That title got your attention, didn’t it? Let me be more specific: I hate (as in can’t watch) a specific sort of motorcycle racing. I love motorcycle racing, except when kids are doing it. When a stadium motocross is broken up (too often literally) with a bunch of 8-year-olds plodding around a motocross track, smashing into each other and the track obstacles, I have to be somewhere else. I can’t watch. Likewise, I can’t watch movie torture scenes, horror movies of any sort, much of anything by Disney or Lucasfilm, and romantic or sex scenes that last longer than a handshake. I’m a lightweight, I admit it.
This isn’t a new thing for me. I have never liked any of the big three of what we call “organized sports” for little kids: Pop Warner football, Little League baseball, or youth hockey. Motorcycle racing for little kids combines everything that is dangerous and useless in all of those sports into one injury-plagued, little-league-Dad-hyped, emergency-room-filling sport. I did not encourage my kids to ride motorcycles or play any organized sports, although I have always been a sports fan. Neither of my daughters or my grandson have been inspired to ride a motorcycle (although my oldest daughter is seriously considering a scooter this summer), but they have all been involved in a variety of sports: skateboarding, cross-country and marathon running, triathlons, baseball, and archery. If they’d have expressed an interesting in motorcycle racing, I’d have recommended they get serious about bicycling and, once they were good enough on self-powered two-wheels, we’d talk about a motorcycle. So far, bicycles have been more than enough two-wheeling for all of my kids and I’m fine with that. Motorcycling is not for everyone. Motorcycle racing is for hardly anyone.
Kids find enough ways to bang themselves up without having some nutball parent urging them to do dumber, more dangerous stuff to fill in the spaces in Dad’s sadly unfulfilled life. No body needs to see good-‘ole-dad raging at some pimpled-up teenage kid who was foolish enough to play referee at one of those half-pint gladiator events. The only life-lesson to take away from most little kid sporting events is that most people should not be allowed to reproduce; that goes double for the infamous little league dads. They shouldn’t even be allowed to watch other people reproduce.
When kids like Peter Lenz (13), Jake Wilson (5), and ,even, Darrel Davis (16) and Oscar McIntyre (17) are pushing the limits of sanity, I’m not into watching it. I’m not trying to say they shouldn’t be allowed to race and risk their lives. I’m just saying I don’t want to watch. I don’t like seeing anyone get hurt on a race track, but I’m just not up for seeing kids hurt . . . period. I don’t watch races for the crashes, I watch racing for the passes, for the battles in the corners, and for the strategy. I don’t want to see anything more exciting than a low-side that results in a racer sliding harmlessly into the gravel runoff and, at most, harmlessly bumps into the air fence.
About ten years back, when I was producing a cable show called “Motorcycling Minnesota,” I took my grandson to the Dome to watch a Supercross. Ricky Carmichael was on top of his game and the cast of characters who pushed him to AMA Hall of Fame status were on hand. The first heats were terrific and we were enjoying our great press booth seats and the free food and booze when the half-time “entertainment” turned out to be a couple dozen kids pretty close to my grandson’s age riding tiny minibikes around part of the pro course. The whoops amounted to large hillclimbs for some of those kids and the course was excessively difficult for the majority of the kids. They high-centered at the top of the whoops and fell over, they nose-dived into the troughs and fell over, they crashed into each other and a couple of kids crawled off of the course in obvious pain and likely injuries. Dads were incensed and a couple of kids got yelled at for crying after crashing. After thirty years of loving motocross, I lost my taste for the sport. Neither I or my grandson have thought twice about going back for another Supercross event since.
Kids don’t need to start early to be great at most sports. There are exceptions, like gymnastics and . . . I can’t think of any others, but for every “I got into ____when I was four and went on to be world champion” story there are 10,000 “by the time I was nine I hated ____ and hung up my helmet/shoes/skates/bat/hat for the last time” sad tales. For every Valentino Rossi (his failed racer dad started him on karts and motorcycles when he was 8 and put him on a motorcycle racetrack at 11) there are a half-dozen Bob “Hurricane” Hannah’s who said, “My father was against racing. He did not mind me riding, but at the same time he didn’t want me getting hurt. So I never raced until I was 18 years old and living on my own.”
For more than a year, the AMA peppered me with press releases about how we motorcyclists needed to campaign Congress to overturn the 2009 ban on lead in kids’ toys, which included the batteries and other components in motorcycles made for kids. I even took a little editorial heat about consistently finding “more important” things to report in All the News. Sorry, I can’t give a damn about manufacturers having difficulty selling crippling “toys” to kids. I think they deserve all the political expense, legal liability, and moral suffering they experience for those products. Eventually, crazy heads won the day and kids were back on their “donor machines,” but at least I didn’t make a contribution.
In 1988, in an article titled “Controversies about intensive training in young athletes” a pair of British doctors argued, “Young athletes are not just smaller athletes, and they should not become sacrificial lambs to a coach’s or parent’s ego.” To put a fine point on that statement, “young athletes” are our children and should be allowed to be kids without the pressure of imagining themselves to be the future of a sport or their parents’ retirement plan. Even more important, if you expect me to pay big money to attend a sporting event, do not torture me with a gladiator kids event at half-time. I’ll take a gymnastic display of cheerleaders over gutted and busted-up kids anytime.
Postscript: When my wife and I were exploring New Mexico during the hellish winter of 2013-14, we met a couple of nice ladies from Idaho who were forced to tolerate us while we were all iced in at Whites City near Carlsbad Cavern. One of those young women, Whitney, could barely use her right hand because it had been mangled in an off-road mini-motorcycle crash when she was 8 years old. She was not a motorcycle fan. While we were on the Carlsbad elevator, she and I were talking about how stupid motorcycle racing is for little kids and a guy on the elevator said, “I raced motorcycles when I was a kid. Didn’t hurt me none.”
I was surprised and said, “Really. Do you still race?”
“Fuck no. I’m not crazy.”
He went on to tell us about all of the injuries he suffered while his dad pretty much forced him to race until he was so beat up it was obvious he would never be any sort of MX champion. While he continued to insist that motorcycling racing didn’t do any permanent damage, he absolutely forbade his young son from even thinking about racing motorcycles or even riding one until he left home.