Editor’s blog: It was 1974. I was 12 years old. Me and my friend (Jeff) had this great idea – sneak into practice on Saturday for the Carlsbad Grand Prix of Motocross!
At that time, there were three big races in California that motocross fans HAD to go to. The Superbowl of Motocross at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Saddleback Trans-AMA Motocross. And the Carlsbad US Grand Prix of Motocross.
The USGP was held almost every year on Father’s Day Weekend in June. For the GP’s, Saturday is a day for the riders to practice. And they (the promoters of the race) would allow spectators into practice on Saturday to watch all the GP stars that we dreamed about all year long. Roger De Coster. Heikki Mikkola. Brad Lackey. Ake Jonsson. Bengt Aberg. Adolf Weil. Arne Kring. Gerrit Wolsink. And more.
But in 1974 (if I remember correctly) something really bad happened. Saturday practice was closed to the public! Terror! I waited all year long to see those riders on Saturday! My life had come to a screeching halt. My life was over. I HAD to see those riders on Saturday practice! It was the only opportunity to not fight with 45,000 fans that would show up for the race on Sunday!
So, we came up with ‘the great idea’. We (my friend Jeff and I) would SNEAK into Carlsbad Raceway on Friday night, spend the night in the scrub bushes in the center of the track, and then watch practice!
We had my mom drop us off on a street BEHIND the track around 9:30pm Friday night. (How we convinced my mom that we should be dropped off in the dark an hour from home and be allowed to spend the night in the dirt …. I’m going to have to ask her about that!)
We knew which direction the track was in, and walked in from the back in the dark … first on a dirt trail, but the brush & bushes started to get thicker and thicker. And we had one little flashlight. The walk was maybe 1 mile … but it took us a few hours to get into ‘position’. In the middle of the frickin’ bushes.
It was just us, the bushes (and ants and spiders) and the dark. We had nothing with us except a few candy bars, and that flash light that stopped working well before the sun started to come up.
I froze my @#$ off, and had spiders and ants on me all night. Didn’t sleep for even a minute. That was one of the longer nights of my life…
However, the anticipation of ‘watching practice’ on Saturday far exceeded any cold, and fear of spiders. The sun started to come up around 5:30am. I was happy for two reasons – I would finally be able to see, and try and make sure none of those spiders and ants were on me. And … I would finally start to not be so cold.
I did have one other possession with me – my most important possession! My parents 8mm movie camera! (Watch my video here)
My friend and I were too stupid to think before hand – what we were going to do once practice started? Do we just come out of the bushes and act like we are supposed to be there? Would anyone notice us? Would they kick us out? We didn’t really care. We only wanted a glimpse of all those riders we dreamed about during the year.
Not only was this the ‘big’ race of the year that we all looked forward to, this race was shown on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. It was big time. Part of the ABC announcing crew was Sam Posey (of car racing fame primarily), and Bruce Jenner (of Olympic Gold medal fame primarily).
Around 6:30am, now very hungry, bored, dirty, and not really sure what to do next …. we hear some voices. I told my buddy ‘Keep quiet! We don’t want to get kicked out before practice even starts!’
As time goes by, the voices are now obviously getting closer to us.
The voices are now right next to us, and I can see there are four people standing there in the middle of the track talking.
So what does my buddy do as these four guys start walking past our little ‘hideaway’ in the bushes next to the track?
He jumps out of the bushes and says “HI!”
It’s Sam Posey, Bruce Jenner, Brad Lackey, and Jimmy Weinert. They were walking with a small audio cassette recorder, talking about the track for the ABC Wide World of Sports broadcast. And my friend asks for their autographs!
They were stunned. Then they started laughing. “You guys spent the night in the bushes????? You are hardcore fans!” (Or maybe they really thought we were incredibly stupid : )
They told us to follow them, but we stayed a few feet behind as they walked the rest of the track and did their audio recording of what the track was all about. As we got close to the finish line, I started to get nervous. They continued to say ‘Just follow us’.
But what we were in for? Were we going to get kicked out? Were we going to get arrested? Were we going to have to pay for tickets? (We had maybe four bucks between the two of us.)
We walked into the pits, … my heart was basically in my throat. I was scared. And what did they do? They got us all credentialed up, offered us food, gave us event programs, introduced us to a bunch of people, told us how they make the TV show …. we were living large! (And chances are they were really probably getting so many laughs out of parading around two of the craziest people they had ever met!)
It didn’t get any better than that. Being ‘in’ at the Carlsbad GP! On a day when no spectators were allowed. It was literally a dream come true! And my 8mm camera was ready to go!
No complaining about the video quality! It is over 35 years old, and I was only 12!
Saturday was stuff that motocross dreams are made of. And of course, Sunday was ‘the race’. Gerrit Wolsink on Suzuki was the overall winner. And Heikki Mikkola would go on that year to win the 500cc World Motocross Championship.
p.s. Saturday night we got to hang out with Heikki Mikkola in his small camper. He was smoking a cigarette and having a beer. I asked him who he thought was going to win. And he said “I don’t know who win, but somebody win for sure!”