You can find the first three parts here...

Part 3
Part 2
Part 1

This is the second round, which was held in Norg, Holland. As always for the GPs we would arrive at the track on Friday in order to stake out a pit area, walk the track, get organized for the weekend, and have some time to relax. It was still early in the Spring (mid-April) and this far north it could still be pretty cool. This was the first time I had been to this particular Dutch sand track, but it was no different than most of the sand tracks in Holland. These tracks would typically start out in an open field and after the start the track would head into the woods where most of it would run until returning to the open start area for a few corners and straightaways. Then it would enter the woods again for another long lap, unseen by most spectators. This track was long, wide in some places, and pretty fast for the most part. Lap times were in the three-and-a0half minute range. As I walked the track on Friday it was smoothly graded and prepared in many places but a few of the deep sand, big roller sections were left unchanged. Graham and I were walking the track together as he was telling me how the track would develop throughout the race. It was going to be a rough one. We all went back to a hotel that Friday evening. Sometimes I would sleep at the track in Graham's mechanic’s (Francois Goffings) race truck, one of Honda’s motorhomes, our van or our pit tent. All the riders and mechanics have enclosed pit tents at the GPs because the pits are open to the spectators. This weekend I would have the comfort of a hotel.

Brad Lackey.

We arrived for practice early Saturday morning to a cold, overcast day. As I said early in my last article, there is so much practice time on Saturday and Sunday mornings before lining up for two 45 minute motos, that you can get a lot of seat time on the weekend. So much that we hardly ever practice more than one day a week. Sometimes when there is more travel time between GPs we don't practice at all. After my first time out on the track that morning I came in to have my Öhlins Shock (that I'd been using all season) changed to a Whitepower Shock. (Note, this is what they were called back in the day, and they've changed the name to the less controversial WP.) The guy from Whitepower (Hank Thesis) had been trying to talk me into trying it for a few weeks so I finally would on this practice. This wasn’t too difficult because I wasn’t totally happy with the Ohlin shock. I didn’t stay out long with the Whitepower shock because even though it did feel a lot better on the smaller bumps, it bottomed real bad on the big ones. There was no time to be testing it so Jeff (my mechanic) put the Öhlins back on. The Öhlins shock had just the opposite problem as it was good on the big hits but pretty harsh on the smaller bumps. I could live with that, especially on the sand tracks.

Andre Vromans.

The track was quickly getting rough and timed qualifying practice was coming up next. Towards the end of qualifying practice there were big sand whoops all the way down two fourth gear straightaways. These whoops were deeper than a rider’s head when he was on his bike. They were far apart, from top-to-top, too far to completely jump. The fast way down these straights was to jump from one whoop to the top of the next and so on, always jumping with the front end high so you could land with the rear wheel first and continue to drive off the whoop with full power. Otherwise you would come up short and land too deep into the face of the whoops, losing all your momentum. No one could double through them as they were too rough and far apart. In other parts of the track where the sand was not so soft the bumps were forming steeper and closer together. By the end of timed practice that day there was not a smooth line to be found anywhere on the entire track. After stopping and checking my times with Jeff, I knew I had qualified. I should have stopped then and conserved my energy but for some reason I went back out for some more laps. I guess I thought I could muster up some more speed for Sunday’s race. I got sideways off of a jump, swapped out and crashed over the bars. It was not a hard get off, the bike didn’t hit me and I landed in the soft sand and rolled. When I got up I noticed that I had sprained my right wrist a little. It didn’t seem too bad and being stubborn like I was I thought I’d better do another lap of two to make sure it was okay, and it was, it felt fine while I was riding. But after cooling off in the pits my wrist really started to hurt.

We arrived back at the hotel, showered and went downstairs to the restaurant. It was a typical smoky European restaurant. Then I noticed one of the top ten riders (Jack Van Velthoven) smoking a cigarette. I was surprised and said to him, Jack, I can’t believe it, why are you smoking. He was happy to tell me that it made him relax and sleep better the night before a race. I thought, "Wow, good for you."

By the time I went to bed my wrist was hurting pretty bad. It wasn’t even swollen but it hurt right in the joint. When I woke up the next morning I was surprised how bad it hurt. I couldn’t move it without pain. I couldn’t even put my thumb and finger together to pull my zipper up. I don't like to keep playing this hard luck card, but things were feeling pretty bleak. So far it's been a rough road with a lot of uncertainty and I was still trying to impress the Honda people and move up from privateer to getting some help from Honda of Japan. After the nightmare of last week when I didn’t even qualify, at this point it was do or die and I was beginning to worry that I wouldn’t even be able to race.

When I arrived at the track, I immediately found the Honda Team Doctor. Lucky for me he was an excellent taper. After examining my wrist he said it wasn’t broken, just sprained. He taped it up so much that it wouldn't even move. It was like I had a cast on. I went out to see if I was going to be able to ride and after a few easy laps I stopped in the mechanic’s area to speak to Jeff. I said I don’t think I can race. It really hurt and was hard to take my mind off of it. We sat there for a few minutes watching practice. After considering my options, which looked very depressing if I didn't race, I told Jeff, I’m going to try again. I started out easy and after a few laps I noticed that it hurt but it was not getting worse. I was feeling some hope coming back.

Regular practice was called in. The next and final practice would be timed practice for starting positions. Around the second lap of this timed practice a very uncommon thing happened...the shock spring broke. This was just a 30 minute timed practice that required at least five laps to qualify. I rushed back into the pits hoping to get it changed in time to get back out and make the mandatory minimum of five laps. After some nervous time in the pits Jeff managed to get me back out there in time to make the five laps. I knew I had made it into the program but I also knew that I wouldn't have a good time, and therefore I wouldn’t have a good gate pick. This is the final time any rider will be able to practice or even look at the track. The next time we go out it will be to line up and race. So at the end of this practice most of the riders would go to the starting line and practice starts. This particular start was on hard sand covered in grass, like a lawn. At this time all the factory riders had 500cc works bikes that were quite a bit faster than my stock 480 production bike, but fortunately for me, they couldn’t use all their power on this hard sand without wheelying. I noticed that the hard sand was a perfect match for my 480. I could use all the power right off the start and it hooked up perfectly without wheelying. That was my ace in the hole, another glimmer of hope.

By this time I was getting used to my wrist being taped and it didn’t even bother me anymore. With this cast-like taping job I couldn't rotate my wrist in order to turn the throttle. Instead I had to rotate my entire forearm. But at the same time something was changing in my mind. Looking back now I think all my focus was coming to the point of total concentration. I coined this phrase, "Total Flow Concentration," in my later years teaching motocross schools and producing motocross technique videos. It's a state of mind where one can stay totally, 100%, in each present moment. It is a commitment and concentration on the task at hand as it unfolds that cannot be distracted. There are different reasons one can be and stay in "Total Flow Concentration" and for me on this day circumstances brought me there. If only I could have gotten myself there every time I lined up on a starting gate! I wished! I remember what Jim Pomeroy's dad told him about wishing...he said wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up But I do want to mention that in the past five years I have discovered ways one can achieve this "Total Flow Concentration" state of mind through weekly mind-changing exercise. Practices that change one's subconscious, thought patterns and beliefs. It's not difficult to do but one has to have the willpower to practice every day over a long period of time in order to even begin to notice results. But that's a whole other story. For whatever reasons that brought me there that day, I was there!

The qualifying times came and I qualified in 22nd place. That was expected, but still discouraging. I ate a little bit and rested in our pit tent waiting for the first call to staging. At the GPs the organizers (as they were called in Europe) would call all the riders to staging. In staging there was a place for the 1st fastest from timed practice, the 2nd fastest, the 3rd fastest and so on all the way to the last rider, the 40th fastest in timed practice. Once all the riders were in staging or at least suppose to be there they would let them go to the line one after the other. When all the riders were on the line they would hold a 30 second card up. The card would go sideways and within five to ten seconds the gate would drop. The first call sounded for staging (air horn) and Jeff and I started getting ready. The riders were all starting to go to staging as I started to kick the 480 to life. I kick and kick but it wouldn’t start. Then Jeff tries and it still won’t start. Then I try some more and still nothing. I rest while Jeff puts in a new sparkplug. We take turns kicking some more but still nothing. I’m thinking this is crazy, it always started right up why not now. Pretty soon Jeff and I are the only people left in the pits. Everyone has gone to staging and all the spectators are in place to see the start. Jeff and I start pushing the 480 back and forth through the pits trying to bump start it and bring the engine to life. Finally it sputters, clears its throat and fires. I go straight to staging and arrive just in time to take my place on the line. Most of the 21 riders before me went to the inside and I got just to the outside of the middle, right where I wanted to be. The first 50 yards or so was still hard sand with some grass on top. This was all good for my production bike. This start went straight and then into a big left-hand sweeper and continued down a long straightaway until a sweeping right went into the woods. Not all the parts of the track had grass on top but they were hard, graded smooth sand and set up for a fast start.

After having trouble getting my bike started I was good and warmed up, on top of that I was mad. So mad that it made me determined to do well beyond any doubt. All the disappointments and hardships that I had been going through seemed to all well up inside me and come to a point. As I waited for the 30 second card to go sideways I focused on my ace in the hole, the start. I did just as I practiced in the practice starts earlier and came out of the gate with all the power that 480 had, it hooked up just right and I found myself going into the first sweeper in the lead. I left it wide open in fourth gear all the way around the sweeper and went down the next straightaway still in the lead. I made the right sweeper at the end of the straight and went into the woods still in the lead. As I went further into the woods, around this three-and-a-half minute course, I made a commitment to myself that I was going to go as fast as I possibly could and when I came out of the woods and back into the start clearing I would still be in the lead. I knew my conditioning was not good and I had 45 minutes to race, but at that point I didn’t care. I would jump out of the woods and into the infield still in the lead. As I went around the track I never even thought of looking back but I did notice that there were no other riders behind me, at least not close enough that I could hear them. Sure enough I made the first lap still holding the lead. Up to this point hardly anyone even knew who I was and there I was leading the GP as a privateer on a production bike. Once I got into the infield and saw Jeff cheering me on I took a quick look back and still didn’t even see anyone. After 15 minutes I still had a pretty good lead but as the adrenalin wore off and my poor conditioning started to set in my lead came under attack. For the rest of the 45 minute moto I had to pace myself and try not to make any mistakes or use anymore energy then necessary. I lost two places and fell back to third and guess who comes up on me next?  It was the cigarette smoker, Jack Van Velthoven. I tried as hard as I could all the way to the end of the moto and placed 6th.

When I got back to the pits I was completely exhausted. I had to get off my bike and go lay down with my feet up in the tent. I ate an energy bar and stayed in that position until it was time to go to staging for the second moto. I was already so tired I knew I would have to pace myself and ride as smooth as possible. I knew it would be a whole lot easier to get a good finish if I started in the front again so my race plan was to put my confidence in the start again and then pace myself to the finish. When the gate dropped I was first again but this time as we went into the woods the sand specialist and the eventual winner for the day (Andre Vromans) passed me for the lead. I stuck with my plan and rode as fast and smooth as possible to the end, trying to find even a few feet of a smooth line, but except for a couple very creative places, there were no smooth lines to be found. By this time you even had to stand through most of the corners because they were whooped out, too. I ended up 10th in the second moto. My sixth and tenth for the day was good for sixth overall. That put me in 10th place in the points standings. Remember, the cigarette smoker, Jack Van Velthoven?  He finished third overall with a third in each moto. I’m sure he didn’t smoke very often, probably just one un-inhaled cigarette the night before a race.

During this time Roger DeCoster was in his first year of being the team manager for American Honda but he was at this race. He came to our pit area to check us out. What a difference from last week when Honda of Japan's team manager walked away from me saying..."You no qualify, you no qualify."

After the race I was so exhausted that I couldn't stand for longer then a few minutes without getting dizzy and feeling like I was going to throw up. I left that race exhausted but very happy. I was going to be able to continue.

Here's a Youtube video with highlights of the race. The video isn't bad for those days but it mostly shows the smoother parts of the track near the start area. Too bad they don't show the big sand rollers I mentioned.

The next race was the following weekend in Sweden. We’re heading north...

Check back next month for Racing the 500 GPs part 5.
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