Writing

The Hill: MERP Study (Rd. 1)

Jumpstarting a racing series is a mountain of backbreaking work, almost guaranteed to go awry at some point - yet everyone I spoke to already knew that. This is an independent study on insanity from "The Hill" in Ohio.

It is entirely possible that I, from this point forward noted as “this reporter,” had become incubated by the system. The doldrums beating in unison with the punchcard clock. Counting sheep proved too difficult with open eyes, so instead the practice shifted. How many thoughts could enter and exit an unattended conscious? A change of pace was prescribed from the folks at MERP (Mideast GP Racing Promotions), but escape was only accessible via interstate, where even the quietest of minds find their voices and scream.

Six hours later, this cumbersome spell was lifted through field study at Beans MX in Dennison, Ohio, where a deafening hum had been replaced with acute sounds of men at work. The rapping of hammers against wooden stakes. Plastic banners unfurling in the breeze. A tractor purring in the distance. Conversation with those who had initiated this study interrupted the symphony.

Steve Leggett had a hand in other racing series before the Mideast GP’s, aka MERP, came to life this past winter. He was also sure to note that there were three Steve’s on the property at any given moment. Steve, Steve’s father, and Steve’s son-in-law. They were addressed as Steve, Grandpa Leggett, and Steve-O, respectively. Grandpa Leggett was a pro in the 1980’s, “before riders were paid with real money.” Grandpa won a truck once.

JR needed help holding a tape measure, a request immediately obliged by this reporter. He smiled, then nodded. A handful of tasks were completed in succession, with customary downtime splitting the schedule, the amount of which varied, but none were met without the audible flick of a lighter. “JR is a legend,” the camp unanimously mused. He smokes Pall Mall’s.

JR.

Brandon Leggett, Steve’s son, met Jack Bierbower some years ago. Jack is comparatively reserved and calculated. Brandon is all about action, a trait exemplified in the Leggett lineage via the uncanny ability to inspire conversation amongst all walks of life. Stories of people, places, locations, and events completely foreign to this reporter were relayed on end, in a warm and welcome way. In the meantime, the course was re-routed to avoid potential water developing near the property’s culvert.

Brandon.
Jack, speaking with Steve.

Grandpa Leggett unwound his body on a picnic table near sign-up, speaking with JR and Steve-O’s wife, Courtney. Overheard in passing, he opined, “What do I think? I think this is the best thing in the world. I don’t care if only one stinking person shows up.” Jack returned, interjecting with hope that more than one person would show. Steve’s wife, Tammy, configured scoring in the background. Courtney offered pizza to all who had offered their time to the cause. Too many to name kept the buzz alive until there was simply no time left to work.

Grabbing a camera bag, a snack, and a bottle of water, this reporter drew action in the woods following the opening laps of the day, perched atop a mossy tree stump and shielded by a paper thin band of plastic tape. It was bright yellow. The beginner class would soon be making its way up a formidable Hill, the final “off-course” obstacle that led competitors out of the shady wilderness and towards the more inviting motocross circuit. A few shots were popped off, settings adjusted. Angle re-alignment. Flash check: in-operational.

Then, abruptly, a cry for help. Then another. Soon even more were coming from the bottom of the massive incline. Scanning near and far to assess who to assist first, a man just beyond the ticker tape was granted refuge.

“Are you alright? Do you need water?”

“Nah, I’m all good. Thanks. Just need to take a break.”

The weathered Monster Claw on his shroud glared back, signifying that this brand new YZ250f was no longer brand new. He had been on the bike before, he quickly clarified, but it was also not his first race of the season. It was his first race ever. His commitment to soldier on hinted that it wouldn’t be his last.

“Kons was quiet and reserved from his infancy with the English language. Back on The Hill, his voice gained more confidence.”

50 feet up the trail, the next victim. Konstantiwos Knostawta, a Greek man who had only 6 months ago made the move west, now found himself sliding down the face of a slippery slope in the foothills of the Appalachians. Identification was only possible via pre-moto recognizance in the paddock. “Kons” surveyed the competition silently in his Valentino Rossi cap. Bold 46 on the front. Classy bifocals pushed against his face. He glossed over a fleet of Yamaha’s, your reporter’s being one amongst them. Kons was quiet and reserved from his infancy with the English language, yet still generous with his compliments. Back on The Hill, his voice gained more confidence.

“This piece of shit won’t start!”

Being that Kons weapon of choice was a 2003 Honda CRF450r, finding the hot-start lever was paramount to getting him out of the battlefield. Unfortunately, a hot start would be no match against the deadly combination of awkward incline, greasy work boots, and a cock-eyed kickstart lever. He rode the tow rope all the way back to base.

Konstantiwos, triumphant after returning for battle once again in the afternoon. His bike finally started.

At the bottom of The Hill, a bloodbath. Bikes and riders flying each and every direction. The previous afternoon’s re-route had proved inconsequential, as knobbies churned up every last bit of clay into muck, desperately clinging to any semblance of traction before being swallowed into a bed of water that lied unsuspectingly beneath the surface. When riders met with the technical off-camber turn shortly after, which then fed them to The Hill, it turned a routine right-hander into a fight for survival.

Some chose to attack this section with brute force, a heavy hand on the throttle, kamikaze-style. The “anti K-Dub,” if you will. This technique worked about half of the time, so long as another rider didn’t impede the progress of a kamikaze-er. Well, another rider, or a tree.

“The ‘strategists’ knew that a good shot at The Hill was critical, as being stuck on The Hill was even worse than being stuck at the bottom.”

Others took a more zen approach, opting to meditate on their decision before making the ultimate choice. The “strategists” knew that a good shot at The Hill was critical, as being stuck on The Hill was even worse than being stuck at the bottom. Most who traversed this way found success, but a poor few would wait too long for it to have truly made a difference.

Nonetheless, this melting pot of riding styles and attitudes created an ear-piercing atmosphere only navigable by instinct. People yelling, engines revving, tires spinning, chains slapping, brakes squealing. An absence of the camera’s shutter accompanied by a dead battery symbol offered a permanent shift in motives for the moment, and it was then that a rider’s voice was carried across this wall of sound. The message was unintelligible, in need of a second reading to ensure critical information wasn’t missed.

“WHAT!? ARE YOU GOOD?”

“I SAID ‘YO, ECHO! ARE YOU READY MAN!?'”

With an understanding smile and a pat on the back, the unknown trooper was lifted over a nasty, traction-less root and onto drier pastures. His identity remains a mystery. The camera and journal your reporter carried were swapped for a helmet and hydropak not long after the chance encounter.

A different unidentified rider altogether, who managed to summit The Hill with his beastly CR500 unscathed, only to fall on assistance from Steve-O at the finish line while Grandpa Leggett spectated. He and his steed would eventually complete the melee.

In this conclusive field study, it’s quite apparent that motorcycle people posses what can only be described as an unhealthy behavioral addiction, one that is often left untreated and ignored by both the victims themselves and society at large, as the onset symptoms are well-obscured from common observation. Hoards of dusty magazines tucked away in a linen closet. Unsupervised consumption of digital videotape steeped in two-wheeled mayhem, its minutiae debated needlessly. A private garage or detached living space far and away from prying eyes, housing the thousands, if not, tens of thousands of dollars invested in their disease, concealed under garments. Further protected by blackout curtains and deadbolt locks. Banners and posters, tattered and torn. A battered refrigerator sits idle in the corner, spared from the landfill only by its inheritance of countless little stickers, each with their own individual significance and given meaning. It is the insular sanctuary of a man who has left the functional world behind in favor of his own, and in this world there is no class, nor occupation, nor abject responsibility under which men are made to suffer. There are only motorcycles and those who ride them.

Special thanks to Jack Bierbower, Abbey Johnson, and everyone at MERP for their commitment to racing. Visit mideastgpracing.com for more information on how to join the madness at one of three remaining events.

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