By Jody Weisel
I don’t idolize motocross stars. I don’t have their post- ers 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 pop-
ular 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, 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. 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 they last.
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. These are the
princes of the sport. You know who the good 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
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 headfirst 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 horsing around
with my friends and spent another six months 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? ❏