Since 2000, Roost BMX and VintageBMX.com have organized a gathering in conjunction with the ABA Midwest Nationals in Rockford Illinois. The Cobras Local 77 posse was rolling deep for the Rockford 04 adventure with a crew that consisted of the following: Phil Rase, Solan Foster, JR Broham, Sean Rakos and me, ST. We left nearly on schedule at 7-something Friday AM. We had a U Haul trailer full of bikes and an Expedition full of big dudes. I was the small guy of the trip at 5'11" and 195. JR was at the other end of the scale at 6'6" and proportionately weighing in. Everyone else is six foot plus. Lumberjacks?
We stopped once for gas and were making great time. I suggested we stop to ride "Creekside", a ghetto asphalt skatepark under a bridge in Battle Creek. Sean and I stopped there a year ago and we ended up at the hospital for two hours after Sean hit his head, broke into hives and couldn't breathe. Scary. We had a good session and rode the sketchy vert ramp. This trip was about riding and it felt good to get some done so soon into the trip.
A quick stop at the bike shop to get parts and a slow stop at burger king for burgers of the meatless and meaty variety and we were back on track. Still making good time with the goal of getting to Rockford in time to sign up and race the Friday pre-race seeming realistic.
I called Jeff Venekamp as we entered Indiana and suggested that we meet at an off-ramp instead of coming to his house, but Jeff mentioned that his youngest son Cullen was very excited to show me that he could now ride without his training wheels and I made the decision for everyone. We had to stop.
On the way to Jeff's from the highway we spotted an old hearse with a thumb's up Jesus in the rear window. Funny. We, that is, I, destroyed the bathroom at the Venekamp's, watched Cullen and Jeffrey get busy on their bikes and we returned to the highway. I was tired and Solan volunteered to drive. After what seemed to me like a few minutes, I awakened and asked "Are we still in Indiana?" I had been asleep for over an hour. The rest of the trip was punishingly slow but we finally made it. We were too late to race but we got everyone signed up. Sean had never ever raced before and here he was shelling out $90 to race a National for his first go-round. Phil started racing a few years ago at 33, but always raced in the cruiser class, which is super competitive. This time he signed up for 20-inch novice. Solan signed up for the ultra-crazy 28-35 expert class and I signed up for cruiser. As I was helping Sean get figured out I decided I should race expert as well. I justified the added cost because all of us would then have 20 inch licenses and be able to race locally together.
A year ago the highlight of the trip was riding the Pit skatepark in Rockford, but we were told the Pit was now closed. Solan and Sean did some research and made some calls and we were stoked to learn the Pit is still open (only until July though) so after me freaking out trying to find the damn place (it's about a mile from the track), we got our second skatepark session on. We were the only old guys there until Bill from Minnesota showed up to join us. We had a super fun time and it sucks that the place is closing. Solan witnessed teen sex acts in the parking lot while changing a flat and we all developed an appetite for Slurpees. 'Nuff said.
Saturday morning arrived painfully early but we were all fired up to get to the track in time for our 6:50 AM (!) practice (except JR as he wasn't racing). Practice was good and we all got in some laps. Since I was racing cruiser I got a second practice session and really started feeling good on the track. We all ride a lot but racing is a different story. There are six other guys all going full speed and trying to take each other out. At the skatepark, you go fast enough to clear a box jump or a gap or whatever, but you usually aren't pedaling as fast as you can possibly go, downhill, with other guys doing the same thing inches away. Racing is gnarly.
After practice we are chilling out, messing with our bikes, etc. and Jeff calls. He's at the hotel and due to extreme back pain, can't get out of bed. We unhook the trailer and JR and I take off for the hotel, which is on the other side of town. To make matters worse, as we get on the main strip, the power is out and the traffic lights are not working. We finally make it to Jeff, give him some Aleve and water and try to get him going. He starts to come around and JR rides with Jeff in case he needs a driver or help. I left so I could get back in time to race. Two years ago I missed my first moto and then my quarter final and I will never hear the end of it (I was busy talking, give me a break). So five minutes after I leave Jeff and JR, my wife calls and says in a shakey voice "What does it feel like when you tear the cartilage in your knee?" Then proceeds to cry. My wife, who was home alone with the dogs 400 miles away, had fallen down the stairs and was stuck in the basement. I couldn't believe it, especially after what had just transpired with Jeff. I calmly told her where the hospital was and tried to calm her. Unbelievable.
I called back a few minutes later and she had calmed down and more importantly, was okay. She isn't used to getting hurt all the time like the rest of us who ride bikes are.
I made it back with plenty of time to spare and was psyched to race. My cruiser moto was the first of our crew and I headed up and got ready. As I entered staging, I noticed that almost every single person was running clipless pedals. I already knew it would be that way, but clips are the lamest thing to ever happen to BMX racing. You can pedal faster but clips are dangerous and just dumb. The sanctioning bodies are to blame for ever allowing them in the first place, but I simply hate the whole idea. Clips are for roadbikes and should stay there. Anyway, I get a good start from the middle of the gate but a kook from the outside lane cuts all the way over to the inside lane and back to the middle, effectively stopping all the competition. Can you imagine a dude, almost 40 years old, who is so serious about winning a bike race that he will intentionally cut off everyone on the track, totally endangering the whole pack, just so he can win? This same jackass also does stuff like back-pedal right before the gate drops to distract those next to him. A couple years ago at this same race I vividly recall another racer wanting to fight this dude after some equally cowardly and dirty tactics.
I felt the same way. If it sounds like I'm mad that I got beat, I'm not. I don't race that often and frankly, I'm just not that competitive. I'm mad because someone like this makes something that should be fun, something that I have loved my whole life-this guy makes it more dangerous and not fun and he sucks for that. It was that kind of crap that made me quit racing in the first place, but at least that was in the Pro Class where it is more justified. That first moto pretty much set my mood for the rest of the day.
Despite my crummy attitude, it was funny helping Sean and Phil get ready. They were like little kids and it ruled. Before Sean's first race I had to put my bike and gear down and run up to get him into the right moto. Sean crashed while going for the lead in his very first moto which is awesome (he wasn't hurt). Phil got third and Solan was riding good. I got a super good start in my expert moto but couldn't hang. I won the second cruiser moto and qualified. Solan ran up to watch Sean make it out and let me know, then Phil made it, then Solan won his moto. I was so happy that those guys had done so well that I didn't even want to race my second expert moto. I might as well not have raced, because I got my ass kicked, but it was fun jumping all the doubles. I love riding BMX-I guess I should try to go faster.
I placed fifth in my cruiser quarter final and was done for the weekend. I slammed a High Life and poured some Jack Daniels from Jeff's cooler and decided that I was done racing BMX. What a bitter bastard!
Sean and Phil went straight to the mains while Solan had a semi. Solan was carving hard in qualifying position when he got his second flat tire of the weekend. I was so bummed for him because Solan loves racing and is so fast. His enthusiasm is the reason I even want to race in the first place.
At this point I finally made it over to the vintage bike area and voted for the nicest bikes and whatnot. I love old BMX bikes and I'm proud to be a BMX nerd. I wish I had (or took) more time to talk to everyone and BS about bikes, but I guess I'm too busy doing something else. Dudes probably think I'm a dick. I'm sorry.
I was so fired up to watch Sean and Phil race their mains. We were all jumping up and down and screaming for them. They each ended up in fourth place in their respective classes and it kicked ass. The ABA ran out of trophies and have to mail Sean's to him. Phil, on the other hand, strong-armed them into giving him some brass to take home. Phil is the best.
I was pretty trashed by the time we left and rode with Jeff so we could make a stop before attending the VintageBMX.com banquet. I needed clown makeup and that isn't easy to find in June. The interaction I had with a Special Needs employee of K mart was probably more comical than my clown outfit, but that's another long-winded tale.
We showed up late for the banquet and being fashionably late when you're dressed in full bozo regalia isn't that cool. I was sedated enough to make it to the podium where I made an ass of myself and introduced BMX legend Greg Hill, who narrated a slideshow that was sincere, honest, funny and heartfelt. I almost wept clown tears.
I cut myself off and we left for some parking lot pit-bike antics. Big Jim from Cleveland almost took himself out, Solan flew around the makeshift course and then the rent a cop rained on our parade. We were over it anyway and called it a night.
We left Sunday and made good time, even with a slightly out of the way stop at the weird cement skatepark in Dowagiac, Michigan, were we confirmed our sun-burns and had a fun session. Even with that stop and NASCAR traffic we still made it home in three hours less time than the trip there. We were all sun-burned and tired but we never stopped laughing. No one got hurt, everyone rode a lot and Phil and Sean made the Cobras proud. We're all ready to race again tooâ€¦even me.