By John Basher
It’s easy to measure the body of a racer’s work based on
statistics. Race wins and titles paint a clear picture, which
is why Ricky Carmichael, Roger DeCoster, Bob Hannah and
Ricky Johnson are considered the embodiment of success in
motocross. However, the numbers fail to illustrate the whole
story. Winning isn’t everything, which is a strange admission
given that motocross celebrates those standing on top of the
podium. What if success were decided by a racer’s
longevity, or the amount of money earned during a career?
Of course that kind of achievement isn’t realized until after the
rider has retired. To some, financial wealth is superseded by
other forms of success—the experience of traveling around
the world, adoration and fame, getting paid to race dirt bikes
rather than flip burgers. In the end, the athlete himself should
be the judge and jury of his career accomplishments, and not
“IN THE OLD DAYS ATHLETES WERE
MUCH MORE INTERESTING. THEY
WERE OUTSPOKEN AND COCKY.
MOST HAD A CERTAIN ZEAL
TOWARDS STARDOM, EMBRACING
THE LIMELIGHT INSTEAD OF HIDING
BEHIND A HELMET.”
Sports fans want winners to win. That’s where the adage,
“You’re only as good as your last race,” comes in. Few
athletes, if any, hold themselves to such high standards. The
ebb and flow of competition is unpredictable. There is no
geometric formula to determine a winner before the gate is
dropped. Sure, there are the favorites, but on any given day
a seasoned loser can rise up. That’s part of the allure. Case
in point, at one time Ryan Dungey was a no-name. Only Roger
DeCoster believed in the modestly successful Amateur, so he
signed him to a factory Suzuki deal. The rest is history.
In the old days athletes were much more interesting. They
were outspoken and cocky. Most had a
certain zeal towards stardom, embracing the
limelight instead of hiding behind a helmet.
As a child, I was mesmerized by the stories
of long-ago heroes. Hearing that Babe Ruth
once pointed to the center-field bleachers at
Wrigley Field during the 1932 World Series
and drove the ball to the exact spot seems
impossible. Then there was Joe Namath, the
outspoken New York Jet, who talked a big
game before Super Bowl III. He
guaranteed a win over the favored Baltimore
Colts. “Broadway” Joe delivered on his
Unfortunately, braggadocio went out of
style long ago. Standards have changed, and
with it the idea of how a professional athlete
is supposed to act. Loudmouths are ostracized. Strong personalities—those with a
fervor for talking as big a game as the one
they play—are ridiculed. It’s too bad. An
athlete’s personality is a large part of his
charm. The brash-talking Bob Hannah wasn’t
liked by everyone, but he was heralded for
backing up bold claims with his right wrist.
As a result, he gained a legion of loyal fans
and equally ardent enemies. There is no
modern-day Bob Hannah, and I’m afraid there
never will be another like him. Society won’t allow it.
Professional motocross racers have become too vanilla.
On the whole, they are aloof and reserved, afraid to make
waves or rock the boat; instead, they remain guarded and
unapproachable. Sure, they’ll sign an autograph or pose for a
picture, doing their civic duty in order to satisfy sponsorship
obligations. Once the allocated time is over, they escape to
the privacy of their team rigs. The time for developing a
personal connection between rider and fan is all but gone.
Who’s to blame for the watered-down personalities?
There’s not one particular group at fault; rather, we’re all
guilty. Feisty fans are quick to lob insults. The media expect
greatness from riders in all capacities—on the track or in
handling social obligations. Race teams demand company
men, those who follow protocol by saying the right things.
Hence, going against the tide of any one group creates a
ripple that quickly turns into a tidal wave. The resulting effects
could cost the rider dearly. It’s a shame that athletes are
put under the microscope and chastised—that is, unless it is
In no way are motocross racers saintly. They should be
allowed to play by the same set of rules as everyone else.
Notoriety is not respect, even if it pays as well. While there
are bad apples in any sport, the tight-knit community of
motocross has a way of separating the wheat from the chaff.
With so few rides available, the race teams have the pick of
the litter. Many team managers admit that they often sign
well-rounded riders over those with speed but a bad
reputation. There have been riders who lost rides because
of the photos on their Facebook pages, while well-liked riders
have extended otherwise mundane careers by being popular.
Speed—and speed alone—will only get a professional
motocross racer so far. After all, no one likes a rider who
has the same amount of personality as a cinder block.
Many young kids dream of turning Pro and winning titles,
yet they fail to grasp the nuances of being a professional
athlete. Between racing, riding and training are the hours
spent doing interviews and photo shoots, signing autographs,
and representing sponsors through a myriad of public
appearances. Race results speak for themselves, but the
rider speaks for whether he’ll be remembered or not. In the
majority of cases, every rider’s fans will leave him to the dust
heap of history, except for Hannah, DeCoster, Johnson and