A few weeks back, we spoke to Texas motocross legend Dennis Hawthorne. During that conversation, another famous Texas motocross name popped up. Hawthorne referred to him as “The Ghost” because, when he quit racing, he disappeared entirely from the sport. With a nickname like “The Ghost,” we almost needed no other reason to track him down.
That racer is Jason Langford, who, like Hawthorne, was blazing fast. And like Hawthorne, he raced and won an arenacross championship while making his way up in the sport. Langford even scored a podium finish in the East Coast 125cc Supercross Series. We spent several months trying to track down Langford and finally found him on a rare rainy day down in Texas. In between directing his staff he chatted with us about life, racing, and what he has been up to.
Racer X: Wow, we are talking to Jason Langford, a real Texas-sized racing legend. It’s great to finally speak with you. Tell us a little about your time racing?
Jason Langford: Hey, thanks. I don’t know about that, but I had a lot of fun while I was at it. I think my most fond memories were my amateur days. You know, going to places like Ponca City and Loretta Lynn’s. That’s where you meet your racing family, and where you can have some of the best times of your life. Those were my favorite memories. But then I also think about my championship in arenacross. It was the 1991 title. I raced against Dennis Hawthorne, Cliff Palmer, and I think Jimmy Gaddis. But Hawthorne was a great friend and mentor to me, and to beat him and Palmer that year a big achievement for me. But then shortly after that win, I retired.
Wait, you retired right after your biggest win?
Well, it wasn’t the plan, but after winning it, I went out and raced some nationals. I was at Troy, Ohio racing the outdoor national and hurt my back pretty bad. It was a lower back injury; it broke a piece of bone off between third and fourth vertebrae. And back then technology wasn’t there where they could repair that part of the bone, as well as the nerve. But it [the technology] finally came around and I had back surgery in 2010. It helped me out quite a bit, but it’s still not good enough to ride a motorcycle at competitive levels again. But back in 1991 or whenever it was, the doctor told me that was pretty much it, and that I should not race anymore. And that is why they call me The Ghost. I just ghosted out.
Wow, really? That must have been a tough pill to swallow.
Well, I was afraid of really getting hurt bad, but I was also fully addicted to motocross and the whole racing world. So as bad as I hated it, when I retired, I never went back to the sport. That was until my youngest son started racing, but I was fully out of it for ten, maybe twelve years.
So even with your son riding, you didn’t get the bug to come back, even to ride for just fun?
No, not all. When he was first starting and things were mellow, I did ride in 2005 or so. My son started out racing cross-country, and down here in Texas, that type of racing is real laid back, family focused, and fun. So I bought a KDX200 and rode the 200 class. That was mellow and cool. But I still had the bug for competition, and shortly after that, I tried to ride pro cross-country. But then I broke my finger in my first race in that class and that was it. I was done again. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be back out there.
Have you stayed in touch with some of your old friends, even if you don’t go to the track?
I didn’t for a long time; that’s why they called me “The Ghost.” But as my son came up through the ranks, I started to see all my old friends. But one of the most fun things I did once I was back at the races was to attend the Team Green twenty-five-year celebration at Loretta’s. I ran into Bevo, Mark Johnson, Greg Quadar, and man, I could just keep naming names. That event really meant a lot to me; I will never forget it nor my time in those early days of my racing career. It was also special because my son was also racing there at Loretta’s that year. I also recently connected with Louis Wooley; he is a big motocross fan a great friend of mine who has been facing some health issues lately. It has been great to be back in touch with him.
Kawasaki’s Team Green program played a big part of your life. How long did you ride for them?
I started with them in 1982. It was basically the first year they were up and running, and I was proud to be one their first riders. I was 10 years old, and when they came along, we knew they were offering something special. I turned pro with them [in] 1987, and I think I was around 17 years old. My last year with them was 1989. After that, I went with Yamaha with the help of Mike Guerra. I rode for them for the remainder of my career. Both companies were like family to me. Team Green was a bigger family and more oriented towards the youth, but the people at Yamaha were more like family to me.
Looking back at your pro career, what were some of the highlights?
I think racing at the Pontiac Silverdome was always a favorite. I had a good run there once and some good finishes. Also, I was leading in my second-ever national in San Antonio. That was a really special to be doing that in front of the hometown crowd. I got second in that first moto that day, and it seemed like everyone was from Texas and pulling for me, and to get that support and confidence was amazing—especially because I was racing against George Holland, and he was going to be champion. I was in second in the first turn. Denny Stephenson pulled holeshot. But then I passed him a few turns in and got a lead on George Holland. I built it up to 5-6 seconds. It stayed that way until twenty-eight minutes, and he passed me on last lap right at the finish line. He just had so much more experience than I did, so I can’t say I wasn’t surprised, but for me it was a big deal. For that last lap or so, I just sat back and watched his lines; that was a special weekend for sure for me.
I bet that was amazing, at your home state race, and being only your second national. Let’s switch gears here—tell me about your family and what you are up to these days.
Well, I’m married to my wife Riikina, and we have been together for a long time. We got married young, and I couldn’t ask for a better wife and partner. We have two boys, Jason Junior, who is 23, and Jeremy, who is 30. We have been married for twenty-eight years now. My oldest son Jeremy got married just this past May, and his wife has her master’s degree. Jeremy works in the oil business on the off shore rigs. He travels all over the world for that gig. My other son, Jason Junior, he is actually engaged to be married soon—and if you can believe it, he is getting married to Mike Craigs’ daughter, Lexi. Jason Junior works at our family construction company with me.
Did both of your sons race? Are they still into it?
Jason Junior was the big racer. He raced both supercross and outdoor stuff, but he got hurt in 2011 and that was pretty much it. He was practicing to start supercross, and he separated his shoulder really bad, and it did some nerve tissues and muscle damage. They said it would take two years for that to heal. Jeremy did not race that much. Junior was the fast guy; he did Loretta’s, Ponca, then turned pro and raced some of that stuff. We don’t ride really anymore, but as a family we are into the side-by-side thing, as well as camping—when we are not all working. But we work hard and play hard, and are always trying to have some fun.
Did Jason Junior make it into main events?
I don’t think so, but he was really, really close. He was always just missing the mains by like one spot, but he was fast. He did some cool stuff, though; he went to Europe with Jim Holley and raced in Finland for one or two years.
Tell me about your business. You started it, right?
Yeah. When I retired from racing, I went to work for a company called Weir Brothers. I worked for those people for about 10-11 years; then I started my own company. We started in the trucking business, but now we are in the excavation business as well. We build roads, pour building pads, and move dirt. That’s pretty much it. And right now, we are lucky that right now we have the economy going our way. We are very busy. It is called J&R Dirt Service. But we are live in Palestine, Texas, and the business is based out of the DFW [Dallas, Fort Worth] area. I would say everything that we do is based on 150-square-mile radius in central Texas area. And during our busy season, we can have up to about twenty people working for us. Otherwise we are around 12-15 full timers. But I do a lot of subcontracting and hiring out for some of the aspects. I would note that the "J" is for Jason and the "R" is for my wife. She really runs the back-office side of things and keeps stuff going!
I always ask this question, and I know you didn’t have a factory ride, but how was the money for you when you were racing?
Well, actually the money was really good in arenacross. I made more money in arenacross in three months of non-stop racing than I did racing an entire season of supercross and outdoors. It was crazy! But it was pretty okay for me; I certainly can’t complain that I made good money while I was doing it.
Do you still follow the sport today?
I don’t really. My son Jason Junior, he keeps up with it with his iPhone and is always looking at the news every day. He does tell me about what’s going, I know about Villopoto going to Europe, and we talk about that stuff, but I don’t follow it myself no more. For me, work is so busy, but maybe if I had more time, I might. I’m always looking at new machines to buy and/or sell, and that is what I allow to consume my time. But while it is my job, it doesn’t feel like a job and I really enjoy it.
Who were some of biggest competitors back in the day?
Oh man, there are so many. I would say Damon Bradshaw and Mike Craig. But from our area, we had Denny Stephenson and Shawn Kalos. Then back in the amateur days we also had Dennis Hawthorne and Chad [Trampas] Parker. I grew up with him here in Texas, as well as Billy Whitley. You know, as I’m sitting here talking about the old days, I’d like to know how those guys are doing. In fact, if any of them are reading this, I hope they’ll look me up. Man, I’d really love to hear from any of my old friends that are out there!
Well, we can help to arrange that! [Editor’s note: Anyone who would like to get in touch with Jason, contact us at email@example.com and we will forward your contact info.] But Jason, I need to wrap this up—any closing words?
Well, I owe it to my whole family. I am lucky to have a great family, great wife, and to be able to look back on a career that was a lot of fun. Going forward, you know, I still have some dreams. I’m thinking about getting my pilot’s license, maybe starting that the first weekend of January. I have always wanted to fly and my daughter in law Emily wants to get hers. So I think we might get together and do it together, and maybe work on that. So that is my dream right now. It is kind of odd because I am scared of heights, but I’d rather be flying myself then letting someone else do it for me. But flying is maybe my next chapter.