For me, this sport started with Unadilla. My dad worked for Bel-Ray, and back in the 1980’s the oil company was title sponsor of the USGP at ‘Dilla. Each year the race would be televised on a special edition of MotoWorld, and for the 1985 event, Bel-Ray even created its first television commercial. Dad and I had scheduled a typical evening of watching WWF “Big Wrestling” from Madison Square Garden, but he wanted to catch the commercial, so we flipped over to the USA Network, popped a tape in the archaic VCR (which dad bought exclusively so he could tape every episode of Late Night with David Letterman) and recorded the motocross race.
At that point I was already into all things motorized, and I had a sweet Suzuki LT50 Quad Runner that I rode around in the yard. But I hadn’t really discovered motocross racing until I watched that USGP. Life wouldn’t ever be the same.
By 1987 I was mega-huge into the sport. Dad would bring Cycle News issues home from work and I would read every word. Once I tried to run CN as a book report I third grade. They didn’t accept that…
Anyway, one day dad came home with huge news. “How would you
like to go to Unadilla this year?” ARE YOU SERIOUS??? Apparently this year’s
Unadilla was going to be a big event. Instead of the typical race like I had
seen on TV in 1985, this was a team race, and Bel-Ray was putting in a massive
effort to make it happen. Bel-Ray’s JJ Handfield had a special relationship
with the Motocross des Nations, because he and MXA’s Dick Miller were two of
the main men that made the original 1981 Team
For a brief
time, Bel-Ray owned a small private plane, and they offered to take me, mom and
dad up on it to the track (we’re from NJ, the flight to
We watched practice on Saturday, and I learned everything there was to know about the event thanks to the inspired announcing of Larry Maiers. Looking back now, here is what I don’t get: Today, we bring in massive speakers and hang them from cranes so the spectators can actually hear the announcers, and even that doesn’t always work. Without them it’s hopeless—I was just at Unadilla last week for the GNCC and even in 2007 it’s impossible to hear the regular PA system with bikes blasting past. But somehow, some way, Maiers was loud and clear over everything back then. It was like he was wired into my head.
I got to go into the pits, and we even met Roger DeCoster! The practice began. The track was unbelievably perfect, and from my memories of then, it was absolutely massive. Gravity Cavity looked like a mountain, and I swore they were jumping 100 feet and landing in supercross style whoops. The track was unbelievably cool—but then again I had never gone to a motocross track before so I was a little crazy. At the GNCC last weekend, the track now looks about 25% as big as I remember it looking in 1987—and in reality it’s exactly the same.
was expected to come down to three teams. You had Team
Then we went back to the HoJo on Saturday night and got all pumped for the big race tomorrow. Hey, is it raining outside?
We woke up the next morning and it was still raining. Still! It hadn’t stopped for hours. We headed to the track the next morning, greeted by stuck rental cars everywhere. And what about the track?
It was really early in the morning and Maiers was already running his game. “The rain is the great equalizer! The Europeans are great mud riders! Woooooooorld Champion!”
scared. What if Team
We stood across from the first turn for the first moto. It was so ridiculously muddy. The bikes just came flying into the first turn with mud and roost everywhere—I swore I could hear the mud splattering against the bikes, while still hearing Maiers yelling. We were standing on the outside of the turn and got roosted so bad—my mom even got hit right in the mouth with mud.
I saw Wardy
was right up there in the first turn, which was awesome. But then he was gone. He
came around way back in the pack with his goggles hanging down, and everyone
was talking about that. Hannah was way back, too, and then Maiers said he got
stuck on a hill. Hannah couldn’t ride the 125! Team
Ward got to
second at one point, but then he fell and finished third. Hannah could only
manage fourth, and that was lucky because some French kid named (and pronounced
exactly as you read it here) Jean-Michael-Bayle was killing everyone on the
125s until he bent his shifter or something. Jobe won the 500s, Strijbos won
the 125s, and Team
help. It was like the whole event was scripted, and he knew that the more
worried he made you about Team
then we would know
Well, someone must have gotten the word out to RJ because he stepped it up and started pulling away. Maybe this wasn’t so impossible. Then something happened to Jean-Michael-Bayle and then Strijbos and MOTHER OF ALL THINGS THAT ARE HOLY Hannah was LEADING the 125s!!!!! Yeeeeeeeeaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!
The crowd was going absolutely nuts at this point. Maiers plan had worked! Looking back now, I can’t even believe how bad a dude RJ was. He beat all these GP guys in the mud. That’s just the way it works, on paper, a Californian shouldn’t be beating Euros in these conditions, but this was a big race, RJ was the man, and that’s what confidence can do. There was no way in hell RJ was going to lose on this day.
At one point Hannah got into third overall on the track and was even closing the gap on Geboers. Man it was good. He and RJ were mobbed at the finish line, everyone was screaming “Hannah! Hannah! Hannah!” It was awesome!
Then I had
to leave the track to catch the plane. It’s a good thing I didn’t realize back
then that Unadilla was only a three-hour car ride from home. And as for the “you’ll
already know who will win” stuff, Team
In reality, though, there was no chance they would lose. There was just too much momentum, too many fans and too much of a crazy vibe for anything else to happen.
RJ won the
last moto, too.
We all know
that’s not the case now, but I can’t thank everyone at Bel-Ray enough for
letting me go to the first one. Thanks JJ Handfield, thanks to the Kiefer family—founders
of the company, and thanks mom and dad. And Team