Brett Smith, Racer X contributor and editor of We Went Fast, wrote a fantastic article on the life of Dave Coombs. Dave, as most of you know, was the founder of Loretta Lynn’s and is, of course, the father of Racer X Illustrated editor-in-chief Davey Coombs. Below is an excerpt from the article, posted with permission. You can read the full article on wewentfast.com.
Also, if you want to know more about Loretta’s, check out the special edition of the Racer X Podcast, in association with @wewentfast, about how the race got started. Listen to “How We Got Here: The Origins of Loretta Lynn’s MX” by searching for the Racer X Podcast Network wherever you listen to podcasts.
When opening ceremonies were complete, after the national anthem was sung and the riders’ names and sponsors were announced over the P.A. system with dramatic flair, after the starting gate had fallen and the frantic sound of 40 125cc bikes had rocketed uphill toward the first turn, Dave Coombs would grab at the radio transmitter clipped to the collar of his shirt.
“Meet me at the front gate,” he’d say, calling his daughter, Carrie Jo. It was always just after 1:00 p.m. on the Sunday before Memorial Day. No checkered flags had been waved, no trophies handed out, no jerseys soaked in victory champagne. Yet, after weeks of back breaking preparation–cutting down weeds, mowing grass, spreading sawdust, fixing bleachers, and running heavy equipment–his thousands of customers were scattered around the valley of High Point Raceway and enjoying what they had paid for: four motos of AMA Pro Motocross. The event staff and race officials he put in place were more than capable of handling matters for a spell.
With his daughter riding shotgun in his truck, Dave turned right out of the racetrack and headed south on Taylortown Road. Just two miles away, across the West Virginia state line, was the Walnut Lane Inn, a dark dive bar filled with coal miners and country music. The only illumination came from the dangling neon beer signs and a brightly lit cooler against the wall. White linoleum wrapped around the L-shaped bar and billiards tables filled up the back of the room. When Dave walked in he was greeted warmly and by name even though he was not a frequent patron. It was because of the way he treated people, especially those who worked in service or came from nothing.
“Because that’s what he came from,” Carrie Jo said of her father. “He came from nothing.” Coombs was the kind of man who helped those in need, from the token gesture of buying a PW50 for a close friend’s son to mortgaging his own house to help someone who had fallen on hard times; the patrons at the Walnut Lane Inn were his people.
Once at the bar, Dave always ordered Lord Calvert with Coca-Cola and Carrie a Coors Light. The conversation would wander, but this was mostly Dave’s way of winding down; the hardest work was done. After a couple of drinks, they would drive back across the state line to prepare the facility for the mass exodus of motocross fans that began around 5:00 p.m.
It’s been 20 years since Carrie enjoyed this annual ritual; her father passed away on August 3, 1998. The building at the corner of Taylortown Road and Route 100 is still there, but the bar is closed down. In another half-dozen years, Dave Coombs will have been gone longer than he spent creating and promoting dirt bike and ATV events. But the playbook he left behind, for races like the High Point Motocross National, the AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships at Loretta Lynn’s, and the Grand National Cross Country Championships, among others, is still in use today.
Known for his morning-to-midnight work ethic and his gloves-in-the-back-pocket preparedness, Coombs’ legacy is peculiar given his first career path. In the early seventies, not long after his 30th birthday, he walked away from rock and roll, abandoning an opportunity to tour the country and record a second album. He had spent nearly a decade building a career in music. By 1972, the two passions Coombs had been concurrently feeding—music and motocross—were on a collision course. The life of a rock star can be fleeting, but the dirt was a sure thing. As a boy from Booth, West Virginia, the dirt was where he came from.