We close our eyes and another year goes by….
On the last day of every year we take time to remember some of the friends and fellow motorcycling enthusiasts we’ve lost along the way. With a nod to the New York Times’ annual requiem about the lives others lived, we offer our thoughts and condolences to all of those who lost someone special in 2018.
There was a little blip in Cycle News' "In the Wind" section of an early 1980s issue that read simply, "LEFT After eleven years with O'Neal Distributing, general manager Jim Hale, 29. Left to 'pursue his personal goals,' according to Jim O'Neal, ' and on good terms.'"
No one who might have read that would have guessed that Jim Hale, a former SoCal journeyman privateer, would go on to have one of the most successful business careers American motorcycling history. Hale started working on his personal goals by becoming the U.S. distributor for a little-known Italian brand called AXO. He quickly built it into an industry-leading brand, in large part based on knowing which riders and race teams to sponsor—Jeff Stanton, Damon Bradshaw, and Jeremy McGrath were part of AXO's huge stable of talent—but how to market and expand the brand. Hale was soon also distributing Renthal products from England, as well as Sinisalo from Finland, and he also found time to start a magazine called Inside Motocross that proved to be a game-changer when it came to the moto industry's publishing standards.
But the biggest thing Jim Hale did was take the idea of making a glove, especially for mechanics, and blowing it up into a globally known company called Mechanix Wear, which makes gloves for everyone from soldiers to fishermen to gardeners to—still—mechanics. Needless to say, those personal goals had been achieved.
Hale's life ended unexpectedly in May after a massive heart attack. He was 63 years old.
They called Eric Geboers “The Kid,” but he was the man in Grand Prix motocross in the 1980s. Like his American counterpart Jeff Ward, Geboers was small in stature but fit and fierce. The two also shared an incredible skillset that allowed them to win major titles in all three of the AMA/FIM displacements: 125cc, 250cc, and 500cc—hence that other nickname, Mr. 875, a nod to his being the first man in World Championship motocross history to win 125 + 250 + 500 classes.
After he rode off the track for the last time as the 1990 FIM 500cc World Champion, Geboers became a promoter as well as a championship-winning team owner, a role he shared with his older brother Sylvain. The Geboers brothers were together in Mol, Belgium, in May on a lake outing when Eric's dog jumped off the side of the pier. He dove in after it and ended up drowning in the cold water. He was 55 years old.
He will forever be remembered as one of the great kings of the motocross world, and particularly Belgium, where the Geboers family truly is motocross royalty.
Most Racer X readers won’t know Annette Carrion from her work at Motorcyclist magazine, but she wrote the publication's very popular—and funny—“Fashion Police” column. However, they probably will remember her from her role as Little Red Riding Hood in the Yamalube commercial featuring Bob Hannah. Her coworker Brian Catterson introduced producer Todd Huffman to Annette at his annual vintage motocross swap meet, and afterward Huffman asked Catterson for her contact info so he could audition and cast her in the commercial. They taped a few different versions, and in one of them she told Hannah, “You’re no Justin Barcia.” What made it funny was that Cat told her instead to adlib and say “You're no Broc Glover!” One can only imagine the reaction she got from the Hurricane. Annette Carrion died in a street bike accident on Southern California’s Ortega Highway on March 31.
And here is a making-of video:
Brett Smith knew and worked with television host Brian Drebber for many years. We asked him to tell us more about the live he lived.
It’s really hard to say what Brian Drebber liked more: talking about motorcycles or riding them. He visited our production office an average of once a week and even on the rainiest days, he arrived on a motorcycle, dressed head to toe in rain gear. The only other vehicle I ever saw him in was his baby blue 1950s Chevy pickup. I think he only drove it to keep the battery charged.
For over 40 years, Drebber put his voice on nearly everything two wheels. A former professional bicycle racer, he called the action for some of the biggest events in cycling, including the Olympics. In the 1985 movie American Flyers, he played himself.
How is unclear, but he wandered into the motorcycle industry and did play-by-play for everything. Motorcycle fans might not recognize his face but they certainly know his voice. He called supercross, motocross, Superbike, trials, hill climb, flat track, ice racing, and more.
He had the rare ability to slide into any chair and talk as if he was born into any sport. We jokingly called him “The Garbage Man” because he took it all—no race was too small or too big. He often arrived dressed like a farmer and dirty from doing chores around his property. Usually he was empty handed. He only needed a start list and he could enhance any television show. He didn’t even need a color commentator.
Brian Drebber was one of the best play by play talents I ever worked with. On August 23, while riding his motorcycle to the airport to work a MotoAmerica event, he hit a deer near Canton, GA. Brian was 68.
Jeff Fox had a profound impact of the global motorcycle industry through his work as the owner of the LeMans Corporation, better known as Parts Unlimited. Fox grew up in the family business, which grew through the years under the LeMans Corporation umbrella to include Drag Specialties, THOR MX, Moose Racing, Icon, and many other leading motorcycle and powersports brands.
From his base in Janesville, Wisconsin, Fox shaped the way parts suppliers work with dealers, the way events and series are sponsored, as well as the levels of sponsorship a top racer could expect. His influence crossed oceans and disciplines: Parts Unlimited built a name all over the world, and the company sponsored top racers, teams, and racing series in motocross, supercross, road racing, off-road, amateurs, drag racing, flat track—if it involved two wheels, it mattered to Jeff Fox. He was truly a racer's best friend.
He was also quite humble and a little shy. Until you got to know him, Fox could be an intimidating figure. We once talked him into allowing us to profile him in the pages of Racer X Illustrated, and he at first (and multiple times) declined. But then he relented and said he would only do it if we promised not to use the title we pitched, which was a simple, honest statement: "The Most Powerful Man in Motorcycle Racing."
Unfortunately, due to a pending deadline and a miscommunication between edit and design, the story was called something else but the words he detested ended up on the cover of the July 2002 issue instead. Jeff never let us live it down.
Fox also had a close-knit family, and after building Parts Unlimited into a global juggernaut, he decided to step away from the day-to-day activities so he could spend time with his wife, Charice, his daughter, Jamie, and son, Justin. He was with all of them in May at a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game when he suffered a massive heart attack.
The accolades and sincerities came from everywhere. Jeremy McGrath wrote, "You have been a true inspiration to not only me, but many... We all looked up to you! You are a giant pillar of strength in this sport we all love so much. I am going miss your guidance, friendship and that fun personality always lighting up the room... I love you friend!"
Eighteen-year-old Nicholas Howard was doing one of his favorite things in the world—riding his motocross bike with friends—before his life came to a sudden end. Howard and three friends were on their way home on Palmyra Road in Trimble County near Campbellsville, Kentucky, when the truck veered off the road and hit a tree. The other kids would survive the crash, but Howard did not.
"One moment they were having fun living life to the fullest, just being nice young men and their best friend is gone," said Pastor Ronnie Caswell of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Motocross Ministry, of which Howard was a longtime member. "Nick, already at a young age, was kind of a local legend and a champion. All these kids just flocked to him and Nick always made time available for the youngest to the oldest. Really the sky was the limit with him."
Howard, who was sponsored by Yamaha of Louisville, had just qualified for the Regionals for the 2018 AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship. A memorial service was held before the next Area Qualifier took place at Podium 1 Raceway in nearby Charlestown, Indiana, on April 12. That night, friends and fellow racers turned out in droves to bid farewell to Nicholas Howard.
No team in the history of 125/250 supercross has won more races and more titles than Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki. But it began its existence as the Peak/Pro Circuit Honda team in 1991, and its first all-star lineup included Jeremy McGrath, Steve Lamson, Jeromy Buehl, and a kid from Michigan named Brian Swink. All would go on to win races and even titles, but it was Swink who got there first. As the 125 East Region Champion in 1991, he won the team its first race, at the Orlando 125 SX, and its first title. And to this day, the first #1 plate on the doors of the team rig was hung by Swink. In that first season of the vaunted Pro Circuit team, it was arguably Swink, not McGrath, who was the top prospect.
One year later he was racing for Suzuki, repeating as East Region #1. But from there his progress and drive to the top slowed as McGrath's reputation and results catapulted. Within a couple of years Swink was out of a factory ride, and within a couple more he was no longer racing at all. What followed was a slow descent; Swink became more and more withdrawn, alienated from the sport in general. He did the occasional interview, talking about doing "real jobs" like driving a truck and pouring concrete, but he mostly stayed away from the sport in which he was once considered the future. Swink died early this summer after suffering liver failure. When his obituaries were being written by various newspapers and websites, one offered a compliment that Swink would have hated: "People called him the next Jeremy McGrath." Brian Swink was 45 years old.
James R. Arrington
To be a high-school teacher can sometimes be a thankless task. But there is also a sometimes hidden value to it that doesn't really present itself until that beloved teacher is gone and the accolades and salutes come in from so many of the students whose lives the educator affected in ways they may have never imagined. Jeff Ross of Dallas, Texas, told us about a mentor of his who passed away in April. His name was James R. Arrington, and he was "the coolest high-school shop teacher ever, but also the leader of the Bryan Adams High School Motocross Team. Mr. Arrington was fearless on his own '74 Honda CR250 Elsinore."
That's Mr. Arrington below, fourth from right. Wrote Ross of the beloved teacher, "He showed up for a friend's memorial in his leather jacket and 'rattlesnake' tennis shoes."
If you are in the motorsports publishing business and have ever been to Daytona International Speedway, you knew Donna Freismuth, the lady who ran the credential department for many years. Donna was sharp, as she probably heard every argument as to why a photographer or writer or publisher needed to be in the pits or out on the track, and she heard them often from those who wanted to cover the Daytona 500, the Daytona Supercross, the Daytona anything. She was strict, but she was also reasonable. She had to be, because we journalists may live by the written word, but we're often bad about writing credential requests! To stand on the other side of the credential department counter and try to convince her that you belonged was a daunting task, and like any good manager, she made you work for it rather than just giving it away.
I know this because, back in the newspaper days of The Racing Paper, I went to Daytona to cover the supercross and didn't understand the process of applying for press credentials. I thought I could just hand her a copy of the new paper on the morning of the race and that would be enough. I was wrong. She told me to move off to the side while she took the next person in line, found their request, asked them for $5 for the custom plastic DIS credential holder, and then went on to the next person and the next.... When the morning rush finally died down, I watched Donna finally open and start reading the little newspaper I handed her, which mostly had coverage of local races in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. She went through it for a good 15 minutes. Just when I thought she was going to crush my whole trip to Florida for the 1991 Daytona Supercross, she finally waved me back over, told me to sign my name on the waiver release, then handed me a credential and that highly coveted Daytona International Speedway pass holder. I wanted to hug her. Donna just looked at me and said, "That will be five dollars."
Joe Newman, a longtime regular on the Vital MX Forum, wrote and posted this about his friend Howard Juckett.
Had a good friend pass away a short while back, a lifetime dirt bike rider who made everyone else’s problems pale in comparison. He was a cancer survivor by age 20, in a time when the treatment probably caused more damage than cure. Fast forward through all the enduros, Six Days and desert racing, he found himself under the knife with heart issues a week after completing Baja. He eventually ended up on the transplant list and was supposed to stay within a two-hour drive of the hospital in Houston. Of course I caught him cruising the pits at the 2007 Freestone National on his Ruckus, four hours from the hospital. That was a good year for him--he got a new heart Christmas Eve.
As the years passed and cancer issues returned he always planned his treatments and surgeries around the next race. Funny stuff to see him come into the pits and grab a Dr. Pepper and eat some Skittles. He said that it was the only thing that tasted good at times and as long as he was eating something, the doctors were happy. As body parts failed, he kept riding. Body parts were either repaired or removed altogether as long as it fit his race schedule. Howard recently matched with his wife of 38 years for a kidney transplant which for the most part went well. Other complications arose and things deteriorated quickly.
There was a thread here about a year ago about some bikes being stolen from a local bike shop. One of those bikes , a KTM200 belonged to Howard. Although he’s been gone a month, it appears he located his bike last week and directed the police to its location.... So here’s to good friends, good times and let’s not forget our Dr. Pepper and Skittles. I have mine.
The world knew Verne Troyer as "Mini-Me," the pint-sized character from the Austin Powers movies who played the villain's smaller self. He was small—really small—and if you ever met or saw him in person, you know that he was even smaller in person (2' 8") than the movies made him out to be. But Troyer was also a huge motocross fan, and for a time he was a regular at big races in Las Vegas and Anaheim. He counted Travis Pastrana and Jeremy McGrath and Nicky Hayden as friends and would often be seen at the races tooling around on a medical-type cart like Evel Knievel used to sell. Hilariously, he was on that cart in one of those Celebrity Big Brother events with another MX enthusiast, Robbie Van Winkle (aka Vanilla Ice) that we'll just say went off the rails as the night wore on.
Besides the Austin Powers franchise, Troyer played in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and Men in Black, among other films. He passed in April; he was 49 years old.
Sébastien Dassé co-founded Bud Racing in France in 1995 along with his brother Stephane. They were both young racers, but Sebastien suffered a heavy crash in '98 that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Undeterred, the brothers kept building the business and it grew to the point where they decided to field a race team in 2007. Their first rider was a promising young Frenchman named Marvin Musquin. From then on, Bud Racing, with the Dassé brothers as co-managers, and Sebastien also in charge of the suspension department, built quite a record of accomplishments, including an MX2 podium with Gautier Paulin back in 2009, a European title in 2017 for Brian Moreau, and French titles for Livia Lancelot, Dylan Ferrandis, Maxime Desprey, and more.
In time, they became the official MX2 race team for Kawasaki Motors Europe, much the way Pro Circuit is for Kawasaki in America. In January, at just 37 years of age, Sébastien contracted an infection that proved to be fatal. Said the family and team, "Sébastien was at the heart of that family business driven by the passion of Motocross and he will be greatly missed."
Dick Miller was the editor of Motocross Action from 1973 to ’82, just when the sport was booming. It was with words and pictures on the pages of the groundbreaking magazine that Miller and others painted motocross life at the time. They were living the daily dream in Southern California, before it got all crowded and riding spots and racetracks were everywhere. They were there for the rise of both supercross and the outdoor nationals, as well as for the deaths of the Inter-Am and Trans-AMA Series, telling the stories of these races with a critical, creative tone. Back then there was no internet, let alone social media, and motocross was barely ever featured on TV unless it was the U.S. Grand Prix of Motocross from Carlsbad every year. Miller would be there, oftentimes handing over the keys to the truck that MXA used to give to its Riders of the Year.
On a personal note that I mentioned in January, after Miller passed away due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease, I was lucky enough to meet Dick through my parents in the mid-eighties and to sit next to him on a flight to Europe in 1986 for the Veronica Beach Race. I picked his brain for hours on that trip about publishing, and that undoubtedly helped me shape the early idea that became The Racing Paper, and then Racer X Illustrated.
Our publisher, Scott Wallenberg, was much closer to Dick, as they worked together at what is now Hi-Torque Publications, and he offered the following eulogy to his friend and former boss:
We first met when I was riding the Nationals. It was at Mid-Ohio and I was also working at a Midwest-based publication called Cycle Times. He was very encouraging to what we were doing for the sport in our area. We saw each other again at some press launches and when my name came up in November 1978 for a possible candidate to join Hi-Torque's advertising dept., Dick and Rick "Super Hunky" Sieman (of Dirt Bike magazine fame) both gave then-owner Bill Golden a recommendation to hire me. Dick became my go-to guy for advice and consultation. We traveled the world together and there was no one I could be more sure of to get through a situation than him. Yes, he was stubborn, opinionated, and at times confrontational. You always knew where he stood. I was there listening when he badgered and bullied the AMA and team managers to enter the 1981 Motocross and Trophee Des Nations again after apathy kept Team USA home in ’79 and ’80. It would take hours for me to go into detail all the cool things he did for me but more importantly to the sport of motocross that we all so dearly love...
For a time, Dan Gurney was one of the most famous race car drivers in the world. Hailing from California, he was competitive in Formula 1, IndyCar, NASCAR, sports cars, and more. He was a handsome, charismatic racer in the glory days of automobile racing, competing professionally for 15 years (1955-1970). Gurney was the first driver to post wins in all four major fields of competition: Formula 1, IndyCar, NASCAR, and sports cars. (Only two other drivers have done it since, Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya.) And according to Autoweek, Dan Gurney was the first big-time driver to wear a full-face helmet rather than the open-faced ones that were preferred by everyone else. His proudest accomplishment, according to the Los Angeles Times, was winning the 1967 Belgian F1 race in an Eagle, a car he designed and built himself, one week after winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. After the second one, when Gurney was handed a bottle of champagne, rather than drinking it, he shook it up and sprayed the gathered crowd, starting a new racing tradition that continues to this day.
His biggest disappointment? He is widely considered the best driver never to win the Indy 500, the biggest car race in America. No matter, F1 champion and longtime broadcaster Jackie Stewart said of Gurney, "Dan is hands-down the best American driver ever.”
Gurney was also a businessman and a motorcycle enthusiast. In fact, for a time he was the VP for the U.S. distributor for the Spanish dirt bike brand Montesa, as well as one of the first financial backers for a Team USA effort at the Motocross and Trophee des Nations in the late sixties and early seventies. Said Gurney, “Most of us have a feeling in our hearts that Americans can match the best racers Europe has to offer. If we can’t do it ourselves, at least we can see fellows we know doing it."
Later, he invented his own street bike line, Dan Gurney Alligator Motorcycles. Gurney passed away this year at 86 years of age after coming down with pneumonia.
Frank Piasecki Sr. came home to Toledo, Ohio, after fighting in World War II as a sharpshooter in the U.S. Marine Corps in Guam, and then he went back to riding dirt bikes—something he'd been doing since he was 13 years old. He soon ventured into motorcycle racing and ended up winning the 1952 Jack Pine Enduro in Michigan, then considered the toughest off-road race in America. He also won an early version of the Alligator Enduro at Daytona Beach, back when it included riding on the beach, the paved roads, the fields, woods, and swamps.
Piasecki himself would race until the early 1970s, then turn his attention to his sons' racing as well. For several years the Piaseckis had a dirt bike and motorcycle shop and sponsored many local riders. In fact, in the picture below, from the 1974 Trans-AMA race at Honda Hills in Ohio, #352 is Bob Taylor wearing a Piasecki's of Toledo jersey. Frank Piasecki eventually retired, and when he passed earlier this year, the U.S. Marine veteran and motorcycle racer was 91 years old.
Ruth Ann Benson
Ruth Ann Benson was one of the people you always saw helping out at will call, sign-up, scoring, or whatever other organizational chore that needed to be done at the races. Her kids raced, and she soon found herself working within the Mid-Atlantic Motorcycle Association (MAMA). Ruth was a wonderful person—always smiling, always helpful, and always supportive of everyone around her. She was a popular presence at the races, whether a pro motocross national, a GNCC, or just one of those local races that are the backbone of the sport. She passed away not long after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Ed Cernic Sr.
Ed Cernic Sr was a U.S. Army veteran who served in Europe in the years directly following World War II. When he returned from service to his home in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, he went into business for himself. He eventually started a motorcycle shop in 1969, and that shop would evolve into Cernic’s Racing, which his sons would take over and end up working with the likes of Travis Pastrana, Broc Hepler, Branden Jesseman, John Dowd, and more. Mr. Cernic was widely respected in both the motorcycle industry and his local community. Johnstown has a tragic history of flooding, and when another one hit in 1977, it was Ed Cernic who started the Tanneryville Flood Recovery Association, which brought much-needed aid to the community. He also set up a meeting with then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter for federal support for Johnstown, leading 17 busloads of local residents to Washington, DC, in order to help make the case.
When Ed Cernic passed at the age of 85, the local newspaper headlined his obituary with these simple, fitting words: "Cernic was a champion for the region."
John Driscoll was a lifelong motorcycle enthusiast and industry player, working with the likes of Boyesen Engineering, Deltran, and more. He was also a motocross parent, as his son John raced. Jeff Chambers, who worked for Kawasaki Team Green during those years, posted a note to the son on Facebook after John Driscoll passed: "Your dad was always a joy to be around and I was always glad to see him and have him hang around our pit area back in the day at Raceway Park. He was always willing to lend a hand and just be a good guy in general. I remember in 1986 when we went to your house to race prep the bikes the Saturday night before the KROC race. He loved moto and was your biggest fan as well."
John Driscoll was 73 years old when he passed peacefully in July, with his family by his side.
Justin Choate was such a fan of astronomy that he had a massive tattoo of the solar system on his body. He was both popular and polite, and he loved the outdoors as much as the stars above. His dad, John Choate, is a longtime racer, and Justin acted as his mechanic the last time John raced at Loretta Lynn Ranch in the AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship. They planned on working together again this past summer before Justin, who was riding his sport bike on Interstate 40, hit a guardrail near Morganton, North Carolina, and passed away.
His cousin Hunter Auten wrote of Justin: "Justin always lived his life to the fullest with the biggest smile on his face. A little bit of a hellion and a thrill seeker but always a happy one. No matter what life through his way he always looked at it as a cup half full. He was always smiling and cutting jokes."
Justin Choate was 23 years old.
Ivano Beggio created the Italian motorcycle Aprilia, which was born from his father's little bicycle factory of the same name. Beggio, who was born in 1944 near the end of World War II, took over the company in 1968. He diversified Aprilia by soon offering motorcycles as well as bicycles. It was Beggio's love of motocross and off-road racing that took him into the motorcycle market, and in 1974, Aprilia founded a motocross racing division. In the seventies and eighties, Aprilia was a player in FIM Grand Prix Motocross, with riders like Ivan Alborghetti, Corrado Maddii, Michele Fanton, Fabrizio Pirovano, Giuseppe Andreani, and Massimo Contini. And more recently, with their debut of a V-twin four-stroke, Aprilia worked with New Zealand's Josh Coppins, Belgium's Cedric Melotte, the Swiss rider Julien Bill, and the Spanish racer Francisco Garcia Vico.
Beggio was also passionate about road racing, and that's where the boutique brand truly thrived. Aprilia has won more than 50 world titles and taken nearly 300 wins in various MotoGP classes, the highest among European brands. It was Beggio who first harnessed and supported the talent of Valentino Rossi, the nine-time world champion and one of the greatest motorcycle racers ever.
Ivano Beggio was 74 years old when he passed away in March.
Pete Weidner was the promoter behind the Mid-Ohio races in Lexington, Ohio. The track was an international hub for motocross in the seventies and early eighties, as Weidner hosted Trans-AMA and Inter-Am races, an AMA 125 National, and the annual Valvoline 125cc United States Grand Prix of Motocross, which ran from 1975 through '81. It was at the first 125cc USGP that Marty Smith more or less invented the "double jump," using one downhill ski jump to leap over the next one, rather than taking them as two singles. Mid-Ohio was also the place that put Johnny O'Mara and his Mugen Honda on the map when he won the 1980 USGP in the mud. After Team USA failed to participate in the annual Motocross and Trophee des Nations in 1979 and '80, the FIM decided to punish the AMA by targeting the 125cc USGP, which was left off of the schedule for the 1982 season. At that point, a frustrated Weidner decided to close the track for good. He passed away on June 18 at the age of 78.
Dan Cunningham spanned the irons at the races for Dunlop Tires, joining his coworkers every Saturday in the all-day marathon of changing countless tires for factory riders and privateers alike. Sadly, on the morning after the St. Louis race, Cunningham was found unconscious in his hotel room and later passed away. The 43-year-old from Westfield, Massachusetts, is survived by his wife, Melissa, and son, Damon.
The following was posted on Dunlop’s social media following Dan's passing: “It is with a heavy heart that the Dunlop team enters the forthcoming race weekend. Dan Cunningham, a member of the Dunlop fitting crew, tragically passed away after last weekend’s race. Dan joined the Dunlop family three years ago, and quickly became beloved member of the supercross support team. Always bringing a smile and sense of light heartedness to the pits, Dan’s presence will be missed far beyond the Dunlop rig. Dunlop will leave Dan’s tire fitting stand empty for the rest of the season in his honor.”
At the next round of the series at Indianapolis, Cunningham's coworkers left his changing station open, draping flowers on his tire stand in his honor.
At the High Point National in June, three of Albert Hand's grandsons raced: Jeremy Hand entered in the 450 Class, Michael Hand was in the 250 Class, and David Hand Jr. raced in the 125 All Star race. Al was a lifelong racing enthusiast who moved from England to the U.S. and worked for more than 40 years as a tool and die maker at the Chrysler Stamping Plant. His sons Carl and David got into racing in the seventies and both turned pro, as did their sons. Al Hand was 88 years old and suffering the effects of a stroke when he passed just a few weeks before the High Point race where his three grandsons competed.
Gordy Ochs was a vintage racing legend in the Pacific Northwest. Born in the 1940s, he didn't even ride a motorcycle before he was in his mid-twenties. In an interview with Shawn McDonald for his blog, SoloShawn, he explained his first touchpoints with motorcycles:
"In 1964 a guy at the fire station brought in a step-through Honda he was working on, and I asked him if I could ride it. I rode it up and down the street, and came back and told him, ‘I would like to do this.’ A couple of weeks later I went down to Dewey’s Cycle and bought a 175cc BSA Bantam D7 two-stroke. I rode that for about two months until I totally trashed it. I then went down to Tom’s Cycle in Seattle, and test rode a 1966 Bultaco 250 Metisse Pursang. I rode it up and down the street, and it scared the hell out of me. That’s when I decided to go racing. I bought the bike, of course. I was married at that point, and had two kids. My wife at that time said if that’s what you want to do, okay. So within a few months of never having ridden a motorcycle, I was now racing."
Ochs didn't top racing for a very long time, though his late beginning kept him from making a career of it. (He became a firefighter instead.) Gordy was already 30 when he qualified for the 1972 AMA 250cc Pro Motocross National at Tahoe in California. He finished 14th overall.
Nick McCabe contributed the following about his friend and fellow rider Ken Adler:
Ken Alder, a lifelong motocross and off-road rider, entered his last race in March. He drove from New England all the way out to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, to compete in the Vet class of the WORCS series. For Ken, it was always about the journey, and not so much the destination, or the actual race results. One month later, he would suffer an apparent heart attack and pass away at the age of 56.
Like a lot of us, Ken was a teenager when he fell in love with dirt bikes. He spent long hours going through the pages of magazines, absorbing and learning everything he could. After completing one year of college, he returned home and proclaimed that college wasn’t for him, and instead planned to open his first bicycle shop. At the age of 20, a man of his word, he opened Cycle Dynamics in Westport, Connecticut.
For the next 36 years of his life, Ken forged a unique direction in his life’s journey. In 2015, Ken announced he’d had enough of the retail business and was selling the shop. However, after some time off and countless road trips with his motorcycles, he returned to the bicycle business via a traveling mobile bicycle repair business known as BikeEx. The highlight of that venture was servicing bikes for former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his family. Before he knew it, the retail bug bit him again and he opened another store, and for which he simply named “Bike Shop Ken.”
Ken was a unique character. He was a gifted salesman, extremely loyal, and very friendly. He was respected by friends and customers alike. He was an amazing storyteller and could imitate his friends like no other. He never missed a race at Unadilla and followed the sport of motocross closely. He rode often, and while he was never the fastest guy on the track, he got more seat time than most guys his age, and that's all that really mattered.
Catherine Cook, 44, was the matron of a racing family. Her husband of 26 years, Jonathan, and sons Jonathan Jr. and Daniel, loved going to the races together. When she wasn't at the track, she worked at CARRS as a case worker and was supervisor at CSI in Crawfordsville, Indiana. She was at the Ironman GNCC, the big local race for the Cooks, watching Sunday's motorcycle race out in the woods when a tree fell on her. Despite the best efforts of her husband, paramedics, and race officials, the tragic accident proved fatal.
Her obituary described Catherine as "a very loving and caring person and considered many kids her adopted children. She was loving mother, wife and close friend to many. She loved to read, watch her husband and sons compete, and loved attending all her son’s sporting events. Most of all, she loved spending time at home with her family."
Her last act spoke volumes for her selflessness and her care for others: Catherine Cook was an organ donor.
Gavin Trippe had a profound influence on professional racing in America as we know it. Born in England in 1940, Trippe first became a motorcycle journalist and later a promoter. He was in the perfect place for the dirt bike boom of the early seventies, and his first big motocross race—the U.S. Grand Prix of Motocross at Carlsbad Raceway—quickly became the biggest race on the American motocross calendar. Trippe was able to talk ABC's Wide World of Sports into covering the USGP, and for years it was the most prominent race one could find on television. ABC was so pleased with it that they invited Trippe to come up with more content, which he did. His ABC Superbikers race, which was a season-ending "all-star" race that brought many of the world's best MX, road racing, off-road, and flat trackers together on a hybrid Carlsbad track that was half-dirt, half-paved, was also very successful. (It was with this race that Trippe basically invented what we now know as Supermoto.) Trippe also promoted the Ascot Mile and the old TransAtlantic Match races that brought top road racers from either side of the ocean together, among many other events. It was for all of these reasons that Trippe was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2005.
Gavin Trippe was driving in July when his car suddenly veered off the road and off the side of mountain. Investigators suspect that he likely suffered a stroke or heart attack while behind the wheel of his car. He was 78 years old.
Rob Blackburn was watching his son Chance race in the Anaheim 2 Supercross from afar on January 20. Blackburn was in Oklahoma City working, and afterward he went to a nearby bar to watch the races on the big screens. When Blackburn went to leave after the races ended, he saw an apparently drunk driver back into another car. When he went to stop the man, the driver ran over him. When he was blocked by another car from getting away, the driver backed over Blackburn again, then pulled forward, running over him a third time. Then the driver tried to get away from the scene of the crime. Police caught and arrested him, but the injuries to Blackburn were too severe.
“He could walk into any room and everyone just loved him. I mean, he was the nicest, most genuine person,” Chance Blackburn said of his father. He added that the man his dad was with in his last moments of his life reached out to him. “The guy that was serving him that night and watching supercross with him, because that bartender was a fan of supercross, he messaged me on Facebook, he reached out this morning, and said your dad was very proud of you and your sister [Cali] and talking about it."
Blackburn's obituary recalled him "creating endless memories and friendships while traveling the Motocross circuit for his son and with his family and friends through the years. Though his work as a chief inspector with Epcon and Williams often took him out of the state, he was always traveling with his family and often times with his siblings too, creating countless and cherishable memories."
He is survived Chance and Cali and his wife, Brandi. Rob Blackburn was 41.
The collective motocross world was stunned to hear of the passing of Dan Villopoto in October. Once a racer and a mechanic himself, he helped shape his son Ryan's racing career from the very beginning, doing the extra work, travel, teaching, training, and financing that comes with being the parent of a racer, no matter how successful your child becomes. And when Ryan's success did come to fruition, in the form of nine major AMA championship titles, Dan and his wife of 32 years Kristen probably knew that they must have been doing things right, for not only Ryan but his siblings Tyler and Kylie as well.
The older Villopoto never lost his own love for riding motorcycles and he was out at the track on the last day of October when he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 58 years old.
"Think of him as living in the hearts of those he touched, for nothing loved is ever lost and he was loved so much," read his eulogy. "We can actually see him entering heaven, loudly asking with his growling voice, 'What's going on?' We will miss you every day until we are together again, we love you forever Dan."
Tony Miller was a proud champion for Texas motocross, as he should have been—he was the founder and owner of Freestone Raceway in Wortham, Texas. Miller came to motocross from an initial passion for flat track racing, and when his son Clayton got interested in motocross, they went all in. The Miller family ranch, where generations of the family has lived since 1853, soon had multiple motocross tracks upon it. Miller, a highly businessman at Miller Electrical Construction in Houston, wanted to grow the sport in his beloved Lone Star State, and he managed to get an AMA Pro Motocross event at Freestone from 2007 to 2012.
Sadly, Miller was diagnosed a few years back with ALS, the aggressive, debilitating and fatal disease. Tony fought through it as best he could, but ultimately his battle ended in May. He was a true gentleman, a great family man, a tireless worker, and touched a lot of people’s lives with his work and generosity. He is survived by his wife Karen, his son Clayton and daughter Stephanie, and his grandchildren.
Brad Anderson was a motocross racing enthusiast who cherished the chance to work at and around the races. Whether it was as an official at Monster Energy AMA Supercross or tech inspection at Lucas Oil Pro Motocross, or even just in the staging area of a local race in Georgia or Iowa or anywhere, Brad was one to jump in and help. He was getting ramped up for the 2019 season when he passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack this past weekend.
Wrote Jon Kriegel of Oak Ridge MX in Iowa, "We lost a good one. Brad arrived on our property about four years ago and he had a special relationship with every one of us. He made a point to get to know every single part of our crew at Oak Ridge. He showed us a lot about running races and how things should be done. Whenever I had rule questions or anything like that it didn’t matter Brad would always answer his phone. He was a guy you could count on and a man that truly showed respect to everyone along the way. I enjoyed watching Brad handle conflicts because he could smooth things over with that Southern draw no matter what the situation was."
When I was growing up racing at places like Appalachia Lake, Keyser's Ridge, Antietam, White Oak, and Cedar Ridge, there was a fast Yamaha rider named James Jarman whose family also owned a motorcycle shop. James was very fast, and we often scrapped in the 85cc, 100cc, and 125cc classes with guys like the Norfolk brothers, Scotty Bland, "Flyin'" Mike Kelly, and more. James raced the original Loretta Lynn's back in 1982 and was pondering making a run at a professional career when, at age 22, he had a terrible accident in a charity race and ended up a quadriplegic. Confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, James remained a fan and a friend, watching the races and also remaining a part of the family's motorcycle shop until they sold it.
James Jarman III did the best he could with the hand he was dealt, according to the obituary that was posted after he passed from an extended illness at the age of 54 this past spring. "Everyone who lives will die," he was quoted as saying, "but not everyone who dies has lived. I'll tell you I wouldn't trade walking again if it meant giving up all the wonderful people I've met because of motorcycling. I hope I got it right."
Tyler Evans had no problem playing the villain when it came to the “show” side of supercross. He was big, talented, confident, and had a sense for the spotlight—he even thought about being a professional wrestler after his racing career was over. Evans was also quite volatile and had a fair-sized chip on his shoulder for “the establishment” and the rules that are meant to keep racing from ever becoming wrestling. Nevertheless, he fit into the sport as a top privateer, never afraid to mix it up with anyone—on or off the bike. That’s why Evans was better known for his "One Punch" nickname and tough-guy image, which probably helped his popularity more than his actual results.
As we wrote when he passed in September, “He logged several strong 125 AMA Supercross results, including a second at the 1999 East/West 125 Shootout in Las Vegas, but really came into his own several years later as a Suzuki-supported RM250 rider, playing up his image with the ‘One Punch’ nickname, burly physique, and trademark ‘EVANS’ tattoo across his abdomen.”
After Evans left racing, he fell off the radar of most within the industry. He was being a dad, trying to make a new life, trying to find his way in a post-racing real world. On September 15, things spun out of control for Evans after a series of escalating events left him armed and dangerous outside of a police station in the Rampart area of Los Angeles, where he died. Tyler Evans was 38 years old. Godspeed.