January 1, 1981. I was so excited. New Year’s Day! I always went riding on New Year’s Day. And this time, I had a brand new dirt bike!
Honda offered their first ‘500’ CR for sale as a 1981 model, available late in 1980. And I bought one. I picked it up from the dealership a couple of days after Christmas, and was ready to go riding for the first time on New Years Day.
A group of us always went riding on New Year’s Day, at my track that I used to have – Lake Morena. The track was great, really long, lots of tough obstacles, really nice sandy dirt – made of decomposed granite. And when it rained, it was the perfect track to ride on. And it seemed like every New Year’s Day the track was nice and loamy and wet, yet the weather was always perfect.
Roger De Coster’s last year racing professionally for Suzuki was 1979. But in 1980 he raced the 500 World Motocross Championship Series for Honda. Not only did he race, but I believe he was also put in a position to mentor Honda’s riders (like Andre Malherbe, who would go on to win the 1980 500 World Motocross Championship) and to help develop their motocross bikes for the future. Roger retired from professional racing in a fashion as no one else ever has, winning his last race convincingly, sweeping both motos of 1980 Luxembourg 500 Grand Prix Finale in August of that year.
Since Roger was my hero as far as motorcycling, I wanted to ride what he raced. (Although looking back, I realize there was quite a difference between what you can buy in your local dealership versus what the top riders in the world raced in 1980.) Therefore I bought my first Honda – that ’81 CR 450.
I picked up my friend who was going to go riding with me. He had raced and ridden a lot more than I had. He was a very experienced rider.
We got to my track, which was about 45 minutes east of El Cajon, and the track was perfect. Nice wet sandy loamy dirt. The weather was perfect – clear blue skies, about 70 degrees. It was MX heaven. And I had a brand new CR 450 waiting to be ridden!
I was getting dressed (in my new JT Racing gear) to ride my brand new dirt bike. I told my friend John ‘Go ahead and ride my bike while I get dressed. Warm it up, and then go ahead and ride it around!’
He got on the bike, it started on the first kick, he let the bike warm up for a couple of minutes, and off he want. I continued to get dressed, getting on my boots and putting on my shoulder pads.
As he rode my brand new dirt bike around the perfectly groomed track, I got everything for myself ready to go – helmet, goggles, gloves. He came by a section of the track that looped around my where we had parked my truck. The was a wide, sweeping right hand corner, then you dip down into a low spot about 12 feet, then rise about 12 feet, then dip down about 12 feet, and it repeated itself two more times. It was like giant ‘rollers’. They were too big for whoops, and even too big to be jumps – they were like giant mounds that you just rolled up and over. Even top pros who used to ride on my track back in those days (all the factory riders of that era) used to just ride over these – they were like big humps to go up, over and then back down.
I look over my shoulder as my friend is exciting this right hand corner. And he launches himself about 45 feet up in the air. I was stunned. Speechless. I knew before he even landed this was going to be bad. As he and the bike reached the apex of their height in the air, he was not in control of the bike … and it was getting worse. By the time he went out of sight and right before he was going to hit the ground, I could see that his body, and the handlebars were closer to the ground than the wheels. The wheels were almost pointing towards the sky now – he was that much out of control.
I didn’t see him land. I did hear it though. A distinct ‘thud’. Then silence. No motor sound. I run over, and he’s screaming and repeating himself “I’m hurt. I hurt myself. I think I’m hurt. I’m hurt. I think I hurt myself. I’m hurt bad I think.”
He did hurt himself. Pretty good. He shattered his collarbone, broke ribs, …. but later on we would learn the real damage that was quite disconcerting to us – he bruised his heart really bad, and had internal bleeding. But we didn’t know that then.
I get him back into my truck. And he’s starting to go into shock. He’s mumbling things, not coherent, and had turned white as a ghost. I got his damaged arm secure, gave him some Tylenol, and we were going to jam to the closest hospital – about 45 minutes away in El Cajon.
I go to retrieve my brand new dirt bike to try and get it in the truck quickly before taking off for the hospital. He hurt the bike pretty good too. And I hadn’t even ridden it yet! Broken front wheel, broken front fender, cracked gas tank, smashed in side case, broken throttle housing, both grips torn to shreds, broken front brake lever …. and the real capper – front forks twisted, scratched, and bent really bad.
So much for me riding my new dirtbike! I now had a brand new dirt bike that wouldn’t even roll for me to push it up the ramp into the truck, and my friend inside the truck screaming for me to get him to the hospital.
It was a fun ride to the hospital. I was going as fast as that ’74 Ford F-100 could go. Between 100 – 110mph. I was passing cars on the right hand side of the shoulder of the freeway.
In the meantime, my friend was slouched in the passenger seat, mumbling how hurt he was, repeating himself over and over … but what really scared me was the color of his skin. He was starting to literally turn a grayish/white. (I learned later it was from the combination of internal bleeding and going into shock.)
I get him into emergency room, where they were quite rude because he was ‘a dirt bike rider’. Anyway, they finally see him. I wait another hour. Two hours. Four hours. Eight hours. Finally some one comes out to me and says ‘You are lucky you brought your friend in. He tore part of his aorta and was bleeding internally and if you had taken much longer to get here to the hospital he probably wouldn’t of lived.”
My friend ended up staying in various hospitals for his heart damage for over a month.
And my friend did something no world caliber rider had ever done at my track – use a small hump as a huge jump! To this day I don’t know what he was thinking. He probably doesn’t even remember it now, it’s been so long ago. But I remember …. because I was ready to ride my brand new dirt bike … but ended up spending about another 700 bucks just to restore it to it’s original condition to go ride it!