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.

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Much Yet to be Written…

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“This,” she says, holding up a figurine, “Is an Evel Knievel collector’s item.” Her lips curl into a mischievous smile. “Dave was a big fan.”  She goes on to tell a story of one particular road trip, when he went on a quest to meet Knievel. 

My eyes wander across the rows of signed jerseys—everyone from Carmichael to Villopoto; medals bearing almost four decades of pro motocross series insignia hang from various hooks.

“First edition Redbull can,” she laughs, and sets a stout gold can back on the shelf.   

The room is a treasure chest of motocross history.  Each piece resonates memories, but judging from the far-off glow I see in Rita Coombs’ eyes, I imagine that it’s only through experience that one appreciates the true value of these treasures.

“And this,” she cackles, “Someone sent us their application on a boot!” She holds up an old Scott motocross boot made of red plastic.  It’s covered in a handwritten resume.  I’m not sure whether or not the guy got the job, but his application made the memorabilia room, which is, in itself, a great accomplishment.

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Later we meet Davey Coombs, editor-n-chief of Racer X Productions.  When we tell him we’re planning to hit some of the Civil War sites on our way up to Budds Creek, he begins to map out an itinerary of places to see, starting with Antietam.  “23,000 killed—more deaths during the 12 hour battle at Antietam than any other single day of battle on American soil!” he exclaims.

“So you’re a history buff?” I observe. 

“I was going to be a history teacher,” he says, smiling. 

“You didn’t plan on working the family business?”

“Not at all,” he reflects.  “I went to college.  Got degrees in English and history.”  I raise my eyebrows in surprise.  One would assume Davey would have simply fallen in line with his father, Dave Coombs Sr.—founder of MX Sports, father of professional motocross, the man who invented off road moto as we know it today, who knocked on Loretta Lynn’s front door and asked if he could host a national amateur motocross race on her ranch (and she said yes!). 

“Carrie Jo too,” Davey continues.  “She went off to law school.  She’d been practicing law for a little while when I graduated, and she gave me a call.  Told me she’d spent some time out there.  Told me it wasn’t that great,” and we laugh because we’ve all spent enough time working in the ‘real world’ to know that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. “I was a journalist and a photographer, and I grew up racing motocross, so I came back here and started a newspaper.”

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He pulls out a browned newspaper entitled The Racing Paper, dated March 1990.  We pause for a moment to marvel at it as the reality of just how far they’ve come, sets in.  It seems Dave Sr. wasn’t the only visionary in the family.

Davey’s nonchalance belies his accomplishments: The Racing Paper evolved into what is now Racer X Illustrated and Racer X Online—the world’s top source of motocross and supercross news, videos, features, and photos.  Racer X is the source I turned to a year ago—when I left my classroom and my books and my students—to follow a sport I didn’t know much about, to nurture the fledgling business that Jason and I had created. 

During the five days we spend camped out in the Racer X parking lot, they offer up not only their office and Internet, but their hot shower, their cabin by the lake, and their boat.  We’re astounded by their generosity.

When we reluctantly return to the road, I sit down at my computer as the Racer X building fades into the distance.  The page before me is blank.  But I know there is much yet to be written.