The Motorcycle Experience
From the Beginning
The Early Years
One of my earliest and best childhood memories is of my dad
lifting me up on the gas tank of his
mid-1950's Cushman
scooter, with him at the controls and my older brother on the
passenger seat.  That day we took the back roads to the
home of our longtime friends, the Langellier's, where I hung
out with my buddy Mark and our primary goal was to irritate
our older sisters.  That was the start of my love affair with
motorcycles.  Riding on the back of that Cushman during
summer months in Eastern Illinois was a rare but always
wonderful experience.  The scooter had quite a history, as it
was a relic even in the late-1970's when I was growing up.  
My dad owned it as a teenager, and when he and my mom
were dating they would hop on and take long rides in the
country.  My older brother Jim got to ride it solo when he was
about 11 years old, much to the dismay of my mother.  The
rule was, if you could start it, you could ride it.  Easier said
than done.  To get the engine running, you had to jump on
the kick starter and throw down all your weight.  Jim spent
many hours jumping down on that thing before he decided to
try using a pair of dress shoes that had stiffer soles.  All of a
sudden, there he was, riding an antique scooter with old
clothes and fancy shoes.  The Cushman wasn't designed as a
dirt bike but it got plenty of miles up and down the soybean
rows on our farm.

My first solo experience on a motorcycle was on my cousin
Randy Wilcox's Honda Z50, a nearly indestructible minibike on
which hundreds of thousands of kids have started their dirt
bike careers (including 2000 National 125cc Motocross Champ
Travis Pastrana).  Randy wasn't afraid of much, and I can
remember watching him get major airtime (at least a foot or
two) on that little bike out in Johnson's Woods.  Just about
every summer, another set of cousins, Tim and Dave Leamy
from Southern California, would visit for a week or two and
spend most of the time riding dirt bikes.  Randy and the
Leamy brothers came from the same blood, apparently
lacking the "fear" part of their DNA structure.  For some
reason all of the full-size motorcycles that the "big boys" rode
were Suzuki TS bikes of various sizes, which weren't what I
would call hardcore dirt bikes.  Dave, Randy, and I would
share the Z50 while Tim and Jim and the adults would ride the
TS's.  The real nutcase of the bunch was Terry Johnson, who
was about 10 years older than the rest of us kids and had the
biggest bike (a TS250, I think).  In the woods that his family
owned, he had made some trails that included a large jump
coming up out of a steep creek bank.  Now, maybe it was
because I was only 10 years old at the time, but I had never
seen anyone jump so high.  Lords only knows the crazy stuff
he could have done with a modern-day motocross bike.  He
was my hero.

My First Motorcycle
One day in 1983 my dad came home with the best proposition
an 11-year-old could hear: the local Suzuki dealer had
obtained a couple of leftover 1981 TS100's, brand new, and
exactly the same as the one my brother had been riding for a
couple of years.  He offered me the same deal that Jim got:
pay for half, and he would match the other half.  The total
purchase price was about $700, so $350 was well within my
life savings from walking beans during the summers.  I was
one happy guy.  Who cared if the bike was about three sizes
too big for me?  I could start it, so I could ride it.  And ride it I
did.  I was allowed to ride up and down the country road in
front of our house, which was 1.5 miles long, and I could ride
in our fields that bordered the whole 1.5 miles on one side of
the road.  So basically I had a 400-acre playground right
behind my house.  Life was good.  A couple of times each
summer, my dad would ride Jim's motorcycle and would lead
me around the countryside on backroads that I had never
traveled.  Somehow he always knew where we were and how
to get back home.  One time I ran out of fuel somewhere in
Indiana, but my dad saved the day...he knew someone who
lived nearby and gave us gas.  My
TS100 still resides on the
farm, as does my brother's.

Motorcycle #2
In 1986, Suzuki updated their dual-sport (on/off road) lineup
with an affordable pair of SP models that I fell in love with.  
The SP125 and SP200 used the same chassis, with the only
difference being the engine and transmission.  Red, white and
blue, they had the coolest dirtbike look, similar to the Honda
XL motorcycles.  And they were street legal, which stimulated
not-too-distant fantasies of riding one to school and being the
coolest guy around.  The best part was the prices, which even
I could afford from working summers on the farm.  I figured
the larger SP200 could cruise at 55 mph on the street, so that
was the motorcycle I had to have.  It only took about a year
to work up my nerve to ask my dad if I could buy one.  By
that time it was the Fall of 1987, and he agreed to take me
around to the Suzuki dealers to find one.  The Urbana, Illinois
dealer had a couple leftover models that they were trying to
get rid of before the 1988 bikes started arriving, so my dad
did the dealing and I ended up with a
1987 Suzuki SP200.  A
week later we picked it up, met Jim, my sister Laura, and
brother-in-law-to-be Mark (all University of Illinois students),
and went out to dinner.  I was so very proud.  I rode it to high
school many times, often in very cold weather, but it sure
beat riding the bus to school.  On hot summer days I would
explore miles of country roads, sometimes riding 100 miles in
an afternoon.  The last time I rode my SP was in
Montana and
the Black Hills of South Dakota, putting on 500 miles in three
days.  I sold that bike in 1998, just before moving to
St.
Louis
.  I still miss it.

Dirt Biking: The Hardcore Years
After I graduated from college in 1993, I set my sights on a
dirt-only motorcycle.  Once again, Suzuki had just what I
needed: a
1994 RMX250.  Owning that bike was a learning
experience in every way.  I couldn't believe how much power
it had, and all the stuff it could blast through.  One of my
dad's farms had several acres of woods and old pasture, so
over a couple years I developed a trail loop of about 3 miles.  
The woods, like most of Illinois, were pretty much a big
swamp, so I buried that thing in the mud many times.  Once
my dad and I had to get a winch to pull the back end out of a
mud hole.  Another time I dumped it over in a creek and could
see just the end of the handlebar sticking up out of the water.  
That was a lesson in draining the water from the engine--turn
it upside down with the spark plug removed, start cranking
the kickstarter, and watch water spit out of the spark plug
hole.

I tried
racing for the first time in June 1994 at a hare scramble
near Decatur, Illinois.  I couldn't believe how fast some of the
guys were going in the woods.  My goal was to finish, which I
did, but I was so hot and tired afterwards that I felt sick.  I
finished 8th out of 10 guys in my class, but the two guys I
beat did not finish the race.  Obviously, my conditioning would
have to improve, along with my riding skills.  Over the next
year I tried to get in better shape and ride in different areas to
experience other types of terrain.  In 1995 I raced 7 or 8
times, tried my first enduro, and
broke my first bones (two in
my left foot).  In 1996 I bought a
new RMX250 and won my
first trophy
, a 2nd place finish in the Big B class at the same
course near Decatur where I did my first race.  Even though it
was a rainy, muddy day and there were only 4 people in my
class, it was still a milestone.  In 1998 I won my second
trophy there and added a couple more at other races.

The turning point came in 1999 when I started racing the KTM
and stepped up my racing schedule.  The St. Louis area has
several clubs within an hour of my place, and they each put
on a couple of races each year.  So unlike Eastern Illinois,
many of the races were a convenient 1-2 hour drive.  Riding
more often definitely improved my skills and conditioning,
although I still struggled in the Missouri rocks.  Of the trophies
I won in 1999, only one came from Missouri and that was in
the extreme northeast corner on terrain that was just like
what's in Illinois.  With more practice and help from the Scotts
steering stabilizer, I greatly improved my ability to ride in the
rocks in 2000, winning a few trophies at Missouri races and
finishing 6th in series points in the Open B class (despite
racing only about half of the events).  The highlight of the
year was
winning the Open B class at the Rattlesnake Enduro
near Winterset, Iowa in September 2000.  After 6 years of
trying, I had finally realized an important goal.

More milestones came in 2002, when I finally won my class at
the
Florence, Missouri hare scramble. I finished the year with
a streak of 5 class wins in a row and won the MHSC Open B
class for 2002. Also, for the first time ever, I accumulated
some overall points in the '02 MHSC series, with three top-20
finishes.

Racing is a very expensive activity, but I have a good job and
live pretty frugally in the other areas of my life.  And I hate to
say this (sorry, married guys), but being single helps a lot
[
editor's note: my, how things have changed....].  Most
people who get to know me as a banker can hardly imagine
me competing in off-road motorcycle events until they actually
see it for themselves.  Besides the pure enjoyment factor, I
like that it sets me apart from the typically conservative,
weekend golfers who are a common type in my business
world.  As long as my body can handle the punishment of
racing, the dirt bike will remain an important part of my
weekend activities.
Read what Mom had to say about my formative years on two
wheels.
In the beginning....
Note the headlight for night riding, the speedometer so I always knew
how fast I was riding, and the old-school banana seat (an aftermarket
accessory).
Editor's Note: This was written long before I was married with kids.