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The Champ

I have no inside connections, and this is by no means a story about me trying to be cool; I’m too old for that (42). This is a story for all the people who line up outside the stadium an hour before the gates open for practice on Saturday. It’s a story for all the fans, that for whatever reason, don’t get to many, if any, supercross races and only hear about the racing, but not what its like to be there. So here goes …

I’ve been to about 20 races in just over three years. At first I went to the races in my hometown, but in 1999 they blew up the Seattle Kingdome, and I had to start traveling to get to a race. My first trip was to Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, and I was hooked.

It was mid-February I decided to go to see the 125 East riders once this season. After talking to quite a few folks at the Phoenix sx, all said St. Louis was the best venue. (I was choosing between Pontiac, St. Louis and Dallas.) My wife, who for whatever reason supports my obsession with dirt bikes, spent a day on the computer getting me plane tickets – $210 round trip, Seattle to St. Louis, non stop. Hotel – $80.00 a night, 2 blocks from the stadium, and a seat at the race: front row, level 200.

I received an e-mail from “Bermbuster”. I had spoken to him once before, but we never met. He says in the e-mail he’s going to St. Louis. I call him to see about meeting sometime before the race. It’s cool to make friends from the board – we have a little community of dirt bikers that keep in touch all year long.

On March 26th I called Rick Johnson to see if he’s going to the race. (I have RJ’s phone number. I am sworn to secrecy as to how I got it. I think this would really make the diary a lot more interesting if I can meet up with him before the race.) TODAY HE CALLED ME BACK! I was in the bike shop of all places and come out and on the cell phone is a message from Rick Johnson. He’s not going to St. Louis, but would love to meet up again sometime. Just the fact he called back made my day. I saved the message and played it back for my 11-year old son. He thought it was cool. It’s a week and a half before I leave.

Wednesday, April 3rd. It’s 2:30 in the morning and I can’t sleep. I’ve had too little coffee and too little sleep, so I have no idea why I’m up. I leave tomorrow. This is a much-needed get away for me right now. I’ve been working a lot, leave before sunup and get home after sundown. I have talked with Bermbuster (AKA Jay) and we will try to meet up Friday night. I made plans for Saturday to have breakfast with Terry Boyd, the track announcer. He lives in Oregon and we flew back together last year from Phoenix. He is a great guy and has been doing the sx races since the 80’s. His first race was the epic battle between Rick Johnson and David Bailey at the ’86 Anaheim race. It was his first time track side and the promoter told him if he screwed up he’d fire him in front of 60,000 people. He’s been doing it ever since.

This is what I know: Travis won’t be there because of his sinus infection. LaRocco out and Windham out. I wonder if the Suzuki mechanics get paid when they have no riders for the races week after week? I will miss Travis. He is always a fun rider to watch.

The day had come – I’m heading to St. Louis. Once I left my house – I felt free – no more burdens of work, no alarm clocks … it was great! So, I fly out of Seattle Thursday afternoon. Once in St. Louis, I took the ‘MetroLink’ from the airport to downtown. My hotel was at least a few blocks away. I was walking all alone in downtown St. Louis late at night carrying my suitcase and my laptop. I felt like I should of been wearing a sign that says “Rob me!” on it.

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The track

Friday: Went outside to see how far the stadium is from my hotel. (2 blocks). As soon as I get to the street a box van goes by with all the mx stickers and something about 2 brothers racing on the side. All of a sudden I AM STOKED! It hits me right there that THIS IS SUPERCROSS. Now I have no time for breakfast, I have to get to the stadium.

As I’m walking into the stadium I met a rider and his mechanic. The rider’s name is Richard Wuori and the mechanic’s name is Steve Drewlo. They are going to just a few of the events this year, and Richard rides a KTM 125. They drove from Bismarck, North Dakota for the race. He has raced in a couple of supercross races this year so far. I’ll try to follow him throughout the weekend and see how he does. He says he has made the evening shows but not the main yet. Very nice guys and I wish them the best.

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Privateer Power (Richard)

I get to the pits and the factory trucks are still setting up the awnings and all that goes with that. I do know some of the semi drivers and a couple of mechanics. It is good to see them and say hello. All they know about me is that I’m the “Christmas tree guy” from the NW, and that I love supercross. I try not to bother anyone outside of “Good to see you” kind of stuff. Everyone is very busy.

I was able to get a pass to get in on Friday for the first practice. This is good. I love to see the riders take the track for the first time. Watching the riders figure out the track is amazing to me. They will double double a section a couple times then someone triples. Out of the blue someone will quad the whole deal. Now all the other “fast” riders know they have to also. One by one they take their turns till finally the best half dozen or so riders are flying over the quad. By the time they come out Saturday most of the “figuring” out the track is over and they are just fine tuning their lines.

The track walk-thru is at noon. I am very lucky and I have a chance to walk the track for the first time ever. Let me tell you this. Those jumps look pretty big from the stands, maybe 20 feet away. But standing on the face of a triple – they are way bigger than they look! I think to myself “These guys are crazy”! Not only are the jumps bigger than I thought, the distance they have to slow down for the turns is shorter than it looks.

So, I’m walking the track and staying out of the way and think “Hey, I would like a picture of me on the finish line jump”. I see a guy in a Honda shirt and I ask if he would take my picture while I stand on the jump, with the finish line banner over me. He’s real cool about it and says “No problem”. He takes the picture. Someone else walks up to him, laughing, and says “Bet that’s a first for you Erik!” Then I said “Are you Erik Kehoe?” He says “Yes”. I have just asked the Honda team manager to take my picture. He was so cool about it …. I also had a chance to talk with Irv Braun, the track announcer at the races. We got to talk for about 15 minutes. I think he does a great job and it shows during the races.

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Irv Braun

After the walk thru the 125’s come out to practice. There is a lot of “gamesmanship” that goes on. Like Reed doesn’t want Langston to follow him for very long and figure out his lines. And Langston doesn’t want Reed behind him for long either. So one guy waits till the other comes by and then gets behind him. Then they do maybe a lap and the front guy pulls off to practice a start. Pretty soon the same thing goes on in reverse. The mood is more of a “fun” practice than Saturday though. It is so cool to watch them taking different lines and doing things on the track for the first time. There are no whoop sections on Friday. It’s just a long, flat section of the track. They will add the whoops on Friday night. The 250’s come out and here they are: Jeremy, Ricky, Ezra, David and the rest, one right after the other. I start taking so many pictures that I realize I’m not watching much of the action. So I just put the camera away and relish the moment.

Later, after the 2nd 125 “fast guys” practice I go back into the pits. I brought a Seattle Mariners baseball to give to Grant Langston. I gave one to Travis last year, and he thought it was cool, so I brought one for Grant. So many folks ask these guys for all their gear and who knows what else. I think its nice to bring something for them once in a while. Grant comes out of the semi, and I tell him I brought him the baseball. Why Grant Langston? First because I’m a KTM guy. Love the underdog. Second, he could be top dog overseas. But he decided to come over here to race and compete with the best. My hat’s off to that kind of competitor.

Being there for Friday practice is an incredible experience for me. Walking the track sure put a new spin on the amount of appreciation I have for their ability to ride a dirt bike.

Richard looks good on the track and is clearing both triples. Problem area for him is the timing section after the first triple and he hopes to figure that out on Saturday.

Friday night I met up with “Bermbuster” from the message board. We had dinner, and he is a very cool guy. About my age and rides a lot. Its always good to meet like-minded people.

Saturday: This morning I met Terry Boyd for breakfast over at the Holiday Inn. He is just a great guy. We talk more about rock and roll than supercross because we both love music. He invites me to walk the track with the riders and says call him at 11 o’clock.

Right at 11 I call and he walks me onto the stadium floor. Just at the starting gate we meet up with Broc Glover. The three of us spent the next half hour walking the track and talking. I can’t believe this is happening even though I’m there.

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Broc Glover and Terry Boyd

Let’s just say that if you ask Broc a question he will give you an answer. Straight up, no sugarcoating. He is very intense. I can see why he was (and still is in my book) a champion. One thing he brings up over and over is work ethic. Do what it takes to be a winner and find out what that is. We talk riders, track conditions and training. Terry, being an interviewer, kind of guides the conversation and I try not to ask stupid questions. (Broc’s favorite track is Washougal). When he was racing he would check his pulse in the morning when he woke up. If it were too fast he would sleep more. Those are the kind of things I never knew.

Broc and Terry are sitting on some track-side haybales. I’m kneeling across from them as we are talking. Terry tosses a pebble at someone behind me and I turn around to look, and Jeremy and Larry Brooks are standing right behind me. That would make a great picture, but I don’t bother them.

Later as we are walking out we see Jeremy again in the tunnel. Terry says, “Just ask him for a photo, its cool.” So I did. Terry took my picture standing with Jeremy. My kids will think this is soooooo cool. I usually try not to bother the riders too much as they always have people tugging at them for something.

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Jeremy McGrath with author

It’s 12:30 in the afternoon. The gates are open and the fans are pouring in. All of a sudden things change and I realize the big show is about to begin. Out come the bikes for the practice sessions and the crowd adds so much energy to the place. There is a much more serious tone to the practice and the “gamesmanship” continues. Everyone is jumping both triples and catching some huge air. It is amazing how short a distance they can accelerate and clear the triple. One blip of the throttle and over they go.

I go to the pits and what a different scene that is. Masses of people and everyone is excited. In St. Louis the riders have to walk through the crowd to get to the tunnel that goes to the track, so they don’t get far without being asked to sign something.

Richard qualifies for the evening show by coming in second in the consolation race. He gets last gate pick and I remind him that there are a lot of guys loading bikes right now that would like that gate. Grant Langston gave him a factory pipe to use for the evening show. I ask what difference the pipe will make. He says, with quite a big smile “More power”. I ask “Where, top, mid or bottom?” He says, still with the smile “Everywhere”.

Then I get to meet up with “VetPlus40”. Another great guy.

No one does America proud like the opening of a supercross race. The American flags, the fireworks, the soldiers, the National Anthem. It really makes you proud of this great nation we live in.

KTM’s win both the 125 heat races and of course I’m stoked about that. Richard doesn’t make the Main event, and misses qualifying by a couple positions. Richard and his mechanic Steve represent all the hard working privateer teams and the effort they put in to making the Main.

Ramsey wins the first 250 heat. Then come RC and MC in the second heat. MC gets the hole shot and RC comes from about 5th to catch him by the last lap. Three times RC could have put MC in the dirt and doesn’t. MC wins and RC comes in second, but what a race! This is what you always hope for in the main, bar to bar action.

In the 125 main Langston and Ward go down hard and are hurt pretty bad. Ward is knocked out cold for at least a minute and Langston looks like he hurt his shoulder. Reed checks out and wins. RC does the same in the 250’s. MC ran 3rd, got to 2nd and fell to 4th. David V moved up through the pack and came in 2nd with Fonseca 3rd . Sometimes for me the racing isn’t as exciting as the practice and the pits.

Sunday: I fly back home to Seattle.

What can I say? I had no idea this would be the trip of a lifetime. It was like being backstage at a Rolling Stones show. All the people involved in this event are really one big family. I got that sense after seeing how well they all know each other and help each other out. Most of the competition is out on the track.

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That’s me

I will admit that during the opening ceremonies, while the flags were coming out, I thought about all the things that had went so well for me on this trip. And yes, I felt like the luckiest guy in the world. So many people did so many things to help make this trip one to always remember. If any of them read this all I can say is “Thanks”.

Like I said before, this story is for all those folks who line up at 11:30am to get in to a supercross race. I wish this could happen for anyone else who loves the sport of supercross as much as I do.

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