THE MORE THINGS CHANGE…
By Mark Simpson
The Times They Are a-Changin’. These words, written and sung by a Nobel Poet Laureate named Bob, are a cautionary tale, a warning of what’s coming in the very near future. This was the theme in my head as I looked forward to the Washougal National of 2017. I have a lot of questions about the future of motocross, and dirt bikes in general, just as you do. With fuel injected two-strokes, increased regulations, and electric bikes coming along many changes are surely coming to the sport we love. Although I last raced seriously in the ‘70’s, which definitely qualifies me as old, I am not rigid in my thinking. I know that change is necessary, and just because something is old doesn’t make it better. It just makes it old.
I was away from the sport of motocross, and dirt bikes in general for over 30 years, but have come back in the past five years. Washougal is twenty minutes down the road from me and I have been to a few Nationals there. Since Washougal is the 9th race of a 12-race series things often seem scripted at this point. Not too many surprises this late in the season, as injuries have taken their toll and the front-runner pulls away. Yet this year hasn’t exactly played to script. No one single racer has stepped up to dominate, as the heir apparent at Kawasaki continues his trend of being his own worst enemy. The recent retirement of past dominant stars like Dungey, Villapoto and others, and the disappearance of the sensational James Stewart, has opened the doors for a new cast of heroes. So where exactly is the sport at now and what is happening with this new class of stars?
In order to get a gauge on how much motocross has changed since I attended Hangtown in 1976, I would need some kind of back-stage access. This is where my old buddy Ron Lawson would come in handy. Yes, THAT Ron Lawson, editor of this very fine website. Ron and I were part of small gang of dangerous (only to ourselves) but well-meaning moto misfits in the mid-’70s. When we weren’t riding or racing we were usually involved in all-night Risk (“the game of global domination”) battles, rafting down the Russian River, hanging out at the local cycle center, or playing pranks on each other. I re-connected with Ron recently on Facebook. Betting on the chance that he has finally forgiven me for the time I convinced him that WD-40 was the best thing to clean the bug-encrusted windshield on his beloved van, I hoped to attend this year’s event as a media member for the first time. This behind the scenes access would give me the answers I seek. And sure enough, Ron came through and off I went!
As I arrived on Friday, the day before the races, I first headed to the paddock. The team big-rigs were arrayed in all their glory. Tomac’s Kawasaki was one of the few bikes on display. It was extremely hot, but winds of change were blowing through the pits. The RCH Suzuki team had announced they were shutting down for good. The KTM tent was emblazoned with photos of their three riders, two of whom have recently retired. In general there was a lot of talk about next season and what changes might lay ahead. Amidst all this talk of change, this experience taught me some other things as well. The MX community is still very tight-knit and welcoming. The fans are as crazy as I remember them, evidenced by shotgun blasts at 3am and golf carts laden with young people racing through the campground area at breakneck speeds. And, of course, the obligatory monster truck burn-outs. I also see that it still rings true that 1st and 3rd place are smiling, while 2nd is pretty pissed off underneath the campaign-popping façade.
My heroes weren’t there racing on Saturday. Decoster, Howerton, Distefano, and Lackey are all just memories now. Yet as I watched the long lines of people queuing up for an autograph and selfie with Tomac, Musquin, and Cianciarulo I saw new a generation of stars worthy of moderated hero worship. I see a lot of good things in today’s MX stars and I am sure they are very good people in general, more so than many of the flawed heroes of yesterday. The throngs gathered around Trey Canard moved me. Although he has retired, his interaction with his fans was exemplary and I could see they truly loved and appreciated him. And, of course, the racing was just fantastic. Especially from my viewpoint on the other side of the fence.
So, my conclusion? Motocross will continue to evolve and change. But whether it’s electric bikes or hovercraft, or back to two-strokes, motocross will survive and thrive well into the future. And we will still go watch and be amazed by some the best racing events on the planet. As long as there are outdoor Nationals at legendary tracks like Washougal, Unadilla, and Hangtown motocross will go on. I look forward to another 30 years of Washougal, if I live that long. Motocross may not be exactly what it used to be, but it is alive and well. In summation, to quote another old rocker, “Rock is dead, long live rock!”.
Now what is going on with flat track?! I see that is making a comeback. Might have to go investigate…