As I write this, I sit in my work uniform drenched in the scent of water mixed with oil, a hint of liquid solvent thrown in. The stylus on my Dad’s record player gently inches its way closer towards the center, as “The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid” washes over the digital landscape.
Stars of the Lid, the band for which the album borrows its namesake, is the brainchild of Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie. McBride, native to Irving, Texas, (less than an hour and a half removed from Freestone MX), connected in Austin with New York’s Wiltzie and formed one of ambient music’s genre defining acts. It was also in Austin where I played tourist to my host for the trip, Charles Bakke, another Texas native. We met by circumstances no different from McBride and Wiltzie: two individuals with similar interests on a path to make something. In our case, a video about a week-long race known as the JS7 Spring Championship. Now we’re far from “defining” anything, but we both crossed paths and collaborated, undoubtedly in the same spirit shared by the Stars of the Lid.
We visited Waterloo Records & Video on the way out of Austin, where I bought the album now spinning its clockwise loop on the cabinet beside me. The expansive sounds put me back behind the wheel of a pickup truck, turning and turning on an endless Texas road.
I hope you like the video. There are photos too, if you have time to look. Thanks.
One of the first things I noticed about Texas was most people drove really fast. The average speed limit grows to a brisk eighty-five miles per hour once you reach the more defined stretches of road towards the state’s center, and with the cruise set to seventy in the pick-up truck (plus capped trailer in tow), I might as well have been paddling a canoe. The state is so big that everyone has to drive twice as fast to get anywhere, I suppose. Charles knew this, already. I first learned about Charles Bakke on YouTube, where he commented “nice edits!” on one of my MOTOvation motocross videos back in 2013. Little did I know, Charles started making his own series of motocross videos under the same name a month earlier. It was only fitting that we met in person six years later, at a motocross track with cameras slung over our shoulders.
Charles is also a hobbyist in lunacy. He spent the last few months of his life living out of a van in the hills of Colorado, miles from his home in Spring Branch, Texas. Skiing, skateboarding, BMX riding, filming… you name it, he’s done it. I really admire and respect his work ethic, his attitude towards life, and his skill as a filmmaker. If you’re somebody who thinks up big plans and never follows through, take a page from his book and just fucking go.
Thanks for the help, Charles. On a broken ankle, no less! (That he just recently had fixed, after meeting me in Wortham to film!) Heal up quick!
The girls were mixing it up all week long in Wortham, be it in the women’s classes or alongside the boys in Schoolboy, Supermini, and even Pro Sport. Notable standouts included the ever-competitive Jordan Jarvis, women’s motocross mainstay Hannah Hodges, and up-and-coming talent Tayler Allred. It’s important we don’t discount these athletes, because women riding can only be a positive thing for our sport, which I continue to learn in my travels is a whole lot smaller than I’ve ever realized. I love the #makeup2mud movement, but if you’re looking for raw talent, these chicks are the real rippers.
Charles found a moment on the starting line with Todd Bennick, father of Red Bull’s newest amateur recruit Daxton Bennick. Todd was a former professional racer turned freestyle competitor during the action sports boom of the late nineties. His words were simple, “Put the Lord first, and the rest will follow. Don’t worry about money, because money just complicates everything.”
Religion seemed to play an integral part of everyone’s lives in Texas, more so than up north in Michigan and Indiana, at least visibly so. On the Sunday after racing wrapped up at Freestone, I saw lines of cars wrap up highways and major intersections, piled with folks eagerly waiting for their time with the man upstairs. They say everything is bigger in Texas…
Class after class filed into the staging area behind the start gate before their motos, where individuals fought for precious real estate beneath the shade of a large tree. Others opted for a spot behind the makeshift “sponsor wall” that shielded the next class from the roost of the one preceding it. A brave few, however, took refuge in the peep holes created by an uneven composition of vinyl billboards, daring a preview of the rutted course that awaited them when they rounded the corner. Some classes piqued the curiosity of the riders more than others, but the crowd favorite was unanimously the 250 A and Open A Pro Sport motos, which gave us a peek at TLD KTM’s one-two punch in Pierce Brown and Derek Drake.
Drake was pretty fast all weekend, despite giving the lamest answer to Charles’ go-to question, “Are you here for the babes, or the clout?”
Donning the speed and unmistakable body english that left riders and fans alike in awe, Drake didn’t need the babes or the clout. When Drake and the rest of the Pro Sport wrecking crew hit the track, jaws hit the floor. He wasn’t undefeated, oh no, but he was certainly one of a few that could define a class all their own. There’s nowhere to go from here though, only beyond the ether… kid goes pro at Hangtown this year.
It’s no secret that amateur motocross’ fanbase has been almost non-existent for years, at least on a physical level. Most of the bodies lining the fences belong to parents, relatives, and friends of those on the track. As a videographer I don’t consider this a bad thing, because I know every time I go out, the fences will be lined with people cheering their asses off for their kids. Ever seen a mini-dad at an amateur national? It’d be a crime not to take a picture.
Grant Harlan has turned up at a few events I’ve been to over the last few years, and the kid seems to always stick it to anyone decked out in Monster Energy or Red Bull attire (almost unanimously lauded after, a mark of prestige and speed). The JS7 Spring Championship was no different, as Harlan led laps all week long and looked feisty as ever. I know nothing about him, other than the fact that he rips. Keep on, Grant. Underrated.
For an otherwise picture perfect weekend of seventy degree weather and sunshine, mother nature hit back Saturday morning with a healthy thunderstorm. Anyone left with a title in the balance couldn’t bare to look at a moto sheet, fearing a low number and call to the gate with extra tear-offs. Most made it out OK, but a slew of four-to-six year-old minibike riders caught the worst of it. Credit to the crew at Freestone for getting the track suited up for the rest of the day, but that morning was a wash.
Some of the talent scrubbed up pretty nicely, such as California’s Maximus Vohland (below), while Australia’s Myles Gilmore (above) and the rest of the pack were left searching for answers.
Notably, Maximus is under the tutelage of his father Tallon Vohland, another in a growing list of ex-professional motocross racers turned motocross Dads. Nick Wey, Brian Deegan, Tim Ferry, and many others are breeding the next generation of professionals, with the equipment and experience to help them reach new heights. I can only imagine how fast these kids are going to grow up to be.
The “Tree Turn” at Freestone was a magnet for filmmakers and photographers all week long, and unfortunately for those behind the lens, the attraction seemed to be pulling the riders closer towards us. While DJ and I performed a beautiful tango here between man and machine, Patrick H. of HB Moto Co. wasn’t so lucky. He was pegged on the other side of the track, opposite almost exactly where I was standing. The clip captured by Brendan O’Brien was a viral sensation before the event had even concluded.
Patrick returned the next day to continue shooting, sporting an Ace bandage and war-torn limp.
Friday evening was a bit of a haze, as I was five days into my Texas excursion, and after another night in the rugged (albeit much appreciated) Freestone shower facilities, I was almost over it. I was starting to miss my bed back home, and thinking of all the nights I took for granted sleeping in it. I couldn’t shake the feeling until Brett Powers showed up around midnight to meet Charles and I up at the infamous Freestone ice-cream spot, “The Cone.”
I really wanted to meet Brett on this trip, because he’s somewhat of a figurehead in this crazy little sport. At the helm of the motocross video game / comedy channel Donut MX, Brett commands a crowd of just over thirty thousand subscribers on his videos and livestream events. As I type, “motocross video game / comedy channel,” I realize the sheer absurdity, yet admire the fact that Brett’s carved himself a cult following out of that niche genre. There were kids we didn’t see all week now loitering around our campsite where Brett stayed the night, waiting for him to come out so they could talk about MX Simulator, or how to throw fat “schmeezers,” which in the world of Donut MX is layman for whips… I think.
While I certainly don’t understand the lengths some people went to hang out with Brett the following day, I am glad I got to meet him. I think his videos are great, and he’s absolutely as hilarious in person as he is on video. He has great taste in music as well, which is never a necessity, but always a plus.
Weeks removed from the event, I still find myself laughing at some of the stories told and situations Brett, Charles, and I saw (or got ourselves wrapped up in). Hope we cross paths again sometime! Maybe we’ll catch a bite at Big Hal’s, if we’re lucky.
Freestone is the first true amateur national race I’ve attended in my fifteen years as a motocross racer. As hard as we tried, my Dad and I never did make it to Loretta Lynn’s, a place many close to us consider an annual “family vacation,” and the granddaddy of all amateur nationals. Filmmakers, photographers, and industry personnel alike travel to the sport’s epicenter in Tennessee for a week of riding and general horseplay, leaving many puzzled when they ask how many times I’ve been to “The Ranch.” We never raced Ponca, Mini O’s, or Mammoth either; we barely made it out of the state half of the time. But, that’s ok. I wouldn’t change any of it.
While experiencing the pulse of America’s amateur scene up close was an amazing experience, in Texas, it really isn’t any different than Indiana (or our adopted Michigan). Motocross enthusiasts are motocross enthusiasts no matter where you are, and we share a common bond as competitors and lovers of two-wheels. Such thoughts on this trip made me incredibly gracious of the ideas and connections our community fosters, because at this juncture in my life I don’t really know which way I’m going. There are plenty of others out there in the same situation, the only difference between us being my motorcycle waiting for me to get back home. While that may not be a career-defining direction, it’s something, and I’m grateful for that.