2421650022_7512a92144_mReceived word today that Richie Vallandingham of Missouri passed away yesterday due to heart failure. Richie was out riding at a local track with his son.

I met Richie face-to-face on several occasions and chatted with him frequently via vintage racing message boards. He was one of those rare people that you just know right away is a really good guy and you like him.

Richie had a history of heart problems, but he insisted on living life to the fullest. He was an example for all of us, and I will miss him. My condolences to his son Garret and wife Teresa. Godspeed Richie.

ancover0409A couple of months ago I was interviewed by Associations Now magazine for an article on AMA CEO Rob Dingman. The author did a good job. The article is on the challenges and problems Dingman has faced, and is facing, remaking the U.S.’ largest motorcycle rider association.

I want to thank the author, Kim Fernandez, for quoting me correctly and in context. That’s increasingly rare in this age of sensationalism and spin.

lusk-kod-240By now everyone in the dirt bike world knows of the unfortunate death of FMX star Jeremy Lusk. I never met Jeremy but, by all accounts, he was a good guy. He was certainly talented, and the outpouring of public sentiment following his accident is a tribute to his character. It was so great the family is actually providing a live webcast of his memorial service.

What I want to say is that I do not mourn for Jeremy Lusk. Jeremy was an adrenaline junkie. I believe he knew he was risking his life every time he performed. I believe that’s why he did it. He lived for the thrill of cheating death, of doing something few, maybe no one else, would try. And I believe he knew there was always a risk of ending up on the losing side of the equation.

Some will say that racers are the same, but they are not. The difference may be small, and one of degree rather than kind, but it is different. Racers are not explicitly cheating death. They are competing with the track, with their fellow racers, and with themselves. But their challenges come in increments of 100ths of a second as they shave time off lap after lap.

No racer gets into racing with the idea of cheating death. It’s something else that drives them. For this reason I think it’s unfortunate that MX/SX have been packaged and sold as “extreme” sports. FMX riders, and extreme athletes of all kinds, are farther out on the ragged edge, looking for the biggest thrill they can find and willing to accept the consequences of their actions.

FMX riders will ride when no one is watching. They don’t do it for the money, the glory, or anything except the raw thrill of pulling a big stunt and surviving. Day after day, they charge head-first into far more risk than most of us — even racers — would ever knowingly accept. That’s what makes them special.

After base jumping and parachuting, FMX (and other motorized extreme stunting) is probably the most dangerous activity you can pursue. The real tragedy of Jeremy’s death is that it wasn’t a big stunt that killed him. It wasn’t some new, untried trick. It was a trick he had done a hundred times or more. Something he had landed, and even crashed, and survived over and over.

Maybe he was a little tired, or jet-lagged, or just off a bit. Maybe he even knew it, and pushed on anyway. Or maybe it was situational — the surface, the weather, or something else. Whatever it was, it caused enough of a slip to create a crash from which he would never wake up.

The top FMX riders cheat death with a style and grace that defies imagination. They live life in a fast lane that is so far past the normal spectrum most of us can’t even see it. Some people call them crazy, and a few actually are. Some will say they have a death wish. But I think they have an insatiable life wish. I think they want to see and feel and live at the very edge of existence.

Jeremy took one too many chances. He pushed one step too far on a night when he just wasn’t quite up to the challenge. We should mourn his loss because it has extinguished a flame that could light the way for all of us, showing us a fearlessness that can serve us all in our daily lives.

But we should not mourn Jeremy Lusk. We should celebrate his life, and let him live on in the ideals he so embodied. The thirst for life, the drive for going farther, the willingness to do whatever it took to reach his goals. While we may not want to emulate his actions, we would do well to emulate his spirit.

God speed, Jeremy (11/26/1984 to 2/9/2009.)

stewI like James Stewart. Over the past couple of years he has grown as a racer and as a champion. He’s taken on the role of ambassador for the sport, he’s a solid role model for kids entering the sport, and he’s pretty much the epitome of the clean-cut athlete.

I don’t know if he’s “better” than RC or MC, I don’t know if he’s the best there ever was, and I don’t know that such things can ever be determined to any real satisfaction. But he’s really, really good. He’s an innovator, he’s a technician, he’s extraordinarily gifted, incredibly focused and talented, and he’s a fearless competitor. The guy is nothing short of a phenomenon.

The sport needs him. We all need him to stay around a long time. Stewart is a star that can transcend the sport. He’s not quite on par with Tiger Woods, but he’s close in his presence and ability to be a good interview. That he is a black athlete with poise and class that stands in stark contrast to the thug freak shows like Dennis Rodman, Carmello Anthony, and Adam “Pacman” Jones is just a bonus.

Stewart has opened an entirely new group to the fanbase for MX/SX. He has the potential to push the sport forward in ways we haven’t seen before. Almost no one talks about Stewart’s race, but it’s an important part of why he matters so much.

Every school teacher in America knows who Tiger Woods is — even if they’ve never held a golf club in their life. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if every school teacher knew who James Stewart is? There are differences between the media exposure level of golf and MX for sure, but Stewart is the only one who can push our sport across that gap. Unlike any other racer in history, Stewart can become a broad-based cultural icon (if he accepts that role) and can carry MX with him. But to do so, he has to stay around long enough for it to happen. And that’s why he needs to lose.

If Stewart keeps walking off with runaway victories at every race he enters, many times with no significant challenger after the first 1-2 laps, he’s going to leave. And sooner rather than later. Challenge is what keeps competitors on top, it’s what keeps them motivated, it’s what makes them willing to put in the work and the training and keep the disciplined routines that winning requires.

In this Larry Brooks-authored piece in Motocross Action, Brooks says that winning never gets old. It’s an interesting piece, and worth reading. I agree with Brooks. I just believe that Stewart will go on to win somewhere else.

When the challenge goes, the competitor goes with it — on to a newer, bigger challenge that can test their mettle and give them new goals. If Stewart walks away with 10 more wins in SX this season he will be extremely happy, and he will be gracious.

I bet he will also be thinking about what he can do next. It’s clear he’s already thinking about it. I also bet he will have no shortage of offers and opportunities. Car racing (wherever it may be) is a darn site easier than MX/SX. You don’t have to spend every day in the car, doing lap after lap. You don’t have to cycle 100 miles per week. You don’t have to train at the same level all the time. Sure, you need some fitness and the bar has come up a lot in the past 10-15 years. But it’s not MX/SX and everyone knows it.

So I’m rooting for Chad Reed. I’m rooting for Ryan Villopoto to get through his freshman foibles as quickly as possible. I’m rooting for Grant and Millsaps and Ferry. I’m rooting for all of them to find what it takes to give Stewart a meaningful challenge.

It’s not easy. MX/SX is 80% man, 20% machine. The challenge for everyone else is that Stewart is 80% machine. But if you want to keep him around you better root for the other guys too. Not because you don’t like James Stewart, but because you do.

mccook-racing-header54pxThe latest issue of McCookRacing.com is out, with two really good interviews. Headlining the issue is an interview with former AHRMA PR Director Alice Sexton. Alice ran for AHRMA Trustee this past December, on a platform of radical change in an organization that is staid and, many would say, stuck in a past that is long gone.

Based on the official platform letter Alice published in Vintage Views and the comments in this interview Alice is a real fireball. There are probably a lot of people in AHRMA who don’t like her, but the lady looks like someone I’d want on my team. Well worth reading if you care at all about what happens within AHRMA.

The second is an interview with Rick Doughty of Vintage Iron fame. Doughty has also been a key part of forming the USVMX movement.

This is a long interview, with some rambling stuff at the front that might throw off some readers. Once you get past that bit Doughty gets into how he started Vintage Iron, how he got involved with AHRMA, what he’s doing now, and how things look to him in the future.

One comment Doughty makes is that the Vintage movement is really strong worldwide, but the stagnant US economy makes all motorsports look weak right now. I know that’s true. And it looks to me that the Euro VMX scene is just killing it with a high level of participation, support, craft industry, etc. No doubt, this is the kind of activity that has convinced Doughty and others the time is right to move out from under the AHRMA banner, despite a general economic malaise. It’s pretty interesting stuff.

Here’s a short interview with Heinz Kinigadner over at MotocrossMX1.com. After his son was paralyzed in a racing accident in 2003, Kinigadner partnered with Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz to form the Wings for Life foundation.

Wings for Life is the dedicated to funding pure research in the area of spinal cord injuries and is one of the few foundations focused on curing this devastating type of injury. The development of neck supports like the Leatt Brace and the new alpinestars Bionic Neck Support will go a long way to preventing serious neck injuries, but nothing can completely eliminate the risk. The only answer is to find a way to heal the spinal cord. Kudos to Kinigadner for taking this effort forward.

After more than a year’s wait, middle-aged motocross fans everywhere will be pleased to know that new episodes of The Motocross Files will begin airing this month on SPEED TV.

The first episode will be David Bailey, airing on Nov. 16 at 6:00PM ET, followed by Gary Jones. The Mark Barnett episode will air Nov. 23 at 6:00PM ET.

For more info see SPEED TV.