ONE PHOTO & ONE STORY: EPITOME OF A DREAM JOB
If you work somewhere long enough, you’re bound to make lasting memories. Only a lucky few experience meaningful events that stay with them until their dying days. I realized how fortunate I was the first summer I spent in sun-drenched Southern California while on break from college. A week into my foray with Motocross Action I was assigned the task of riding Ricky Carmichael’s 2002 AMA Supercross-winning Honda CR250 around the old Supercross track at Glen Helen. It’s hard to put into words what it was like riding Carmichael’s factory bike while the Honda brass looked on.
The lasting memories became more frequent from there. Jody Weisel and crew were nice enough to keep paying me a monthly salary through college. Maybe Jody and the publisher, Mr. Roland Hinz, took pity on me, knowing the Everest-sized costs of college. Or maybe they couldn’t bear the thought of me living off Ramen noodles and ketchup packets. Whatever the reason, I sprang at the opportunity to interview riders and industry magnates on my old Motorola flip phone. The standard introduction, “Hi, this is John Basher from Motocross Action magazine,” never got old. I’ll never forget the time I called Grant Langston and did a 45-minute interview, only to discover the audio recorder was dead. Luckily, Grant didn’t mind re-doing the interview. You meet the nicest people in motocross.
After the recorder failure episode I learned to carry a baggie of spare batteries with me everywhere I went. That was just one of the countless lessons I learned. Add in the tutelage I received from the foremost leader in motocross knowledge–Jody Weisel–and I was destined for success. College taught me to work hard and memorize theories. Jody opened my mind to a world that textbooks and professors couldn’t (even though, in truth, Jody was once a college professor). Before starting at MXA I was a mechanical neophyte. Inept is a better word. Jody taught me that I had to figure out how motorcycles worked before I could accurately write about how they worked. He also showed me that hard work pays off. I’ll never forget his famous quote, “If my hands are full, then your hands better be full.” That’s a life lesson I’m instilling in my two sons.
“JODY IS GENERALLY SOFT SPOKEN, ALTHOUGH I VIVIDLY RECALL THE ONE TIME HE RAISED HIS VOICE TO ME. I THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO PUT ME IN A CHOKE HOLD AND SEND ME BACK TO BUFFALO, NEW YORK, IN A COFFIN. FROM THAT POINT FORWARD I VOWED TO NEVER CROSS ‘THE GODFATHER’ AGAIN.”
Jody Weisel is a remarkable individual. He’s kind to his friends and very forgiving. I think “Lovely Louella” has something to do with that. He gave me a zero interest personal loan when I was a few bucks short on the down payment for my first house. He never made a big deal out of it. Jody is generally soft spoken, although I vividly recall the one time he raised his voice to me. I thought he was going to put me in a choke hold and send me back to Buffalo, New York, in a coffin. From that point forward I vowed to never cross “The Godfather” again.
Jody–and by in large MXA–watched me grow up. It was a slower transition than Jody probably would have liked. Nevertheless, he stuck it out. I began as a 20-year-old college kid with a penchant for Miller High Life and doing just enough to get by. That quickly changed. The orange helmet warriors molded me into a hard working and respectable individual. In some weird way, I also owe MXA for steering my life in a positive direction. I made lifelong friends, met my wife, welcomed our two boys into the world, and learned that living in Southern California wasn’t for us. Jody was supportive through it all. I’ll never forget the day I drove to his house and told him that I was selling the house and moving to North Carolina. That was in July of 2015. He didn’t bat an eye. Instead, Jody figured out a way to keep me on MXA’s payroll. I’d like to think he saw the benefit of having a MXA guy in North Carolina. The truth is that he wanted me to land on my feet, though he would never admit it.
The North Carolina experiment worked. I was fortunate enough to travel up and down the eastern seaboard collecting stories and photos along the way. Going places like Ricky Carmichael’s GOAT Farm, covering races MXA wouldn’t normally attend, testing a smattering of cool bikes, building some of my own projects, and gaining exclusive access to places never before visited by motocross media made the gamble worthwhile. One of my biggest concerns in leaving SoCal was that I would be too far removed from the industry. It turns out that motocross is everywhere, and exciting new experiences are around every turn.
Through my tenure I worked with quite a few individuals. Collectively, they could probably make up the 16 personality types. Tim Olson taught me to always look for unique content. My brother, Mike, showed me that photography is the key to drawing readers into a story. John Minert made me realize that motocross shouldn’t always be serious, nor should life. He drove that point home one day while he strolled around my condo in his underoos strumming a guitar and singing Metallica. It’s an image I would prefer to forget.
The two characters that left an indelible mark are Daryl Ecklund and Dennis Stapleton. I met Daryl back in 2006. He was a struggling privateer with dyed jet-black hair and pierced ears. Despite his punk rock look Daryl was instantly likable. It helped that he could ride the wheels off a motorcycle. To this day, Daryl and Cole Seely are the two greatest photo riders I ever had the privilege of working with. Daryl did a few photo shoots and stopped riding because he worked the graveyard shift at a plant in Mojave to put himself through college. Still, we kept in touch through the years. When a spot opened up in the MXA ranks I suggested that Ecklund fill the void. He came on board in January of 2013. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Now he’s second in line at MXA and very deserving of that honor.
Dennis Stapleton’s reputation precedes him. “Stapo” is known of in at least 20 countries. To me, Dennis Stapleton and Jody Weisel define what motocross is. As cliche as it is, they live to ride and ride to live. Dennis is the type of person who would do anything for a friend. He has seen me at my best and worst. He always stuck by me. Life inside the orange helmet would have been far less enjoyable had Stapleton not come along. Heck, when he first started helping me he would drive through the night to test a bike, ride all day, and drive five hours back home to Santa Cruz. Craziest of all, he did it for free. That’s commitment.
I could list all of my amazing experiences as a member of MXA, but my printer would run out of ink. Where else can you test bikes, fly around the world covering races, hang out with like-minded individuals, meet celebrities, get all the free swag you could ever wish for and get paid to do it? Now, nearly 15 years later, I’m switching up my line and taking a new path. I’ve been offered a tremendous opportunity that will force me to use a different part of my brain. Best of all, the move is beneficial to my family. Although private jet rides (thanks Ron Joynt!), factory bike tests and covering events (by the way, this will be my first absence from Anaheim 1 since 2005) might no longer be an option, I’ll survive. It’s time for someone else to enjoy the dream job that I had the privilege of living for so long.
I have enjoyed reminiscing and sharing experiences through writing my weekly “One Photo & One Story” feature. They haven’t always been bangers, but it’s all part of the process. That reminds me of an encounter I had with an MXA fan one time. He thanked me for my efforts. I responded by thanking him for reading my work so that I could have a job. Without you it wouldn’t be possible, so thanks. I’ll see you at the track.