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MX spode – looking good while losing

May 28th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Racing

Bubba scrubs at UnadillaWhat has happened to being ashamed of losing? This past weekend I worked track safety at the local MX park for an amateur race. I’ve done this a couple of times now, just to see what’s happening in the world of grass roots modern MX.

It’s a little sad, really. The local amateur ranks have always had a fair number of squids and spodes. Learning to go fast on a dirt bike isn’t easy, and some people just don’t have what it takes. And some of the guys are just getting started and will get better. But what I’ve seen lately is really disappointing.

What, specifically, is the problem? Scrubs.

Yes, the venerable Bubba Scrub seems to be the only thing these kids practice. I watched innumerable kids in the D (beginner,) C (novice,) and even B (intermediate) classes scrubbing pathetically off every single jump. 40 of the day’s 44 motos looked like practice sessions, with riders (not racers) strung single-file around the track practicing jumps. What a joke.

I watched some kid moving rapidly from a top-3 start to a bottom-10 finish doing his very best Bubba imitation off every jump while getting passed by someone every lap. It was retarded.

Dozens of wannabe racers had the temerity to throw their head sideways (because that’s the best they could manage) off every jump, trying to look cool, while falling down anywhere on the track that actually required skill. Sandy whoops? Crash. Turns? Crash.

Basically, if the track wasn’t a smooth, flat, hard-pack straight and launching ramp (which most of the track was) these kids bailed off at a hilarious rate.

I admit that back in the day we got caught up doing cross-ups and stuff. We all wanted to look good. But we at least had the decency and self awareness to recognize that looking good while losing was not cool.

My friends and I wanted to win, and if we weren’t winning — or at least passing people and moving forward – we ditched the showiness and focused on actually going faster.

Later I went home and took a look at the track photos on the websites of the tracks hosting this year’s Texas Series. All the tracks look just like our local facility — a bomb crater (or cow pasture) with a bunch of flat, smooth straights leading to bulldozer jumps.

I guess the market gets what it wants, and if the market doesn’t want tracks that demand actual riding skills, then the tracks will give them what they want to stay in business.

Call me an old fogey if you want, but this is not me bitching about change. Change is fine. Change is different from decline. Change is different from dumbing down.

What happened to being racers? What happened to being cool by winning? When did motocross racing become a whip contest?

I remember spending hours riding back and forth over a 50-yard section of sand whoops in one of our riding areas trying to get better. I remember searching out different types of corners to hit over and over trying different lines. I remember falling down over and over in practice trying to master slick, off-camber turns.

All of those things mattered to me, because I wanted to be a better racer than my friends.

Jumps? Jumps were something to get over with as little fanfare as possible and get back to racing, racing somewhere on the track that I could execute a pass, using the riding skills I worked on during the week.

I didn’t always succeed. I didn’t always win. But I never took any pride at all in finishing 4th or 5th and I sure didn’t try to look good doing it. That’s what we called being a loser, back in the day.

Sure we had our share of posers. We made fun of them. If you could do great cross-ups but finished 12th we rightly called you a pussy and made you the butt of our bench racing jokes.

Maybe its just the result of 30 years of our everyone is special, everyone is a winner, no one is a loser culture. Maybe I am just a throwback. But at the end of a race they still throw a checkered flag. They still declare a winner. Everyone else is a loser.

Don’t get me wrong. Losing can be a great teacher if you let it. We can’t all win all the time. But we can always get better.

At the very least, if you aren’t moving forward through the field you need to put the styling on hold and get back to the business of racing. If you don’t know how to do that, or don’t have a desire to do that, stick to free riding and get off the track. If I want to watch a bunch of posers I’ll just watch reality shows on MTV.

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Ducatisti

    You’ve really hit the nail on the head with this one. I am amazed that we seem to have lost our focus on excelling at something we love. Everyone seems to think that just participating is enough. This is a scary slippery slope we’ve started down, I hope America is able to find a way to stop and climb back up.

  • Big Sven

    It doesn’t surprise me. What surprises me is that a Yank is beginning to react to it. I saw the death of mx when you Yanks steamrollered over us Europeans in the 80’s, aided by cheap Jap imports and sponsors jumping on the money-bandwagon, aided by the Japs selling them bikes and spares at under cost as they saw mx as cheap advertising for their more money-spinning products. Rodeo on wheels. As such a genuine American sport. This wiped out the small but dedicated European companies who raced for the passion of it, it wiped out all the lower-ranking European riders who raced for the passion of it, paying for it all with their own money as WE had no sponsors. Did we get cheap imports? NO. We were paying 2-3 times for a bike than you were. We also had to pay 4 times what you paid for the gas for our cars to get us to the meets. Racing for us was VERY expensive. We raced on ‘pure’ mx-tracks, slowly developed over the years, and as we had the best riders in the world to compare to, and look up to, we lesser riders were also VERY fast. It was a question of pride. We spent every free moment training, we spent every penny we had, solely because we had a passion for riding mx. Our tracks (especially in Sweden) were the best in the world, designed for gruelling racing, not for easy access for spectators, our races were 2×30 mins (even for beginners). I know from talking to the top Europeans that rode the Trans-Am that American tracks were easier and American riders were more interested in doing something spectacular in order to attract the attention of the sponsors than actually racing and learning from the Europeans, thus were prepared to take enormous risks. Many got hurt, but, backed by a media used to overblowing everything, used this to become rich and famous! It got so dangerous the Europeans let the Yanks win, after all it ment nothing regarding their careers in Europe, the World Championships. not a few didn’t want to race in the USA, the season in europe was long and gruelling enough, but those with a contract for a manufacturer were forced to, to promote the product. With the power of huge money and ripping-off European ideas and products (talk to Hallman about that) and with riders willing to risk death in order to win the Yanks slowly took over, the Japs pouring all their development budgets into ultra-special works bikes for them, the Europeans now being edged-out. We did note that the ultra-special Yank bikes didn’t always fare well over in Europe, being to close to the edge, mobile hand-grenades. Bikes that were invincible in the USA blew-up in Europe. That itself says something. Stadium-X finished it off, turning the sport into a Roman circus. Now in front of millions of easily-bored popcorn-eating TV-viewers the Yanks racers continued improving their death-defying tricks in order to make a name for themselves and gain sponsorship. A good rider could make not only a name for himself by winning just one race, but by getting the TV-commentator to shout and rant about him all the show, also a million buck bonus from his sponsors! It is now hard to find a ‘pure’ mx-track in Sweden, am told this applies to Europe too, the fabulous and very technical tracks we raced on have all been modified into American freeways with huge jumps designed for the ‘hang-ten’ circus acrobatics popular in the USA. And Sweden, a country that had a dozen riders racing for the World Championships in every class, a dozen riders racing for the best factories, now has NONE.

    • Terry Frazier

      Touch of bitterness in this one, Sven. Still you make some good points. I can say without reservation that I and my cohort of ’70s-era teenagers idolized the Euros and their tracks — Hallman, Jonsson, Tiblin, et al. I remember an old Rolf Tiblin training manual that a buddy had. We used to go out every day and work out according to that book. We longed for “real” MX tracks that looked like what the Euros rode. And we all thought the GPs were the place to really race if you wanted to be the best in the world.

      But in 1972 Mike Goodwin laid the groundwork for fundamentally altering the sport’s future. He may have been a visionary. He may have been a crook. He may have been the devil himself, but he saw something no one else saw. Or maybe it was Edison Dye, who first brought the Euros here, but I tend to think of Goodwin’s SuperBowl of Motocross as the turning point where the vision of big money, big crowds, and big obstacles all took root.

      Then in the ’80s Goodwin’s vision began to mature and the world changed. Many of us here argued and complained as the AMA continually stepped on its own genitals while blindly following the desires of the Japanese manufacturers, letting them gradually run everyone out of the business and creating the homogeneous, boring environment that we’ve lived with ever since.

      To some extent it’s just progress, and none of us can stand in the way. Media, money, globalization, technology — they all move forward toward a singular point and none of us can stop it. In some ways the sport’s better for it. I’d argue that none of the US riders got rich in the ’70s. Marty Smith got rich, but not on his racing. He got rich by investing what he earned in California real estate. Even in the ’80s it’s hard to say they got rich. Certainly not compared to other sports or even other racers. You could make “good” money, but getting rich was up to what you did with it once you got it.

      By the ’90s the salaries and bonuses were getting up there and the SX crowds were making it quite lucrative. This decade you can say a few truly get rich — earning millions in contracts and bonuses. But even now it’s not that many.

      Sadly there’s no longer any place for those of us who are unnerved by being 30 feet off the ground. That’s unfortunate. And winning has clearly taken a back seat to showing off among the youth of America. That’s not the fault of MX. It’s the result, in my opinion, of 30+ years of dumbed-down, nanny-state education; anti-competitive, “we’re all special,” everyone-is-a-winner rhetoric; and a “15 minutes of fame” mentality.

      Most of this can be laid at the feet of the ’60s generation — who were lousy parents — and the feminist agenda that tried to make it illegal to teach young boys how to be men.

      We’ll recover, eventually, but we’ll never be quite the same.

      As for MX, it’s up to you, and me, and the thousands like us who remember how it was, how it should be, to keep the faith and keep pressing for positive change in the face of overwhelming odds.

      As James Tiberius Kirk (Starfleet Adm. Retired) said in the movie Star Trek: Generations:

      Picard: Come back! Make a difference!
      Kirk: I take it the odds are against us and the situation’s grim.
      Picard: You could say that.
      Kirk: If Spock were here, he’d say that I was an irrational, illlogical human being for going on a mission like this… Sounds like fun!