By Jody Weisel
I’m pretty sure that you are just like me—although I’m less positive that you want to be like me. I have been racing motorcycles since 1968. Over that vast
period of time, I’ve been fast and I’ve been slow, but it
has never really mattered to me which it was. If I could
have the choice of being the young, aggressive and
driven me from the 1970s or the older, wiser and more
confident me, I’d take today.
The current me is all about flying under the radar,
avoiding the status-backed crowd and being less of a
know-it-all. I don’t want any famous friends; I already
have them, and I like them better now that they aren’t
famous anymore. When I come home from a day at the
races and Lovely Louella asks me a question about
someone at the track, I will say, “I didn’t talk to him
today.” And she will say, “But he went to the races with
you—in your truck!”
I’ve learned a lot about racing motorcycles in my time.
Here is the gist of my wisdom.
(1) I normally go to the starting line very late and
squeeze into whatever open gate is available. When I
was young, I used to get to the starting line two races
before mine so that I could get the one magic starting
gate that I believed would get me to the first turn first.
Now, I’m happy to just get to the first turn.
( 2) There is no difference between first and fifth when
you are at lunch after the race is over. The waitress
doesn’t care; your buddies already know where you
finished and, best of all, a grilled chicken sandwich
tastes the same no matter what the race’s outcome.
( 3) There is, however, a major difference between last
and any other place. Being last, which I have been many
times, is a blow to your self-esteem. I haven’t always
seen myself as a winner, but I haven’t embraced being
a loser, either. I’m not a rocket scientist (although I do
have a degree in gerontology, which makes more sense
in a world that is so inner directed that the idea of
riding a rocket ship out of cell-tower range is
a deal-breaker), but when I look at the sign-
up sheet, I already know where
I’m going to finish. I run my
finger down the names and
say, “I can’t beat him. I can
beat him. I can’t beat him,” and keep a running tally of
where I will finish. When I walk away, I know that I am
racing for eighth today—and with luck I could be sixth.
( 4) If I get a last-place start, I will ride my heart out
to get up to sixth. If I get the holeshot, I will eventually
fade back to sixth. That is the motocross version of an
insurance company’s actuary table. Statistics don’t lie,
and they are more accurate than a transponder.
( 5) I wear the plainest, simplest, least Rorschach
pattern gear they make. Maybe it goes back to my days
in leather pants, where black was the only color choice,
but I prefer solids. They can be brightly colored, but if
there is a hint of a floral pattern or whiff of a Jackson
Pollock painting, I’m not interested.
( 6) Much has been made over the years of my 1970’s
all-leather boots. Yes, Alpinestars custom-makes them
for me, and my reason for wearing old-school boots
is that my medial collateral ligaments are shot, and
wearing 5-pound plastic-clad boots does them no good.
I’m a follower of the “willow versus the oak” theory of
( 7) I wear knee braces, but I’m not a true believer. You
would think that with my knee injuries I’d be shouting
their praises from the highest mountaintop. Not so! To
me, knee braces are similar to wrapping Velcro straps
around a 20-pound ham and believing that they will stop
it from twisting. In this case, the hams are my thighs. So,
why do I wear them? I’m scared to take them off.
( 8) I stopped taking trophies about 20 years ago, which
my friends say coincides with when I stopped winning
trophies, but that’s far from true—although not very far.
( 9) I can’t ride a bike that has hand guards on it.
Oh, I’m sure that I could make the adjustment over time.
I say that because I couldn’t ride a bike without a
crossbar on the handlebars for years, but I haven’t waved
the white flag to hand guards, yet.
(10) I hate cherry pickers. And, paradoxically, I
asked to be allowed to move down a class,
and the promoters told me that I was
too fast to move down. I was
happy to hear their assessment
of my speed, but I’m pretty sure
that they are wrong. ❏