. (2) Dennis forgot his knee braces. Since he could probably set a record for most knee surgeries, he wouldn’t ride without braces. We gave him my knee braces. That falls just shy of swapping riding shorts for being the most disgusting thing that two moto guys could share. I’m not a germaphobe, but it was disgusting.
Red Bud is one of the best motocross tracks in the U.S., and perhaps the world. It is the Woodstock of motocross, with great dirt, challenging obstacles, fun sections, and one of the biggest jumps on the National circuit. Or, at least it had that distinction until many of the other National tracks tried to replicate the massive LaRocco’s Leap by putting in jumps known as “Godzilla” and the “Fly 150.” However, those leaps are imitations of the real thing.
“JUMPING LAROCCO’S LEAP IS A RITE OF PASSAGE FOR ANY PRO, AND CERTAINLY A FEAT FOR A HOT SHOT AMATEUR RIDER. SINCE I DIDN’T FALL IN THOSE CATEGORIES I WAS HAPPY TO JUMP THE DOUBLE AND SINGLE OFF THE TOP. DENNIS STAPLETON, HOWEVER, WAS IN A DIFFERENT BOAT.”
Mike LaRocco was the first rider to soar over the uphill triple jump back in 1991. The length of the jump has changed somewhat since first introduced, but at around 120 feet long, it’s a behemoth. Made more challenging is the sharp uphill approach and blind face, which doesn’t give a rider any indication of where he might land. The knuckle on the landing of the triple is very unforgiving. Many riders have suffered blown-out wheels after coming up short or over-jumping the landing. Jumping LaRocco’s Leap is a rite of passage for any Pro, and certainly a feat for a hot shot amateur rider. Since I didn’t fall in those categories I was happy to jump the double and single off the top. Dennis Stapleton, however, was in a different boat. Back then he was still racing AMA Nationals on a semi-regular basis. Dennis failing to jump LaRocco’s Leap would be like an accountant using TurboTax.
Fortunately, Stapleton lacks fundamental fear. Here’s a bit of trivia for those Dennis Stapleton fans out there (ladies, you know who you are). Dennis was the very first rider to jump the triple step-up at Glen Helen when Jody built it before the USGP in 2010. Jody needed someone to test it and Stapleton volunteered. Dennis claimed that the jump launched him as high as the top of Mt. Whitney at the REM section. But I digress. Stapleton lined up LaRocco’s Leap and jumped it a few laps in on the first day. The Kawasaki bigwigs watched on, probably wondering why they brought U.S. journalists to a place where life and limb were risked every lap. Or maybe they were content in knowing that the 2012 Kawasaki KX450F could easily soar over such an impressive jump. Either way, it was the perfect setting to showcase a new bike.
After the riding was done we celebrated late into the night. I celebrated for a completely different reason than Dennis. He was thrilled to walk away from jumping LaRocco’s Leap. I was relieved that I no longer had to share knee braces with my dear friend.