Crashing

Frank Rant

Crashing, a subject near and un-dear to my heart.  In 21 years as a promoter I have literally seen it all.  I have seen it so many times that I am usually moving towards a crash before it happens.  You can almost always project a get-off by watching the tires, believe me it works.  It is difficult to teach because your instinct is to watch the rider but rarely will the tires lie.  While thinking of this it brought back memories I would rather forget but my lovely wife reminded me of many of my own crashes from over the years.  I only remember the racing crashes, I hate to practice, I have always preferred to spend my money racing and I find I don’t usually ride at a race pace unless it is race day.  So all of my flashbacks involve racing.  My very first race ever, an AMC event at Carlsbad Raceway I don’t remember the exact year but it was either 70 or 71.  I was racing a Kawasaki Rotary valved 175 in the 250 class.  This was before the beginner class, so I was racing against Novice or Juniors on Maico’s, CZ’s, Husky”s not to many Japanese bikes in those days.  I kept telling myself  that all I wanted to do was finish.  No such luck, last lap after I had been lapped numerous times I hit one of the many snow fences lining the track and got entangled in it.  The bike stalled and then flooded as I tried until I was blue in the face to get it lit again.  It was a long push back, and my dad who had brought me was done with it and we loaded up and left before the 2nd of 3 motos.  By the time I was ready for my 2nd race I went solo, I don’t remember any other incident from that race so I’m pretty sure I didn’t crash.  The 2nd time I hit the ground was at another AMC event but this one was held at the riding area that was west of Miramar Naval Air Station.  Somehow they managed to hold a few races there in the early 70’s.  By today’s standards it was about as crude at it could have been.  I don’t remember them ever watering the track.  It really wasn’t even marked out.  But it was a race and it was really close to where I lived so I was there.  What I really remember is crashing in the first turn.  I don’t really think I was knocked out but I remember laying on the ground and opening my eyes, then I panicked.  I recall thinking “oh crap that was a bad crash, and I must be dead”.  Leaning over me was a wizened old gentleman with a long white beard and long white hair, he says to me “are you all right my son”.  Hey, I was only 16 and I was thinking I am looking at God, I had gone to heaven.  Of course it wasn’t God, it was the 70’s.  My 3rd memorable crash was at the now defunct Speedway 117.  Wednesday night motocross under the lights, about 300 yards from the Mexican border.  By now I had graduated to a CZ 125, you had to have been there.  I made my big purchase about 6 weeks before Honda released the Elsinore, enough said.  So anyway, first moto, full gate of 125 novice’s.  Night races had really short tight tracks with really short starts.  Big crash, 8 or 9 bikes go down and I’m right in the middle of it all.  So there are 3 or 4 of us laying on the ground under bikes in various stages of agony, when someone says “everybody stay down, they will have to restart”.  Hey, it sounds good to me, so the meat wagon which back then was the old style ambulance the ones that look like a hearse, comes roaring out to the carnage.  Somehow everybody gets up and gets back on their bikes and heads off to the gate for the restart.  Except me,  I have to ride in the back of the ambulance back to my truck.  I remember looking out the the grime covered ambulance windows as everyone but me got to restart.  I vowed then and there, that would never happen again.  My next 3 big crashes effected the way that REM operates, each one was different and the way they occurred left a lasting impression on how I viewed racing.  Saddleback Saturday Motocross, a legendary experience for all of my generation.  I had gone up with my racing buddies.  They had this downhill that went alongside the pits.  About halfway down was this little jump, there was also a entrance to the track just after the jump.  So I am halfway thru  my moto, about middle of the pack.  I hit this downhill jump and some ahole of the first degree just rides onto the track, right after I launch off this jump pinned in 4th gear.  He wasn’t racing, he just decided to jump onto the track and get in some laps.  I hit him so hard it broke the forks off of my Husky.  Fortunately for both of us no one received any really bad injuries, but if my friends hadn’t pulled me off of him I would have inserted my now separated Husky forks up this guys ass.  That’s why we make you get a hand stamp and a practice sticker, and watch the track like we do.  The next one was at Carlsbad Raceway, a CMC race.  Back then you could practice your start right up to the start of your race.  We would always get in front of our gate, and practice our start all the way down, go into the corner hot, and come out on the far right side of the start straight.  So I burn one off, and just as I am about to slow for the first turn I see a Suzuki coming back up the inside, with the rider looking back at the rear of his bike.  I get off the gas, swing to the right just as Mr. Kamikaze looks up to see me barreling at him, so he does what every right thinking idiot does and moves to his left, where he should have been all along.  The resulting crash must have looked spectacular because from my perspective it sounded like a train wreck.  I hit the bars so hard with my thighs that it bent my steel handlebars so far forward it looked like a bull.  My forks were bent into the frame, broke both my tripleclamps, ruined a front wheel, and bent up an aluminum tank.  His bike was far worse.  His injuries were far worse also.  I feel bad about it now, but I remember standing over him yelling at him about his failings as a human being.  I was lucky, I had bruises on my thighs for 6 months.  Believe it or not, I became friends with him.  But, that is the reason we don’t allow practice starts.  One of the worst crashes of my life was at Glen Helen, at a CMC race.  This was a long time before we ran races there,  the track had some really strange designs, one of which was a really fast jump right off the start.  The pack had not spread out at all and there were probably 35 of us within spitting distance when we hit this long tabletop.  I remember watching the rider to my right lose it on the face of the jump and cut directly in front of me and hit the guy to my left.  He then took me out just as we hit the takeoff.  My next memory is looking at the bottom of my forks with my feet stuck in the handlebars.  The resulting crash took out most of the field.  I was laying on the track my bike had gone off the track.  No flaggers, they didn’t stop the race, no medics came to check any of us out.  It took me 10 minutes to get to my feet, someone else took my bike back and loaded it for me.  To this day I am pretty sure I broke something in my back.  I know it took months before I felt normal again.  Of course I never went to the hospital.  And I don’t think I missed any work, but that drive home was one long SOB.  We try to give our racers the best medical response possible, I have never forgotten what it felt like to be on my own after getting hurt.  Probably the most embarrassing was when I crashed in front of 60,000 people at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.  My good friend Terry Boyd was announcing the Micky Thompson races back in 88.  Somehow I got wrangled into racing the one in San Diego.  All I had to race was a KX500, so the late Vince Warren let me use his Honda 250 that he rode at the Anaheim Supercross.  I went out in practice and they had this gnarly whoop section that the trucks were running opposite of what the bikes did. Everyone crashed there, except Jim Holley.  So I figured that if I could just master that section and not go down I could qualify.  It almost worked.  Vince was probably 155lbs.  I was around 190.  I had never ridden his bike before practice and did not get the set up even close.  They had one double on the track a simple little 80′ double but the approach was snotty and you had to really hit it to clear it.  Off the start I only needed to pass 3 people to qualify for the main, (Ultra Cross was a bit different than Supercross).  I got 2 people in the aforementioned whoops that led up to the double.  I went around the flat corner  and even though I didn’t have good drive I knew it was now or never.  I remember thinking on the way down that I did not have enough to clear it, I didn’t.  I hit square on the landing jump.  I came from 15′ up to a standing stop in nothing flat.  The Honda literally stuck, and I did the endo over the bars, but still hanging on.  I swear when I jumped up to get back on the bike it was sitting upright.  One badly sprained wrist, and a badly sprained ego.  While all of this was going on my buddy Terry Boyd was having a field day over the p.a. with the oldest man to ever race a Ultra Cross.  At least for then I was.  I guess if you look at it that way I held a record for a little while.  I’ve had many crashes over the years, some spectacular, some embarrassing, some painful, a couple even funny.  When I think back about them, they were all my fault.  I did something somewhere that led up to it.  I was in the wrong position, the bike wasn’t set up right, I was taking a chance that I didn’t get away with.  I have always tried to take those lessons and put them to use at REM.  Crashing for me is called research and development.