“Thank You For Coming”

Having come from another race in northern California the previous Sunday, we picked up our new rig in Phoenix, drove eighteen hours to the heart of Texas, made a quick stop to pick up groceries, and ambled down a dirt road that seemed to lead to nowhere, before we arrived at the world-class national track of Freestone County Raceway Texas Motocross.

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Exhausted and exhilarated, we watched the sun rise over the track, skies melting from midnight blue to pink to gold creating a brilliant backdrop for the eighty foot tall flags—one for Texas, one for America—that rippled in the dawn breeze. “This feels like pro motocross,” I whispered. The track was eerily quiet, the calm before the storm. You could feel all around you that Freestone was ready for it.

We hadn’t been alone in our mad dash to get here. We heard more stories from other families who had pulled their sons and daughters out of school, hopped in their motorhomes and driven through the night across country for the chance to earn AMA titles at the James Stewart Freestone Spring Championship. They came from Florida, California, Ohio, Colorado, Georgia, and all over the country. We even met people from New Zealand!

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Over the course of the day, once more as before we encountered that strange sensation of seeing familiar faces thousands of miles away from the last place we had seen them, this time in the midst of the backroads, family farms, and cow pastures of rural Texas. “I call them the traveling circus!” the announcer, Don Collings, said with a laugh, and we nodded, because the label fit.

The sun brought with it the day’s action and promise of glory. For every child who stepped proudly onto the podium before the flashing of cameras and cheering of fans, a dozen more trudged away from the track disappointed, even crushed, but with the hope that the next moto would yield better results. “The highs and the lows,” we always say to ourselves. Because in every corner of this wild circus, from the people who race to the people who support them—parents, families, mechanics, sponsors, fans, promoters, and track owners—there are the highs and the lows that lead to this strange moto addiction that simply cannot be explained.

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By the end of the day, still sleep deprived from the drive and running on fumes we began packing up our booth and debating what to cook for dinner. Something quick and easy, we decided. Almost as if we had summoned him, some unknown individual pulled up on a quad and said, pointing in a general direction, “We’re barbequing ribs. Come on by, we’ve got plenty of food.”

We followed our noses to the barbeque, pausing sheepishly on the outskirts of their pit, scanning the scene for a familiar face. “I don’t think we know anyone here,” I mumbled, but someone on the inside caught our hesitance and summoned us over, offered us a plate, and encouraged us to “Eat up! This is real Texas barbeque!” So we did, and those ribs were so melt-in-your-mouth delicious I can proclaim with honesty they were the best I had ever tasted. We loaded our plates with chicken and sausage, macaroni & cheese and salad and we ate until there was no room for more. We mingled through the group, shaking hands, trying to figure out who to thank for the food, but it seemed that everybody was host, and yet nobody was host. Maybe it was Jimmy, maybe it was Paul, but they were all from Texas, and they were all proud to say, “Thank you for coming.”

 

Welcome, to the Lucas Oil Legion

You may have noticed some changes taking place with the look and feel of the My Lucas Oil team. At this time, we’d like to introduce you to the all-new team homepage…

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Over the course of 2013, we watched our team grow in number and solidarity. We heard about your triumphs—earning the win that you had trained hard for, mastering a new trick, scoring your first podium—and your struggles—horrific crashes, frustrating injuries, and small mistakes that led to great losses.  We witnessed the hours, weeks, and sometimes months it took you to rehabilitate after an injury.  We shared your joy as you passed your love of your sport on to a young loved one.

We watched you go to battle week in and week out, rising to the challenges that competition brings because of your love, even your addiction, to your sport. And throughout all of it, you waved the Lucas Oil flag, you wore our shield, and we, are all the better for it. So today, to the adrenaline junkies, to the Weekend Warriors, to the die-hard dads, and the promising up-and-comers, we welcome you to the all-new Lucas Oil Legion. We are fighters. We are champions. We are many.

Why are Pros Racing Amateur Races? An Opinion Piece…

“Why are PROS racing AM races?” a tweet notification popped up on my screen. A fair question, of course. One that I’m sure many MX riders, particularly women riders, are asking. As many of you know by now, women’s pro motocross, dubbed “WMX,” has been relegated to amateur events for 2014 after losing its home alongside men’s Pro MX.

The responses that followed from fellow angry tweeters were absurd, at best. No, it’s not because “some man” decided. And no, “that man” most certainly isn’t D. Coombs. For some reason people at large have crowned Coombs as the King of Pro Motocross, as the man behind all the decisions. I don’t know much, but I certainly know this to be a vast misconception. In the Pro MX world, there are much bigger players than Coombs. (And to his credit, it was Coombs who dreamed up bringing WMX to the Pro series in the first place, so give the guy a break.)

If you want to blame the television networks, or the sponsors, you’re getting warmer. The simple fact is that pro racing hardly exists without the corporate bodies who fund it, but let’s not pretend that these are acts of charity. We’re all in business to promote ourselves—our brands, our products—and thusly, we invest in the events and athletes that are marketable.

Female MX athletes are some of the most dedicated, die-hard athletes in the biz. Factory team managers are completely at a loss.  Imagine watching these girls with so much talent, so much drive, and nowhere to go. In fact, most people in the industry are pretty bent up about the state of WMX.

But the cold, hard truth is that WMX is simply not marketable—at least not yet. And if I’m going to charge anyone with that crime, I charge you. Yes, YOU: Motocross fans. There’s little money behind women’s racing because the fans aren’t behind it.

“But they’re not as fast as the guys,” you say, and I admit, this is largely true. And while there’s simple anatomy to blame (men are anatomically stronger than women, generally speaking), and while female athletes on the whole are at an evolutionary disadvantage (men have been competing in athletic events for thousands of years; meanwhile, in the powder room, the women are knitting), I think it goes deeper still. After all, we’ve seen the likes of up-and-coming female athletes like Courtney Duncan who has the speed to beat plenty of her male competitors in the amateur scene. Still, at Loretta’s I didn’t see a whole lot of people—sponsors or fans—who seemed all that interested in pursuing her.

If you really get down to it, I think you’ve got to dig into the very culture of motorsports, one in which women play a very clear role, and it’s a silent, porcelain-faced, half-clothed one. Let’s be honest, the Monster girls get more coverage at motorsports events than all the female racers combined. Female athletes can only hope to be blessed with a pretty face, so that maybe the camera will be so generous as to gaze upon them.

Now before you misconstrue my argument, please understand that I mean no disrespect to the models. Haters: pipe-down. There’s room for both Dianna Dahlgren and Jessica Patterson in this industry. All I’m saying is, what if we celebrated talent just as much as we celebrated beauty in our young women? What if we gave WMX another chance, a REAL chance? What if we, THE FANS, invested a little more time and interest into WMX, not just for ourselves, but also for our daughters, our sisters, our girlfriends, our wives, our mothers, and for the sport we love?

Maybe instead of being angry about WMX joining the amateur events, we can see this as an opportunity. After all, this year female racers have eight national events at which to compete, compared to last year’s measly three events with the Triple Crown. At least one of these amateur events will be televised, and that number is expected to grow in the coming years. Look at the attention amateur national MX events are getting these days: last year, Loretta’s garnered a larger television viewership than the X Games! These amateur events are going to get a lot of press, and WMX is going to be a part of that.

The decision to hold WMX races alongside amateur events was merely a financial one, one that was necessary in order to give female athletes the opportunity to race this year. Now, it’s up to us to decide what the future of WMX holds. As for me, I’ll be at the track with a front row seat when the women take the gate.

-Rachel Witt

Sixteen Thousand Miles

16,000 miles driven; 2,130 gallons of fuel; 313 hours of driving; 298 cups of coffee consumed; 105 days living in a trailer; 45 truck stops slept in; 30 races worked; 8 National Parks visited; 5 tires blown out; 3 people (and a dog); 1 cross-country adventure.

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Fifteen weeks later we rounded the corner of a familiar street, and we arrived: Home.

People ask, “How was your trip?” and you might try to convey in a word or a sentence the experience, but it is near impossible to do so…

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On the northernmost outskirts of the United States, we felt the impact of 2,800 tonnes of water per second as it plummeted over Niagra Falls.  In Butte, Montana, we placed a toy motorcycle on Evel Knievel’s grave.  In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, we helped an Amish man push a downed tree out of the road after being ambushed by a flash flood.  In Morgantown, West Virginia, we ate baguettes and aged Provolone in the Racer X boat on Lake Cheat.  In Omaha, Nebraska, we caught bullfrogs and trout that we threw back into a little stream.  

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In New York City, we gaped at the magnitude of man’s creations—giant sky scrapers reaching to the clouds. In Ottawa, Illinois, we spent hours sipping Yuengling watching fireflies dance around a cornfield. In Park City, Utah, we wandered through a street fair, eating crepes and buying necessities, like a hand-made wooden crossbow. In Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, we ate steaming bowls of spicy jambalaya at a campsite, surrounded by strangers who treated us like family.  And between all of these experiences, we drove and drove and drove.

Every week we arrived at a new destination—a world class track—where the best motocross racers in the world would duel it out for our entertainment.

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We came to know most members of the track crew by name, and they laughed with us as we regaled stories of the latest breakdowns and blow-outs encountered on the drive there. We backed in, set up, cleaned up, as we moved a million moving parts, to create our booth.  We slogged through rain and mud, persisted through sweat and muggy heat, buckled down as thunder shook the earth, and squinted through wind and dust storms.  

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Each Saturday, we addressed crowds of 20,000 plus, hearing our words ring out over the loudspeakers.  We reminisced with fans, listening to stories about Hangtown in the 70’s, about 40 years of racing at Southwick, about meeting Bob “Hurricane” Hannah and the GOAT.  We trekked around the track taking photographs, cursing our cable providers as we tried to post some epic shot of the day to Instagram.  We pushed our way through crowds to the podium, to be there for that brief moment when the champagne would fly.

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Then, after the gladiators had battled and crashed and triumphed—Villopoto, Tomac, Dungey, Barcia, Stewart, Canard, Roczen, Musquin—after they had spoken their thank you’s on the podium and returned to their hotels, we lounged around in the mess, high fiving and sharing beers with the show masters, procrastinating cleanup, so that by the time we trudged toward bed, we were exhausted, but content.

Each week we left the track, having learned at least a dozen new things. And then? More road. More truck stops.

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Now that we’re here, at the end, we ask ourselves what was gained. We stumble with words because how does one express the experience as a whole, when it is made up of so many tiny moments?  We can only say that we ventured, that we discovered the soul of motocross, and along the way, we felt life pulsing through the veins of America.

 

To Say that we had Lived…

Before Nevada becomes Utah, down Highway 50, the loneliest road in America, past the silver mines of Eureka, beyond the neon motel signs of Ely, up a slow and sleepy road, buried 190 feet below the surface of a mountain peak, lies a colony of caves. These caverns, like ancient tombs preserved in absolute stillness, are over a million years old.

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As we meandered along our cross-country journey, we took pause at the Great Basin National Park to take the 90 minute tour of the Lehman caves, to discover their great secrets.

Inside, colonies of stalactite formations reach their great fingers from the cavernous ceilings toward their stalagmite kin below. Draperies, where water has dripped down cave walls for hundreds of thousands of years, cascade in calcite ripples. And shields, like great round clams protruding from cave walls, ooze their long, stoic tentacles. Where water drips, they glisten, like prehistoric jellyfish.

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The whole scene appears so other-worldly, that our tour group begins spouting all manner of similes to describe it, to take it all in. 

“It looks like something out of Indiana Jones, or an alien movie!”

“I feel like I’m at Disneyland, the buried treasure is just around the corner…”

“Look at that wall, it looks like a curtain.”

“These two, almost touching, like the painting, where God reaches out to Adam.”

“This one looks like a dildo.”

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These stalactite formations, monuments of nature’s patience, are still growing, imperceptibly.

“Quiz,” the tour guide says, “see these broken off pieces,” he says, pointing to some sheared off stalactites” these couldn’t have been broken until after the cave was discovered in 1880, but not after it was preserved in 1922, so how old are these little growths?”  He points to a thinner piece, no more than two inches, that protrudes from a sheared off stalactite. 

“That would make it anywhere from 90 to maybe, 130 years old,” someone replies. 

“Exactly,” the tour guide beams. Our mouths all gape as we look beyond, to the massive stalactites that reach 30 or 40 feet from the ceiling, realizing all at once the scope of such a project.  How many droplets of water trickled through that straw before such a structure was constructed? 

When we reach another opening, our eyes fall upon the low ceiling, which is covered with the initials of former explorers, scrawled in candle smoke and preserved in the chill, still air. “Graffiti,” someone mutters. “Boy they really messed this place up,” says another.

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The tour guide interjects, “These were created sometime before the caves were preserved in 1922, so they’re considered a part of history. What do you think of them?” He surveys the group, I’m sure making what could be for him a very monotonous job, into a study of the humans who pass briefly through his path every day.

“Well, I guess they’re a part of history, but I don’t like them,” someone grumbles.

“What God made, man cannot top,” laments another. 

The tour guide looks almost disappointed. He searches the crowd for a dissenter.

Finally, a scruffy young man boldly ventures, “I wish my name was up there,” and everyone chuckles knowingly. For who, at some point, has not desired immortality?  Isn’t this why we carve our initials into tree trunks? Why we write epic pieces of literature? Why we build architectural bohemoths, monuments to last the tides of time? Don’t we all want to leave our mark, to say that we were here, and that we had lived?

The tour guide remarks that before 1922, kids would hang out down in the caves, even hold dances there, bringing with them live music, and beverages, and building camp fires. I imagined teenagers who, having made the extra effort to brave the dark crawl into this particular cave, emerged, feeling their own ant-sized mortality surrounded by nature’s ancient might, and instinctively feeling the urge to leave their mark. The same way the water had left its own calcite mark all throughout the caves. I smiled to myself thinking about those kids, scrawling their names upon this immortal place, and I wondered, could you really blame them?

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When Rain Came to Loretta’s

We had heard many stories about Loretta’s, but they varied mostly by degrees of heat. August in Tennessee: one could only imagine it as a smoldering place. And since my good moods are sometimes held hostage by humidity, I thought only of heat as the event approached.

So when I pulled into the Hurricane Mills Wal-Mart parking lot in Tennessee at 2:00am and jumped out of the truck and shuddered with cold, well naturally I was incredulous.

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The day after our arrival, it rained. And rained. And rained some more. Some people vaguely remembered a year here or there when it had rained. But in 32 years, they had never seen the likes of a storm such as this.

By day two the races were postponed due to rain. Golf carts teeming with teenagers hydroplaned through the backwoods. Flooded camps produced inflatable boats captained by tenacious moms. All manner of mud-fights between crews of rascally kids ensued.

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When the racing resumed, we watched as bikes piled up in the mud on the holeshot; otherwise experienced riders sought speed hopelessly in the slop; tiny kids on 50’s came off the track with hot tears streaming down their faces; vet riders peeled steaming gear from their bodies and dumped buckets of cool water over their exhausted, muddy faces. Miraculously, rarely a complaint was heard.

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By Thursday the rain stopped and the sun returned to bake the track. Friday brought blue skies. But the storm was scheduled to return on Saturday—the day of the first ever live broadcast of the AMA Amateur National Championship on NBC.

The rain arrived once more in a steady drizzle, followed by the rumble of engines on the starting line. Between the morning races, tractors resumed their tasks of plowing and scraping the track, searching for a dry layer beneath the puddles. More scraping. More plowing. When they discovered a crushed drainage pipe that would have served to drain the track, when they had scraped so low that they were almost to the water table, when they saw the clock counting down what little time remained, the situation appeared truly hopeless.

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It was then that the heavens stopped their crying. Forklifts were enlisted to bust open the blocked drainage pipe. The track received its final grooming. Cameramen assumed their positions. The best amateur racers in the world took their places at the gate. Hearts pounded as the long-awaited moment approached, when the Loretta Lynn’s AMA National Champion would be crowned.

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Watching, I remembered something that I had heard once, that though today might bring rain—it might bring grief or pain, challenges, or even death—

Tomorrow, we race.

Just a Mote of Dust Suspended in a Sunbeam

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We arose in the dark and idled out of the sleepy campground.  Our breath rose like smoke as we yawned in the crisp morning.

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Creeping along through Hayden Valley, we looked beyond our headlights at the grasslands that were barely emerging in the silver morning.  Geothermal steam rose from the lake and eddied above the surface, so that the lake looked as warm and inviting as a bath to weary bones.

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When we spotted the tiny shapes of buffalo across the horizon line, we pulled the car over.  Soon the entire hillside was populated with them.  We were so enamored with the buffalo herd, that we almost missed the hulking figure that darted across the road behind us—a quick, dark flash in the rear view mirror. 

We seized with excitement, throwing the vehicle into a U-turn in time to see the massive Grizzly bear bounding away from the road and toward the lake.  In bone, muscle, and mass he looked the part of a King in this wilderness.  His speed was astounding.  With each giant stride his shoulder bones rippled beneath his fur.  In moments he was at the water’s edge and almost out of sight around the bend. 

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There, he paused, sniffing the air, calculating his options.  He stepped gingerly into the water and then, as graceful as a ballerina, he pushed off into the lake with barely a splash.  He glided through the placid water and each time he surfaced, his head grew tinier with distance.  Then, he was out of sight. 

Far from the hustle of traveling, from the roar of machines and the cheering of fans, we witnessed in these silent moments the earth in motion, life impervious to our presence. 

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When Carl Sagan perceived the earth—a “pale blue dot,” in a grand solar system—he observed that we are merely “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” In all the solar systems, within all the galaxies, within a vast, vast universe, we are insignificant.  And yet, it is plain to see, our planet Earth is truly remarkable.

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