CHANGE OF LIFE
Words Scott Bishop
Time waits for no man. It doesn’t matter how good you were, how fast you rode and how many championships you have, at some point in time the baton is passed on and riders must call it quits on their professional racing careers.
In the past few months we’ve seen several riders hang up their boots. Josh Coppins, Craig Anderson, Kevin Windham and Ben Townley have all recently decided to step down from racing, each of them for different reasons. All have had distinguished and brilliant careers and will forever look back at racing fondly. But I can also tell you there will be a huge range of things they will miss and just as many things that they won’t.
Here’s a quick list of things any retiring racer will go through in the first 12 months after stepping back from full-time racing.
THE ADRENALIN RUSH
Nothing is more exciting than charging into a first turn with a bike-length lead at a major race. Grabbing a holeshot never gets boring and the sensations going through a rider as they exit the first turn in front and screw the gas on is something they’ll find hard to replicate in any other area of their life.
Same with busting out a triple for the first time. It’s even more exciting when you’re the first one to hit it in the first heat of the night in front of a packed stadium. The place erupts when 20 riders are shot skyward on the triple. You don’t get that excitement filling out the paperwork at a regular nine-to-five.
For me, racing was always about the 10 minutes directly after a race when you know you have given your all. Not the back slappers or the photos in a magazine that come later — just that few minutes after a race when you’re all alone in your thoughts with no one around you and you know you’ve done the best you possibly could. That was racing for me.
For the past 15 years, Josh, Craig, Ben and Kevin’s job was to prepare themselves for a race and turn up fit and ready to go. They didn’t have to worry about anything other than going out there and doing their best. Although there’s a team around you, once you put a helmet on and roll up to the start gate it’s all about you and nothing else has a bigger input into the result than you.
Regular jobs entail working with others and fitting into a team environment. Most successful racers aren’t team players — that’s why they choose to race a motorcycle and not play football or soccer. They are individuals.
In a normal job, you go to work, put in your hours and get paid the same amount week in, week out. Racing motocross is different. While no one racing motocross is going to rival Bill Gates as the world’s richest man, a pro racer can make good amounts of money in quick time if they are racing well. The sign-on from a sponsor, prize money, bonuses, contingency and a range of reward systems are in place for racers in this day and age.
On top of that, many don’t have the expenses of living. When was the last time any of these guys above physically handed over cash for a T-shirt or a pair of shoes — and that can often include a partner as well? A guy pushing trolleys at Westfield can’t make 10K a weekend and get his shoes for free at the end of it.
THE REAL WORLD
Both Josh and Craig have moved into team management and it’s a great role to have. But I can also tell them — and I’m sure they’re finding this out now — it’s far easier to be the rider than the team manager. Putting a race team together isn’t easy and plenty of things go on that most people simply don’t see. I bet each of these guys now has far more respect for their old team managers now than they did while they were racing.
A rider uses a phone for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. A manager’s phone almost never stops as there are always demands, needs, parts, travel and the management of personnel that need to be attended to. And because we race on weekends, it’s a seven-day-a-week job. As an athlete, when I went for a run I left my phone at home. If I go for a run now, my phone is always with me and often ringing with some urgent need to be addressed.
BEYOND YOUR CONTROL
As a manager, there comes a time when things are out of your hands. When parts arrive, when jerseys are printed, when team graphics are done and a range of other things are all in the hands of others. As athletes used to controlling their own destiny, this will drive them crazy. A team manager ties everything together and it’s his priority to get it all done. But to the people to whom he’s outsourced the work, it’s just another job to be done and often it pays less than their regular work, so their priorities are far different from yours.
But one thing that remains is the rewards of a championship. It’s a different sensation but when you’re able to guide a rider through a season and see them win a championship it’s a special feeling. It’s not the same as winning it as a rider but there is still a real sense of pride when you see the team of people you pulled together get the job done and achieve a goal that you set out to reach nearly 12 months before.