MEMORY VS REALITY
Words Scott Bishop
I remember watching Mr Motocross highlights on TV as a kid. I raced a couple of local rounds in the Junior class — or RLH (Restricted Licence Holders) as it was known back in the day here in Queensland — but never travelled interstate much, so my recollection of the tracks was from what I saw on TV.
I remember watching the Mr Motocross riders jump what looked like this huge step-up at Oran Park in NSW. The jump looked enormous and, when I had the chance to go there a few years later to do some testing for DIRT ACTION, I was like a dog with two dicks in my excitement about hitting this huge step-up.
I leapt out of the van and started scanning the track for the jump. My eyes did a lap of the track and finally come across the step-up. I was shattered. This jump that I thought was huge was nothing more than a seat-bounce first-lap job with the choke still out, warming the bike up. Watching Dacka, Belly and Eddie Warren hit this leap on TV was the coolest thing I’d seen. The moment my eyes hit the take-off ramp, that dream was torn to shreds.
The opposite happened one time at the motocross track at Goondiwindi. There was this gully jump and at the time, as a junior, I needed to channel Evel Knievel to make it. The next time I was there, officials deemed it too dangerous and tried to tyre in a little S-bend in the lead-up to the takeoff, but we still managed to make it.
Fast forward 10 years and I was back at Goondiwindi and telling my travelling buddies about the biggest jump in Australian motocross: a yawning canyon jump over a dried riverbed that took nerves of steel and serious man pills to attempt. Well, bugger me — the damn thing had shrunk, as it was nothing more than a drainage ditch that the Divi 2 class were over jumping. My mates thought I was on crack and laughed at me for days.
I watched the loam fly at round two of the Mr Motocross Championship at Broadford in 1987. The dirt looked unreal and, on TV, the track had this chocolate loam look about it; I just had to ride it. When they announced the 1993 Australian Motocross Championship with Broadford in the schedule, I was on board and already looking forward to the round.
After a 20-hour drive down from Brisbane locked in a HiAce with two other smelly riders and a Milli Vanilli tape on constant rotation (not my choice), I just couldn’t get out of the van fast enough. I nearly ripped the door off its hinge and ran to the track.
Then I cried. It was pure dry, dusty powder — not a shovel load of chocolate loam in sight. They then turned the sprinklers on and the powder turned to mud on top with a dry, hard-pack base. It was awful.
Then the only bit of moisture the track saw on race day was when the water pipe under the track surfaced and broke, sending a fountain of water skyward. For nine-tenths of the lap we raced around in choking dust; then the last tenth was like riding through a dam in a rainstorm. The Broadford in my imagination is a lot better than the Broadford I saw that day.
I always thought riding sand would be easy: no ruts or lines, just pin it and go wherever you like. That was my plan of attack the first time I took to a proper sand track. On most sand tracks on the east coast, you could do that.
Thinking I was a bit of a sand king, I headed to WA to contest the MX rounds over there as well as Manjimup. On press day, I killed it and thought I was in for a good show the following weekend. The track was smooth, the corners were designed for bar scrapes and I was on it.
Come race day, no one told me that smooth straight would become a minefield of nipple-deep sand whoops that began the moment you shifted third out of the starting gate and didn’t finish until you put the bike back on the stand 30 minutes later. I sucked. No, I really sucked. It was a very humbling experience.
Any guy who says they can ride sand and haven’t done a 30-minute moto around Coastal Park or the AJS track on a rough day, they really haven’t ridden sand.
I watched the Channel Nine Wide World of Sports telecast of the first indoor race at the Sydney Entertainment Centre in 1986. I saw Guy Cooper getting crazy, Dacka, Belly and Gally giving the US guys all sorts of problems on the track and it just looked supercool — and easy!
The following year, I sat in the stands on both Friday and Saturday nights watching the Pros go round before I raced in the RLH again on Sunday afternoon. Watching Phil Sargent launch the tiny triple out of the first turn and hearing the crowd go mental was the reason I wanted to race for a living. I left the venue on Saturday night thinking how fun and easy it looked and how tomorrow was going to be the start of my world motocross and supercross dominance.
Well, I was a disgrace. Do you know how small the floor space is at those entertainment centres? Hell, mini dads mark out a bigger pit area for their base stations at a club day than the size of the race track at an indoor.
It was damn tough. Eight riders shoved in a tiny area, most of us kids doing it for the first time, a big crowd watching everything, as there is nowhere to hide at an indoor and one mistake put you into the third row — not to mention the flyover that had a vertical takeoff and landing. It took me another 10 years before I got the hang on racing in such a small area.