Main image courtesy of Pat Stott Designs
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 2021.
Twenty years ago, Brian Gray was one of the top amateur prospects in American motocross. Growing up in Florida in a family of fast guys—his uncle Alan Andreu won at the AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch a couple times—Gray earned himself factory support from Suzuki as an amateur, then a spot on their SoBe Suzuki factory team when he turned pro in 2003. He immediately rewarded Suzuki’s faith in him by earning AMA Pro Motocross Rookie of the Year honors (now called the Marty Smith AMA Pro Motocross Rookie of the Year). But that was really as high as Gray would be able to ascend in the pro ranks, and by 2006 he was done with motocross. Gray then found his way into diesel drag racing, and through his own Gray's Diesel Performance in Middleburg, Florida, Brian posted a world record for the fastest 7.3 Power-Stroke Diesel. By this point, he and his wife, Lynn, had also started TK, and their two boys, Jase and Tyler, soon added BMX racing to the family’s track activities.
In November, just days before Thanksgiving, Gray and his family were traveling the I-295 bypass on the outskirts of Jacksonville when their SUV collided with another vehicle. The impact sent the SUV off to the road’s left side and directly into a tree. Lynn and 8-year-old Jase were both seriously injured. Tragically, 37-year-old Brian, who was driving, and 5-year-old Tyler, the youngest of the two boys, were both killed in the accident.
Tom Corley was one of those unsung heroes of motocross, an indelible part of the process where we all make lifetime memories from our days out on the track, no matter who we are or where we finished. Corley was a local track photographer who shot photos of every rider in every class, and then offered them for sale to the riders at the following race. The fact that Tom’s local spots happened to be Ascot Speedway and the fabled Saddleback Park of the 1970s and early ’80s meant that his photo subjects also included some future superstars of AMA Pro Motocross and Supercross. As a result, many of his photos ended up in the moto magazines and newspapers of the day, though the vast majority of his shots were of the anonymous rank-and-file of SoCal motocross, despite the fact that the composition and quality of the photos were every bit as good as the ones that made the magazines. Corley’s photos proudly live on garage walls and in family scrapbooks as evidence of the motocross racer that still resides in the hearts and minds of each of those old riders.
More recently, Brett Smith of We Went Fast worked with Tom on a few projects, and he posted: “Corley took more photos than any of us could ever count and anyone who has ever read a motorcycle magazine saw his work.… I once asked him what his favorite photo ever was [that he’d taken] and he sent this photo:
"The scene was in the early seventies, CMC Motocross at Carlsbad Raceway, and my first time there shooting with a Ricoh 35mm camera,” Corley told Smith. "It was an era when the Honda Elsinores came in big-time. Look here as you can see the Mettco-tuned Penton machines of Mike Paulsell (8k) and Bruce McDougal (2A) still have the power to pull away right off the gate.” (Smith added that Bob Seki is #12, Wes Sutton #94, and the kid way off to the left on the #F49 is Warren Reid.)
In January, Tom Corley became a victim of COVID-19 at the age of 65. Upon the news of his passing, Scott Burnworth posted: “So bummed to hear about the passing of legendary MX photographer Tom Corley. He was such a great guy, and an icon in So Cal mx history, doing what he loved to do. He will surely be missed by his moto family.”
The year 2021 marked the 50th anniversary of the release of Bruce Brown’s epic motorcycling documentary On Any Sunday, which chronicled the adventures of three riders: off-road and desert racer Malcolm Smith, flat-tracker and road racer Mert Lawwill, and Hollywood actor and dirt bike enthusiast Steve McQueen. They were the stars of the film that changed the very definition of what a motorcycle racer was like in the mindset of mainstream America, but they were not alone in Brown’s seminal film. There were also cameo appearances by the very best racers of the day, men who were much more famous for their racing exploits around the world than Smith and Lawwill, let alone the hobbyist McQueen.
Joel Robert and Bengt Aberg were the FIM Motocross World Champions in 1969 and ’70, two ironmen from Europe who were incredibly popular in all of motorsports. Belgium’s Robert had a rags-to-riches tale in which he emerged from a hard childhood to find fortune and fame racing motocross. He won six 250cc world championship titles and 50 Grand Prix races in his career, both records that would stand for more than 30 years. His wins were split between Czech-made CZ motorcycles and the pre-production Suzuki works bikes that came along in 1970, and on which he won three straight titles. Robert also made his way across the Atlantic Ocean to America for Edison Dye’s Inter-Am tours, which showcased his incredible talents for nascent U.S. motocross enthusiasts (though, truth be told, the hard-playing Robert thought of his American visits more as vacations than competitions).
Aberg, on the other hand, was a much more grounded champion. He hailed from Sweden, a hotbed for motocross racers in the early days like Torsten Hallman, Bill Nilsson, Sten Lundin, Ake Jonsson, Arne Kring, and more. It was Kring who was Aberg’s teammate at the Husqvarna factory, as well as his neighbor. Kring was also Aberg’s main title rival in 1970 as Bengt was defending his 500cc World Championship title. They battled closely throughout much of the series, and at one point actually collided together in midair, causing both of the championship leaders to DNF. In the end, Aberg would prevail over his friendly rival, then both went to America together on Dye’s Inter-Am tour. It was during that tour that the cameras of Brown found Aberg at Saddleback Park for his brief, beautiful appearance in On Any Sunday.
Aberg’s career extended well into the seventies, and while he didn’t win any more world titles, he did lead Team Sweden to victory by sweeping both motos of the 1974 FIM Motocross des Nations aboard a Bultaco, and then in 1977 he won tied for the overall win at the 500cc Grand Prix of Luxembourg aboard a Hallman/Lundin-modified Yamaha XT500 four-stroke, a foreshadowing of the shocking upset Doug Henry would pull off 20 years later at the ’97 Las Vegas SX.
Ironically, despite being a much bigger star than Aberg, Robert got less screen time in On Any Sunday than Aberg, but here is a highlight edit from Joel’s career that was posted recently posted:
As for the third legend, Dick “Bugsy” Mann, he was not one of the three main stars either, but he pretty much stole the show when he sawed a cast off his broken leg to compete in a flat track race in order to try to salvage AMA Grand National Championship. His heroic effort to even race is the epitome of what motorcycle racers were made of made of in that era. And Mann was arguably the best all-around motorcycle racer of any era. A two-time AMA Grand National Champion (1963 and ’71), Mann was the first person to win races in all five disciplines of that series: road racing, short track, TT, quarter-mile, and mile flat track. He won the Daytona 200 in 1970 aboard a Honda—a first for the brand in the Daytona 200—and then won again in ’71 aboard a BSA, the last for the BSA brand in the Daytona 200. Mann did not limit his skills to flat track and road racing. He also scored a bronze medal in the 1975 International Six Days Trial (now ISDE) on the Isle of Man, and he also raced motocross, participating in various Trans-AMA and Inter-Am races. He was still doing a little moto in 1972 when he scored 14th overall in the 250 Pro Motocross National at the Cal-Expo on a BSA (the only points a BSA ever scored in AMA Pro Motocross). Mann raced for most of his life, as he was prolific in vintage racing well into his seventies. His last public race may have been the 2013 AHRMA event Crooked River Branch in Oregon.
On Any Sunday was released 50 years ago, but it was filmed throughout 1970 and ’71 when Joel Robert, Bengt Aberg, and Dick Mann were all at the peaks of their respective careers. All three passed in 2021, Robert at the age of 77 (due to complications after contracting COVID-19), Aberg at 76 (he suffered from diabetes), and Mann at 86 (from unspecified causes, though it was known he was suffering from late-stage dementia). But these three men are forever immortalized together in the movie that has now inspired three generations of motorcycle enthusiasts.
Freestyle rider Chris Ackerman’s life changed profoundly in 2003 when he crashed while on a freeriding shoot in the Dumont Dunes and snapped his neck. He was immediately cared for by the people he was riding with, including Brian Deegan and other members of the Metal Mulisha. They saved his life, but the damage to his spinal cord meant he was paralyzed from the neck down and would live out his life on a ventilator. Ackerman did the best that he could, using his mind to help build the brand and also mentor others. He also was an outspoken advocate for safety in action sports.
“It’s not a matter of if you’re going to fall,” Ackerman said. “It’s a matter of when, and how hard. Everybody crashes.”
Several years ago, Ackerman’s friend Robbie Maddison, another FMX legend, took Ackerman for his first motorcycle ride in 12 years as part of the Wings For Life World Run.
In January, the Metal Mulisha announced on their Facebook page that Ackerman had passed: “Our heart is heavy and words can’t describe how difficult this moment is with the loss of Chris Ackerman. Our heart goes out to his family, friends and to everyone who loved Chris. He has been with Mulisha since the beginning. Building #MetalMulisha, mentoring and helping so many others. A true OG in the sport and respected by so many. Today his legacy has come to an end. We are deeply honored and blessed to have known Chris and may he live with us in spirt forever. We love you Chris.”
Dick Lague was one of those people who, once they found themselves a job in the motorcycle industry, became a lifer, moving up from one job to another but never leaving his beloved two-wheeled world. He grew up in Rhode Island, got his schooling at Stanford University, and became a captain in the U.S. Air Force, all before landing that coveted first industry job as product manager with East Coast–based Full Bore Distributing, which meant Spanish-made Ossa motorcycles as well as U.S.-made Yankee motorcycles. From there he became director of marketing & public relations at the Canadian company Bombardier, and that meant Can-Am motorcycles at their zenith in the mid-seventies. Lague’s next stop was the West Coast and a role as president of the Motorcycling Group of Petersen Publishing Company (Dirt Rider, Motorcyclist, Sport Rider, and more). Finally, Lague worked with his son Jeff at Ignition3, a motorcycle video production company that specialized in covering the annual International Six Days Enduro. Throughout his life, Dick Lague loved motorcycles, as well as sports cars—especially Porsches—and he spent his life surrounded by them. (In fact, one of those rare Yankee off-road motorcycles sat outside his office in the Petersen offices in Los Angeles for years.) And when he passed away early last winter due to cancer, he was surrounded by his family. Wrote his friend Bill Kniegge of Blue Strada Motorcycle/Sports Car/Jeep Tours: “R.I.P. Dick. Your efforts provided so many moto enthusiasts with excitement and opportunity. The industry has suffered a huge loss.”
Rene Hofer had just broken through on the global motocross stage. In September, the 19-year-old won the MX2 overall in the 2021 Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations. Weeks later, the Red Bull KTM rider won his first Grand Prix at Arco Trentino in Italy. The former 85cc World Champion was shaping up as a title contender for the 2022 season after finishing the ’21 season ranked sixth overall. Hofer, the best Austrian motocrosser since two-time 250cc World Champion Heinz Kinigadner, was on the brink of what was shaping up to be a long and successful career in Grand Prix motocross.
Earlier this month, Hofer was taking a little time off from training for the upcoming season by going on a skiing trip with a group of friends in the Salzburg province of Austria. Tragically, the group of 11 were hit by an avalanche that was approximately 200 meters (655 feet) wide. According to news reports, three of the skiers were buried by the avalanche, including Hofer. Despite the best efforts of rescuers and first responders, all three men were killed.
In a press release put out the next day, his team said: “KTM would like to send love and heartfelt condolences to Rene’s family, friends, his team, along with the entire motocross community during this incredibly difficult time. Rene, a multi-time junior champion and GP winner with a bright future in Grand Prix ahead of him, will be remembered not only for his talent on the track, but also for his approachable, fun-loving and friendly personality, along with his ever-present smile. Rene will be greatly missed by everyone in the KTM family. Ride on peacefully Rene. You will be missed immeasurably, #711.”
Hofer’s last post on social media was an image of himself floating alone above the Arco Trentino circuit with the caption #UNBOTHERED.
Steve Johnson, who passed away earlier this summer at the age of 70, was a technical genius. For nearly 40 years he worked on making motorcycles run better, faster, and longer. Right out of high school he started out with Kawasaki in 1969, back when the brand was just getting into racing. At the age of 20 he found himself in Europe helping Sir Phil Read and his TD2 Yamaha in the FIM World Road Racing Championship (what is now MotoGP). Upon his return to the States, he went back to work at Kawasaki, this time helping get their motocross program off the ground with another California kid, “Bad” Brad Lackey. Together they won the first official AMA 500cc National Motocross Championship in 1972. Johnson ended up back in Europe in 1973 with Lackey as the rider began his ten-year crusade to become America’s first world champion aboard a prototype two-stroke Kawasaki KX450 (albeit with a black Husqvarna fuel tank, which Lackey and Johnson were said to have put on the bike in protest of a lack of resources they were getting at the time from Kawasaki).
Later on, Johnson would work with other top Kawasaki motocross racers like “Jammin’” Jimmy Weinert, Gary Semics, and a young Jeff Ward. By 1980 he was ready to return to road racing, so Kawasaki teamed him with Eddie Lawson. Together they won the 1981 and ’82 AMA Superbike Championships. Johnson added another title in ’83, this time with Wayne Rainey. Both Lawson and Rainey would go on to become multi-time MotoGP World Champions, though Johnson stayed in America and kept working with Kawasaki, and later on Team Muzzy satellite program. He added to his championship collection with titles by Dave Sadowski, Tom Stevens, Scott Russell, and Doug Chandler. By the time his career as a spanner and team manager ended, Steve Johnson had notched ten AMA National Championships and two FIM World Championships.
Kawasaki’s U.S. headquarters are based in Irvine, California, not far from where Johnson grew up. In the lobby of the big building is a display of some of the most important motorcycles in the brand’s history, including Lackey’s first championship motorcycle. As a matter of fact, many of the historic bikes in Kawasaki’s lobby shared the same brilliant tuner, Steve Johnson.
Ralph Huffman was a giant in Pacific Northwest motocross. He was the man behind Washougal MX Park, one of the most beautiful tracks in the world. Huffman first visited the scenic Washington track, which sits high above the Columbia River on the northern side, in the mid-1980s as the father of an aspiring minicycle racer. The track was established in 1970, and it held its first outdoor national ten years later. When the track was left off the AMA Pro Motocross schedule in 1987, Huffman stepped in and began working on the place. He had the desire and resources to make the most of the facility’s endless potential. The Washougal National soon returned, and within a few years Huffman was fully in charge as Washougal’s new owner.
In the years since, Washougal has become one of the pillars of American motocross. It hosts a wide array of races, as well as the annual Washougal National, which has become a late-July tradition for the whole Pacific Northwest. The 2021 version was possibly the biggest yet. Sadly, Huffman did not get to see it, as he passed away in the spring after contracting COVID-19. Fortunately, Ralph’s son Ryan, a former Suzuki factory rider, has taken over the operations of Washougal MX Park, and he was able to turn the ’21 race into not only another superb event, but also a tribute to his father’s legacy in motocross.
They called Hubert Auriol “The African.” The Frenchman was born in the Ethiopian town of Addis Abeba and had a lifelong connection the continent and its grand event that linked France with Africa, the Paris-Dakar Rally. The rally started in the French city and ended in Dakar, Senegal, and included a dangerous crossing of the Sahara Desert along its more than 6,000-mile route. A motocross and enduro rider growing up, Auriol lined up for the rally for the first time in 1979, then won the event twice (‘81 and ’83) aboard a BMW R80G/S. He nearly won a third time in 1987 after an epic duel with his longtime rival Cyril Neveu, only to break both of his ankles on the second-to-last day of the rally. Five years later, Auriol would win the rally again, only this time in a car, making him the first man to win Paris-Dakar in two different categories.
After his last time as a competitor in 1994 (he finished second), the African moved into the role of rally organizer, following in the footsteps of the late Thierry Sabine, the Paris-Dakar founder who died in a helicopter crash during the ’88 rally. Auriol stayed at the helm through the ’04 rally before moving on, and he eventually formed another event, the Africa Eco Rally, in 2008. Coincidentally, that was the same year the Paris-Dakar Rally had to be canceled due to threats of terrorism in Mauritania and then moved to South America, where it would remain for the next decade.
Toward the end of his life, Hubert Auriol suffered from cardiovascular disease. In November 2020 he contracted COVID-19, which compounded his health problems. He died in January, somewhat fittingly as the 2021 Dakar Rally was being held in its newest home, Saudi Arabia.
Pete Collins was a pillar of the New England motocross scene. He was the owner of Pete’s Cycle & Sled in Marlborough, Massachusetts, a motorcycle and snowmobile repair shop. It was the perfect job for Collins, who was long interested in working on machines—way back in the sixth grade he won a science fair by disassembling and then reassembling an entire motorcycle. Pete’s shop became something of a hangout for local riders and racers. Pete himself also loved racing dirt bikes. On August 1, Collins was racing his familiar #24 Kawasaki (he was “Pete24” on the Vital MX message forum) at Jolly Roger Motorsports Park in New Hampshire when he suffered a massive heart attack. He was 58 years old. Said his obituary: “Pete was known for his no-nonsense, straightforward demeanor and sharp wit. He exercised regularly and liked to go snowmobiling and snowboarding. His generous spirit continues to help others through organ donation.”
Upon hearing the news of his friend’s passing, Robbie Marshall dedicated his win in the third and final moto at of the Junior +25 class at Loretta Lynn’s to Collins.
In a tragic coincidence, the same weekend that Pete Collins passed in New Hampshire, another highly respected shop owner passed away while racing, this time on the Loudon New Hampshire Motor Speedway track. Scott Mullin actually grew up in Unadilla, New York, then went to college at the University of New Hampshire. Upon graduating, he and his family opened Souhegan Valley Motorsports, in large part because of his passion for racing. Like Pete Collins, Mullin also rode Kawasaki, only he was #3. He was also only 38 years old when he suffered his fatal single-bike crash at Loudon.
“Scott was an accomplished expert level racer, a lifelong motorcycle enthusiast and a pillar of the motorcycle racing community,” read his obituary. “Over the years, he supported dozens of up and coming racers at the speedway by teaching them key riding techniques. Those who were blessed to know Scott knew that he found joy in helping others and sharing a good laugh. His lifelong relationships are a testament to his loyalty and love for others. Scott played hard and loved his family just as intensely. His son Chase already loves to take things apart and put them back together again and Reese has a tendency toward perfectionism- much like dad. Scott’s wife Sarah always had a smile on her face because of Scott’s ability to keep her laughing and he never missed an opportunity to kiss her forehead. The Mullin family laughs when they think about Scott’s concentration technique- it was always easier to focus with his tongue sticking out of his mouth! Scott’s love of family extended to his work family who all honor and look up to him.”
A memorial ride was held by Scott Mullin’s friends to benefit his family; here’s a video from that day:
In March of 1992, John Coen opened Diamondback Motocross in the Hudson Valley of New York. While it may have been spring on the calendar, it was a frigid day. No matter, a few hundred riders showed up to try out the new track, and Coen’s long career as a promoter was underway. But Coen was not new to the sport. In fact, he and his brother Carlo Coen, a highly regarded privateer in the 1980s and ’90s, raced for much of their lives. Carlo made it a little further, racing the outdoor nationals for several summers, but John was no slouch either, competing as an Expert rider in New York’s District 34 and the Metropolitan Sports Committee.
Coen would continue to run Diamondback Motocross for nearly 30 years, despite having to deal with neighbors over noise issues. When it got to be too much, he moved the track north to East Durham, New York, where it continues to this day. In keeping Diamondback Motocross going for so long, Coen helped nurture countless young racers in his area, as well as giving quite a few older ones like himself a great place to ride.
In June of this past summer, John Coen passed away after a long and hard-fought battle with kidney cancer. He was 61 years old.
Bob and Linda Leach were pillars in the Pacific Northwest motocross community. Together they ran the Albany Motorsports Park in Oregon—a multi-use track for dirt bikes, ATVs and more—as well as Salem AX. They also raised a couple of fast boys in their sons Roby and Ryan, each of whom won an AMA Amateur National Championship at Loretta Lynn’s in 1991. In February, Bob, 73, and Linda, 75, were driving on Highway 22 in Polk County, Oregon, when their pickup truck collided with another truck coming the other direction, killing both of them.
One of the boys posted a message on the Albany MX Motorsports Facebook page shortly after the tragic accident: “There has been an amazing amount of support and love for my parents. They loved and devoted their lives to the sport of motocross. They loved all of you… Our family has truly been blessed to have them as parents and mentors.”
A celebration of life was held at Albany MX and included a memorial lap with hundreds of riders out on the track honoring Bob and Linda Leach. Their track continues to serve the Pacific Northwest motocross community.
The Rogers family of Ohio—Jason, Tina, Zack, and Chase—has long been associated with motocross. Jason and his wife, Tina, are the cofounders of the Ohio Motocross Association and run the Malvern MX track near Waynesburg. Needless to say, the Rogers family is highly respected in the Buckeye State for what they do for to help the sport and give their fellow enthusiasts a place to race and ride.
In late February, a fire broke out in their home. Tragically, Chase Rogers, at 18 the family’s youngest son, was sleeping in the basement and was trapped. His parents tried to rescue him, but the flames were too strong and the whole house soon collapsed despite the efforts of emergency firefighter teams. The Ohio motocross community and nearby tracks like Briarcliff MX quickly rallied to help support the Rogers family with fundraisers and donations.
“Chase was a spunky young man who had a unique personality,” posted one friend. “He was friendly and always willing to joke around. He was a hard worker and enjoyed his family and friends.”
“Chase was an awesome, hard-working kid and he was the best smart ass you would ever meet,” posted another. “He had an ability to lighten any mood and create laughs, even if it was at his own expense!”
George Singler of Medina, Ohio, spent much of his long life around motocross. Born in 1933, he served in the U.S. Navy in the 1950s, stationed for a time in Hawaii, where he would ride stripped-down Harley-Davidson motorcycles in the pineapple fields. He also started racing enduros, scoring class wins in such notoriously tough events as the 500-mile Jack Pine National Enduro in Michigan. As motocross began growing on the heels of Edison Dye’s Inter-Am Series, Singler quickly became one of the top American riders of the late 1960s, along with the likes of Barry Higgins and John DeSoto.
Singler became a promoter too when he took over Smith Road Raceway from 1971 through 2010, holding both races and track days for many years. He was also continued riding himself, as you can see in this video from 2014.
A friend and fellow rider named Mark Winfree said this of Singler a few years back: “George is a motocross living legend and shows he loves the sport by having a well-prepped practice track every Wednesday night and selected races during the year. He’s a wealth of motorcycle knowledge and a blast to talk to and pick his brain on many subjects.”
Singler was at his home in Brooksville when he passed in April at the age of 87. His obituary included this description of his passion for life and moto: “Often known to leave trophies behind and hang plaques on trees, George rode for the love of the sport, always looking toward the next race, the next challenge, or the next day. He talked about tomorrow and faced life head-on, including his eight-year battle with cancer.”
On the very first day in the life of the AMA Pro Motocross Championship Series—April 15, 1972—it was obvious to everyone watching the racing on the infield track at Road Atlanta who the dominant American team was. No, it wasn’t Pro Circuit or Star Racing, nor was it even one of the factory teams from Japan or Sweden or Germany or anywhere over there. It was Ghost Racing, a CZ shop in Port Washington, New York, which is on Long Island, right across from Manhattan and owned by a man named Salvatore “Sal” DeFeo. Two of the New York-based riders DeFeo sponsored, Barry Higgins and Sonny DeFeo (Sal’s son) swept the 500cc and 250cc classes, respectively, earning his shop an eternal place in motocross history.
But Salvatore’s life was much, much bigger than just that. Born in 1927, he was drafted into the U.S. Army at the end of World War II and served in Europe for two post-war years. When he returned, he returned to the passion he had developed as a teenager riding and working on motorcycles. He was notorious among his fellow riders for his ability to avoid police on the white Harley-Davidson motorcycle he liked to race around on. In 1950, he decided to open his own bike shop. He named it Ghost Motorcycles.
Over the next 50 years, DeFeo would become a Long Island legend, sponsoring countless competitors, including Higgins and his own son. He also sponsored Kerry Kleid, the first woman to be granted a professional license to race by the American Motorcyclist Association in 1971. His shop became a destination for motorcyclists of all stripes, including the music artists Billy Joel, Alan Jackson, and more, before he closed it upon retiring in 2000.
“He was just really good to people,” said another son, Robert DeFeo. “He never judged anybody. If somebody had a problem with drugs or drinking, he would try to help them. He wouldn’t say they screwed up.”
When Sal DeFeo passed in August at the age of 94, his nephew Anthony Scaramucci (for a brief time the White House press secretary under President Trump) posted: “Veteran, Entrepreneur, Motorcycle enthusiast, son, brother, father, grandfather, great-grandfather. A force of nature. We all learned not to take any bullshit from him. Live without fear.”
In a final show of appreciation of his contribution to motorcycling, a long procession of bikes accompanied the Ghost’s funeral parade from Fairchild Sons funeral chapel to St. Peter of Alcantara Roman Catholic Church.
But back to the spring of 1972 for another moment. To prove their success was no fluke, three weeks after that first outdoor national at Road Atlanta, the second one was held outside of Memphis, Tennessee—and once again the overall winners were Ghost Motorcycle CZ riders Barry Higgins and Sonny DeFeo.
Mike Bell was born into a dirt bike racing family in 1957 in Los Angeles. Bell’s father, Bill, was a desert racer and a renowned motorcycle mechanic and engineer. Mike started racing off-road, but by age 14 he had found himself racing motocross. By that time, Southern California was booming in regard to riding and racing, which in turn meant Bell could hone his skills racing three or four times a week, at such well-known hotspots as Saddleback, Carlsbad, Indian Dunes, Ascot Park, and more. Bell, who stood 6’4” and was nicknamed “Too Tall,” put himself on the national map when he won the 250cc Support class at the 1977 United States 500cc Grand Prix of Motocross at Carlsbad. By that point Yamaha had signed him to a development deal, then promoted him to the full factory team in ’78 alongside Bob “Hurricane” Hannah, Broc “Golden Boy” Glover, and Rick “The Lumberjack” Burgett. The team was a great setting for Bell to learn quickly, as his three teammates swept every major title in 1978.
Bell’s first real success as a professional came in 1978 at his hometown Los Angeles Coliseum race. There he held off Hannah, the AMA Supercross Champion, in a wild race to the finish. The Motocross Files actually build a short film around the ’78 Superbowl for a Yamaha promotion:
Bell was soon ready to start battling for his own championships, and in ’79 he narrowly lost the 500cc AMA Pro Motocross title to Suzuki’s Danny Laporte. But one year later Bell would reach the top when he won the 1980 AMA Supercross Championship.
Over the course of the next three years, Bell would have a new challenge to deal with: repeated injuries, often to his knees. He was also getting older, and a new generation of superstars led by David Bailey, Jeff Ward, Rick Johnson, Johnny O’Mara, and Ron Lechien was coming on strong. All of those men would go on to become AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famers, as would Hannah, Glover, and LaPorte. Yet at the ’83 Dallas Supercross, the veteran Bell beat them all one last time. But the writing was on the wall for Too Tall. After another injury to his knees, Bell parked his Yamaha YZ250 after a second-place finish at the St. Louis 250 National and never raced professionally again. But he, too, had done enough to ensure his own future induction into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
Just because he stopped racing, the well-liked Bell was not done with the motorcycle industry. He would go on to work with several different brands, including Oakley and White Brothers, and also get himself some new knees. After replacement surgery, he redeveloped his love of cycling and was a prolific mountain-biker. He was out riding one day in January when he suffered a massive heart attack. Mike was 63 years old. AMA Supercross dates back to 1974; Mike Bell is the first premier-class champion in the history of the series to have passed.
Also listed at 6’4” himself, Jonah Geistler showed tribute to Bell with a “Too Tall” buttpatch of his own in January in Indianapolis.
Marty McGovern had a longtime presence in the NorCal moto scene. Born and raised in Sacramento, he developed a lifelong passion for motorcycling. For a time, he was Tyson Vohland’s mechanic back when the older of the Vohland brothers was riding for NCY Yamaha. Later, he became close friends with younger brother Tallon and also worked on Tallon’s son Max Vohland’s practice bikes. McGovern was also active on the Vital MX Forum as “mag23,” always quick to offer insight or a helping hand when another member needed a hand.
When he wasn’t working on bikes or riding, he was together with his wife, Melanie, for more than 20 years. He also loved dogs and had a pet pig named Meatball.
McGovern passed away unexpectedly on March 9 at just 39 years of age. A ride day was held in his honor at Riverfront MX Park. Former KTM factory rider Donovan Mitchell posted a video of the ride, describing it as an “amazing celebration of life for a one-of-a-kind, selfless, true friend who was always there to prop you back up no matter the situation. Marty, you were so impactful to so many people and have left us all with a piece of your unique character... Love you Marty, thanks for being a priceless friend to me.”
Like a lot of other members of the old guard who were lost this year, it could said of Del Kuhn that they just don’t make ’em like this anymore. Born in Wisconsin in 1925, Kuhn joined the U.S. Navy during World War II, then settled in Los Angeles after he was discharged. It was there that he joined the Compton Roughriders Motorcycle Club, a group of off-road enthusiasts. Kuhn was soon riding in club events on an army surplus 750cc Harley-Davidson that had been stripped down for off-road use. It wasn’t ideal for racing in the dirt, but his results began getting him attention. He later became a member of the Trailblazers Motorcycle Club. This was all before motocross was a thing in this country, but by all accounts, “scrambling” was a form of riding that Del Kuhn excelled in quickly.
According to one story, in order for Kuhn to compete in the Greenhorn Enduro in ’48, he borrowed a rigid-frame Matchless and ended up winning the two-day event, helping him earn sponsorship from British motorcycle importer Frank Cooper. With his support, Kuhn won the Greenhorn Enduro again in 1950; because the event had been given an AMA national sanction, Del Kuhn was named the 1950 AMA National Enduro Champion.
During that same year, Kuhn and fellow racer Aub LeBard helped establish the Catalina Grand Prix, a race held on Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Long Beach. The first race was held in 1951, during which Kuhn finished third. The race ran throughout the fifties and was even revived a decade again by Red Bull.
More success in racing would follow for Kuhn, but by 1955 he was ready to retire and try something new. One of the most successful racers of the postwar era became a motorcycle police officer for the California Highway Patrol, a job he would hold until he retired in 1979. (Kuhn’s career path closely resembles that of Damon Huffman, one of the best 125cc SX riders of all time, and now a CHP officer.) He also had a lifelong love of flying that went back to his days in the navy.
According to his family, Del Kuhn passed away peacefully on March 24, 2021. He was 95. A celebration of his rich life was held in May, featuring a presentation of the colors by a U.S. Navy, a flyover in vintage AT-6 planes, and a ceremonial ride by members the CHP. Del Kuhn is survived by his wife of 40 years, Vicky, with whom he worked on a website before he died called The Grandfathers of Motocross, dedicated to those pre-motocross events and legends like Del himself and his friends Aub Leonard, Dutch Sterner, Jim Johnson, Chuck “Feets” Minert and more.
(Our colleague and regular contributor Brett Smith of @wewentfast posted the following memoriam for Rocky Williams, the mechanic for Gaylon Mosier in the 1970s when “Gassin’” Gaylon was at both Maico and Kawasaki.)
Gerald Williams died on the evening of October 26. Rest In Peace, Rocky.
Many here might not recognize the name. It's been over 40 years since Rocky spun wrenches at the races. His career as a mechanic was notable because he was talented, funny, and profoundly deaf. He couldn't hear a damn thing, yet he was able to thrive in a world that's often filled with nothing but noise.
The story of Rocky Williams is one of many in various stages of completion in my projects folder. There's no specific reason why it's unfinished. He would have appreciated the tribute.
In April 1978, the L.A. Times featured Rocky on the front page of the sports section. "I feel the vibrations," he told Shav Glick. "I can tell if the engine's OK or what's wrong with it by the way the handlebars feel. I must communicate well with my rider. I ask him to tell me when the engine is running properly and then I feel the handlebars and get the proper vibration. From then on I can tell if it's running rich or lean or needs work by the way it vibrates."
Acceptance of a deaf mechanic made it a tough road for him. He said he started working on his brother's bike, and then Bob Hannah’s when Hannah had a Husky. He also said he worked for Broc Glover and Bruce McDougal before they turned pro. He went to Suzuki and Yamaha and cited his experience with the riders above but was turned away because he was deaf.
In 1975 Rocky said Gaylon Mosier found him and he worked for free for 6 weeks at Maico before he was given $300 a week and expenses. When Mosier decamped for Kawasaki in 1978, Rocky thought he'd be left behind again. Mosier called him and said "get out your green pants!"
They won the 1978 Anaheim Supercross together (pic 8), a handful of AMA Pro MX races, and many other events between the Trans AMA and CMC Golden State events. When Mosier was killed riding a bicycle in the fall of 1980, Williams was left without a rider who advocated hard for him and was ultimately dropped from Kawasaki.
He loved motorcycles, however, and later worked as a Harley-Davidson mechanic. He was 74 at the time of his passing.
Fifteen-year-old Tyler Mashbir was a promising young NorCal prospect who was just like a lot of other fast kids in motocross. He and his parents put in the work and the time and the travel to help him make a name in the sport he loved. They traveled together to many of the big races—Loretta Lynn’s, the Monster Energy Cup, Mammoth Mountain, SX Futures, the JS7 Spring Classic—and had some decent results: Tyler ended up 12th and 13th overall in the highly competitive Mini Sr. (12-14) classes at the AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in 2019. They also traveled across the country to Florida to do some training at Ricky Carmichael’s GOAT Farm. By many accounts, Tyler was riding even better after he moved up to the 125cc class aboard a Husqvarna, and then a 250F.
In April, Mashbir crashed hard while practicing and succumbed to his injuries. His friends and sponsor at 707 Racing Suspension posted: “Today was one of the toughest days. Off-road and motocross lost a great racer. Tyler was not only one of the fastest kids in the country but one of the coolest down to earth kids who had an amazing future ahead of him. He will be greatly missed by so many. We love you Tyler! All our prayers to Eric and Wendy. Godspeed #117”
A GoFundMe page was set up not long after the accident to help his parents, Eric and Wendy, with expenses, and it quickly exceeded its goals as the outpouring of sympathy and grief over the loss of Tyler was overwhelming. A celebration of life was held at Diablo MX in Brentwood, California, with a wonderful turnout.
Tyler Mashbir’s last Instagram post was from his motos at the 2-Stroke Nationals at Glen Helen Raceway in early April. While he had some bad luck with his bike, he did show that he was very much enjoying riding and racing at the iconic SoCal track. Upon his passing, the comments section of that post became a memorial board of sorts for his many friends and fans.
Derek Rickman and his brother Don were British motocross royalty. Born into a motorcycle racing family—their father was a speedway star in the 1930s—the Rickmans found their way into off-road riding as kids in the 1940s and ’50s, and by the 1960s they were among the best scramblers in all of Great Britain. They were both part of British victories at the 1963 Motocross des Nations in Sweden, and then again, the next year when the race was held at Hawkstone Park in England. This was the height of British motocross success, as the Rickmans were competing at the same time as the likes of Jeff Smith, Dave Bickers, and Vic Eastwood.
The Rickman brothers’ contributions to the sport went far beyond just racing. They were also engineering geniuses who began shaving weight off the heavy bikes offered up by BSA, then starting their own brand of motorcycles, the eponymously named Rickman Motorcycles.
“We realized if we were going to get anywhere in the international sport, we were going to have to have lighter machines,” Derek explained in an interview before the brothers were inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. “We built our own frames and they turned out to be very successful.”
The Rickmans manufactured motorcycles from 1960 through to ’75, and their offerings—particularly the Rickman Metissse (French for “mongrel”)—were purchased by the likes of Giacomo Agostini and the actor Steve McQueen; they remain extremely popular with collectors today. At its height, the company employed some 130 workers and sold 16,000 units. By the mid-seventies, the Rickmans found themselves competing not only against long-established European brands like Husqvarna and Maico, but also the Japanese brands that had entered the market. The British motorcycle market soon went bust, so they pivoted to building better frames for the engines of those big Japanese brands. They eventually sold their business in 1984.
In July this summer, Derek Rickman passed away at the age of 88 while battling cancer. He is survived by his brother Don, now 86.
Rick Stewart, known to many as “Lightning,” was a longtime part of the Southern California motocross community who drove tractor trailers and other big equipment for a living. He was working for the Blackmore Company hauling heavy equipment when he got a job offer in the motocross industry, and with it, a small part of history of a very prominent team.
“Lightning was the first driver for our first semi hauler, which we got in 1993 when we first teamed up with Kawasaki,” recalls Mitch Payton, the owner of the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki team. “Our team was still relatively new, and ’93 was a big year because we didn’t have Jeremy [McGrath] anymore and we were going from Honda to Kawasaki, from box vans to a big rig.” Lightning was at the wheel of the rig when Jimmy Gaddis managed to win the 125 West Region title, defending the title for the team that McGrath had won the two previous years.
Rick “Lightning” Stewart passed away in July. Of his former driver, Payton simply says, “Lightning was a super, super fun guy to hang out with.”
Earl Hayden was the ultimate motorcycle racing dad. It was at and around their ranch home in Owensboro, Kentucky, that Hayden and his wife, Rose, raised not one, not two, but three AMA National Championship racers: Nicky Hayden, Tommy Hayden, and Roger Lee Hayden. They also had two daughters, Jenny and Kathleen, who played their own roles in the ascent of their brothers. Nicky was the fastest of the boys, and he claimed the 2006 MotoGP World Championship, but Tommy, the oldest, and Roger Lee, the youngest, also reached the factory level on their way to their own respective championships.
Both Earl and his Rose raced motorcycle themselves, according to motorcycle historian Larry Lawrence, who wrote in Cycle News this week about the passing of Mr. Hayden, age 74, after a battle with cancer.
“Earl built tracks on the property for them to train on and under his watchful eye helped nurture their racing aspirations,” Lawrence explained. “As a couple [Earl and Rose] taught their five children to ride and shortly after all began racing at young ages.”
The three boys started in dirt track racing and then switched to road racing, but the whole family never lost touch with their dirt track racing roots.
“The Haydens grew up admiring the champions of flat track racing and Earl did everything he could to help them reach their goal of following in the footsteps of those champions,” said Chris Jonnum, author of the book The Haydens: From OWB to MotoGP, for Lawrence’s eulogy. “The kids all really loved racing, and Earl was great at helping them get through the times when things got tough and found a way to keep them enthused and moving ahead to the next level.”
Wrote Lawrence: “Perhaps the proudest moment for Earl and the entire family came in 2002 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds Rodeo Arena, where Nicky, Tommy and Roger finished one-two-three in the AMA Grand National Short Track event. It marked the first time in AMA racing history that three family members filled the podium at an AMA Grand National event.”
Tragedy hit the Hayden family hard in 2017 when Nicky died after being hit by a car while training on a bicycle in Italy. The moment brought an outpouring of grief from across the motorcycling world. Even today, several years later, Nicky’s trademark #69 graphic still pops up often on helmets and butt patches across the sport.
“I’d like to think Earl and Nicky are now reunited, and Earl is standing on the pit wall timing Nicky,” Jonnum told Cycle News this week. “There was nobody quite like Earl Hayden and he made so many friends wherever he went. It seemed like you always walked away after talking with him with a smile on your face.”
Back in the early 1970s, David Taylor was a fast kid from El Monte, California, not far from Irwindale Raceway. His lifelong friend and competitor Gary Denton says they were both nighttime specialists on the little tracks that seemed to be everywhere in SoCal at the time.
“We first met racing at Rawhide in the 100 Beginner class, he was wearing one of those get-ups with leather sleeves, and he was on some hodge-podge dirt bike, but he still won the first two motos,” recalls Denton, who recently was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. “In the third and final moto he all of the sudden couldn’t shift the bike for some reason, and I passed him. We were going into the last turn and I was going to win, but then he literally cleaned my clock, knocking me off the track and into a pile of tires. That’s how we met, and we laughed about it for years!”
Taylor graduated to the pro ranks in 1976, and in his very first AMA 125 National at Delta, Ohio, he finished seventh overall. Two years later Taylor caught a break when Suzuki factory rider Mark “Bomber” Barnett got hurt and he was asked to fill in on Barnett’s works bike. He finished sixth aboard it at Southwick, but then ended breaking a collarbone before the next race.
Denton and Taylor became teammates at LOP Yamaha and traveled the 125 Nationals together. They stayed at future Team Honda factory rider Richie Coon’s house in New York, and then they all went south for the last few rounds. At the season-ending St. Pete 125 National in Florida, Denton finished fourth, Coon fifth, and Taylor sixth, all aboard Yamaha YZ125s.
Taylor’s professional career never went higher than his tenth overall ranking in the ’79 AMA 125 Nationals. He was done racing nationals after 1982, and instead went to work for a friend and benefactor named Dick Marconi.
“Dick was the guy who manufactured vitamins for Herbalife, and he took David under his wing like a son,” Denton says. “Dick was very successful, and he hired David to detail cars for the Marconi Museum. He also did odd jobs for his longtime friend Wayne Hinson of Hinson Racing fame.”
After Taylor passed unexpectedly in April at the age of 64, Marconi and Hinson attended the funeral along with Denton and other industry friends like Chuck Warren, Willie Amaradio, Steve Lawler, and many more. On display were scrapbooks that Taylor and his family proudly kept of his old race clippings from Cycle News, Motocross Action, Dirt Bike, and more from his days as a fast motorcycle racer.
Joe Newmann was a popular member of the Vital MX Forum. A collector and restorer of vintage motorcycles in Texas, he was a fountain of knowledge when it came to classic dirt bikes, and he had the amazing garage full of beautiful old bikes to show for it. He was extremely generous and helpful to other collectors. When he passed after a bout with COVID-19 in early August, there was an outpouring of sympathy for his family from people that Newmann himself probably never met in person, but who knew him from the forum.
MxKing809: “Absolutely terrible news. Lots of guys here jab back and forth and it gets heated at times, but we're all moto brothers. Joe seemed like the moto guy to end all moto guys. Loved seeing his bikes and paint jobs - and he'll be missed on this form. Condolences to his family if they read this, he was a very well-liked and revered guy on this forum, if that means anything to you in your time of grief.”
Mooch: “When I was putting together a clapped-out ‘81 YZ250, was in a tight spot and not able to find a discontinued part. Joe sent me what I needed and wouldn't take any money from me. What's that tell you about a person?”
RacerX930: “When I first got in to the vintage scene I was the guy at his trailer drooling over his bikes. The guy had never met me in my life and walked up to me and said, ‘Want to ride it?’ I've been his biggest fan since.”
Rawly: “I only know Joe from this forum but I feel like I just took a huge gut punch. Have spent lots of time checking out his vintage bikes. Hang in there in these tough times, friends and family… Looks like some of those clapped-out Elsinores in heaven will get to be brought back to life by Joe.”
Gavin Williams got into motocross as a kid growing up in South Africa. He was a decent rider, but he did much, much better in the finance world. Williams was the founding shareholder of a company called Global ASP Limited, a technology company specializing in hosting mission-critical financial applications for institutional clients. That made Williams a very wealthy man. It also allowed him to invest in his childhood passion of motocross. He began collecting rare motorcycles, works bikes, vintage bikes, and more. He kept them in an industrial warehouse hidden away in Cape Town “Vintage Factory,” but would generously open his doors for visitors who wanted to see all of the rare pieces he’d curated. After British promoter Dave King founded his Vets Motocross des Nations at Farleigh Castle in England, Williams started sponsoring the South African team by allowing them to race some of his vintage masterpieces. He also sponsored the whole event by making the rider bibs that have become quite a collector’s items on their own.
This past summer, Williams suffered what was reported to be a COVID-19–induced heart attack. He passed away on July 28. His wife, Monique, paid tribute to him on Facebook, posting: “Gavin, you have left such a void in our lives and we are still reeling from the shock of it all. You were a devoted father and husband, ethical, kind and you always fought for what you believed in. You had a good heart and I have been amazed by all of the messages, how many lives you have touched. We love and miss you and trust you are at peace and riding those precious motorbikes you loved so much.”
The Pacific Northwest moto scene lost a genuine monument when Terry Williams passed away while racing Washougal on Saturday, August 14. Terry was a soft-spoken and kindhearted man who loved his vintage Husqvarnas, but most importantly he enjoyed making sure everyone was having a great day at the track prior to throwing a leg over his own bike. The Boise Vintage Cycles shop hosted many Friday nights prior to the big Racer X Inter-Am race, and Terry just loved when his racing heroes would visit the shop, which was a shrine to the legends of the sport. Terry had a special bond with the unique Husky Automatic. In 2017, his hero, Terry Cunningham, attended the race and rode Terry’s 7A bike, sweeping all four motos. In Terry’s honor, TC is coming again in 2022 to pay his respects and race the 7A bike again.
Tommy Hudson loved vintage motocross and the occasional Dos Equis afterward. He was a regular at big vintage events like Diamond Don’s AHRMA Vintage Motocross, battling it out with fellow riders of a certain age—on bikes of a certain age as well. They sometimes called Hudson “Subway Tom” because he was the owner of multiple Subway sandwich shops. He was also a racer dad—his daughter Jacki was serious contender in WMX back in the early ’00s before she got married and started to raise a family. As it turned out, that actually gave him even more chances to go to the races, since Jacki married Andrew Short, the longtime factory rider and multiple AMA Pro Motocross and Supercross winner. (Now that I think of it, Jacki and Andrew must be the only married couple of the planet where both partners were on the podium of AMA Pro Motocross events—albeit in different classes, of course!)
Upon Tommy’s retirement, he and his wife, Robin, moved closer to Jacki and Andrew’s ranch, which also got them closer to the two grandchildren they doted on, Emma and Hudson. That was great for the Shorts, because Andrew had taken up long-distance rally racing following his retirement for SX/MX, and that often meant spending weeks at a time outside the country. Andrew was on the other side of the world in September when he got a call from Jacki to get home as soon as possible—her dad had been in a terrible accident working on the farm. Sadly, Tommy Hudson did not survive his injuries.
“If you have ridden at our house and been to the races with me, you know Pop,” Andrew posted after Tommy’s passing. “Everywhere here you look on the farm you see Pop. Hudson was his little shadow and Pop took care of our family when I was gone racing… Our hearts are broken.”
Long-distance motorcycle jumping is a niche within a niche sport. The idea of holding the world record for distance jumped on a motorcycle has been a tantalizing thought for daredevils and stuntmen since early in the last century. Names like Evel Knievel, Bubba Blackwell, Bobby Gill, Robbie Maddison, Ryan Capes, and many more have gone after that record, which right now the Guinness Book of World Records marks at 351 feet, set by Maddison in 2008.
Alex Harvill was a 28-year-old rider from Ephrata, Washington. He grew up on motorcycles, riding with his dad. "I've been riding since I was 4, but before that, I would ride on the front of my dad's bike," Harvill told the Columbia Basin Herald in an interview. "My entire life I've ridden dirt bikes and looked up to everyone that races dirt bikes and think of those guys as heroes."
Harvill was fascinated by distance jumping, and he soon found himself craving the world record that Maddo had set 13 years ago. Harvill was already considered an elite jumper, as he held the dirt-to-dirt distance record of 297 feet. He wanted to go farther—much farther—and decided to attempt it during the Moses Lake Airshow in June. This time he would be using a massive takeoff ramp and landing on a huge mound of dirt that been built at the Grant County International Airport. First, Harvill took a practice run to warm up and get his bearings. He came racing down the long runway and launched from the ramp. In videos that were posted online, it looked like he was going to make it to the backside of the dirt landing ramp. Tragically, instead, Harvill came up a couple feet short and plowed into the peak of the dirt landing ramp. He did not survive the crash.
"Alex was out to set a new world record today when he paid the ultimate price," Maddison posted on Instagram. "My heart is broken for his family. Sending our love to [his wife] Jessica, [and sons] Willy and Watson."
Scott Sheak had a true rags-to-riches story. Growing up in Germantown, New York, he and his family got into motocross while Scott was still relatively young. At the age of eight he raced in the very first AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in 1982, finishing a modest 33rd in the 65cc (7-11) class. But that was just his launching point, and his results would steadily improve. By the time he raced Loretta Lynn’s in 1993, he was the top A rider in the country, winning both the 125 A and 250 A Modified class titles.
The next step was to turn pro, and that meant practically starting the climb all over again. Sheak went from privateer status to teams like Boyesen Yamaha, and then eventually worked his way up to a full factory ride with Team Honda in 1997. That was the year Sheak achieved a childhood dream when he won an AMA 125 Pro Motocross National at High Point Raceway in Mt. Morris, Pennsylvania—the one and only win of his professional career. He would finish the ’97 season ranked third in the final 125cc AMA National Championship standings, behind only Ricky Carmichael and Kevin Windham.
In the years to follow, Sheak would spend time riding for various teams, including FMF Honda and Pro Circuit Kawasaki. He also found himself on the FIM 125cc World Championship tour, traveling all over Europe to compete. Wherever Sheak went, his humble and gracious nature—not to mention ever-present smile—made him as popular with fans as he was with his teammates. Unfortunately, an assortment of injuries hampered his results, and by the mid-2000s Sheak was done with professional racing. He turned his attention to working with younger riders, and he thoroughly enjoyed helping them achieve their own goals in motorcycle racing by being a tireless and dedicated teacher.
Recently, Sheak returned to his amateur racing roots as a veteran rider. He was preparing to qualify for the AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in Tennessee when he suffered a tragic accident at Walden Motocross Park in New York. Sheak suffered multiple spinal and internal injuries and subsequent developed pneumonia and staph infections. It all proved too much. He was 47 years old.
Jeremy Shuttleworth was another rider who decided to get back to his roots in 2021 and return to Loretta Lynn’s and the AMA Amateur Nationals. A longtime member of the Florida motocross community, he first came to the Ranch in 1987 as a 51cc rider in 1987, and he raced on and off through the next 15 years. He also raced professionally, finishing 25th at the 1999 Daytona Supercross in the 250 class, back when that was the premier class in AMA Supercross. Shuttleworth’s best finish at Loretta Lynn’s actually came in 2002 in the 250/Open A class. He rode two classes that year, the second being Four-Stroke. Jeremy had 2-3 moto finishes going into the third and final moto, but he got caught up in a first-turn crash in the third moto and broke both arms—one so badly he nearly lost it. Fortunately, after a helicopter ride to a hospital in Nashville, doctors were able to save his mangled arm. His pro motocross dreams, however, were over. He went to work as a carpenter and metal framer, but he never completely left motocross.
Twenty years later, Shuttleworth came back to Loretta Lynn’s on a personal mission to redeem himself—to get that title that escaped his grasp—only to cruelly crash again in the first turn, this time in his very first moto in the Senior +40 class. It was obvious from the moment of the crash that he might be badly injured. The race was red-flagged, and several on-the-spot paramedics and doctors immediately went to work on him. He was again transported by helicopter to Nashville, this time with severe neck, back, and chest injuries. Once there, he fought hard and the doctors did their best, but the multitude of injuries were too severe. Shuttleworth passed away ten days after the crash. On the day of his passing, his friend Wes Cain, the longtime race announcer, who saw both of Jeremy’s horrific first-turn crashes, said, “Jeremy was right where he wanted to be last Tuesday, back on the track at Loretta Lynn’s and back in contention for a national championship.”
A little more than two weeks after Shuttleworth’s first-turn crash at Loretta Lynn’s, the ranch manager Wayne Spears was down near the starting line trying to move an old tractor to higher ground. A massive rainstorm had hit middle Tennessee, dumping 17 inches of rain and causing severe flooding. Spears, who had worked at the ranch for almost as long as the races have been held there, was a fixture around the motocross races, always smiling and cruising around in either his Jeep or on a horse, looking for ways to help anyone who might need a hand. Now, with the water from the Hurricane Creek that runs along the Ranch rising rapidly, it was Spears who needed a hand, or maybe even a rope, which one of his coworkers had. Spears tied it around his waist just as the water began sweep him away, but the rope slipped away. He floated down to the staging-area structure behind the starting gate and grabbed hold, a moment of which was captured by someone’s iPhone. Witnesses say it seemed like he was going to be okay, but then the whole wooden structure was swept away, Wayne Spears with it.
For the rest of the day and all that night, rescue workers and fellow ranch hands searched for Spears, hoping he had found a way out of the flood waters. Unfortunately, he did make it out. The next morning, as the waters subsided and the community took stock of the devastation, they found Wayne’s body in one of the fields past Loretta Lynn’s home, more than a mile away from the starting line of the motocross track.
"With the heaviest of hearts we are saddened to report that our beloved foreman Wayne Spears did not survive being swept up in the floodwaters," Loretta Lynn’s official Facebook post stated. "Wayne has been a family friend to the Lynns and a fixture to the Ranch for decades and we are all devastated by his passing.
"There are no words at the ranch today… only tears,” continued the post. “Our ranch family is our family. We lost my amazing ranch foreman, Wayne in this devastating flood," Lynn wrote. "He's one of us and the whole Lynn family is heartbroken. Please pray for his precious family and friends."
Grantley Herbert was a teenager who loved motocross, as you can see on his Instagram page, but since he was from the inner city of Baltimore, he didn’t get out to races as much as he would have liked. Still, whenever Baltimore hosted an arenacross race or Budds Creek an hour south had a big event, his father, Rob, did his best to get him there.
Tragically, Grantley and his mother, Nyatiaha Faltz, were shot and killed after a family gathering took a very bad turn and a man pulled out a gun and shot both Grantley and his mother, along with an 8-year-old girl, who survived being shot in the leg. Baltimore County Police charged Antowan S. Clark, 42, Faltz’s estranged boyfriend at the time, with two counts of first-degree murder. He’s facing a double life prison sentence.
Polk County, North Carolina’s Clayton Sain was part of a big family—he was one of six siblings, all of them minicycle riders growing up. Clayton started riding dirt bikes at age four and racing at seven. By 12 he was all-in on being a professional motocross racer when he was older. He was very popular among his fellow motocross enthusiasts, as his father, Jason, explained: “He could draw a crowd at the track, not from a standpoint of being arrogant or anything like that, it was more all the guys wanted to hang out with him.”
As a competitor, Sain was getting better and better. In September he earned the King of the Classic award at the Mad Skills Motocross Vurb Classic for winning the most motos during the three-day event. That would turn out to be the biggest win of his career, as well as his last. In October, Clayton was in Tennessee practicing for the Suzuki Top Gun Showdown at Muddy Creek Raceway. He went down hard and never came back around. He was 16 years old.
“Clayton Sain’s smile after winning this award was priceless, and something I will remember and cherish forever,” Vurb Moto’s Wes Williams said in a caption under a photo of Clayton with his King of the Classic Award. “It was a smile and emotion that I that I talked about for an entire week after because it was so special. This sport is absolutely brutal sometimes, but I’m grateful that I got to meet Clayton and put that smile on his face. RIP my friend.”