I threw my motocross race bike, a 100cc Hodaka Super Rat, into a left-side power slide at 30 mph. My spinning wheels spun a cloud of dust on the dirt field as I tried to edge ahead of my best friend, Steve Craig, on his Super Rat in a parallel slide just inches away from me. My left foot dragged slightly in the dirt to maintain control as my adrenaline pounded. I kept my throttle wide open in a fourth gear controlled slide. If I slowed down, my bike would violently pitch me into Steve, taking both of us down.
A hard part of learning to race is ignoring other riders around you. The first few times I went into a curve with another racer close to me, I swerved away and crashed. After that, I decided other bikers knew what they were doing and wouldn’t dare crash into me and lose the race. Realizing other bikers wanted to win as bad as I, my fear of being inches away from them at high speed disappeared and I charged full speed every minute on the track. That started me on a path to winning races. Sure, I had my share of spills, all bikers do, from racers to street bikes. That’s just part of the game.
Craig and I practiced on a racecourse called Rabbit Run. Our friends let bikers use their property in North Dallas. We spent this summer of 1972 between high school and college racing for adrenaline rushes every chance we had.
I parked Dad’s week-old Blazer about 50 yards from a creek bed and unloaded my bike from a trailer. A friend, Steve Zeringue, stayed in the air-conditioned jeep to watch Craig and I practice. We were not on a racetrack per se, just ruts and shredded grass we created through ditches and weeds. My favorite part was where we went down, across, up, and out of a ten-foot deep dry creek as fast as possible. At the wide creek, I slowed enough to stay grounded while going down and across the creek bed. On the far side, I twisted to full throttle and raced up the incline to gain plenty of airtime. We fought for an exit on the far side where our constant use had cut a two-foot groove that kept the front wheel down, resulting in a fun long jump. Missing the rut forced the front wheel and bike to fly dangerously vertical.
Craig and I stayed neck and neck for 15 minutes at top speed with motors screaming. We traded leads through woods, across fields, along creek beds, and through the air. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stay ahead of him. Though a clear helmet face mask kept the dust out of my face, it also trapped stifling air around my head, causing sweat to pour down my face. I shook my head to keep sweat out of my eyes. As we approached the dry creek, I pushed harder. I raised my front wheel and flew halfway across the creek hitting with a jolt while standing on my footpegs and holding onto the handlebars. So did Craig. He landed in front of the rut. I twisted to full throttle, trying to cut in front of him, but he held steady and hit the rut fast enough for a 15-foot long jump. I, on the other hand, missed the groove and flew up the side bank, hitting the vertical slope at the top. I shot almost straight up in the air and looked down at the top of a nearby 20-foot tall tree. The height didn’t bother me, but the handlebars rose over my helmet, threatening to go into a fatal backflip. Time to bail. I shoved the handlebars forward and let go, causing the front tire to level out. My Super Rat landed on both wheels simultaneously and kicked up a cloud of dust. Meanwhile, I dropped onto both feet and rolled to a stop. Being a gymnast saved me again.
Racing motorcycles are highly tuned and balanced machines with a center of gravity low at engine level. I looked at my bike and to my surprise, the Super Rat kept rolling in a straight line. Right toward the Blazer. I watched it in horror. Zeringue saw the bike rolling toward his door at 20 mph. He scrambled out the far door just as my bike hit the near door, wham, and fell onto the ground. The engine screamed until I ran over and shut it off. I took my helmet off and threw it on the ground. Both Craig and Zeringue walked up and stared at a twelve-inch dent in the side door and started laughing.
“What’s your Dad gonna do, Gordon?”
“He’s gonna kill me.”
“I think your racing days are over.”
They kept laughing, giving me a hard time about this most unusual “accident.”
“What are you going to tell him?”
“I don’t know.” I picked up my Super Rat and inspected it for damages. “Slightly bent shocks are the only problem. Help me straighten them out.”
My buddies held my bike steady while I pulled the shocks straight. At least I didn’t have to pay for damages to my tough Australian motorcycle.
"Thanks, guys. Want to go home with me and back up my story?"
“No way,” they said with a laugh. “You’re on your own.”
“I better go. No telling when I’ll see you again. Adios.”
I carefully drove Dad’s Blazer home, not wanting another wreck. I parked it in the driveway next to Dad’s parking space and waited for him to come home. What would he say? Nothing good. His moods were usually bad from fighting rush hour traffic. His brand new hunting jeep. I moaned. Probably $400 to $500 for bodywork. A month's salary. Even worse, I couldn't go to next weekend’s big race if he cut me off the Blazer. Who knew a motorcycle kept going when you fell off? And it didn't even hurt my bike. What a lousy day.
A while later he pulled into the driveway. He got out of his car and walked to the Blazer for an inspection. His mouth dropped open.
“Gordon, did you have a wreck?” he yelled.
“Not with another car.”
“Then how did that big dent get in my new Blazer?”
“My motorcycle hit it.”
I told him the story and hung my head, waiting for punishment as his face turned red.
"Okay, you're paying for the bodywork."
“And you’re walking for a week.”
“But the race is next weekend.”
"Not in my car."
"Yes, sir." I’d have to find someone to take my bike.
His face twisted into a scowl. He shook his head and stormed inside the house.
My sister Margaret ran out and asked, “Why is Dad so mad?”
I pointed at the Blazer and said, “I hit it with my bike.”
She fell to the ground and rolled laughing for several minutes. “You’re dead meat.”
That day I learned to stay in the ruts and not park a car anywhere near a motorcycle racetrack. Preferably behind trees.