The Lives They Lived

The Lives They Lived

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New Year's Eve marks the end of one year, the beginning of another. It also offers a chance to think back on some fellow motorcycle enthusiasts who passed in 2010.... Sadly we could not include them all.

It must sound like a cliché to hear the phrase, “He was one of the nicest people you might ever meet at the track,” but in the case of Andrew McFarlane, it's not even close to explaining what a good man he was. “Sharky” McFarlane came out of Australia a decade ago to take on the motocross world, and he succeeded on every level: as a sportsman, as a husband, as a father, and as a friend to seemingly everyone he ever met. His career journey took him to Europe and then America, then back to Australia, where he was poised to ease into the role as living legend among moto enthusiasts young and old. He would retire for good at the end of the 2010 season.

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Andrew McFarlane.

But then one day in May, while practicing for the Broadford round of the Australian Motocross Championships, landing awkwardly and not getting back up. Despite the best efforts to revive him, he did not make it. What followed was a global outpouring of grief, as fans on every continent in which he raced were devastated by the news. His fellow Grand Prix riders and his fellow AMA riders all took pause in memory of Andrew McFarlane. Sharky was gone, just 33 years of age, leaving behind his lovely wife Natalie and their newborn daughter.

 

Few in the motocross world likely knew Joe Javersack, but pretty much everyone likely knows someone just like Joe. He was the big guy, fast but not great, loud but also funny, and he loved to bench race. The Pittsburg-area rider was a staple on the District 5 scene in the eighties, riding the Open A class, trying to qualify for a few nationals, and just enjoying the fact that he was a motocross racer and damn proud of it. He ended up running the shop he rode for, Northgate Motorcycles. Then he moved south to Florida, where he worked for a sporting goods company. Early in this year’s Bike Week at Daytona, he traveled to Orlando for work. He checked into his room, laid down in bed without even unpacking his suitcase, and apparently had a heart attack. After repeated calls from his wife had gone unanswered, a coworker went to check on him and found the man that so was full of life dead in his hotel room. Joe Javersack was 47 years old.

 

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Ashlee Sokalski.

When Ashlee Sokalski's family, friends and fellow motocross riders came together to say goodbye to her on a warm August morning, it was much more of a farewell celebration than a funeral. They came wearing race jerseys, event T-shirts, and even her basketball team shirts. The building in Sterling Heights, Michigan, was literally filled to capacity, and Ashlee's closest friends took turns talking about what a funny person, fierce competitor, and all-around cool girl she was. Beneath the fond memories though was sadness and despair over the tragic accident that cost Ashlee her life when she crashed during her moto at the AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships at Loretta Lynn's. “She died doing what she loved” was the familiar phrase repeated often in the service, meant to offer some comfort to the gathered friends. And when the service ended, many went outside and climbed aboard the dozens of motorcycles that sat in the back of an armada of pickup trucks, starting their engines at once, rolling the throttles on and giving her a loud and proud salute that only a motocrosser would fully appreciate. It was as fitting as it was downright heart-wrenching.

 

Milton Patrick has something to do with what you are doing right now: reading about motocross on the internet. More on that later. Patrick was born in 1923, which made him the perfect age for military service during World War II, in which he won a medal for his courage in a battle where he risked his life to save those of his fellow soldiers. Sadly, his own life was saved by his twin brother, who died in that very same battle. Milton Patrick ended up a double amputee, having lost both arms. That didn't stop him from living his life well. He came home from the war, married a pretty girl named Janice and started a family. When his son decided he wanted to start racing motorcycles, Mr. Patrick went all-in, supporting the boy and never missing a race. And when Mike Patrick, the son, turned to another hobby in the mid-nineties—a new medium known as the internet—his father did all he could to support him. “Mikeee P” as the son came to be known, went on to become an online pioneer in motocross, helping to grow and expand a virtual frontier that is now a major part of our everyday lives. His dad Milton was a faithful reader, right up until March 24, 2010, when he passed away just two days shy of his 87th birthday.

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Milton and Janice Patrick.

Dave Crapo was a longtime presence in the industry who always seemed to be able to find a place to hang his hat and work in the trenches. He was from Utah, which isn't exactly Anaheim or Orange County, but he made it all work by hustling, networking and doing good work at every stop, including Faction MX, DragonFire and Utah-based Ogio. If you were in the pits at a race, or working the booths at trade shows and industry gatherings, chances are you would see Dave, and he would want to talk about dirt bikes and airplanes (he also loved flying, almost as much as he loved motocross). Dave Crapo was just 39 years old when he left this world on May 18, 2010.

 

Tragedy can and does happen in motorsports—its the toll sometimes paid for its allure of speed and aggression—yet we are never really ready for the devastating feelings of loss and sadness when it does play before us. Jesse Masterpool's passing still resonates in motocross circles, and likely will for sometime. Quietly serious and wonderfully talented, Jesse was primed to be a future star of this sport. He was passionate about motocross, and it was obvious that he was going places. But in the late afternoon of March 13, 2010, Masterpool crashed heavily at Lake Whitney Cycle Ranch in Texas. For the better part of the next week doctors in a trauma center near Dallas worked to save him, but the injuries were too severe. Jesse Masterpool was 14 years old.

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Jesse Masterpool.

The tragedy in Texas sent shockwaves through the sport. Jesse Masterpool was already well-known, and the loss of such a talented young person was a call to action for those who felt as passionate about racing as he did. In the time since his passing, Jesse's family, friends and sponsors have all worked through their grief in their own ways. Fox Racing produced “Masterpool 956” pathches for all of their athletes, and his family continues to attend races, where they have worked diligently to expand the conversation about safety in motocross at all levels to help prevent more tragedies like this from occurring.

 

Dave McElyea spent the vast majority of his weekends at a motorcycle track with his son, Alex. He was the owner/operator of the PJ1/Extreme/Yamaha race team in the mid-1990’s that helped riders like Jimmy Button, Shaun Kalos, Cory Keeney, and Alex get to the races. Dave also assisted Alex in forming Red Baron Racing, an industry leader in the pit bike world. David Pingree knew him well: “I’ll always remember Dave as one of the most intelligent, generous and unique individuals that ever helped shape my life. He was a great guy and I’m really going to miss him. Godspeed, Dave.”

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Eyvind Boyesen.

Eyvind Boyesen lived an extraordinary life by anyone's standards. He emigrated from Norway to the USA in the 1960s in order to study and work on rocket engines. He brought with him a love of motocross that would last throughout his lifetime. It would be no exaggeration to say that Boyesen was a genius, and he enjoyed great success in the field of engineering, acquiring numerous patents that allowed him to build his own business, Boyesen Engineering, which is based in Eastern Pennsylvania. Over the years Boyesen himself continued racing, while also raising a family that included a fine racer in his son Dag, who would go on to help run the family business.  Boyesen sponsored numerous riders and events, from Bob “Hurricane” Hannah to Loretta Lynn's, and he continued to race well into his sixties. Respected throughout the sport for his innovations, his work ethic, and his kind nature, Eyvind was nominated to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame this past fall and was set to be inducted on November 19. Sadly, he passed away the night before, having battled with leukemia for some time. He was 68 years old.

 

Todd Dunn was a motocross enthusiast and mechanic from Georgia who worked closely through the years with Shae Bentley, the man he helped to the 2000 AMA 125cc West Region Supercross Championship. Dunn started working with Bentley back when the rider was just 12 years old, and they formed a lifelong friendship that would see them earn a #1 plate together along the way. Dunn would work under the tents of Pro Circuit Kawasaki, Yamaha of Troy and Suzuki during his career. Respected in the pits by both riders and his fellow mechanics, Dunn wrenched for Danny Smith, Matt Walker and Eric Sorby among others on the circuit before moving back home to Georgia where he would continue with another passion in his—bass fishing. Unfortunately, throughout his life he had heart complications, and he was said to be awaiting a surgery before he died on June 8 at the age of 43.

 

Danny Chandler was a force of nature. The original wild child of American Motocross, Chandler was a NorCal kid they called "Magoo" who exploded onto the motocross scene in the late seventies like a whirling dervish of speed, talent and recklessness. What he lacked in talent (which wasn't much) he made up for with courage (which was immeasurable). He raced a variety of lesser brands—late Pentons and Maicos, privateer Suzukis—while building a notorious reputation as a big crasher with a huge heart. His catalog of spectacular endos and accidents overshadowed his results until he was given a Honda support ride in 1982. That's when he finally began winning races, including a handful of 500cc Nationals and the Carlsbad 500cc U.S. Grand Prix, as well as the ABC Wide World of Sports' Superbikers race. But it's what he did at the 1982 Motocross and Trophee des Nations that will be remembered forever — Chandler kept it on two wheels long enough to shock the world, sweeping all four motos. An unprecedented feat.

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Danny Chandler.

 

From there, things began to go downhill. Magoo eventually lost his ride in America, moved to Europe and started racing a KTM. It was at an international supercross there that he crashed while performing one of his trademark rodeo whips. He broke his neck and was left paralyzed. He spent the next twenty-five years struggling to find a role in the sport, preaching safety and moderation, offering his own life as a cautionary tale. Motorcycle Hall of Fame inductee Danny Chandler died in May. He was 50 years old.

 

Stuart Keene was a television camera operator who lived in the Denver area. He filmed a wide variety of sporting events for many networks, working both locally and nationally. He was also an avid cyclist, both racing and shooting events over the years. He also shot motorcycle races. On the day before the Thunder Valley National, on Friday, June 25, he was involved in an accident in which he fell from a platform while setting up his camera, sustaining fatal injuries. He was 57 years old.

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Eric Abel.

Eric Abel was an up-and-coming Texas motocross rider, familiar to his competitors and local fans as #243. He lost his life in an automobile accident on Febraury 23. Wrote his longtime family friend Sandy Cunningham, “Eric was one of the most beautiful young men I have ever had the honor of knowing. I have known Eric his whole life and if you met him one time you could be sure he would be the same the next time you saw him. He was kind, thoughtful and a beautiful soul. I thank God I was given the honor to be a small part of his life.”

 

The Bettencourt name is royalty in New England racing circles. The family owned one of the earliest Honda dealers in the country, and still to this day operate the dealership, which is named Bettencourt’s Honda/Suzuki in West Bridgewater, MA, just south of Boston. Through the family’s dealership, Dave Bettencourt sponsored numerous New England legends, including motocross riders like Jo Jo Keller, Tony Lorusso and Keith Johnson. Bettencourt’s also was a big supporter of Dirt Track racing, sponsoring national champ Kenny Coolbeth, among many other local fast guys. Dave was also known for his collection of Honda Motorcycles, which was legendary in its size and scope. On January 28, Dave Bettencourt lost his battle with leukemia. He was 55 years old.

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Dave Bettencourt.

Jeagher LaFountaine was an 18-year-old young man that would have been a pleasure to meet. He was a very promising motocross racer, a part-time musician, and a forward thinker who combined his faith with a fun outlook on life. His friend Alan Gerkey said of him, “Jeagher was very complex in some ways and very simple in others. He was an old soul in a young body with a huge heart trying to reach out in different ways to all that knew him.... He was a perfectionist in an imperfect world and always believed he could achieve whatever goals were set before him.”

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Jeagher LaFountaine.

 

One night in June, after a day of riding and training, LaFountaine went to sleep and never woke up. The causes were still unknown as his friends and fellow riders, including the gang at Panic Rev Ministry, gathered at Glen Helen Raceway for a farewell lap of honor. It was another sad reminder of a young life lost too soon, leaving a deep hole in the lives of those who knew Jeagher LaFountaine, #59.

The Northern California MX community took another loss this year when Jan Houtermans passed away in his sleep on February 12. Jan migrated there from Holland and went to work as a motorcycle mechanic some 40 years ago. He opened a shop called Euro-Cycles, then used it as a base to sponsor a seemingly endless lineup of fast young me like future 500cc National Champion Darrell Shultz, Team USA hero Danny “Magoo” Chandler, AMA National winner Eric Eaton,  Mike and Phil Larson and many, many more. Jan Houtermans was one of those behind-the-scenes people that help the wheels of our sport keep turning, and he is sadly missed.

If you've been to Loretta Lynn's anytime in the last ten years or so, you probably saw Harold Hilbert. He was almost always surrounded by yellow minicycles, either in the pits at the intersection of the creek traffic and the staging area, out in the infield as the junior mini classes went about their motos, or in the impound area talking to young racers and their parents, offering his congratulations or condolences, and asking how their Cobra minicycles performed.

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Harold Hilbert.

Harold was the father of Sean Hilbert, the owner of Cobra Minicycles.

“It’s hard for me to believe that just a few short months ago I had a difficult time keeping up with the guy,” Sean wrote after he lost his dad on May 8 after a short, unexpected battle with cancer. “He put in long days at Cobra; doing everything from working on machines, to designing and building race trailers, to ensuring that we had good relationships with all of our local suppliers. His passion, will, and energy was simply incredible and will serve as inspiration to me and everyone else he worked with for the rest of our lives.” Harold Hilbert's contributions to the sport won't fully be known until the next generation of American motocross and supercross stars make their own marks on the sport—the vast majority of them competed at some point aboard Cobra Minicycles.

 

Chris Ruhnke was a fine young racer, as well as a talented entrepreneur. He loved motocross racing, as well as the motocross industry. He started a clothing company called "Rippin It" that he truly believed had the chance to become something huge, just like the Simo brothers did with "No Fear." He was starting in Wisconsin, and then taking it global. But this summer Chris crashed at a race in Tigerton and passed away as a result of his injuries. It was followed by an outpouring of condolences and great memories by his fellow riders and friends. Wrote his brother Patrick on the WisconsinMX.com message board, “He was a wonderful guy that loved the MX community he was a part of, he would have been proud to see the support found here for people in need.” In one last, exceptional act, Chris Ruhnke's organs were donated so that he might continue to help others. He was three days shy of his 21st birthday.

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Chris Ruhnke.

Betty Shaffer was one of those very nice women whom you sometimes see at the races, staying just behind the scenes in helping to sign you up, score your races, answer your questions at the window, hand out trophies.... She was the wife of a dirt track racer, and they spent a lifetime together helping out at all kinds of races, from county fairs and flat-track miles to Loretta Lynn's Ranch. She even came to be good friends with Loretta Lynn herself, cherishing her annual trips south from Eastern Pennsylvania to Humphreys County, Tennessee, where she would work inside the information trailer all day and bench race and visit well into the evening. We called her “Betty Boop” and I can't remember a single time when she was anything but pleasant, helpful and simply glad to be amongst dear friends and families, until her age finally slowed her down. Until that point, she was always among the first one to show up for work in the morning, and one of the last to leave. Betty Shaffer passed quietly one morning in March, one of the last of a golden generation of American motorcycling enthusiasts who wore the pins and patches of the motorcycle club she belonged to for life.

George Hodkinson was the owner of GPS Racing, a team of underdogs that chased glory in the AMA National Arenacross Series and the old BooKoo tour. It evolved from his Minnesota-based shop, which specialized in suspension and engine mods. Hodkinson was also a teacher, owned some other small businesses, and was somehow managing to further his education by enrolling in law school, all while having the time to raise his three children. He was living life to the fullest, only to have his life come to an end at age 38, due to natural causes. Wrote his friend Allen Picard on the Motonews message board, “When I was at Fly Racing and even after I had talked with George off and on about many different racers. He was one of the people in this sport I really liked to talk to and had respect for. He never made you feel like you was anything but equal to him. He will be missed for sure.”

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Rich Eierstedt.

Growing up as a fast young man in Southern California in the late sixties and early seventies must have been an extraordinary experience, and Rich Eierstedt was one of the lucky ones to enjoy such a life. Motocross was growing quickly, and Eierstedt was among the faster guys around. When Honda joined the sport, he was one of their short list of young men to give factory rides to, and he responded with a few big wins in return. But Rich never fully reached his potential, and younger men like Marty Smith, Bob “Hurricane” Hannah and Broc Glover soon surpassed his abilities. He stayed in the game with a wide variety of factory rides from outspent brands like Bultaco, Can-Am and even Harley-Davidson. Once he left racing in 1979, things started going downhill for Eierstedt. He was a heavy drinker, and it eventually led to a lot more problems. He got divorced,  he had a hard time holding down a job. His health was going bad. His life, like his career, was becoming one big cautionary tale.

But then in 1994 Eierstedt came back to motocross, as a part-time test rider for Motocross Action, who's editor, Jody Weisel, did his best to help Rich along by giving him the lifeline of motorcycles to ride and race. Sadly, that life ended in November, when Eierstedt fell asleep on his brother's couch and never woke up. He was 55 years old.

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