"Hey, Martin can’t go to RedBud this weekend. I’ve got an extra spot if you want to go." Just like that my Fourth of July plans had changed. I was heading to Michigan with my buddies Cody Gilmore and Danny Grenier. Gilmore's supercross season was cut short when he tore ligaments in his thumb while racing in Germany, so his season was over before it had really begun. Instead of wasting the solid base he had built up during the off-season, the #87 decided to hit a couple nationals this summer. We were going racing!
We hit the road Thursday after work in his red van. The trip was just starting for Danny and me, but this journey began a week ago for Cody. He’s a one-man machine during the week, doing his own work on the bikes. Practice bike or race bike, it’s a solo program. Practice. Testing. Training. Prepping. The epitome of the true privateer. So when I showed up after a day of work, he had already put in his full day of work as well. The van was loaded to the tilt. And we hit the road on a 570-mile adventure to RedBuuuuuddd.
The three of us pinned it through Des Moines en route to Davenport, Iowa. We hit our first night’s destination around 2 a.m. at the Super 8. I jumped on my laptop, Danny started swiping through Tinder, and Gilly shaved his head—regular guy stuff. In an attempt to keep Cody on some sort of regular sleep schedule, we got back on the road about 8 a.m. after a quick free continental breakfast. Super 8 has really stepped up their program lately.
Our original plan was to hit the track around 1 p.m. with the time change. Since we detoured to pick up his new graphics from one of his friends and sponsors, we still had graphics to do on Friday. We also had tech inspection, tires to get from Dunlop, and a quick track walk after the amateurs. Well, Chicago traffic didn’t care if we had a schedule. After crawling along for about ninety minutes and a quick detour when Danny missed one of our exits, we pulled into RedBud at close to 3 p.m. No worries.
Passes? Check. New red, white, and blue graphics for the holiday? Check. Tech? Check. Free set of mounted Dunlop tires? Check. (Thanks, Marshall and Brian.) As Danny tightened up the axle, the day of amateur racing wrapped up. It was time to go check out the beast that is RedBud.
As we approached the gate, I ran into none other than Mr. RedBud himself, Tim Ritchie. "Denny ‘Mr. Beard’ Stephenson!" he said. It had been over ten years since the last time I set foot on his land, so it’s always nice when someone like Tim remembers a dirt biker like myself. I asked him if we could take a look at the track since Cody hasn’t been there in a few years. "Well, we're just getting ready to prep it for tomorrow, but go ahead, get out ahead of these guys, and don’t get in anyone's way," he said. As we started walking past the mechanics area, Cody looked over at me and said, "Dbo's still got it."
I don’t think I’ve walked a pro track in fifteen years. I’ve been to the track at Millville, but that’s been before practice when it’s smooth. To see how rough and rutted Red Bud was blew my mind. Now, mind you, amateur day usually brings breaking bumps about fifty feet further up the track, but each corner had 8–10 ruts, and I assumed their depth would be similar to Saturday with the big boys. Also the empty infield was like a golf course. We see all this on TV, but as we all know, nothing does it justice like being there live.
Last but not least, we finally made our way over to LaRocco's Leap, which is also way more impressive in person. And the question for the next 30 minutes was, "What lap you jumping that thing, Gilly?" Even the racer was impressed by the track and leap. As they all are.
With everything checked off our Friday to-do list, we headed to our hotel in South Bend. One of Cody's sponsors, Kendall Smith, had set us up with a room and was picking us up for dinner. We made quick work of the drive into Irish country and found our hotel tucked back in the trees. We open the door to our hotel room, and I kid you not, it had a king-size bed with a red heart-shaped hot tub in center of the room. Seriously! Talk about a heart-shaped box.
The three of us busted out laughing and Cody assumed Kendall was pulling a joke on us. We went back to the front desk, where the woman explained that the reservation was made online, and when a "suite" is booked online, it’s the hot tub room. Now explain to me why or how anyone would know Quality Inns have heart-shaped hot tubs in their rooms? Also, why would a Quality Inn have a heart-shaped tub in the room? We rolled in a roll-away and the problem was somewhat solved.
Dinner was on the Notre Dame campus about a hundred yards from the stadium and touchdown Jesus. I’m a Husker fan, so I really don’t like the Irish. But being that close to some serious college football history was much appreciated and respected. After dinner we still had new graphics for Cody's new Bell helmet, and he wanted to catch one of last year's 450 motos on my laptop. So this is what racers do Friday nights until midnight while I’m usually camping at the track burning burgers and smashing beers? I had forgotten a racer’s job never ends, especially the privateer’s.
The Saturday morning bell rang and we left for the track to find a better parking spot than we had day before. We scoped out a spot yesterday at the end of the row across from Motosport Outlet, and it was still there. Race day had arrived. The reason racers live, pro or amateur, child or adult.
We had made a game plan, with Danny handling the mechanical and pit board duties and me handling the bike and gear clean up, lunch, and starting-gate duties. I was part rider's wife or girlfriend and part mechanic. But, really, I couldn’t work on a bike if my life depended on it, so it was pretty obvious what part of the wife/girlfriend/mechanic mix I was shading toward.
We had a power washer, but I needed to scope out a water hookup for it. Then I realized the track already had some hooked up for privateers. Perfect. In practice, Cody took a pretty decent digger, and he was only seeded thirty-second heading into moto one. Bars would be changed. Bike and gear would be polished. Lunch was served. Then, suddenly, the first call horn blows. I had forgotten on race day almost every minute is accounted for. There’s really no downtime for mechanics, riders, or teams in general. It was go time.
Oh, and he jumped the Leap on the second lap of practice.
I will admit while the 450s were in staging, I snuck over to the AMA trailer to catch the end of the 250 moto. I caught the last three laps. There’s no race-watching when you’re working with a rider. I reported back to Cody and Danny that Cooper Webb had won after a tight battle with Jeremy Martin. Then I looked over to see Martin sail over the finish line in first! With J-Mart, it’s never in the books until that checkered flag flies.
"Nice reporting, Denny," Cody spouts off.
"Shut up and go race," I laughed.
With a young mechanic sometimes comes rookie mistakes. After the parade lap, Danny went to top off the gas tank with the Gatorade bottle full of fuel only to have Cody notice it wasn’t originally filled all the way up before. The mechanic next to us offered us their bottle of fuel also. Still not enough! So we sprinted back to our pits, fortunately not too far away, filled up the bottle, and the much faster, and younger, Danny headed back to Cody. This old guy was winded.
Cody rounded lap one in thirty-third. Hell, with a start like that we could’ve taken our time and walked the fuel back to the gate. I kid, I kid. Cody's not necessarily known for his starts, which will definitely be something we work on during the break before Millville.
In practice, I noticed that there was a group of about ten guys within a second of Cody's time ahead of him. Basically up to twenty-second. I told him, "Man, you race faster than these guys and you’re in better shape, but you will make your life much easier if you can get out ahead of them."
Needless to say, he had thirty-plus-two and plenty of work to do. And work he did. He had a group of riders in front of him, and he slowly picked one guy off at a time and finished the moto in twenty-fifth. Straight from the couch to a top-twenty-five in his first-ever 450 national. I was impressed and proud. But there was work to do. I headed to our courtesy washer with two laps left to make sure no one else snaked us.
The three of us handled the usual between-moto work in quick fashion. Cody’s buddy Kevin Rookstool reminded him at the riders meeting that there are only forty minutes between motos these days for live TV unlike the two-hour days when WMX raced between the motos. Kind of reminded me of my first moto in the San Antonio heat, and how I was still dying when the second moto horn blew.
So I sprinted up with the board and umbrella in hand to catch the end of the 250 moto on the AMA monitor again while they got staged. Only caught the last lap this time. Sounded like I missed one helluva race.
I walked across the road to the staging area only to find Cody bent over the rear of the bike. He thought the brakes felt funny on the ride up and decided to change brake pads.
Have I told you how much this kid stressed me out over the day? I suggested waking up at 6:30 a.m. He said 7:30 a.m. was good. We compromised for 7:15 a.m.
Practice was starting and I was like, "Shouldn’t you be dressed?"
"I got plenty of time," he said.
I asked him the same for both motos: "Bud, shouldn’t you be getting dressed?"
He just laughed and shook his head. "Man, I got this," he replied.
I was getting frustrated. My gosh, I’ve turned into my dad!
Second moto’s start was exactly the same as the first as he ended the first lap in thirty-third. This time he didn’t quite have the energy he did in moto one, but he charged all the way to the end, passing for the twenty-seventh spot on the final lap. On that last lap he managed to also turn in his fifth-fastest lap of the moto. There’s the almighty burn of the lungs and muscles on that final lap when you decide pride or pain wins. I’m happy to say pride won on this day for my friend, and it made for a happy drive home.
That’s another great thing about such an early, compact, and quick schedule: we were loaded up and on the road by like 5:30 p.m. How often are we back in Omaha from RedBud by noon the next day and poolside with a well-deserved celebratory Sunday drink? Wasn’t like that in the old days.
So there you have it. This is the weekend story of a pure privateer, who, with the help of some sponsors, a couple friends, and whole hell of a lot of work, went from some small Nebraska/Iowa local racing scene and some practice to a 25-27 performance against America's 450 best on one of the toughest tracks in the world.
As I told Cody, I couldn’t be more proud of my friend. It was an epic Fourth of July weekend that won’t soon be forgotten. The #87 will be back for Millville next weekend and shooting for the elusive top twenty and AMA points Gilly has never earned in his career. If you're up there, make sure and give Cody a shout-out as he races by.
I’d like to close by dedicating this week's Revolver to my old friend Mike Weese. His birthday was July 4, and he would have been 45. Happy Birthday, brother. We celebrated in your memory and brought the chaos for you my friend. This one’s for you.
Thanks for reading.