Looking back at my motorcycle racing career, I think of a lot of things. People that I’ve met …. goals that I accomplished ….. places I traveled to …. and more.
One aspect that really stands out is the people that influenced and helped me along the way. One person stands out the most. That person was my father: Richard ‘Dick’ Johnson. He would take a bullet for me, he would fight for me, he was always on the side of the track cheering for me at every race.
Fathers play a very important role in motocross. They can play the role of mechanic. They can play the role of friend. They can play the role of cheerleader. They can play the role of disciplinarian and drill sergeant. They can play role of sponsor. They do it all sometimes, especially when you are young. They take you riding, they fix your bikes, and they pick you up when you fall down.
Now that I’m a father, and my sons are wanting to start racing, I start to look at the things my father did when I was growing up. The first impression I have of my dad is that he was Super-Man. If there was a frightening noise outside of our house late at night, he would walk outside in his underwear to see what is was. In my small brain, I’m thinking that the noise was a combination the biggest monster in the world, Dracula, and Frankenstein. But there was my dad, going out to protect our family.
On the other side of the coin, as you are growing up, you sometimes get to a point in your life where you think you know more and are much smarter than your dad. “My dad hasn’t experienced what I’m going thru in my life.” If your dad tells you not to play with fire ’cause you are going to get burned, you think “that’s not going to happen to me”, and you won’t learn until you do play with fire and get burned.
When I was 11 years old, my friend and I were racing at Barona Oaks. As kids, we went down toward a stream nearby to throw stones. My friend’s dad came by and asked him what he was doing. He said “I’m throwing stones with Rick”. His father then slapped him across the face, knocking him to the ground. He then berated his child, screaming at him “Why aren’t you watching other races and the riders and the lines they are taking?”
I also had a friend named Ted. His mother and father were divorced. Most of the time, Ted’s dad would just drop him and his motorcycle off at the races, leave him to race all day, and then come back to pick him up.
I’ve seen obsessive fathers who are trying to live out their childhood thru their kids, to fathers that have put their kids on motorcycles just to shut them up and give them something to do. I was very fortunate that I had a father and mother and sister that supported what I did. They were always proud of me when I did well. They tried to cheer me up when I did bad. When I got hurt, they looked after me. Racing was a positive experience.
Now, my oldest son Luke is begging me to race. I have to admit – I’m scared. I know he will fall. And I know he will get hurt. I don’t care who you are, or what you do, thinking you can get on a motorcycle and race and not get hurt is thinking like a fool. Both of my hands have been partially fused. I’ve broken my leg and collarbone. I’ve dislocated a hip and fingers. I’ve had surgery on both of my knees and one ankle. It’s like putting your kid into a boxing ring time after time and thinking he won’t get his nose broken. It is going to happen, I guarantee it. Right now, I struggle with wanting to protect him from getting hurt. But I also think about all the joy and fun and daydreaming that I would do on a motorcycle as a boy. I could express myself any way I wanted on a motorcycle. And I don’t want to cheat my son out of those experiences.
My message to fathers is: Remember when you were a kid, and at times you questioned everything your dad said. Also, let your kids be kids. Let them have fun. Let them do things that make them laugh. Don’t make it too serious, or by the time they turn 17 or 18 they might resent you and/or motocross.
My message to kids: Remember your parents put their heart and soul into your racing, and you have to show them the amount of respect that theydeserve. You need to try hard every time you compete. If you get tired when racing, then work on improving your conditioning. If someone is faster than you, work on whatever you can do to be a better rider.
My message to both parents and kids: Have a goal. Is racing just a way to get out and have a good time? Or is it a way that you want to go for a career? One of the best father-son combos I’ve ever seen was John and Jonathon Knight. They both raced, although not seriously. As father and son, both enjoyed motocross, and it gave them an opportunity to go out and have fun, and to be able to talk with one another. It wasn’t about winning races, or getting trophies, it was about a bond between father and son. Ultimately I believe that’s what every father wants in the long run.
Now, I’m a father, and to my sons I’m sure sometimes I’m a SuperHero. And sometimes I’m sure they think I’m an idiot. As in all aspects of life, you are going to experience up and downs. It’s the same with motorcycling. I believe the joy involved with motorcycles outweighs any drawbacks. I don’t care if it’s winning a race, winning your first championship, or clearing a double jump on your practice track for the first time, it can bring a lot of joy. The bottom line is “Is it worth it?” I say “Yes!”. Would I do it all over again? Absolutely. Will I let my son try to experience it? Yes (but I’ll be scared to death too).