I purchased a ticket on a Southwest flight to Ft. Myers, because I told a friend I wasn’t joking around. An offer from Jeff at the 2018 Ironman National proved to be one I couldn’t refuse: come to Florida and shoot a new video.
“Don’t tempt me, man. I’ll go! I’m serious!” I tried to be affirmative.
“Me too! Come on down.” Jeff barked.
And so I went.
(Author’s note: Jeff’s life has changed immensely since the winter of 2018, in a good way! I’m leaving the story unedited for posterity. What might’ve been…)
Jeff sits posturally sound, his lanky figure affixed at a 95 angle from chair to ottoman. His friend Opie aloof, perched above the living room on a throne of matted rectangles and tubes, a perfect window lookout. The arrangement is familiar to cat owners I’m sure, but having come from a family that’s mostly allergic I sometimes fail to understand the appeal/function. Opie purrs feverishly as Jeff opens the blinds, exposing the apartment complex. Uniformity seems to be the theme, save for a few scattered palm trees.
“He goes insane if we don’t leave the blinds open.” Jeff understood the request quickly and effectively, which leads me to believe that he and Bridgette (Jeff’s longtime girlfriend) learned that lesson the hard way.
It was a Friday afternoon in Estero, Florida. Jeff and I had just gotten back from our gourmet luncheon at Subway and were essentially sitting on our hands trying to figure out something productive to do, at least I was, anyway. Jeff was enjoying some much-needed downtime since finishing another semester of pre-med at Florida Gulf Coast University. While I bailed college faster than you can say “art school dropout,” I have family and friends who have completed, and continue to complete, the labyrinth of higher education. It’s taxing on maturing minds, and stressful in a turbulent economic climate. Jeff had earned his time to lounge around, choosing to watch some classic Vurbmoto videos, his favorite of which being Jason Anderson’s part in the Wes Williams’ epic, “Epic.”
“Anderson’s got that kind of out of control style here, but you can tell he’s just sending it.” He said. I couldn’t argue, the dude was on rails.
We both thought highly of the use of Coconut Records’ “Nighttiming,” as well. A song fit for another classic Vurbmoto feature, Brandon Bolling’s, “S.O.B. Way…”
It was agreed that we shoot some light b-roll at the apartment before getting on with the rest of our evening. I had never been to Florida before, so we did what any twenty-somethings near the beach would do… stuff our faces while playing Monster Energy Supercross: The Video Game in Jeff’s apartment. One of Jeff’s riding buddies, Joey De Santi, joined us as well, which makes the whole situation that much cooler.
Be sure to download our custom-made masterpiece, “Circle of DOOOM” if you play on Xbox One.
The course was set for an afternoon atop the mountains of south central Florida, handcrafted by Loren Lykins and the wrecking crew at Florida Tracks & Trails, some forty-odd miles north of Estero. FTT (as it’s casually referred to) has bolstered itself to the motocross scene in Florida in a relatively short amount of time, beginning with the “Jones Bro Ridas” beloved introduction the property in 2015 for Wes Williams and the Vurbmoto crew, followed closely by Dean Wilson’s cover-worthy part in Dominick Russo and Jason Plough’s Moto 8: The Movie. One might mistake FTT as a perennial peer to facilities like Washougal or Spring Creek MX, especially given the magnitude of the terrain. Rest assured, Loren has grandiose visions to maintain and expand the reach of this southeastern gem.
Loren also cares not only for the sanctity of his track, but the riders and families who pit themselves along property lines. Jeff and I were no exception, as we were given the freedom to shoot just about any way we wanted, with Loren even permitting some last-minute beauty shots following the track’s closure for the day. In between mule transportation / ride-along footage via FTT everyman Poidog, and finding time to check on us in the pits throughout the day, I was more than impressed and appreciative of the hospitality.
Jeff’s buddy from the night before, Joey De Santi, had also joined us for a day in the sand by more than earning his keep an as impromptu production assistant. I had just met this guy the night before, and today he played my shadow by swapping lenses, interchanging baseplates, and carrying tuning stands. He was gracious, kind, and just fun to be around in general, which reminded me a lot of my friends back home.
During our forty minute commute to the track that morning, I had also learned that Joey’s turnover rate on bikes was pretty astounding, and this week he found himself the odd man out. With no set of wheels, Jeff stepped up and let Joey rip his 2019 Works-Edition CRF450R between shots. The bike proved to be a bit of a handful, as evidenced by the “pimp limp” Joey sported on our way to dinner at Moe’s that evening. What followed was a lengthy discussion between the three of us about kneepads, knee braces, and chest protectors, riddled with musings from Jeff and Joey on the eatery.
“Welcome to Moe’s! Welcome to Moe’s!“
Florida reminds me a lot of Indiana, something that I didn’t think I’d be saying before I landed in the Sunshine State. I suppose I’ve seen one too many TV programs focused on the state’s fringes, like Miami or the Everglades (Swamp People type stuff). Where was the city life? Where were the gators? I saw no swamps, and no people inside of them. It was flat, just like Indiana. Only hotter… and with palm trees.
Once we escaped the incubation of Estero, the roads became expansive and vast. The stretches went on forever, with no indication of forward progress, aside from the occasional street sign or flipped-over Sedan. I must’ve witnessed four accidents in my time with Jeff, and we’re not talking your run-of-the-mill fender benders, either. Cars were flipped upside-down, skid marks bleeding into the outer banks and beyond. Trees, leveled by seemingly inconceivable human error. One accident even shut down a chunk of southbound I-75.
“People don’t know how to drive down here man, it’s crazy.”
It was at that moment, after Jeff spoke, that we were passed by a pony car fitted on dubs, a roached out pickup, and to our left at the intersection was a six-foot lifted platform on wheels. A platform: no roof, no side walls, just seats and a steering wheel. Welcome to Florida, I guess? Keep your eyes on the road.
The destination for the day was 74 Family Fun Park, named after its location on eastbound/westbound 74 Bermont Rd. and, coincidentally, 5 miles east of Florida Tracks & Trails as well. Jeff and I were excited to head east today, because Jeff was poised to ride Chris Sprayberry’s 2019 Yamaha YZ 125. I was more amused with the fact that we were heading to a different track (no disrespect to FTT, but I’m all about variety). No disrespect to Jeff either, as it was a pleasure watching him demolish the course on a minty YZ 125. He rips the 450 good, but it’s hard to deny the sweet sounds of a 125 at high noon.
As if it wasn’t sick enough that Jeff found someone to loan their bike to him willingly, the cherry on top was his plan to GoPro the event. For those of you out of the loop, Jeff recently started making a habit of posting videos to his YouTube channel. Mainly short pieces filmed with his GoPro riding and training. What humbly began as a collection of innocent races and practice sessions, a dime a dozen on the platform, has grown into a cult-like following just shy of thirteen thousand subscribers (as of January 2019). At the time of recording that video in particular? Probably more like four thousand.
The aptly titled, “RAW: 125 2-Stroke Shredding!” has garnered over one-hundred thousand views in the months following its upload. For as many shitty people as there are on YouTube these days, the success and clout it can wield couldn’t go to a nicer guy. His titles may be a little bombastic for my liking, but Jeff is one of the most genuine dudes putting out vlog-style content right now. You should check out what he’s doing if you haven’t already (though I’m sure a number of you reading this already have).
Back on the homestead in Jeff’s scaled-down apartment, the both of us laid lifeless across the couch and recliner. Two full days of shooting and riding had finally caught up with us, and my attempts at conjuring up a night on the town were futile. I thought maybe we could get something nice to eat before my flight out the following morning, but instead it was Jeff, myself, and a bag of Tostitos tortilla chips. An impromptu session of MX vs. ATV Reflex broke out into the waning hours of the evening, better than any dinner would’ve been.
In an effort to be bashful of Jeff’s talent on a motorcycle, I’ve shared my set of stories regarding nights playing Xbox and riding with his friends on the weekend. In a lot of ways Jeff is no different from anyone else who gears up Saturday mornings to chase their local district championship, and that’s a beautiful thing. For how often people mistake motocross for business instead of pleasure, I find Jeff’s traits of humbleness and charity to be refreshing. However, I’d be remiss not to mention Jeff’s history and career-at-large as a professional motocross athlete.
Jeff’s lineage is ingrained in motocross. Much like Alex Witkowski and his father in the previous video installment of World of Echo, Jeff and his dad share an affinity for two wheels. Paul Walker, an Ohio Emergency Room Physician, rode for RPM Racing out of Toledo in the late seventies and early eighties, finishing as high as third place in the national standings at the 1981 Amateur National Championships, held at RedBud MX. He pondered racing professionally before ultimately deciding that wasn’t what he’d need to bring food to the table. In one of his final events, a hare scramble in Michigan, Paul looked to go out on top by decimating the competition on his new national No. 3 machine. It ended up being a banner day on the course for the national No. 1 instead, Michigan’s Mark Hinkle, who was one of Paul’s most revered competitors at the ’81 Amateur Nationals. Paul salvaged a second that day to the bearded brute, a story he recalls fondly in between playing mechanic for his son on the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross circuit.
While the correlation between father and son is one well documented in our sport, the inheritance of skill hasn’t been as easy to decipher. Self-admittedly, Jeff was a horrible mini-cycle rider, routinely finishing in the bottom half of the field as his peers gapped exponentially each lap. I can attest, not for the fact that I ever raced Jeff, but for the fact that we raced in the same relative area and I had never heard of him.
We were all just kids on the circuit, but we weren’t stupid. The rule was simple: if you were fast, you were known. Kids like Ashton Hayes, Jarred Williams, Austin Dodd, Jacob Behringer, Dillon Finley, Jackson Marlow… those were the names echoing across the PA system every weekend. Jeff came in double digits below these guys on a number of AMA results sheets dating back to 2006, even entering himself in the 250 C division as late as 2010. Nevertheless, eight years removed from C class competition, he scored a career best eleventh-place finish in the first 250 moto at Ironman Raceway in Crawfordsville, Indiana, eclipsing every rider listed above. It’s that which got me thinking:
Was it luck? In the case of Hayes and Williams, they didn’t even really get a chance to prove if they could have out performed their Michigan counterparts. It’s just as much of an accomplishment making it to the big dance, as it is to perform well in it.
Was it motivation? An inherent desire to ride the straight and narrow, avoiding the pitfalls of preceding superstars such as the enigmatic Nico Izzi and Josh Lichtle?
Perhaps maturity or hormones held the key, Jeff finally adapting to his towering figure?
Rhyme or reason withheld, a distinct change was recorded at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in the Summer of 2013, in the form of a 2nd place finish in the first 450 B Stock moto. Among the field were future freeride legend Axell Hodges and Aaron Plessinger, the 2018 West Coast Supercross and Pro Motocross champion. In just his second visit to Hurricane Mills, TN, Jeff had infiltrated the membrane housing some of the sport’s most talented individuals. He was even an official member of the infamous “Squid Mob🦑” comprised of Aaron Plessinger, Ryan Surratt, RJ Hampshire, Connor Elliot, Tristan Charboneau, and Tucker Maxwell. The name clearly in jest, as those dudes ran amuck at the Ranch in 2013, and continue to do so throughout the Pro Motocross ranks.
That said, he could’ve easily taken this as a sign to forego his future, to manifest destiny on the road around the country chasing Amateur and Pro Nationals. In a roundabout way he’s done just that, but unconventional to motocross’ traditional disposition. He’s a full-time college student that spends his Summer’s on the road. Pitted next to factory semi’s, and shoulder-width from the riders inside them on the starting gate, Jeff’s focus is locked forward. The gaze doesn’t hit the first corner, that tiny pin fastened to the bottom of the gate, or the fans… it’s already in the classrooms and labs at Florida Gulf Coast University, where he hopes to add a title his father claimed before him: Jeffrey Walker, MD.