Hi everyone. I originally wrote this story a few years ago. But I get so many people that remember this, and ask me about it … I thought I’d share it with you again. I can laugh at it now … but it wasn’t so funny back then : )
Riding for American Honda is a big thrill. It doesn’t get much better than that if you are a factory rider. A lot of responsibilities and pressures come with the ride too. I had my chance starting in 1986.
My first race for Honda was in January of that year at round one of the CMC Golden State series in Gorman, California.
Before that, all of us at Honda had been doing a lot of testing. I was struggling a bit, since I had ridden Yamaha for most of my life. I rode a lot with my team-mates Johnny O’Mara and David Bailey at the ‘Honda-Land’ Supercross track. Those guys had it wired. They made me look stupid. Every time I went out on the track with them, I felt stupid. I’d bang my ankles … always over jumping …. it was awkward … it wasn’t my ‘playground’. I was comparing myself to them, and they were always ‘spot-on’, … while I was flailing around.
That first race at Gorman I woke up early in the morning with pneumonia. Sick. Chills. Fever. Can’t breathe. I felt like I was going to die. I ended up not racing that day. David and Johnny both had troubles. Jeff Ward of Team Kawasaki dominated. I thought ‘Boy, what are we in for at Honda?’
So, my first race for Honda really happened the following weekend at Sandhill. My bike was blistering fast that day! Everything felt so good. The track was perfect – very tacky – I was hauling butt! Everything was flowing so smoothly … I was wheelie-ing out of corners and throwing a big roost from my rear tire. It was awesome!
In my heat race I was flying! I felt like Superman! I was clearing the top of a hill that had four big, rolling bumps in it. Everyone was jumping the first two, and then jumping the final two down the hill. I felt so good – I was clicking thru the gears carrying about a six inch wheelie up the hill, and then I’d pre-load the bike and launch over the top. I felt invincible.
I don’t remember a lot of what happened after that.
I came ripping over the top of that hill. My front wheel floated about four feet farther than I was normally jumping. My front wheel hadn’t landed yet, but my rear wheel hit the ground hard and it shot meover the bars and into the ground.
Mistake #1 – I am not Superman.
Mistake #2 – I am not invincible.
I learned that while Superman can continue to fly, when I went flying off my bike, sooner or later I’m going to come crashing down to the ground. I felt more like Underdog than Superman.
I landed right on my head. Hard. I got up, and Glen Dickenson (from R & D) was standing nearby. He picked my bike up for me and started yelling ‘Go! Go! Go!’ I was dizzy. I asked him what had happened. He said ‘You are fine – go!’
My visor was broken and hanging off of my helmet. Glen tried to rip it off, but I said ‘It’s better to have at least a partial visor than none at all!’
I got on my bike, and all of a sudden the pain starts to set in. I said to myself ‘Forget this – I’m going back to my truck’. I needed to sit down.
I didn’t know where I was, what I was doing, or even which way the track went. I looked around, crossed the track, and headed back to the pits.
Mistake #3 – I rode over to the Yamaha pits. (Don’t forget, I was brand new to Honda, having ridden for Yamaha previously.)
I felt like I was in a bad dream. I was in a lot of pain. I didn’t know where I was, except I had a vague recognition of Sandhill. I didn’t even remember how I got there. I cruise into the Yamaha pits, and everyone was standing around looking at me. I heard ‘What the hell are you doing here? Are you an idiot, or are you trying to be a jerk?’ I was stunned. Then I looked at my bike. I saw the red fender and I thought ‘I ride a Honda???’ Then I thought ‘No way, this can’t be true … how did I get on a Honda?’
Next, I ride around the pits trying to figure out where I’m supposed to go. I don’t see any Honda pits. Then I rode up onto a big hill that overlooks the whole area, and I see the Honda trucks.
I start heading over there, and the whole time I’m thinking ‘I ride for Honda? How did this happen? This has got to be a dream! And if I race Honda, I don’t even know who my mechanic is!’
I pull up to the Honda trucks and see Jake (the Showa suspension guy). I said ‘Hey Jake, which truck is mine?’ He points to a truck, I set my bike on the stand, and then I sit on the bumper. I’m thinking ‘Who is my mechanic?’
Brian Lunniss was walking up, and then I thought ‘Oh yeah, Brian’s my mechanic! Now I remember!’
Here’s how our conversation went:
Brian: What’s up?
Me: I don’t know. What happened?
Brian: Someone said you crashed. Are you OK?
Me: I think I’m OK. ………… What happened?
Brian: I just told you. You crashed.
Me: OK, I forgot. Now I know. ………… What happened?
Brian: Quit asking me! I’m tired of telling you! I just told you!
Me: I’m at Sandhill … I’m racing for Honda …. I crashed. ……….. How did I get here?
Brian: Rental car.
Me: Where’s my rental car?
Brian: Right in front of you!
Me: Oh yeah …. now I remember. That’s my rental car. I drove here, right?
After sitting for a few minutes, I said ‘Enough of this place, I’m going home!’ My head hurt. I started getting undressed, and Brian says to me ‘What are you doing?’ I told him I was going home. He asked me if I broke my leg or something, and I told him no. I told him my head hurt a lot. He gave me some aspirin, and told me I had to ride in the last qualifier to get into the race. I said ‘Dude! I can’t even remember where I’m at!’
He said ‘Hey, you are not hurt! Get back out there!
I did go out for the qualifier. I think I won …. but I don’t remember.
Then it was time for the two main motos. I think I might of even won one of those motos. But one thing I do remember is blistering past Broc Glover on his Yamaha. I felt guilty. I felt guilty because my bike was so fast!
There was a wide corner before a big uphill. Broc was ahead of me … he had gotten a great start. I remember being behind him going into that corner, and then I moved out to a lane on the outside of the corner, clicked up two gears, and just motored by him.
I’ll never forget the disgust in Broc’s voice after the race. ‘I cannot believe how fast you passed me!’
It was just one of those things … it had nothing to do with my riding ability. I just turned the throttle and had more horsepower. At that point I was very thankful I was riding the Honda ; )