“Hi, John. My name is Billy Dempsey, and I would love to be
a test rider for MXA. I don’t have a whole lot going on right
now. I was a top-three guy at Loretta’s and tried to make
the jump up to the Pros, but then I broke my arm and was
overlooked by the teams. Anyway, I’m all healed up, but I don’t
have a bike. I’ll help out in any way possible just as long as I
can ride. It’s what I love to do.”
I understood Billy’s plight. It was the typical story of a young
racer that banked his life on signing a factory deal and
striking it rich—only things hadn’t panned out. Racers
like Billy were all too common. He chose motorcycles over
schooling and friendships, failing to enjoy the experiences that
came with being a teenager. I had a soft spot for guys like
Billy, so I happily obliged his request.
I said, “It’s nice to meet you, Billy. You seem like a good
kid. I’d be happy to help you out. In fact, I’m in need of a
photo rider capable of testing a factory bike out at the Suzuki
test track tomorrow. The race team will be out there. Are
Billy’s face lit up. “Oh my gosh, that would be amazing! I’ve
always dreamed of riding a factory bike. Thanks for the
opportunity, John. I promise that I won’t let you down.”
The elevator door opened. Billy Dempsey’s life was about to
MXA’s test of the factory Suzuki bike months before had
done wonders for Billy’s career. He was so impressive at the
test track that the Suzuki race team signed Billy to a support
deal. I was happy that things worked out for everyone. Billy
got a ride, and I captured some awesome photos of him
throwing massive whips for the magazine.
“His Instagram followers reached
well into the hundreds of thousands.
Endorsement deals resulted in money
and fame. He hit the big time.”
“What’s up, John? Do you need a hand?” Billy Dempsey
was out of breath as he ran through the pits to catch up to
me. I was weighed down with camera equipment as I headed
to the Anaheim 1 Supercross press box.
I replied, “Billy, thanks so much for the offer, but shouldn’t
you be on your way to the rider track walk? Go get ready
for the first Supercross race of your career, and be sure to
thank me on the podium tonight.”
He laughed. “Sure, John. I won’t forget all that MXA has
done for me. I’m forever indebted to you.”
Billy Dempsey didn’t make the podium that night, but he
did win his first Supercross race a few months later. I was
there on that cold night in Seattle. It was a race that I’ll never
forget from the hundreds of races that have blended together
through the years. Billy didn’t thank me on the podium, but I
didn’t expect him to. I was just happy to be present.
Billy Dempsey’s life was flying upward.
A few years passed and Billy Dempsey kept winning. He
was signed to a factory deal. With winning came popularity
and all of the perks that followed. His Instagram followers
reached well into the hundreds of thousands. Endorsement
deals resulted in money and fame. He hit the big time.
“Hey, Billy,” I said to my old friend during the rider track
walk. He seemed surprised that I acknowledged him despite
his best efforts to avoid my gaze.
With hesitation he forced out, “What’s up?” It was a state-
ment rather than a question. It was clearly obvious that Billy
had zero interest in talking to me. Perhaps he was focused
on the track and didn’t want to be bothered, or maybe his
disassociation was the result of being pulled in too many
directions. Billy Dempsey was a man wanted by many.
He kept on avoiding me. It seemed as though I no longer
existed to him. As painful as it was to be ignored by a guy I
thought was a friend, I was familiar with the yo-yo relationship
that exists between a pro racer and an MXA guy. To Billy I
was a nuisance who wanted part of his precious time. Years
prior he begged for fame and glory. Now that he had those
things, he didn’t want to be bothered.
Billy Dempsey’s life had reached the penthouse.
Disaster struck a few months later. Billy Dempsey hit a
square-edged bump while practicing for the Nationals. His
bike kicked sideways, causing Billy to high-side into the next
corner. He instinctively put out his left leg to brace for the
impact, but the force caused his lower leg to shatter. It
was a gruesome break. The doctors said it was the worst
they had ever seen. Billy had a long rehab ahead of him to
get back where he was five seconds before the crash.
Billy Dempsey’s life went into free fall.
Billy didn’t quit. I always knew that he was a fighter, and
fight he did. First to walk again. It took many months before
he could ride again. His team had replaced him and he
couldn’t get any good offers. He was a shell of his former
self. About a year later I was sitting in the pits taking a break
between motos when I noticed Billy Dempsey limping towards
me. I initiated the conversation with, “Hi, Billy. It’s great to
see you. I’m glad to see you here. I didn’t know if you would
ever show up to a track again.”
Billy smiled. “John, I want to apologize for my behavior
these past few years. I got caught up in the racer lifestyle
and forgot the people that really mattered. Thanks for sticking
by me. MXA helped me when no one else would. You’re part
of the reason why I got a ride and, in a roundabout way, won
races and made enough money to retire.”
I joked, “Then I’m also the reason why you broke your leg.”
Billy Dempsey shook his head. “No, John, that was no one’s
fault. Motocross is a dangerous sport. I knew that going in.
Really, though, motocross is a sport I love wholeheartedly.
That’s why I’m here today. Do you have a bike that I could
I smiled. “Of course, Billy. There’s always an open spot for
you on my tailgate.”
Billy Dempsey had finally reached the right floor.