A Homespun Look at the 2018 Motocross of Nations


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Incredulity as rich in depth as the crowd’s sea wide, I laid my thoughts on the hillside. I had stepped into a memory, a setting picturesque for all of the wrong reasons. Dreadful, monochrome skies loomed over the swath of American faithful, mist made not to enhance, but burden. A drip of water on your forehead for eternity. “Were we in Buchanan, or Belgium?” I asked myself. European sensation was around every corner, a familiar feeling, the root of which lived in stories told to me as I grew up.

According to my father, in the mid-to-late-1970’s, motocross royalty would reside along exotic locations across Europe, shipping stateside in the fall for a romp around the Trans-AMA racing circuit. America was sooner destined for motorcycle supremacy than it seemed, however solutions to this problem weren’t exactly spitting off the rubber underneath Roger DeCoster and Heikki Mikkola… that was roost. Disgusting, clay-laden RedBud roost.

It was there that my Dad fell in love with motocross. RedBud Track ‘n’ Trail played host to a number of Trans-AMA races throughout the series’ lifespan, which took place on weekends abysmal by any standard, confirmed by tales of nights spent in tents kept warm from the fire of a gas lamp. Huddled against snow fencing come race day, men and women stood shoulder to shoulder with no intention on leaving the grounds kempt. A look left or right might garner a peek at somebody relieving themselves, a luxury shared amongst the men. Imagine that? Pissing in the wind, a feature wrapped up neatly inside the American dream. And here came the riders over the ski jump!

While I certainly can’t vouch, I would assume there was no fence-side relief happening this fall. The sport’s growth has been measurable in more ways than one, and certainly exponential since the days of dual-shocks and busted subframes (and limited amenities). While we seem to be farther ahead than ever before, it appears we have circled back somewhere along the way, again under monochrome skies.

Bearing witness to the ass kicking American riders received from our friends across the pond, I was happy. I felt empathy, most definitely, but above all else I felt incredibly happy. If even for a day, motocross wasn’t curled up in the fetal position. Chatter of declining bike sales and non-existent turnouts muted, absent-minded our thoughts for the sport’s irregular uncertainties. Where was the fun? It couldn’t be gone because it was right here. I stepped into a memory my father lived before me as I laid my thoughts on the hillside, basking in the crowd’s sea…

Long live motocross.

 

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The photo above was taken at RedBud, dated April 1979. That’s my Dad on the far right, sporting a sizable growth spurt against his cousin’s Brian (far left), and Dwayne (center). There are dozens of moments burnt in off-yellow haze stacked in boxes beneath our floorboards, photos and memories I think best represent the case to be made that the 2018 Motocross of Nations was a landmark in American motorcycle racing. An event that ought to be remembered long after the last modicum of oil drips into the pan.

I hope the efforts of the FIM, the AMA, Youthstream, MX Sports, and the RedBud staff are recognized and appreciated in full. Respect given in equal relation to the entertainment received, and for having one of the most historic venues host an equally historic race. It’s also important to note that events like these can go sideways fast (i.e. Competition Park 2002, Glen Helen 2017), and while RedBud wasn’t immune to its own shortcomings and hiccups, the stories and experiences shared amongst the die-hards more than made up for it, in my opinion. To all parties involved, thanks for not screwing this up. It was spectacular.

I spent eight days at RedBud holed up in our family’s 1987 Chevy Shasta, aptly christened the “Shasta Dizasta,” for its tendencies to take us on wild rides, or rather the rides we take it on. I was tasked with two jobs…

A) Take photos and videos leading up to the big race.

B) Do whatever Stephan “LeBig” LeGrand, Amy Ritchie, or Tim Ritchie told me to do.

“This is your mission, should you choose to accept it.” Amy Ritchie graciously joked over the phone. I was indebted to her, as I was just shy of two weeks out from the Motocross of Nations without any game plan. Hopeful for an opportunity to join Troy Adamitis and the Red Bull crew to shoot the final episode of MX World, I was stuck without any type of “in.” Troy hadn’t returned my inquiries about getting on the crew, and I had assured the Ritchie’s I was booked. In a turn of events fit for a whole different article, I ended up landing the Red Bull gig anyway, only instead of having my ducks in a row before I got to RedBud, I landed the gig on Wednesday via text while I was… incapacitated in my motorhome parked behind Tim Ritchie’s house.

Worriedly I told Amy I had gotten on the crew to shoot the race, and instead of chewing me out, she was happy that I got it and wished me luck. Even more stoked was LeBig, the other person I had to notify that my services were picked up elsewhere. I didn’t want to let these guys down, and my nervousness melted in their embrace.

In the end, I shot some behind the scenes photos Monday through Friday before switching over to Troy’s crew for the race. The digital archive is for the Ritchie’s to do as they please, but I tacked the Minolta X-700 to my camera belt whenever the opportunity came. Here’s some FujiPro color and Ilford b/w stills to check out. I hope you enjoy them.

 

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Buchanan, Michigan is an unremarkably small town, big enough to sustain its’ own ecosystem, but small enough that there wouldn’t be any reason to visit without a world-class motocross facility to come to. The “downtown” area sits on an embankment, split underneath by the gentle stream of McCoy Creek, which bleeds into the river alongside RedBud Trail. Coffee shops, an art gallery, and the local Moose Lodge line the main drag, along with a couple of gas stations and an old traffic light before you reach the winding trail.

I was in town on Wednesday shooting the MXGP “postcard” intro, due to premiere at the front of the television broadcast of the race on CBS. A one-minute piece about the town, which included a detour to the Notre Dame campus in South Bend, Indiana. While in Buchanan though, a woman stopped me and asked what I was shooting for. Once I explained, we played twenty questions since (unsurprisingly) she knew nothing about the sport and had just relocated from Texas to Michigan. While I was pressed for time and slightly unnerved, we ended up having a nice conversation. She even began to entertain the idea of watching the race on Sunday, until I informed her that tickets were easily over one hundred dollars.

The conversation was pretty much over after that. It made me feel the same way I felt watching the World Series on TV a few years back, when the Cubs were playing at Wrigley. Tickets going for nearly a thousand dollars all but ensured that any true fan was shut out from watching the Cubs play for their first title in a hundred years. I’m sure some diehards did pay the price, but any rational fan wouldn’t shell out a G for a nosebleed seat to history. So, instead of having the community fence-side, you’ve got a bunch of yuppies who probably couldn’t give less of a shit about baseball snapping Instagram stories for clout. Luckily motocross isn’t that insane, but I still commend anyone who spent big money to camp out for the entire weekend. Special nod to all of our friends from overseas as well, thanks for bringing your culture and love of moto to the states.

 

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The skies were brilliant in the days leading up to the MXoN, even if every day brought a different season into the area. Monday was an inferno, Tuesday night I swear I saw flurries, and Wednesday I was sweating it out again in South Bend. There were more than a few captivating sunsets to fawn over though, one of which pictured above. The cover photo to this story is also a sunset, whose digital counterpart more accurately depicts how rich in color it was. (What bonehead thought shooting a sunset in black and white was a good idea?)

RedBud also tried to pitch the idea that foreigners could bask in the colors of fall when they made the trip, but unfortunately only a handful of trees were sporting their fall fashion. We wouldn’t get a glimpse of color until mid to late October, and before we knew it the leaves were gone.

 

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In MX World, Aaron Plessinger is interviewed towards the end of the program and says of the course, “Why would you do that to an already perfect track? I don’t know why you would do that for the biggest race of the year.”

In a sentiment shared with other members of Team USA and US fans alike, this grievance leaves me scratching my head. For years, RedBud has continually filtered more and more sand onto its already rich base (which itself has been heavily modified over time). Anyone who has seen a photo or video of RedBud pre-1995 would know that the dirt there was not always pristine. It was hard, rocky clay, that in modern times would be akin to racing in the pits instead.

There were rumors floating around that the FIM ordered the extra sand to be put in for the race to benefit its’ European base, and while the FIM did request changes to the facility, I doubt this was one of them. The start and first-turn had to be re-configured for safety, as well as address the FIM’s request to have a hairpin turn one that benefitted Saturday’s top qualifiers. The off-camber area past the “Hammer of Thor” triple step-up also got the axe, to meet the FIM’s track length requirement.

I sincerely doubt the powers that be at the FIM were rubbing their hands together and laughing manically at the thought of a bunch of sand being dumped onto the race track. While admittedly it changed the surface of the track (in parts), the sand was there to prevent the biggest motocross race in the world from becoming a quagmire. At the end of the day racing is entertainment, and entertainment is business. Having one of the best tracks in the United States be reduced to a puddle because of Michigan’s typically erratic fall climate would’ve been unprofessional. Tim and his crew knew exactly how to keep the track in race form, and it’s nothing short of a miracle that the track turned out as good as it did. Having seen plenty of abandoned footwear in the pits and on the side of the track, the right choices were made in saving the integrity of the race.

Even still, the track was supremely gnarly. I didn’t even bother trying to film anyone by LaRocco’s Leap, because I figured it was a lost cause for footage. Seeing Paulin, Herlings, and occasionally Tomac sweep wide and launch off the face of that thing after the fact… that’s absolutely mental. The fans fence side won out in the end over there. Wow.

 

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There was no time for chit-chat, small talk, or shooting the breeze during the Motocross of Nations. If RedBud was the universe, Tim Ritchie and anyone fit with a staff credential were the continual acceleration surrounding it… and it may as well have been the universe that weekend if your name was even remotely attached to the Ritchie moniker. A slew of digital photos not pictured here feature Tim deliberating with just about anyone. Sanitation workers, security personnel, event planners, caterers, “yes” men, “no” men, FIM, AMA… you name it, he talked with all of them at some point over the course of the week. On film, this was about as good as I got Big Tim. I believe the conversation here between Tim Cotter (and Roy Janson) involved the placement of emergency personnel, and where they could park. We were standing about a stone’s throw from the entrance to what would become Jeff Stanton’s “MXoN Experience,” for what seemed like too long. Sure enough, I turned to snap some landscape photos only to find a trail dust wisp off the back of a four by four, the same one I hopped into after ditching the moped I had been traveling on near the starting gate.

I ended up making that walk a few more times as the weekend continued to ramp up. I couldn’t be mad at Tim though, he saved my ass when the motorhome generator gave up the ghost… on Tuesday. He let me plug into his house electricity. Thank you, Tim!

 

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One of RedBud’s charismatic personalities, Sweet C. Sweet was a world champion kick-boxer back in the day before starting a family and settling down in rural Michigan. He works two jobs on top of running security detail at RedBud, local races included. If you get the opportunity to ask about Sweet and see how he’s doing, chances are he’ll hit you with the patented, “fantastic and amazing!” Seems a little overzealous for most people but with Sweet, I believe it every time.

 

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The duo of Robert and Matt Davis are probably better known together as graphics mogul Throttle Jockey. In my efforts on an undisclosed video project about RedBud, I met with Matt and Robert earlier this year in Kokomo, Indiana for a night of interviews while touring their facility (professionally known as the “Graphics Lab”). Two of the nicest people I’ve met, these guys. After our interview session ran into the night, they took me out to eat at one of their favorite spots where we discussed motocross, skateboarding, and turning your hobbies into a business. I learned a lot, I laughed a lot, and when I spotted them setting up the Throttle Jockey booth on vendor row, I had to stop for a few photos. If you think that never-ridden 2001 MXoN RC bike is trick… they’ve got shit piled in their warehouse garage that’ll make any moto-fanatic’s head spin.

 

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Korey and Jaclyn Camp set up every TV in pit lane and the VIP center behind the starting gate. Every. Single. One. I stuck around these guys because they were pretty fun, despite tackling one of the most tedious jobs of the week.

 

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The FIM oversees the Motocross of Nations of course, so their team of busybodies ran ragged across the property in the days leading up to the race, mainly in clusters of ten or twelve tasked with constructing the many set pieces with Youthstream’s crew (the promoters of MXGP). To some it may seem a bit like overkill, but once completed I thought the event looked pretty grandiose. I always thought AMA nationals were a big deal, but with the added towers and VIP areas, the atmosphere of the MXoN reached another level. I wonder if it was just the aura of the event itself though, I’d love to see if a run-of-the-mill MXGP stop feels similar.

Anyway, this is a shot of some FIM cronies getting the lowdown from Bart Newman (center, red sweater). Bart and his son’s, Kirk and Trampas, give a helping hand in running Log Road MX in Bronson, Michigan. Log Road has been a standby for years on the Michigan amateur circuit, known for its rolling hills and mellow layout. Always a fun, laid back race weekend if you ever get the chance to race there.

The Newman’s were just one of many motocross families to truck in and help put on the big show. The Akin’s and Wagner’s of Dutch Sport Park were on the dozers and in the front offices, as well as crews from Sunset Ridge, Wildcat Creek, and I’m sure plenty more I’m forgetting. The camaraderie was admirable.

 

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Stewart’s ’04 Kawasaki 125 plate, flanked by Ken Roczen and Grant Langston’s championship year plates, hung above a two-door opening in Tim Ritchie’s pole barn. Bart Newman was showing me around, since in all my years of visiting RedBud I’ve never seen the inner workings of the place. Adjacent to the Ritchie household, the pole barn was one of a couple “hubs” that materialized throughout the week; a place to congregate, have lunch, or grab a power nap. I felt I shouldn’t take too many photos here though, a certain vibe hung around the space. This was Tim’s sanctuary, a place not meant to be exposed to anyone who hops online. I snapped these number plates, and a few portraits of the toolbox below, garnished with an old Maico ascot and a photograph. Of who, I’m not sure. Wish I asked.

 

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In the wake of the massacre of Team USA, there was left only one problem: getting out. It might’ve seemed like a nightmare, as I’m sure any and all disappointed US fans wanted nothing more than to leave the battlefield (or stay and drink their sorrow away), but the steady rains on Saturday and Sunday rendered a majority of the parking areas impassable.

Back home in Indiana a week removed from the MXoN, I visited my sister and her fiancé Jon. Jon is a truck maniac who loves anything that’s got a lot of power. I wouldn’t pin him down as one of those “muddin'” types, but he certainly has a little country in him. His buddy Tyler was over, and they were watching a YouTube compilation of trucks and other vehicles getting out of sticky situations. Sure enough, there were a couple of clips from the MXoN on there, mainly of motorhome tires spinning mud just about anywhere.

As I holed up in my camper the night after the race, I saw more than a couple of ill-fated attempts to peel out of the campsites. One left their neighbors in a curse-fueled rage, because in their peel out attempt they left a decent splatter of sod on the side of somebody else’s rig.

While certainly inconvenient, I wouldn’t say the parking situation killed the event. In fact, some people even welcomed the challenge of leaving the grounds without tow service. It all harkened back to the days of Trans-AMA racing and pure motocross. Old school shit. People don’t get stuck at RedBud anymore, because just about every July 4th weekend in recent memory has been clear skies with a cool breeze. Here we were back at square one, stuck in the mud fresh off a European ass-kicking. Colder than air the beer from our coolers. For a weekend as crummy as this, somewhere in between the weather and our deflated egos, it couldn’t have been any better.

See you in Assen?

 

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3 thoughts on “A Homespun Look at the 2018 Motocross of Nations

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