I'd just had a disastrous race at the Carlsbad GP where I had a big high-side crash into a G-out section of the track in the second moto. The very same place where Andre Malherbe broke his femur in the first moto. I didn't score any points in the first moto with a DNF.  Now we were on our way to the next GP in Saint Gabriel, Canada. I had a badly sore and swollen right knee and forearm.  By the time we were all checked into a motel near the track in St. Gabriel, it was getting towards the end of the week. The mechanics were busy working on the bikes in the parking lot as the riders were relaxing and resting up for Saturday's practice and Sunday's race.

Friday evening the team Honda sports doctor (Uccey) gave me a pill that was suppose to take inflammation out of my swollen knee and forearm. He also assured me that he would tape me up in the morning before practice. I wish I had photos of my knee and forearm to show you how bad the swelling was, especially my forearm. My forearm didn't have a hard type of swelling like my knee, it was more of a fluid type of swelling like it needed to be drained. But Uccey said that wouldn't be a good idea. So I took the pill and went to bed.

In the morning I woke and felt like I had the flu. I had the runs and was lightheaded, but didn't have a fever. We all headed to the track and got set up in our pit area. As the morning went on I was feeling a little better but kept feeling like I was in a dream...it was really weird. During  practices that day I just learned the track but never tried to get up to full speed. Well, at least I was trying to learn the track. On one lap I got confused over a blind jump, thinking it was a different jump that needed to be taken faster. The result was like a dream I've had when I'm way too high in the air, almost like flying. Now it looked like I was actually doing it for real. I was very high as I jumped into a valley. During this jump, two or three seconds felt like a very long time. Somehow I landed on enough of a downslope that I didn't crash or get injured.  I don't think anyone, other than a few spectators, saw it as no one said anything about it. I was just glad not to be more injured from that little brain fart.

After one of the practices our trusted lap timing girl (Tina) asked me what was wrong and said I better get moving faster. I remember smiling and saying, "It will be okay, the race is tomorrow." I was in a fog. After the first practice I took the tape off my forearm. It didn't seem to be helping the fluid from jigging around. I did leave the tape on my knee as the support from the tape did seem to outweigh the tightness in moving my leg. I don't remember much else from this weird Saturday practice, but I do remember telling Graham (Noyce) about it later that night back at the motel. He said he would never take any pills from Uccey. "He thinks he's a doctor, but he's not, he's a good taper but that's about it." I was thinking, "Man, I wish I knew that last night. Who knows what he gave me or how old it was." At this point I was just hoping I felt better in the morning.

Sunday morning came and it was a nice sunny warm day and I did feel better, no more runs at least. The track was rolling hills covered in grass that had broken in nicely with loamy corners. Some parts of the track were more hardpacked, but most of it was on the soft side with a little sand in the soil as well. All my practices and qualifying went well as I was back up to speed. I kept my knee taped and let my fluid-filled right forearm jiggle around. It felt pretty strange but at least it didn't hurt too much.

Between qualifying and the first moto, it was nice to be able to visit with my parents and brother, who had made the drive up from Ohio. They pretty much knew all the riders I raced with through the 70s, since many of them stayed at our farm in Lisbon, Ohio, when the races were back east.  One week there were 16 riders, girlfriends, and mechanics staying at the farm, as everyone called it. Many of them slept on the living room floor in sleeping bags, and others in their vans. All the riders would practice and train (run) right from our house. A good time was had by all. At this race in St. Gabriel, my family really didn’t know the riders except for Lackey, who often stayed at their farm as well. Since I was living in California and racing the GPs in Europe, I stayed in touch with my family through the mail and phone, but didn't get to see them very often. They sure enjoyed being at the race and seeing me.

In the first moto I started well and was soon in a battle with Neil Hudson.  He started in front of me but I was able to pass him early.  He stayed close and kept me honest for the entire 40 plus 2, but couldn't pass me back. I ended up third, with Neil fourth, and Graham Noyce fifth. Second was Andre Vromans with Lackey taking the moto win (both on Suzukis). You know from last week's race in Carlsbad that the man who Honda was pinning their hopes on to win the championship (Andre Malherbe) was out with a broken femur.  Graham was too far down in the points standings to have a shot at the Championship, but I imagined I would still have to let him pass me if we got into a battle. This wasn't necessary in the first moto as he stayed a little ways behind his English rival, Neil Hudson.

Neil and I early in the 1st moto.

We had an hour or so to get rested up and ready for the second moto. We were called to staging, then soon called to the gate and waiting for the card to go sideways. Again, I started well and for Neil and I the second moto was a carbon copy of the first. I finished third with Neal in fourth, but this time Graham was second. Andre Vromans won the overall, I was second, Graham third and Neil fourth. I don't remember what happened to Lackey, but he had a DNF in the second moto.

After the races I got to visit with my family again, but not for long as they needed to start driving home so they could be back at work Monday morning. All the riders would be flying back to Europe on Monday. We all wanted to get back to base and start preparing for the next round in two weeks at Farleigh Castle in England. This time on the flight home to Genk, Belgium, I did not take any pills of any kind...lol.

During the two weeks back home my mechanic Jeff, had a lot of work to do  picking the bike and parts up from the airport and getting things ready so I could do some practice during the week. Sure, I still had my two stock bikes but they were in hibernation. I didn't want to practice on them because they were so much different than the works bike. Once the GPs started I never practiced more then once a week, some weeks not at all.  That's just the way it was in those days. It was the same for all the riders. Don't forget how much practice we did at the races on Saturday and Sunday morning before we raced two 40 minute plus 2 lap motos. Then with all the traveling we had to do, it would have been too much to practice more during the week. When we raced in Europe all the riders drove to the races. Flights were super-expensive, and it was more convenient to drive. Again, we rode plenty enough on the weekends to make up for it. The riders would do other types of training during the week in order to maintain their fitness. Running was the most popular because it could be done pretty much anywhere, and all you needed was a good pair of running shoes.

We left early Friday morning for England. We drove to the English Channel on the shore of France, then took a ferry across the Channel. Once we landed on the shore in England, it wasn't too far of a drive to the track. We arrived well before dark and had plenty of time to set up, get a good night's sleep, and be ready for Saturday morning's practice.

The weather Saturday was perfect for racing. The track was an awesome grass-covered, semi-hard packed terrain, with a layout on slightly rolling hills. From previous races the ground was already rough, even though most of the track was covered in grass and the bumps were mostly square-edged. Practice and qualifying, once again, went well for us. I qualified well, and ready for Sunday's race.

As you know, I would usually sleep at the track Saturday night but this time a friend from Holland, who also raced (Paul), had a motel room in a small city nearby.  I can remember faces and personalities very well but names, not so good.  I don't remember his last name, sorry Paul. Paul also hauled his street bike to this race. So we rode his bike to the motel that evening.  It was a cool little motel right in the middle of this little city. From our open second-story window we could see a lot of people outside, walking around and visiting in the middle of town. We had just eaten dinner and to this day I don't know what in the world was going on with me, but I was totally exhausted.  It was still early, I think around 7:00, there was plenty of daylight left.  Paul kept trying to talk me into going out and walking around town so he could meet some girls. Normally I would have been doing the same, but by the way I was feeling all I wanted to do was go to sleep. I still to this day don't know why I was so tired that night.  I guess it was from all the months of sickness, racing, traveling, injuries and pills that were catching up to me. Whatever it was, I slept for 12 hours straight through the night.

In the morning I felt well-rested, but it was too early to tell how I was really feeling as we made the short (about 15 miles) trip to the track on Paul's m/c. It was another nice, warm day, perfect racing conditions.  Once at the track I got dressed and ready for our first open practice, it was then that I realized the tired, exhausted feeling I had last night was still lingering. I already felt like I just finished two 40 minute motos and the first practice hadn't even started. I tried to shake it off and focus on conserving energy, riding smooth and getting through the day. In the first practice, on a very fast section, must have been third gear pinned on the four-speed works Honda, I must have hit a bump wrong which sent me into a big, feet off the pegs, tank slapper which used up some of the energy I was trying to conserve, but luckily I saved it. Later in the pits Hank said, "Hey, what were you doing out there with your feet flying in the air?" He was making a joke of it, but we both knew I was lucky on that one.

After free practice and timed practice for gate picks I had some time to relax and get ready for the first moto. At many of the GPs the top 10 riders and sometimes all the riders are called up to the starting line area to be introduced to the fans before the start of the first moto. At these races some of the fans with special passes were allowed to be right there with us, to meet us in person. One fan asked Lackey if he could get a picture of Brad holding his newborn baby. This baby looked to be just several months old. I could see that Brad was really making an effort to be nice, but I could also see he was not happy. After the man left with his baby, Brad rolled his eyes and said something like, what the f***, the guy wants me to hold his baby right before the race starts.  Then Brad turned to me and said with a very negative tone, "You're just a farm boy from Ohio." I looked right at him and said, "That's right and don't you forget it."

We all were under a lot of pressure, not only from the people who were counting on us, but even more from the pressure we put on ourselves. Brad had even more pressure on himself then anyone. He had already sacrificed 10 years and worked so hard to win his dream to become the first American to win the 500 World Champion, and it was all coming down to these last two races. Here I am, in my first year at the GPs, and I have been stealing some valuable points from him. We're going to be racing in less than an hour, he is holding a baby for someone he doesn't even know, and then sees me, who could be stealing more points from him. That's a little glimmer of what Brad and I were feeling, all the racers had their own stories and situations. Some of us know or at least think we can win, many just want to do well, but we are all competitive and want to do our best in every moto.  When we are on the starting line and that gate drops, doing our best is all that exist. There is no truer measure than the, "Drop of the Gate to the Checkered Flag!"

From reading my previous GP racing articles, you're aware I knew how to race when I had very little energy. I had done it for the first few months of the series due to the sickness I had (a deep-seated viral and bacterial infection). I knew the game plan, get a good start, ride as fast and smooth as possible and make no mistakes. I needed to get in the zone and get it done. There are some benefits to being sick and/or tired on race day. Your mind and body go into complete focus on the task at hand. After all, you don't have enough energy to waste on anything but the task at hand! You don't feel pressure from sponsors, there are no distracting thoughts. Instead your mind becomes very concentrated in the moment, each moment as it unfolds. This is how a racer's mind should be even when they are full of energy, but many times it is difficult to reach this "total flow of concentration zone." From my previous experience and the way I was feeling that day it was automatic.

Before long I found myself in staging, then on the gate, then in second place out of the first corner behind Lackey. Now all I had to do was race as fast and smooth as possible, make no mistakes and don't get passed for 40 plus 2. Well, I tried my best and did accomplish the first three tasks... but the not getting passed part, not so good. I ended up 9th in the first moto. Normally that's not a good placing for me but considering the way I was feeling it was the best I could do.

I'm #50, Lackey #6, Graham Noyce is just behind Lackey, Dave Thorpe #48, Jack van Velthoven #8, my friend Paul #30.

After about an hour it was time to go to staging for the second moto. Needless to say I was even more tired for the second moto. The second moto was similar, as I got another good start and ended up sixth, for moto scores of ninth (two points) and sixth (five points) for a seventh overall on the day.  The top six were:  Brad Lackey, Dave Thorpe, Andre Vromans, Graham Noyce, Neil Hudson and Jack van Velthoven. Obviously, I was totally spent by this time and just wanted to put this entire weekend behind me.  The next race was in Namur, Belgium, three weeks away and close to home.

Since we had a lot of time before the next race Graham planned a get together, a cookout party, the next day at his home near there in England for many of his racer friends and industry people. The weather was cooperating with another warm sunny day. We were all at Graham's house by early afternoon on Monday. Graham's other house in Genk, Belgium, was a rental in order to be centrally located near his mechanic (Francois), good practice tracks and the GPs. Of course, Francois and Jeff were there, Hank from White Power, Hakan Carlqvist and some other riders, mechanics and industry people, around 20 people in all. I was in charge of grilling all the steaks while most others drank and shot the breeze. I never was much for drinking beer or any other types of alcohol, and the way I had been feeling I sure didn't want to have any.  Later in the afternoon I heard from someone that Jeff and Hank had taken my works bike out to the small, hilly grass track which was located a little ways behind Graham's house. I thought, what the heck are they doing that for?  I was a little mad about it, thinking they had been drinking and now they were being stupid with my works bike. I went out and found them letting a few other people ride the bike. Hank said he wanted them to feel his suspension but I think the real reason was they were just having some fun. They must have known it was not a good idea and took the bike back pretty quickly after I got there. Not much was said about it but I didn't like it and I think they all knew it.

As the day wore on I was really getting tired and just wanted to go to bed.  Graham said I could sleep in his travel trailer. Just about the time I'm getting ready to go to bed Jeff tells me his wife and him are going to make a night trip back home to Belgium. I guess it was their wedding anniversary and they wanted to be on the ferry under the full moon and all that kind of stuff. I tried to talk Jeff out of it but he was determined to do it. I said but you are taking the van, how am I going to get back home? He said I could go with them or take a flight home. I was pretty mad about it and thought why are you suddenly changing your mind and wanting to leave tonight. If I wasn't so freaking tired it would have been a lot easier to accept, and just go with them. Taking a flight was out of the question as I would have to make reservations, pay an enormous amount and get someone to take me to the airport and pick me up in Brussels. I know now that it was wrong but I really let the facts about Jeff getting my works bike out for people to ride that day and this late night trip home get to me. I didn't have much choice but to go with them. I stayed mad pretty much the entire night trip back through the wee hours of the morning to Jeff's house where I was staying. Sometime in the late morning I woke up still mad. I went out into the kitchen to find Jeff and his wife drinking coffee.  We were all quiet for a while and then I said, "Well what's the plan? Are you going to unload and start working on the bike soon?" He said something like...I don't know maybe I don't want to work anymore.  That was all it took for me to explode. I say good...I don't want you to work for me anymore. I will leave today with my van, bikes, parts...everything. And just like that I was out of there.

I've look back on that day and the entire situation leading up to it many times, and realized I should have been more considerate and patient. I should have given Jeff some time off and been more understanding about the situation. But hindsight is always 20-20.  I let my anger get the better of me and I made that final decision right then and there.  A few months earlier I had met Andre Malherbe, chiropractor/trainer (Paul), and his son, Ben, who both lived close to Genk.  Ben was a mechanic in his early 20s, and was looking for work.  He was a hyper, wiry guy in a thin 5'9", 140-pound frame with blond semi-short hair who usually had a cigarette in his month.  Ben and Paul had both kept in touch with me because Ben wanted to work for me. I called him and explained what happened and he told me to come right over and he would start working right away.  Like I mentioned, now in hindsight, I feel like I should have stayed with Jeff, after all there was only a little over a month left and the series would be over. But at the time I didn't feel Jeff and I were on the same page, I felt like I needed to get with Ben who seemed to have a lot more enthusiasm and motivation to go after the same things I was going after.

That same day I was at Ben's apartment where he lived with his wife. The apartment was in town on a city street. He didn't have a workshop, but could use his father's. Ben was very anxious to start working so he was hard at it right away. There was a big international race coming up the following weekend that many of the GP racers would race. It was in Belgium fairly close to Genk, and paid good start and prize money. That would be a good race for Ben and I to get our start. Since we had two weekends off from the GP races that's exactly what we did.

Check back next time to see what goes down at this international race and the 11th GP round in Namur!

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