By Darren White
Our Australian friend Darren “Whitey” White vacationed in the U.S. this summer, hitting the Nationals and a whole bunch of other Americana. Enjoy your Sunday!
Those who know vintage motorcycles will be familiar with the Hodaka brand. With bike names such as Super Rat, Combat Wombat, and Thunder Dog, they obviously had a different marketing strategy when it came to naming their bikes. The Hodaka motorcycle was born in Athena, Oregon, so that’s where an annual event called Hodaka Days is held. This is the fiftieth anniversary of the brand, and the event attracted the largest collection yet of die hard Super Rat, Wombat, and Thunder Dog owners.
My brother and I have a Combat Wombat that we race back home in Australia, so Hodaka Days looked like the perfect place to start another US vacation and a chance to introduce my sibling to American culture. We’d also attend consecutive rounds of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship at: RedBud, Budds Creek, Millville, and Washougal. Unfortunately, my brother couldn't stay the whole journey and would leave after RedBud, but I would continue on solo. Having vacationed in the USA previously capturing a few supercrosses, I knew exactly where I wanted to spend the weeks in between the races and formulated a trip schedule that involved spending time in Chicago, Washington DC, New York, and San Diego.
June 26, I would board my first flight (one of fourteen flights and one train ride) of the vacation of motocross nirvana. Depressingly, though, I was about to spend approximately eighteen of the next twenty-two hours inside a metal tube. Living in Perth, Western Australia (rumoured to be the most isolated city in the world), I spend a lot of time like this. I would meet up with my brother in Redondo Beach, California, after the first two flights, for a single night before we would board another flight to Portland, Oregon, and from there we would then jump into a rental car and head east four hours to Athena.
This brings me back to where I started: Hodaka Days! This is a four-day celebration that brings people from all over the world together, some seriously passionate Hodaka people including Preston Petty, Brad Lackey, and Tommy Croft. We didn't arrive until late on day two, so we missed out on the day one (Umatilla TT and Poker Run) and day two (Bad Rock Reunion Trail Ride) activities, but we did make it in time for a book signing (VMX Magazine’s Ken Smith, another Aussie, penned a book about the Hodaka's history).
After a good night's rest we headed out for day three. It started with a street parade led by Brad Lackey and Tommy Croft. Imagine about 150 Hodakas of all shapes and sizes cruising down the main road of a very country town; it was quite the sight! It was something akin to the Hells Angels rolling through, although these bikers are more likely to run on Pepto Bismol pills and adult diapers than hard drugs and leather. Once the parade was completed everyone stationed their mounts at a local park for a bike show and swap meet. From the bike show it was off to the trials event for riders to show just what they were (and were not) made of. After narrowly escaping the jaws of rider who my brother and I nicknamed "Carnage Boy," we decided to head back to the hotel for another siesta and freshened up before the dinner later that night, where all the winners of the bike show and trials event would be announced and celebrated.
Day four was the day closest to our hearts: motocross day. My brother had already organized himself a ride in the 125 Piston Port Class, and he went 1-1 for the day. The track was very small (think arenacross), but enough for the steeds being rode this particular day. It is actually located on the piece of land originally used as a test track when Hodaka began, and was designed by 70’s tuning guru Harry Taylor. The trophy for the final race of the day, named The GP, was an actual trophy from a European GP that Jim Pomeroy won in the 70’s, and the winner of this GP gets their name added to the plaque on this historic piece. To round out the event, the remaining few stalwarts went to a local Pendleton bar and continued the bench racing. It was here I got to have a pretty cool chat with Tommy Croft. Having been a fan of the sport, albeit a young one, at the time of Tommy's pro career, it was awesome to hear some of the stories I remember reading about in the magazines.
With Hodaka Days finished, it was onto RedBud via five nights in Chicago. I know Chicago gets a bad rap from some people, but the parts of it I saw were awesome. The architecture, weather, and friendly people all made for an enjoyable few days. Oh, except for O’Hare Airport, you guys can keep that place. Having taken a huge interest in the World Cup, we took the opportunity to watch the games live at a normal humane time (unlike the middle-of-the-night times back home), including going to Soldier Field to watch the USA versus Belgium game with 20,000 others on the big screen. Other highlights were finally getting to go to a baseball game and seeing Fourth of July fireworks.
After looking at various options for getting to RedBud, we came to the conclusion that a train ride to Midway Airport to pick up a rental car was the best plan. Once we got to the track, it was during this short 100-yard walk that I heard my first five tribal RedBud cries—a cry that resonates through the surroundings as often as the clutches would be engaged by the two-wheeled warriors. We ended up in the pits while the lCQ races were being held. Personally, I think this is one of the better times to be pit-side; the place isn't so crowded. I even managed a photo-op chance and quick chat with Grant Langston, a solid guy. We then made our way to LaRocco's Leap for the first 450 motos, and we saw Ken Roczen give a one-handed salute during his fly by. The whole day was amazing, the racing and crowd were awesome. At the end of the day, we migrated to a spot between the first two turns. There was a group of about ten, and they had obviously been on the sauce all day. A middle aged gentleman, there with a couple of kids, looks over at this rabble of drunkenness and says, "That there is our next generation—no wonder we are screwed!"
With RedBud all over, that pretty much meant time was up for my brother, who was due to depart the next day. I would take a couple of days in Niagara (on the Canadian side), then down to Washington DC where I would stay for Budds Creek.
Niagara was super touristy, which surprised me a bit. I knew it would be to some extent, but not to the extreme that it is. Still, it really is a cool natural phenomenon to check out if you ever get the chance. After Tuesday's flight to DC, I went and checked out several museums and managed to walk around twenty miles, so I decided to hire a bike to get over to Virginia and go and have a look at the National Cemetery, Pentagon, and Iwo Jima statue.
With another early morning start getting to an airport to pick up another rental car, I decided that a night in was needed. Arriving at Budds slightly disappointed (I really wanted to see some Amish on the road or putting up a barn), I went to Will Call and picked up my pass and just basically let the day unfold. In no time I would run into a couple of message board friends. After watching practice together, I migrated to the pits where I would have a couple of quick conversations with some mechanics. I headed over to Henry Hill for the first couple of motos. Budds was probably my favorite track from a spectator point of view. If you position yourself in the center of the track, you can see a really good portion of the racing.
Jimmy Albertson and I must have had some kind of magnetic connection going on for a couple of weeks. With a lap to go in the first moto, he crashed in a turn right in front of me. This crash would cause him to pop one of his shoulders out. The next thing you see is Davey Coombs adding a medic accreditation to his resume, as he was trying to help Albertson get it back in place. With his shoulder back in its socket, Albertson was able to finish the race, unlike RedBud where his bike quit in front of me minus a countershaft sprocket. I need to stop going anywhere near this guy!
Two races down and two to go, but not without a week in New York City first. I decided to take the train from Union Square in Washington to Penn Station in NYC, and could not have been happier with my decision. No checking of baggage, no manic fliers, and best of all, no TSA Security lines. It was a little over three hours, roomy, comfortable, and clean. Having stayed in the Midtown/Times Square region on previous visits, I decided to go for something a little different (and cheaper) and stayed in Chinatown. It reminded me of the times I have been through Asia: dirty, smelly, and a feeling of third world-ness, so the name fits, right? I arrived in time for the World Cup final, and ended up watching the game with a young Finnish couple who had actually heard of Heikki Mikkola! I later went to this bar a couple of friends found last time I was there called Cafe Wah; it is a funky underground type of bar apparently owned by a member of David Lee Roth's family.
It was a late night, so the next day I hit the streets, to sweat all the poison out of my body. I saw Manhattan on a bike (including Central Park), Harlem, the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, and the diner from "Seinfeld." Rounding out the week in NYC was a trip to Coney Island, a place that we wanted to go to on past visits. I jumped on a train and headed out there looking for something out of the ordinary. I think it is pretty well known that Coney is famous for not just the seaside boardwalk, but also the Circus Sideshow featuring self-proclaimed freaks, wonders, and human curiosities. Let me just say I thought there would be a higher level of 'freakiness'. Maybe that’s a good thing?
Minnesota would be a flying visit. Thirty-seven hours on deck would be all I had for the Millville race, but that was still enough time to visit the Mall of America. I had heard about this complex and the fact that there was a theme park inside, so I thought I better check it out.
Spring Creek is a cool looking track, especially the whoops that reminded me of a couple tracks back home. I met up with Dwayne (MXerDW who provides all the race day links on the message boards) and Roscoe, my new raceday buddies, who had reserved a spot at the bottom of the new Mt. Martin. Later, I ended up cruising on the outskirts of the track to various positions wanting to maximize my experience with all the track’s features.
After the second 450 moto, Dwayne went to the GEICO Honda truck to collect a jersey Christian Craig had promised him, and this is where it gets real cool. For those that don't know, Christian’s father Mike was a factory rider in the 90s, and as it happened Dwayne also had a couple of his jerseys. Now what tops all this off is that Mike Craig was at Millville, so Dwayne was able to get those old jerseys signed too. The look on Craig's face when he saw them was awesome—bench racing and memories came flooding back to him, and he can still fit into them!
San Diego, possibly my favorite U.S. area, was my next stop. As soon as I got off the plane, I had to grab a rental car and get to Temecula to meet a friend, Pete, who would then drive us to near Beaumont where we had others (John and Drew) waiting to play a game of golf. After a thoroughly enjoyable day on the links, I didn't get back to San Diego and check in to my hotel until about 9 p.m.. It was there I think I witnessed the sad L.A. scene of people doing what it takes to meet people and climb the social ladder. The conversation between these people I had just met was ridiculous, and I have no idea if what they were telling each other was true or just playing the game.
Thanks to Comic Con and the hotels jacking up their prices extortionate amounts, I decided to head north to Oceanside for two nights and take the opportunity to catch up with a friend. With a day to kill I decided to head towards Corona to go to Pro Circuit ,Troy Lee etc and on the way I remembered it was Thursday and the pros practice at Glen Helen. I was introduced to Tyler Keefe, the Troy Lee team manager, who was out there. As soon as I arrived at the track I grabbed the camera and made a beeline straight to the infield. When Cole Seely and Shane McElrath had finished their motos, I went over and introduced myself to Tyler who then introduced me to not only the lads but also Jeff Ward; how cool is that? Once practice was over I met Keefe back at Troy Lee Designs, and he showed me around the place.
After being offered a press credential for Washougal it was looking like the trip was going to end with a bang. Originally, I wasn't leaving San Diego airport until 2 p.m. Friday, which would not have got me to Portland until late that afternoon. I decided to try my luck at getting an earlier flight to get the credential sorted out earlier. It took one phone call, two approaches to the check in desk and twenty-five bucks, but I was now getting to Portland earlier than I was originally scheduled to leave; don't you love it when changes like that happen easy? I make it to the track in time on the Friday to collect my credential which relieves some of the time issues should I sleep in or the traffic is bad the next morning.
Steve Giberson (Vital MX’s Guyb to most) is kind enough to take me under his wing on race day. We stop by the JGR and Star Yamaha trucks for a quick word with a couple of mechanics before the 8 a.m. media briefing. After the meeting I introduce myself to Simon Cudby and have a quick chat with him. He could not have been any nicer to this "press" rookie. This would also seem to be the norm with every photohound I’ve spoken to. I venture to the far back of the track for practice and start shooting some shots. So I am standing where I think may be a good spot when a track official comes over to me and asks me to keep a look out for Chad Reed’s transponder, as it had fallen off. I say no problem, will do. It cannot be any longer than ten minutes when I find myself talking to this chap again in between practices, when before long the inevitable comes out due to my accent: he asks “Why are you over here?” It’s at this point where I feel my holiday has gone a full 360 degrees because as soon as I mention Hodaka Days the guy I was speaking to goes, "You're kidding, I was there also!"
The racing is about to start, so I head back to the start line via checking in with Dwayne and Roscoe, who are front and center along the fence of the second corner—a prime spot. The bikes and riders are starting to gather behind the track in designated areas according to their qualifying time. Brett Metcalfe is the first of the factory guys to show, and I give him a quick good luck and give him words of encouragement. (I had to. He is a fellow Aussie!). The next guys to show are Roczen and Dungey both dressed in some new garb from Fox. Slowly but surely, every other rider starts rocking up and they venture to the start line looking at where they are going to launch from, I take this as a sign to start snapping away from the other side of the gate.
With the formalities over and the race about to start, I head to the inside of the first turn with a couple of the other photographers. I cross back over the track to where the mechanics area is right after the riders have buzzed by first time. I stayed there for the first race and worked around to the outside of turn one for the first 250 moto. I made sure to start making more use of the privilege I had this race and started walking around and up horsepower hill hoping to get that one shot people really, really like. Starting to get more comfortable in what I was allowed to do, I ventured to all corners of the track, snapping away at anything that moved on two wheels, and I am pleased to say I got a few good ones—maybe not Cudby standard, but, hey, I am but a mere amateur.
I had some interesting crowd interactions:
- Eager young kid asked how to get a blue press bib.
- Two star-struck mid 20-year-old Canadians dying to meet Chad Reed, asking about pit closure time, as they were getting escorted out.
- Couple locals asking me to take some Tommy Weeck pictures.
- Two young kids jumped the fence and beat me to Trey Canard's goggles after he dropped them at the end of moto two. I'm not as quick as I used to be!
With the racing over, I decided to do something else I hadn't done before, and that was to hit the media conference. Picking up from Roczen's body language and a few of his comments, I really wanted to ask Dungey if he tasted blood yet and how difficult life in the semi will get soon. I reconsidered and decided not to ask.
Knowing the vacation fun will be over tomorrow, I hang around longer than I usually do trying to scrape every bit of life out of this cool day and experience, which ends up with me hanging out with Dwayne, Guyb, and a couple of chaps from Kansas that help Tommy Hahn out.
We go through life living by the fact there are twenty-four hours in a day, but my last day went for forty-one hours from the time I woke up in Portland to the time I landed in Perth. I don't recommend that to anyone, but I do recommend such a trip. Twenty-four hours might be a rigid standard of the day, but I feel like I packed in so much more into everyone of them that I had here. It’s at this point that I would like to thank everyone for their hospitality and friendliness, can't wait to see you all again, maybe sooner than usual.