To properly tell the story of this photo, a little back-story is necessary. In the summer of 1980, Bernie, my oldest brother moved home from Dryden, Ontario with his wife to join the family business. With him he brought all his worldly belongings including his 1979 Suzuki RM-250, his toolbox and all the rest of the paraphernalia (his word, not mine) that goes along with the sport of motocross.
I was a tall skinny pre-pubescent 14-year-old motocross fanatic. I never rode motocross back then. I was riding trail bikes on dirt roads at that time. My own bike was a lovely 1976 Honda XL-125, but my dream was to have a real motocross bike and race just as my brothers did. In the spring of that year, Bernie, Jim and I were tasked with rebuilding the sauna at the cabin, which had burned to ground the previous summer. It takes about a half hour to get to the cabin by car and it is a terrible drive that was hard on equipment. A dirt bike in the right hands could get to the cabin in less time by taking trails and logging roads, so it was my job to be the go-between guy riding the dirt bike. I guess Bernie thought it might save time if I could go faster so he planted my ass on the seat of that monster RM-250. It was a dream come true.
Riding the RM-250 to the cabin was the most amazing thing for a kid my age and I was not at all throttle shy. The bike had way more horsepower than anything I had ever driven and when you consider a power-to-weight ratio, it was more power than most anybody would ever experience. I could make the 10-mile trip to the cabin in about 15 minutes and Bernie and Jim could probably hear me from the lakeshore for half that time. Braaaaaap, Braaaaaaaap!
So that was it—I skipped the whole 125-cc class, and went right to the 250s and I felt like a big-shot, that I was better than the other kids my age because I rode the big bikes. I later bought that bike from Bernie for $700 and rode it and raced in 1981. I still didn't understand motocross all that well, but I was learning fast. In 1982, I bought a brand new Yamaha YZ-250—I was a 250 guy after all! Having the new Yamaha really gave me a superiority complex. Not only was it a 250, it was the new YZ, loaded with new technology like YPVS, linkage rear suspension, liquid cooling etc. The problem was though, as high-tech as that bike was, it was still a big overweight, ill handling monster of a motorcycle. I was committed to it though. I was too big for my britches and I would never admit I had a junker and I tried for all I was worth to ride that beast fast. I raced it quite a few times the first summer and a bit the following year until it had a breakdown.
When that Yamaha broke down, I borrowed a 1982 Honda CR-125 from my friend Richard Switzer. I was a big shot 250 guy, but I decided to make the sacrifice and step down to the 125s for a day and it was a day that changed everything for me. When riding the 250, I was quick I could ride almost as fast as Jim, about as fast as Pat and faster than most other kids I rode with. A half hour on that 125 and I was passing Jim and setting my sights on Bernie. I was never going to catch him, but the writing was on the wall - a 250-guy I was no more.
This happened in the spring of '83, when school was still in and I was in Grade 12. Bernie caught the Honda bug and went to see Chuck Arpin of Pinewood sports who would visit Atikokan every week with a trailer load of bikes and accessories for sale. While picking out his brand new CR-250, Bernie spied a 1983 CR-125 that Chuck only wanted $1,500 for. It had been stolen from his lot and recovered a few weeks later with a worn out rear tire and sprocket. Bernie dragged me down to the bank where he cosigned another loan and the two of us went to the pits that day with 1983 Hondas.
The new Honda 125 changed everything for me. It was as if I had suddenly learned how to ride. I loved the feel of a 125; loved how light it was and how easy it was to throw around. I loved my new-found speed and endurance. I loved how you could rev it to the moon and I loved all the shifting. I raced in the senior class that year and I was winning races. In the first couple races of the year I came in second due to bad starts but once I started winning, I won every time.
The event of the year was going to be the hometown race at Charleston and that is where this picture was taken. It is what this story is about. Bernie organized the race and built the track, the town sponsored it and put up prize money. It was CMA sanctioned so it was a points race and we attracted racers, not just from Thunder Bay, but from Winnipeg and Dryden too. The starting gate would have more riders than I had ever seen. I couldn't ride the track before the race, but this was home turf and I was going to win this race no matter what.
A typical race day consists of a practice and two motos. I was fit and ready to take on anybody. During practice I got to know the track and I could see Bernie giving me hand signals telling me I was so many seconds faster than someone but I was not exactly sure what he meant. Afterward he told me I was 4 seconds a lap faster than Shane Drew. Shane was the fastest guy in our region. He was in the Expert class and I was Senior and to know I was turning faster laps than him was sublime.
In the first moto, I got my typical bad start, not horrible, just bad. The seniors and experts start together so it was hard to know what position I was in. I was brimming with confidence, I knew this terrain better than anybody and I was destined to win the moto but there was some drama. Allan Legacy, who was also Senior, passed me like I was standing still, I was shocked at how fast he was going, but I played it smart. I rode my pace and started pegging off one rider after another, working my way up to the front. I surmised that there was no way that Allan Legacy could maintain that pace without going down and I was right, a few turns after he passed me, he rolled himself into a steaming ball. The moto was mine to win and I did win and I finished nearly a full lap ahead of second place.
The lap time that day was about two minutes and the moto was 20 minutes plus a lap so I completed one full lap more than my nearest competitor. Todd Morrissette was my main competition that year and he got the checker flag before me and was credited with the race win. I had to notify the lap counters of their error and also talked to Todd about it, and he reassured me that he knew who won the moto. The error was soon corrected and I was able to relax and watch the rest of the races. My brother Pat was racing 250-Senior and from my recollection, he dominated his moto riding his Honda CR-480.
So all I had to do now to get the big prize money was to win the second moto and I was really confident now. The race started and I was a few riders back from the lead but it was not going to take very long to move to the front. I passed a couple guys and caught up to second place who was likely Todd Morrisette. I had him in my sights, I knew exactly where I was going to get him, the faster you go into a turn the faster you come out, I twisted the throttle and held it on longer than Todd and knifed to the inside and bang! That was the end of the race for me. I didn't crash, I didn't make a mistake nor did Todd, my front sprocket fell off - I suffered a mechanical.
The big bald man in the red shirt is my dad. He was not a motocross fan was but he certainly was for that day. He could not understand how I could be so careless as to not tighten the countershaft sprocket bolt and he certainly shared his thoughts as only he could.
Standing off the to far right in the white shirt with his hand on his face is Bernie, my mentor, my coach, my biggest supporter looking nearly as devastated as me.
In the plaid shirt is a lifelong friend Jim Desauliners who just stopped by to see what the fuss was about.
Also in the picture is a couple other fellow racers. The red-headed guy in the blue jacket is probably Mike Dowd. The race is still on and his buddy is now winning, so he is going back to watch.
The picture is grainy and lacks detail but it captures the body language and to anybody else it is just an old photo, but to me it was huge moment in my life. I am standing there with my hands on my hips furious with myself, wishing there was a do-over button.
I ended up getting fourth place overall that day and my brother Jim got first with a pair of fourth place finishes, I guess it was not only me that had a bad day. I told Jim that he should be sharing that prize money with me and anybody who knows Jim will know how that went over. I never did hear the end of it— I am sure I was just joking Jim!
The Atikokan race was on Saturday and Sunday was another special event race in Murillo near Thunder Bay. Sunday morning I was still down in the dumps. I had no plans of racing. I was going to wallow in self pity all day long but Kim Hoode showed up for breakfast at Quetico North and gave me a pep talk. Pat and I went downstairs and with a big pry-bar we dislodged the sprocket from the swingarm and bolted it back onto the countershaft with a healthy drop of red Loctite for insurance. As fast as we could, we loaded our stuff and drove off to the races where I had a much better day, winning both motos and beating quite a few of the experts too. Kim Hoode and I raced the same moto, he was Expert, I was Senior and I remember pulling back into the pits just as he was removing his helmet and asking him how he did. "I got first" he said. "Me too" I said.