Brian Larsen, August 2011
The starting gate drops and I hear nothing but the sound of screaming two-strokes. I get off the line pretty well, but several bikes are ahead of me.
But things start to change. Bike after bike seems to fall behind me and out of my vision as I move toward the front of the pack. I stay on the gas as long as I can, hit the brakes hard, and dive into the first corner. I charge out of the first turn, and I’m in front.
Until last week, I haven’t ridden a bike at all in two years. Until last week, I haven’t been on a motocross track in thirty years. I’m fifty years old and this is the first race of my life.
“You ought to try vintage motocross,” Todd tells me. The time is two years previous, and I’m at Todd’s farm where I’ve taken my daughter to ride horses with some friends. They brush the horses, saddle up, and ride around a dusty arena, but Todd and I head straight for talking about farming and motorcycles.
I’ve known Todd all my life. We both come from long-time farm families in our hometown of Wilson Creek, Washington. Our mothers have been friends for decades. Todd is several years younger than I am, but we share a common love for dirt bikes. We’re two of the most prominent dirt bike fanatics sprinkled through the history of our small town.
I listen to Todd talk about motocross, Huskys, and things motorcycle, but I don’t live here anymore and motorcycles seem to have faded to a forgotten corner of my existence. I’m an English professor these days and live twelve hours away in Redding, California. My world is filled with the more sedentary pursuits of reading books, grading essays, and writing papers. I come home every summer to visit my family and anyone else I run into, to reconnect with farming, small town life, and to enjoy the wheat fields, rocks, sagebrush and wildflowers of eastern Washington. Several times in the last few years I’ve bumped into Todd.
Like hidden seeds waiting to germinate, his words seem to stick with me. My job is pretty good mostly, but the late spring becomes a real grind for everyone. Perhaps to escape the crush of grading and work, I punch “vintage motocross northwest” into Google. The search eventually leads me to the Hammer and Tongs website where I’m impressed by the vibrant scene of vintage motocross: multiple races, a season long series, and the resurgence of the late 1970s, the golden age of motocross.
I stumble onto some race results and see Todd’s name and enter his name on a search. I discover that he’s been doing well, in fact winning a lot in the intermediate class. I dig around on the Hammer and Tongs website and also discover that vintage motocross has two classes: vintage (pre-1974/pre-long travel suspension) and evolution (1974-1981) where the rules prohibit three things: disc brakes, liquid cooling, and linkage suspension. The evolution class interests me because it covers the years when I was most involved in the sport and ends about the time I sold my 1976 Suzuki RM250A motocross bike and went off to college.
Up at my mom’s place in Wilson Creek I’ve got a Yamaha IT250 enduro stored in a grain bin since 1994 when I moved away. I bought it used for $400 dollars at least twenty years ago to ride as a play bike and to herd cows. Post college, I farmed with my dad for nine years and needed something better than my totally trashed Bultaco Alpina 250, purchased totally used for $35.00. I’d never been a Yamaha fan, but I bought it because the price was right and because it was basically what I wanted: an enduro in good condition with a low first gear, a large gas tank, and a long travel suspension. Besides, it’s blue and I like the color. The bike later proves its worth when I use it to singlehandedly stop the only cattle stampede in the entire history of our ranch.