To Live and Die in Tennessee

Vignettes from the front lines of the world's largest amateur motocross race.

The photo below was taken at the Dutch Sport Park Loretta Lynn’s Area Qualifier on May 12, 2019 in Bloomingdale, Michigan. Veterans who frequent the Akin’s estate know that this mailbox has been saluting riders for a few decades now, and to those who know that family’s history with that race in particular, the message reads even clearer.

Lisa Akin-Wagner, daughter to Drex and Jane Akin, commanded audiences on Loretta Lynn’s ranch throughout the event’s preliminary years, feuding with the ever-competitive Mercedes Gonzalez, often to the last lap of the last moto. Those were real dogfights, the likes of which are etched in the minds of many who witnessed them like Tim Cotter, longtime announcer for the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross series and Loretta Lynn’s. Cotter’s memory for races is self-diagnosed as “spotty,” but when asked about Akin vs. Gonzalez, he replied, “Now, I don’t remember many of the races [I’ve called], but I sure do remember those.” Hearing these tales straight from the mouths of Tim and Drex, combined with the surfeit of media in photos, videos, and stories from the hallowed grounds of Hurricane Mills, I had come to feel that this place wasn’t even real.

Whenever my Dad took us off the Dutch property onto County Road 665, my small mind wondered where that sign really pointed. What laid beyond the ether 585 miles south of here? I learned now, many years after first reading that sign, that nestled in those hills to the south was the entrance to hell. The place where Lisa and nearly every elite motocrosser wrote their chapters in the lore of our sport, one sweat-soaked page at a time.

So, ultimately, what is the purpose of a rusty sign in southeastern Michigan? For the last 38 years, those are the only directions any aspiring racer will ever need.

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dude ranch

8/30/19 – At the moment I have no ambition or desire to write about this video. I’m nervous about it. I don’t want to put up a wall this time and write 5,000 words. (I wrote the intro to this video on a different day. I don’t feel so great today.) I’m afraid this video won’t be good. It’ll be too scrambled up. People will be disappointed, or they won’t even watch it I guess. If I had to guess, this video will come out just past the middle of next month in September. I’m waiting on some 16mm film to get back, my least favorite part. To me 16mm is the heart of each video. Unfortunately it comes with a price tag and a development cycle. Longer than usual this time. I never know for sure if it will come out ok and that stresses me out. I also don’t like to edit when I know there are pieces missing. I called the lab today and they said they’ll begin processing in two-to-three business days.

LL LancE

This is Lance Kobusch, one of the kids in our video. He’s articulate and a talented motocross rider. He isn’t a brainless dork who can twist a throttle. This sport is chock full of them. Lance has style and finesse and an understanding for himself and the world around him. I’m a fan and so is Charlie, who met Lance some years ago at Cycle Ranch in Texas. We spoke with Lance that Sunday before the race, as he just happened to end up where we were and we talked about the race and what it all meant to him. He has such a passion for doing well. For the sake of himself and the people who support him.

It was also great to see his relationship with his family, most notably his step-sister, Atlanta. I spoke to him about it, but I know my sister wouldn’t be caught dead at another motocross race, let alone a week-long event in the hotbox of Tennessee. Atlanta’s involvement in his racing career is something I hope he never takes for granted.

Lance and Atlanta Sequence (colored)

I forgot to mention this is the first time I truly collaborated with another filmmaker on the site, my friend Charles Bakke. I love Charlie. He does exactly what he wants and he’s one of the happiest people I know. I’m grateful to call him my friend, even moreso that he respects what I do. Enough to drive from Texas to Tennessee to film a motocross video.

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LL hat

9/3/19 – I’m in the middle of editing this video. I got the film back a few days ago, along with some voiceover recordings from Charlie. I can happily say that the film turned out great, and my biggest worry turns into my giddiest excitement. I just have to keep plugging away. I wake up and edit. I took a few days off work. I know it’s already been weeks since the event has ended, and in the fast pace of the media landscape, I want to get this out. Like, yesterday.

Gate wait

Brutality was a common theme at the Ranch. Riders and families are usually quick to mention the heat, since it’s the first thing you’re greeted by when arriving at the facility. That classic, suffocating heat. It has a texture similar to maple syrup, and if you stand in one spot long enough, you might start to smell the stench of your skin burning. While it’s been discussed ad nauseam in images and print, it cannot be understated how difficult it is to compete in these conditions. There is no way you couldn’t talk about it.

During one of the Girls 11-16 motos, a rider collapsed from her stalled motorcycle, her father straddling her in an attempt to calm her down. There wasn’t enough time or energy for her to set her bike on a nearby post, and as the bike stopped, the fall was instantaneous. Her father looked to be doing more harm than good, if I’m being completely honest, but his senses were probably heightened to their extremes trying every possible cure to help his daughter. He sat kneeled on top of her in what looked like a wrestling move before the paramedics came, offering a more streamlined approach, visually. She was ok.

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Lil C surf

I knew Christopher “Lil C” Blackmer, but he didn’t know me. Sometimes that’s just how it goes in this sport. You hear about an up and coming kid, see him at the races, but never really get a chance to talk to them. Maybe they roll with a different crew, maybe they’re in a different age group, or maybe the stars just aren’t lining up or some shit. I told Charlie we needed to watch for this kid once we got to the Ranch, because I wanted to include him in our video. I had seen Chris tearing up tracks like RedBud, Baja Acres, and Dutch Sport Park for years, and his speed was rapidly approaching national-caliber status. All we needed to do was find him… among the tens of thousands of people in the valley of Hurricane Mills.

Descending the hill on Carmichael Road during Sunday evening, in search of our various subjects, a golf cart came flying by us on our left. Charlie and I were prepared to heckle yet another reckless driver, because if you weren’t aware, Loretta Lynn’s doubles as a game show where contestants play frogger against hardheaded teenagers in golf carts. We were annoyed by both the drivers and our lack of luck in connecting with the people we wanted, but I noticed Chris and his shaggy headset sitting in the backseat, and what was about to be a shouting match turned into a plea to stop.

At Loretta’s you just need a little luck. Whether you’re on a bike, or in the pits. We linked with Lil C and he rode his heart out, but unfortunately he became a textbook case for “results don’t show how well ‘X’ rode.” He was leaving it all on the track, like he always does, but he just couldn’t find the luck.

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Jazzmyn name transparent
jazzmyn 2

“That girl has more energy than you and I combined, brother.”

This was Charlie’s reaction to a friend asking about Jazzmyn’s demeanor, a statement I can’t help but agree with. Jazzmyn is just going. Wherever the destination is, she’s already ten steps ahead of you, and probably asking what you’ll be doing after you get there. For two guys who had been beaten down by the daily grind that Loretta’s unapologetically provides, it was almost too much. I think even Charlie was caught off guard, as he’s usually the one setting the pace when it comes to carefree living.

We wound up filming with Jazzmyn on a whim, which sounds a bit shallow, but truthfully we weren’t sure which female rider we wanted to profile. From the beginning, Charlie and I wanted to cover the women’s races, which naturally led us to including one of its participants in the video. The heavy hitters such as Jazzmyn, Hannah Hodges, Jordan Jarvis, and Tayler Allred were all in our minds for the video, certainly, but for some reason our guts said to go with Jazzmyn. And what do you know? She pulled off her first big bike championship at Loretta’s with one lap to go.

My mother always says, “It’s racing. Anything can happen.” When my chips are down, I never believe this. As Jazzmyn looked at a long-gone Hodges in moto 3 (the rider which she would need to pass to secure the championship), I turned to Charlie, whose spirits weren’t their usual dopamine-high self, and I said the same thing my mother always tells me.

“It’s racing. Anything can happen.”

The next lap, Hodges bike sputtered to a snail’s pace right in front of where Charlie and I were standing, and as Jazzmyn skated by, we were as shocked as anyone.

It’s unfortunate the title was decided like that, as racers we all hope for a fairly contested battle… but as much as nobody wants to suffer a mechanical, it is as much a part of racing as a bad start or a block pass, and Jazzmyn reaped the rewards of three excellent moto scores in an extremely raw and emotional finish, coupled with Hodges DNF and Jordan Jarvis’ heartbreak.

Jazzmyn embraced with her mother and father in the cool-down area, climbed the podium, and flexed her national no. 1 plate into the lens of my camera. For as often as things seem to fall apart in this wild world, sometimes it all just comes together. Isn’t that the whole reason we keep coming back?


9/15/19 – The video was done and rendered last week, September 6th, and I’m just now finishing this article. It isn’t my strongest written piece, but Charlie and I put a lot into the video, so I hope that can speak for itself. We had a lot of fun making it, we saw a bunch of old friends, made a few new ones, and even got to throw ourselves into the pavement in Nashville the day after the races ended, skating and biking up and down the hills of Tennessee. What a time. Until the next one.


Thanks to Mike Emery for the photo, and everyone who helped us along the way.

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