THE BEST OF JODY’S BOX: THEY ARE WHO THEY ARE, NOT WHO YOU THINK THEY ARE

BY JODY WEISEL

I don’t idolize motocross stars. I don’t have their posters on my walls. I don’t ask for their autographs. I don’t spend time being chummy with them. While I admire their skills, the ability to go fast on a motorcycle is not the true measure of a man. Speed does not equate to brilliance, kindness or self-awareness. Contrary to popular belief, speed is often bestowed on some of the least likable people on the planet. You know as well as I do that if Charles Manson had been fast on a motocross bike, there would have been a race team somewhere posting bond for him.

However, since all of my friends are motorcycle racers, both famous and anonymous, it is obvious that I’m not painting everyone with the same broad brush. But, I didn’t choose my friends based on their speed. I chose them based on our common interests (with a dash of how good they are to women, children, old ladies, stray dogs and those who are slower than they are).

I find it strange that fans idolize a given factory rider and then drop him when he falls from the limelight in favor of the new flavor. I can honestly say that any motocross star I was friends with when he was on top, I’m still friends with today—and not just casual friends where we see each other once every three years at a race. We talk. We visit. We discuss life, and we share family photos.

THE FALL FROM GRACE IS INEVITABLE—PEOPLE STAND IN LINE FOR YOUR AUTOGRAPH FOR A LOT SHORTER TIME THAN THEY
IGNORE YOU AFTERWARDS

As a rule of thumb, factory riders lead busy lives. They are pampered, babied and catered to. They become arrogant, full of themselves and highfalutin because they have man-friends, lackeys and business managers who laugh at all their jokes and cater to their every whim. They expect this, and I accept it. Why? Because the fall from grace is inevitable, and they should be given leeway to enjoy the perks of being the top dog while it lasts. People stand in line for your autograph for a lot shorter time than they ignore you afterwards.

Not every factory rider falls into the trap of being a jerk during his time on the top step. There are more than a few princes in the sport. You know who the really good, really real, guys are without me telling you. They are friend material. They are the men who will weather the storm of indifference once the cheering stops. They are who they are—not who they think you think they are.

I was, many years ago, the star pole vaulter in my high school. I was lucky in that my school was wealthy enough to afford fiberglass poles at the dawn of pole vaulting’s renaissance. The switch from aluminum to fiberglass accelerated my track career. But, what hindered it was a kid from the high school across town. He went to North High School and I went to South High School (our hometown didn’t have much imagination). At every track meet, when every other school’s vaulter had dropped out, the two of us kept inching the bar upwards. We traded wins on a regular basis—but not friendship. I thought he was an arrogant, loudmouth braggart, and I pushed myself harder in order to beat him. Our pole vault rivalry was as intense as Hannah versus Howerton, Bailey versus Johnson or Dungey versus Tomac.

MY LEFT ARM WAS BROKEN, MY ELBOW DISLOCATED, THE TENDONS TORN, THE NERVES DAMAGED AND THE JOINT SHATTERED. THINK OF ME
AS KEN ROCZEN IN A TRACK UNIFORM.

Then, one day before the State Championship track meet, I pushed the limit—my limit—too far. I went up but I didn’t go over. Instead, I fell head first into the wooden box where the pole went. It was a long fall. Reflexively, I put my arm out to protect myself. My left arm was broken, my elbow dislocated, the tendons torn, the nerves damaged and the joint shattered. Think of me as Ken Roczen in a track uniform. The doctors rebuilt my arm, pinned the broken parts of my elbow together and rerouted the nerves. When I got out of the cast six months later, I broke it almost immediately and spent another six months in a cast. In total I spent one year in a cast.

My pole vaulting days were over. My left arm couldn’t be straightened all the way. Three fingers on my hand were numb for the next three years, and my elbow became so tender that to this day I don’t touch it. When my arm healed, I took up motocross and never shed a tear over the fact that I would never be the next Bob Seagren. Then, one day at school, I heard that my old pole vaulting rival had broken his fiberglass pole and fallen feet first into the wooden box. He had suffered lots of broken bones in his feet and ankles. I walked out of school and walked into his hospital room. I wanted to make amends. Guess what? He was still a jerk. When I left his room, I felt like my faith in man was restored. Okay, it wasn’t exactly faith in man, more like faith in my initial judgment of man.

I never saw him again. We are all judgmental. I look at the milieu of professional motocross in the same way that I looked at high school cliques. When I was in school, I had three close friends, 10 people I liked, 822 students I never gave a thought to, and one or two guys that I hated with a passion. And, so it is in the AMA pits. Every factory rider has three close friends, and, of course, the retinue of paid friends (who are only there as long as the money flows), 10 other racers he likes, lots of racers he doesn’t give a thought to, and one or two guys whom he hates.

What puzzles me the most is that the one or two guys whom I hate actually have three friends who think they are great guys. Which of us is wrong?

 

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