Picking up from my last blog, I had launched off the gate for the first moto in Sittendorf, Austria. I started in the top five and soon found myself locked in a battle with André Malherbe and Graham Noyce, the two Honda Factory Riders. Remember, this was the first race Mr. Senior Honda had attended in order to find out how André and Graham's results could be improved. Well, he is witnessing both of his riders not being able to pass a privateer on a production Honda for fourth place. Earlier, I did hear that Senior Honda would be attending the rest of the GPs and the purpose of his visit, but to me that was more motivation to do well.

The 40-minute plus two lap moto was going on for a long time and Andre, Graham, and myself remained in the same positions. Mr. Senior Honda had positioned himself in the middle of the track's infield at the end of a straightaway to watch the race and give chalkboard signals to his two riders. I didn't know it at the time but he was accurately giving the chalkboard signals to me. Every lap they read, "Let Andre By," but I never read them. Sure I saw this guy standing there with the chalkboard (I couldn't miss him) but I didn't know who he was or why he was there. I was in race mode only reading my mechanic's board, who was on a different part of the track, in the mechanic's area.

At some point in the moto, about 20 minutes in, Andre passed me only to put Graham right behind me who was also desperately trying to pass. With only several laps to go Graham finally made the pass. For just about the entire moto, this guy, (Senior Honda) was standing there with his chalkboard. I don't remember where Andre finished but Graham and I finished 5th and 6th. As Graham and I exited the track we had to leave our bikes in an impound area where our mechanics would pick them up.  As we were walking back to the pits he said, I'm not mad but why didn't you let me by. He said he was not mad but his facial expressions and tone said otherwise. I knew I was holding him up a little but I wasn't blocking him, he just wasn't able to pass.  After all, it's racing, and I'm a privateer with goals of my own. I didn't say anything back to Graham although I was a little disappointed with his attitude since we were friends. However, at this level of competition friendship is left behind when that gate drops. Little did I know at the time, I would be receiving a lot more criticism.

While sitting in the pits waiting for the second moto Mr. Senior Honda sent his assistant team manager over to our pit area to find out why I didn't allow Andre and Graham to pass, why I didn't obey his chalkboard and to tell me he was going to make Honda of Germany stop helping me. He was very angry with me and was going to have my bikes and parts taken back by Honda of Germany. I explained to this assistant team manager, who was very calm and understanding that I didn't read the chalkboard because I was racing and only read my mechanic's chalkboard. I explained that Honda of Japan was not helping me and I was racing to make good results in order to get support for next year. He listened and soon left as we had to get ready for the second moto. After our talk I was hoping Roger DeCoster would work a deal for me and I would not have to return my support from Honda of Germany. I also thought if Andre, Graham and myself got into another battle in the second moto I was not going to let them by.

The hilly, rocky, hard-packed clay track was getting rougher with a lot of small, choppy, square edge bumps. As always another good start would be important so I could see the square edge bumps and choose good lines. Jeff didn't prepared my secret weapon for the start of the second moto, the dirt launching pad off the cement, as the dirt was too dry by this time of the day.  Starting on cement and then hard clay right after the gate was a condition in favor of my underpowered production 480 Honda. It was time to clear my mind from all the drama that went down in the first moto. I had to focus on getting another good result in this second moto and let the chips fall where they may. My 480 hooked up well on the concrete, I hit my power shifts just right down the straightaway and found myself with another top five start, I think I was in fourth. I don't remember racing with Andre or Graham in this second moto but I do remember having a long race with the big Swede, Hakan Carlqvist (nicknamed Carla). Each lap he would come close to passing me on that long rocky uphill that I explained in my last blog. I knew that was the most likely place he could pass me so each lap I would focus on being smooth and carrying my momentum out of the slippery corner just before the bottom of the uphill, then hit my two upshifts (3rd and 4th) at just the right time, until downshifting once just before the top. This entire time I was careful to lift the front wheel just over all the bigger bumps. It was working as Carla was unable to make the pass for many laps. I'm pretty sure he eventually passed me but I honestly don't remember where or how. I don't even remember what place I ended up in that second moto or what my overall placing was that day. I do know it was pretty good. I'm guessing a sixth overall on the day. (Here's a photo of Carla and I).

Sometime after the first moto our trusty (not) race van would return, fixed and ready for action again. Jeff had told the organizer that our van should be returning and to let the guys in who returned it. We were grateful to them for their honesty, good work and reasonable price. Now Jeff and I were all organized again, minds more at ease and ready to get on the road again. Minds more at ease regarding our van but not at ease with what Mr. Senior Honda was planning.

We had the next weekend off so we drove back to Genk, Belgium, to our main base. Several days went by and no word from Roger or Senior Honda. We just carried on like we normally would and figured no news was good news. Then in the beginning of the second week Graham's mechanic (Francois) got a call from Senior Honda to tell me that I was to meet him at Honda's race headquarter in Brussels, Belgium, which was about an hour's drive. I drove there the next day alone and a little nervous about what he had planned for me.

This was the first time I was at their facility. It was a big building filled with mostly offices. There was a workshop but it was only used occasionally since the mechanics worked on the bikes in Genk, or on the road. I went into the main lobby and was met by a receptionist who told Senior Honda I was there. Soon he and his assistant came to meet me. We went into his office, closed the door and all sat down. As my motocross career hung in the balance, I was anxious to hear what he had to say. I mean, it must be important if he had me come there to meet him. Why couldn't he just tell Francois on the phone or tell me on the phone. Why not just tell Honda of Germany to contact me and drop the bomb. I was thinking there must be a good reason for asking me to meet him there in his office.

He began by explaining what Honda of Japan had invested in their two riders (Andre Malherbe and Graham Noyce) and that was where all their efforts were being spent. Then he said he could let me use a works bike from the previous year (1981) and all the parts I would need for the remainder of the series. With all the parts they had: spare motors, frames, wheels, pipes, you name it, they had it, it was like a brand new bike. But there was a condition. I would have to let Andre or Graham by if we got into a race again.  If I failed to do this the deal would be off. I asked if I was ahead of them and they weren't close enough to try and make a pass would it be okay to not let them by? He said yes, if they weren't trying to pass that was fine. I was relieved and happy with the agreement. After more discussion about where and when the bike and parts could be picked up I was on my way back home to Genk with the good news. As I thought to myself what changed Mr. Senior Honda's mind? I knew right away that it was Roger...thank you RD. I was fortunate to have already been laying those seeds or I would have been making an early return to the States.

The next day Jeff and I picked up the bike and parts in a storage building in back of where I had met Senior Honda the day before. There was a lot of other stuff being stored along with the 1981 works bike and parts. One of the Honda employees had to help us sort through things and made sure we found what we needed. We finally had the bike and a large inventory of spare parts loaded into the van and made our way back to Genk, straight to François' (Graham's factory mechanic's) race shop. François' shop was located in the walkout basement of his house where he and his wife lived. François was the perfect person to help Jeff and I get the bike sorted out as it's the same bike Graham raced the year before.

There was another person helping us, Hank, owner of White Power Suspension. Hank had persuaded me to make the switch from Ohlins to White Power for the works bike. He did so by telling me about all the testing and settings they already had for the bike. He was very convincing that it would be awesome. Hank was around a lot as he and François were good friends. I only saw the Ohlins people at the races and I wasn't completely happy with their suspension. If you remember from one of my pervious blogs it was good on the big bumps but harsh on the smaller bumps. That's just the way it was and no adjustments we made could fix it. I wanted to remain loyal to Ohlins as they had been very good to me and started helping me right from the beginning when I first arrived in Germany. But I had to make a choice and I had to make it that day. We had to leave in a few days for the next GP which was a long drive to Italy. I didn't have much choice so I chose White Power (WP).

Hank was ready to go to work. He quickly had the WP shock and forks on the bike in François' shop as Jeff worked on other parts of the bike with François' guidance. Hank was an amazing suspension tuner. He would stand beside the bike, hold the front brake and push hard with his short, stocky body in rapid-fire burst on the handlebars in order to test the compression and rebound of the forks. He used a similar method for the shock as he would use all his body weight to quickly compress the rear of the seat with his left forearm smashed into his chest, then at the bottom of the compression stroke Hank would quickly grab the rear frame rails just behind the seat and pull the rebound up. He wanted it to top out just before the rear tire would leave the ground. Other suspension tuners would feel the suspension this way as well, but with Hank it was something to see. He had definitely mastered the techniques. With his help of explaining what he was doing and how it worked I quickly picked up on the practice and still use it today. That's the way my Factory Works 500cc Honda was set up for the first time I rode it and that was during Saturday's practice at the next GP in Italy. Our usual caravan made the trip from Genk, Belgium, to Italy (don't remember the city or name of the track). Of course I was looking forward to racing the new bike.

While walking the track Friday evening I knew it was going to be another hard-packed, hilly clay track but not as rocky as Sittendorf. It had one particularly big, long, steep drop-off hill. We would jump a long way down this steep downhill. One other downhill had a steep five-foot drop just before the bottom. Other than those sections it was a pretty normal hilly type track. I woke up Saturday morning to a warm, partly cloudy day which made excellent conditions for the practice sessions and qualifying.

Finally it was time for the first practice. I had noticed before that the seat height of the bike was high but I didn't realize how high until I started riding it around the track. Jeff and I would later find out that it had the tall subframe and seat. This was an option for Graham as he was just over 6'. Unfortunately the shorter subframe and seat was left behind in Belgium at the Honda Building. Jeff and I didn't know about it when we were first loading the van with the bike and spare parts. I don't know why no one caught that during the initial set up at François' shop. I guess there were too many other details to consider and François had to get Graham's bike ready as well. Anyway, I was going to race a very tall M/C. The next thing I noticed, as I started to make some laps in the first practice, was the longer and smoother power it had. It was only a four-speed compared to my five-speed stock bike but that's all it needed. The power was amazing! As I got more and more track time through Saturday's practices I realized the WP suspension was also better on this hard-packed, choppy track. Even with the tall subframe and seat I was able to quickly get used to the bike and started to feel comfortable and confident on it.

After all the practices and timed qualifiers were finished on Saturday the pleasant weather quickly turned into torrential downpours. It became very windy with heavy rain during a long thunderstorm. During those two hours or so everyone at the track battened down their awnings and tents and took cover in their trucks or in a few of the small buildings at the track. As quickly as the storms came in, they were gone. The skies returned to partly cloudy and everyone came out to see what the storms had done to the hilly track. I was amazed at the damage. There were huge two to three foot deep ruts down all the hills that I could see from my vantage point in the pits. The ruts were not only deep but wide as well. I asked François if they had a bulldozer.  He said no they will fix it by hand. I thought no way were we going to have a track to race on! Then I saw a line of men with shovels working on one of the hills. There must have been about 20 men working hard to fix the track. I still thought they wouldn't be able to fix the entire track by tomorrow morning. François' was confident that it would be fine, as long as we didn't get anymore heavy rains. I don't remember if we slept at the track or a motel that night but I do remember the weather and track were in excellent shape that next morning. I thought it was extraordinary that those men fixed the entire track so well by physical labor. Unbelievable.

Hank must have been really thinking about me and my bike that night as he wanted Jeff to put the next step lighter spring on the shock. He said it would be pretty soft but better because of all the choppy, square edge bumps that would develop. We made the change and I was out for the first Sunday morning practice. The shock was noticeably softer, didn't have a bottoming problem anywhere on the track and was really hooking up on the bumpy uphills. That was the setup I would run that day. After the long practice section and the 30-minute, five-lap mandatory practice for starting positions were completed I had a little time to relax while Jeff got the bike ready for the first moto. Now I was feeling like part of the team.

Around 1:00 we were called to staging for the first moto. I had a good practice time and was released from staging around 6th or 7th. I found a good rut to make sure I would be able to touch the ground well. I don't remember if I had even practiced a start on the new machine but I must have figured it out because I got the holeshot. I'm not sure who passed me for the lead but I do remember, guess who was next, Andre Malherbe! He was staying close to me so I knew I would have to let him by, but I didn't want to make it look to obvious. There was a corner way in the back of the track in a little valley that very few spectators could see so that's where I got out of the best line and let Andre by. I tried to stick with him but he was too fast for me. In a lap or two Carla was on me with his works Yamaha. Carla was a big, strong, aggressive rider, but off the track he was a nice guy, at least to the people he liked. There were stories of him having some shots and beers and fighting with strangers who looked at him the wrong way. But anyway Carla wanted to pass me more and more as each lap went by. It's funny because just like the last GP in Sittendorf, the section he was getting the closest to making a pass was a choppy uphill with a corner at the bottom. Every time I went out of the corner and up that hill I was thanking Hank for the lighter spring. It would hook up very well and lap after lap Carla couldn't make his attempt stick. Finally he did pass me, but it wasn't on that uphill.

Now I'm running in fourth as Brad Lackey is trying to pass me. Brad was a big threat for Honda's star rider, Andre. But I wasn't thinking of that, I was just trying to go as fast as possible and not get passed again. I wasn't the type of rider to block someone from passing me. I would hold my lines and if they passed then they were faster. Brad and I went at it for several laps and he could not make a pass on me, so I ended up forth in the first moto.

It's hot and a little on the dusty side so I exited the track and forget to drop my bike off in the impound area. Once at the truck Jeff reminds me and he takes the bike back to the impound. I thought no big deal and forgot about it. After a long while Jeff returns and says there was a protest filed against me for not stopping as I exited the track. The protest was filed by Lackey. The results of the protest would be decided after the second moto. In the mean time Mr. Senior Honda was ecstatic. He was congratulating me as he handed me a bonus check. Yes, he handed me a check right then and there. It was a $350.00 check. Yeah, not a lot, but in those days it was something. Senior Honda was so happy because his (or more likely Roger's) plan was already working. I put more points between Andre and Lackey. It's funny how you can remember certain things from the past very well and other things you can't remember at all. Like I can't even remember who won that first moto or the overall that day.

I didn't get the holeshot in the second moto but was running in the top five. Here's another thing I remember well. I was staying in sixth for a long time in this second moto. I was all alone, there was no one close behind or in front of me. I could see Dave Thorpe on his Factory Kaw in front of me but I wasn't gaining or losing any ground on him. I know this wasn't smart on my part but the truth is that I got bored and changed up a lot of my lines, thinking maybe I could catch Thorpe. Well, it was a dumb move because after a few laps Dave was getting away and I had company from the top (at the time) Italian rider. I think his first name was Franco. Franco wasn't too close to me but I could see him on certain parts of the track. As I realized what was happening I grabbed a handful of throttle on one of the bumpy downhills. This downhill had a five-foot, very steep, drop just before the bottom. Right after that handful of throttle I had to start braking and as I did the rear end kicked up violently sending me into a nose wheelie down the hill, traveling way too fast for that dropoff at the bottom. Sure enough I high-sided off the top of the drop and crashed at the bottom. I would have been okay but my clutch hand got bent backwards as it was pinned under my hip. I got up, holding on to my hand which was hurting like hell and suddenly realized Franco, the Italian star, was coming up on me down the hill as the crowd was cheering him on!! I forgot about the pain and got going again as fast as possible. Franco dogged me as the crowd cheered on through the end of the moto but Franco could never make the pass. I placed sixth in the second moto.

As I got off the track I left my bike in the impound area, went to our pit area and started soaking my hand in the cooler as it was already starting to swell.  I think my overall was fourth or fifth for the day. All in all it was a good day, fourth or fifth overall and riding the works bike for the first time. I realized Brad was not happy with me. After all, he had already been racing the GPs for ten years trying so hard to win the title. He knew his time was running out and he was willing to do whatever he could to win it this year. At the time I thought it was a pretty cheap shot trying to get me disqualified for not stopping at the impound area after the first moto but I didn't harbor any hard feelings about it. I knew what was at stake for him, heck for all of us. I also knew for the next race in Germany I was going to have the lower subframe and seat. I was just hoping my hand and fingers weren't broken and I'd be ready to race the German GP which was two weeks away.

Follow us to Germany next month for the German 500 Motocross GP…..

Thanks for reading my GP stories, hope you're enjoying them. Please leave a comment so I know who's reading and please tell me what subjects you'd like to read after my GP stories conclude.

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