Me and Dad and the Cagiva
Copyright Jeff Jackson 2002
I’m not sure where to start a story like this one. It’s not really even a story. It’s a recollection of thoughts and memories like no other. This story is all about my Dad. It’s about the greatest memories anyone could ever give to someone. Everyone has memories. Good and bad. Me and my Dad have had our share of both. But the great thing about life itself is that the good ones always are the ones that really matter. They are the ones that stick out for me anyway. I’m talking about the kind of memories that are magnificent and almost mystical. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t recall one of these memories.
I can remember when I must have been around 5 or 6 and one day, out of the blue my Dad came home from work with a homemade mini-bike. A little banana seat, rabbit handle bar contraption with a Briggs & Stratton 5 h.p. engine nestled in the rough frame. I can remember climbing onto it after Dad had started it up, with him holding it steady for me and immediately starting to ride it. That was it. No lessons, no talks, no nothing. Just an understanding between the two of us that nobody else would ever be able to get, figure out or otherwise come close to understanding the beauty of. I rode that mini bike literally thousands of laps around my back yard behind our trailer house. The bike had a pull start engine that I was barely able to pull myself. So Dad usually started it for me. There were lots of times that it got a mind of its own and wouldn’t start on the first, second or even third time. So dad would crank and crank on it, coughing, gagging, and sweating a river, till he got it started. The whole time I just stood there watching and waiting not realizing then what a cool thing that was that he was doing for me. On weekends, and any other chance we got, Dad and me would load it up and take it to the Marion County Road lot, where I would ride it up and down the sandy strips of road till Dad would wave me in, meaning it was time to go home and eat dinner. On special days when I was really doing something special on the mini bike I could always talk him into 10 more minutes.
The next memory is a Honda XR75. A real motorcycle! It was silver and gray, heavy as hell, a couple of dents in the tank; none of that mattered, because I had a REAL motorcycle. Dad had to show me how to shift the first time I got on it. I can remember riding it in the back yard, but now, more than before, we loaded up and went out to the county road lot every chance we got. Hours and hours I would ride up and down the sand piles, all the while Dad leaned up against the El Camino smoking a cigarette watching me like I was the world champion. That’s how I felt anyway. I would always look over from time to time to make sure he was watching me and without fail he was taking it all in. The same routine would follow almost every time, with Dad waving me in and me saying something like “Aww Dad…just a few more minutes”, with him always agreeing to a few extra.
I was always ready to go riding and Dad seemed like he was also ready to go at mere mention of it. Sometimes when we arrived at our riding spot, I would suddenly feel the need to go dig in the dirt or explore sand piles on foot. That was always fine with Dad. Now I look back and understand that it was our time and it didn’t really matter if I was riding the bike or digging in the dirt. It was all good.
I can’t really remember the details of how I came about the next bike but I do remember how awesome I thought it was. It was a brand new, bright red Honda XR80. It was faster. It was bigger. It was the next step in a string of memories that my Dad gave to me. Could he of known that he was giving me the best time of my life? I don’t think he did. He thought of it the same as me. It was simply the only thing to do. There was no questioning of anything. It was right.
The same routine followed with the XR80. Daily laps in my back yard, a lot of the time with Rob my cousin’ on the back with me. We did things back then that today would be considered expertly devised tricks. We set up a board leaned up on a huge cinder block to make a ramp and we would jump of it daily. Not with him watching but with him on the back of my bike. For a time it seemed that without him on the back it didn’t feel right.
The next bike I remember was a Yamaha 100 Street and Trail bike. I must have been around 14 because I got a tag and license for it. Mom was always against me riding a bike on the road but when it came time to talk about getting the Yamaha Dad never blinked an eye before agreeing to get it. I remember realizing shortly after having the bike for about a week that the street and I on a bike wouldn’t last long. I kind of scared myself on it. My ability on that bike or any other before and after was never a question. It was my wild side that would probably ended up killing me on a street bike in time. I never shared this but knew in my mind this was true. Mom was right on this one. So shortly after, maybe 6 months later, me and Dad became acquainted with Ron Hardy. He introduced me and Dad to motocross bikes. It wasn’t long after that introduction that I started reading tons of motocross magazines, becoming informed and relaying that info on a daily basis to Dad. After much consideration, mostly over seat height (I couldn’t have been over 5’5” and had short legs to boot) we came to a decision of going to look at a Suzuki RM125.
This was 81’ or maybe 82’ cause the bike was an 82’. We went to the dealer ship to “look” at the bike. We left that day with a brand new bright yellow Suzuki tied down in the back of the El Camino. It was so tall that I had to have Dad place a milk crate beside it so I could get on it and hold it up when standing still. Mom had a look I’ll never forget when we unloaded that beast but Dad must have reassured her in some way.
We then began to go out to an old rock quarry that Ron Hardy and transformed into a natural motocross track. Every day we would go out there after school and ride till the sun went down. All the while I was reading MX magazines and educating both myself and Dad about the sport of Motocross. When I decided it was time that maybe I had the gear that all the other motocross riders had, Dad ok’d the purchase of the best stuff we could buy. A yellow Bell Moto5 helmet, JT Racing chest protector, JT Racing Black boots, yellow JT Racing full racing pants, black and yellow JT Racing gloves with sheepskin palms, Black Scott ventilated goggles, the works.
So everyday we rode. We rode in every spot we could find. I rode down the alley behind the house. Down country roads I would ride for miles and miles. Farmer’s fields I would sneak into and ride for hours. Dad always fixed what I broke too. I would wreck sometimes and break a clutch lever, or bust a fender. The next day it would be fixed. If for some reason I thought the bike was acting funny or running roughly, I would explain what it sounded like and what it felt like when I rode it, and Dad would somehow decipher this code of mine and make it run like the first day we bought it with the turn of a screwdriver or the flame of his lighter burning off crap off the spark plug.
The day finally came when I wanted to race. After a long coaxing from me and Dad to my Mom, she finally agreed. It took a lot to convince her I remember. Ron Hardy talked to her about it. I constantly talked to her about it. Anyway, it finally happened.
We woke up that Sunday morning to drive to Chapman, KS. Ron Hardy was racing there that day and kind of took us under his wing. Mom wasn’t sure about it all but she stuck with it. Me and Dad both were in heaven though. Bikes were everywhere. Super nice people everywhere you turned. I remember my Mom MAKING me promise her that I would let the rest of the guys in my race take off first and then I would go. From watching other races it made her way too nervous watching 30 riders going all out to make it to the first turn before the other into a turn that was wide enough for maybe 3 bikes. I promised. Dad didn’t say a word. After practice it was time for my first race. Dad and me walked my bike down to the line. We were the first ones there. Slowly more riders began lining up. Soon there were over 30 riders lined up for the first moto of the 125 Novice class race. I was so nervous I don’t remember much except that when the gate dropped I did just what Dad and me had talked about countless times at the rock quarry practicing, I pegged it and when the dust settled I had gotten the hole shot. I quickly got passed but the adrenaline rush was like no other I have felt since. Now I look back and realized that Dad must have felt the exact same rush as I had. I don’t really remember moto 2 but I do know that from this time forward, me and Dad had found a new way of life. We talked motocross and breathed motocross 24 hours a day. We practiced every day. We raced every weekend. I say we because it was the both of us doing it. I can’t imagine how many hours Dad leaned against the old binder just watching me do lap after lap after lap. We no longer had to go home due to dinner being ready. Now we rode till either it was dark or we ran out of gas in the bike. Mom made dinner around us now. When we got home, we talked about how the bike ran that day. We talked about how far I jumped off a particular jump that day. We talked about the race coming up that Sunday and about the track. We talked about new parts that were coming out that would make my bike run faster or quicker. We talked about the next bike we thought would be best. After dinner I would go downstairs to my room and read motocross magazines. I would read and read and when I would find something I thought Dad should know about I would race up the stairs and kneel beside his chair and show it to him. He would always drop whatever he was doing and listen intently like it was the most important thing I had told him about since the last thing I had shown him.
If I had a natural ability on a bike, Dad had a natural ability in making it all happen effortlessly. Sometimes after riding a few laps around the track at practice Dad would wave me over. He would come over with his trusty screwdriver and pliers and make an adjustment. Suddenly the bike would explode through power ranges like it was supposed to do. He could listen to a bike and tell if it was running rich. The best part of this to me was the way I could tell him, in my own way, what the bike was or wasn’t doing and the way he knew right away what was wrong. Probably sometimes it was my imagination but he would always come up with something that made it the bikes fault and not my own and make an adjustment and send me on my way for more laps. It was a language all our own. I would say things like, “when I come out of that corner over there, it seems to lag at first but then take off good”. He ALWAYS had a fix for it. I can’t stress enough the sheer magnitude of that memory. He always knew exactly what to do.
At some point I was at a crossroads as to what size of bike I wanted to race. I was small for a 125 but a little big for an 80. But I told dad that if we souped up an 80 I thought it would be good. So we bought a Yamaha YZ80. We bought a new custom pipe for it, put Boysen reeds in the carburetor and made a few more modifications to it till we were satisfied it had the power to match the smaller riders on the same bike. In reality I was probably too big and heavy for that sized bike but it was never questioned by Dad. I remember one race that I was in at Chapman that stands out. I was doing well and was in first place. Another rider, named Butch, was right behind me. I think he was probably faster than me and possibly he was actually in first and almost had lapped me. I crossed the finish line and got a checkered flag with him right behind me. Butch’s dad said that he had actually gotten first. My Dad got right in his face and told him BULLSHIT that his son had gotten the checkered flag and that was that. I kind of stood back in awe of that. I wasn’t really sure what place I had came in but in my Dad’s eyes I had gotten first place and that was all that mattered. The track owner had to come and break up what probably would have been a fist fight and made a decision that Butch had came in first. It didn’t matter. I won that race. Just ask my Dad. It wasn’t long after that I started racing the 125 all the time.
Once there was a Pro MX Race at Arrowhead stadium. We of course took no time at all in deciding we were going to that. But while finding out about the details we learned that the day before the pro’s raced, there would be an amateur day. We were there. We got hotel rooms, loaded up and went to race where the big boys raced. I can’t remember all the details of that race but I do remember the best parts. I was on an 82’ bike when all the other riders were racing 83’s. It never entered my mind that my bike may be slower because in my mind there was no better bike than the one my Dad had crafted for me. I got the hole shot of the first qualifier. Dad told me later that the announcer was announcing over and over that he could not believe that this “old’ 82 RM was blowing these new bike away. I ended up crashing though and coming in last place. That did not affect me or Dad in the slightest. I believed in myself because Dad believed in me. It was like both of knew that I could win this thing. I had to race the last chance qualifier to make it to the main event and I ended up winning it by a large margin. In the main event, I again got the hole shot and ended up in 13th place. This was good. It was like even though I had gotten 13th there was a knowing by both me and dad that I was the fastest there. We were already talking about the next weekend race before we left Arrowhead that day.
Through events that really don’t pertain to this story I ended up in California for a couple of weeks and made my way to a famous local MX track called “Saddleback”. There I met some pro riders that were there just having fun. Johnny O’Mara, Donnie Hansen, and Ron Turner. Ron Turner pertains here. He had just singed a contract to race and develop and brand new bike called a Cagiva. It was an Italian bike that had the whole racing scene talking. I met Ron and also the General Manager of the company there that day. After talking with them and seeing the bikes, I called Dad to tell him about it. It wasn’t long after that we had a new 94’ 125 Cagiva sent to us via the rail road. We had to assemble the whole thing. It was a huge task but after about 8 hours of bloody knuckles there stood the most awesome thing I had ever seen. It was like our very own Ferrari sitting in our garage. This bike was different not only because it was brand new on the market but mostly because me and my Dad had literally put it together. After a few days of fine tuning, I was ready to head out to the rock quarry. The bike was actually a little heavier than other manufactures bikes but it handled like no other and if ridden correctly couldn’t be beat in speed. I could definitely ride it correctly.
The owners of the rock quarry decided that they didn’t want motorcycles on it anymore so Dad arranged with some farmer to lease some property in the country for me to ride on. My grandpa helped to form a few jumps and whoop sections on the land with a bulldozer and this was “our” new practice track. Even though it was no rock quarry, it was ours. About the same time, some guy contacted us and asked if we would be interested in riding on an old MX track called “Happy Hills”. We of course were and this track was much to my liking. The track was all natural terrain and was laid out through winding hills with long straight aways and long wide corners with awesome berms that allowed me to fly through the corners like never before. I think it was here that I actually crossed a new level of speed on the bike. Happy Hills was about 15 miles from where we lived but as often as possible we would load up the old binder and drive over and ride till we were out of gas.
The next year went by, with races coming and going every weekend. I usually came in second or third, often winning one moto but crashing the next. As much as I wanted to win a race it wasn’t about that. It was all about getting up Sunday morning, eating a big breakfast, loading up the bike, and driving to the race, talking motorcycles the whole way there. Getting there, signing up for my class, practicing, talking about the practice, talking about what I could do in the race to get an edge, talking about what riders to watch out for and just being around it all. It is a time I will never ever forget and never have one bad thing to say about. It was truly a time some can never imagine and a lot will never experience. For some reason the drive back home was the best too. Just talking about bikes, racing, and hearing Dad brag about me in his own way to this day makes me have a feeling that I can’t explain. This is what is was all about.
Once, I entered into a Hare Scramble race. It consisted of one moto that lasted two hours long. It poured down rain that day at Chapman Kansas . I never liked racing in the mud but this was just for fun anyway so we began our day. We had talked about and practiced when I would need to fill up with gas. Dad told me later that I was so far ahead of everyone and doing so well that when that time came, he decided to let me go “one more lap” and then pull me over to refuel. I got to the farther point away from where the pits were at and ran out. It had to of been about a mile away. An important side note here is the fact that Dad still smoked probably 2 packs a day. Anyway, there I was, at the top of this hill, out of gas. I remember looking down towards the pits and saw my Dad running through the mud, across the track with a 5 gallon metal gas tank in his hand. I started pushing the bike towards him and we refilled in a hurry. I ended up coming in second at that race but that didn’t matter. That thing my dad did with the gas tank, that alone made me feel like I won every race I was in after that whether I did or not. We were both had a dedication to this that was unspoken but never questioned.
About 10 months later we decided we had to have the new 95’ Cagiva. By now the company had grown and we were no longer able to deal with the GM one on one so we went to a dealer in KC where we looked at the new bike. We also talked them into sponsoring me for a year. They would sell us the bike at cost, and in exchange I would pass out business cards and promote their business at the races. We had made it to the big time as far as we were concerned. I raced the bike for the first time at the Hutchison MX track. I got first. It was awesome. All these details are almost secondary to the detail that all this was done by me and my Dad. We did all this together. That is the point of this whole story.
I went on to get a Honda CR250 which I raced once. About this time I was probably about 15 maybe 16 and other things were suddenly becoming important to me. Girls and parties became more important. Slowly the races became sparser. At this exact time I was at the top of my game. My ability to ride a bike was never a question but I knew it, my Dad knew it, and others who had watched me knew I had the ability to take it as far as I wanted to take it. It makes me sad when I think of this time today. We all make mistakes in life and this was one of mine for sure. I should have stuck with it, and went as far as I could have gone. I know my Dad would have been right there with me all the way. I can envision the two of us in the pits at a pro race. Dad with his screwdriver and pliers in his back pocket and we’d be leaned over my bike tweaking it for the next race. We would be there in our truck, with a small toolbox right next to the huge trucks of the pro’s. That is the only regret I have about this time. That I’m not still doing it. It was never about winning races, or being overly competitive like a lot of the other riders were. It was about the feeling of riding a motorcycle. Everything about it. Simply riding because we loved it. It didn’t really matter where it was at, who was there, or what I was riding. From the time that I swung my leg over the seat of the bike to the time we pulled into the driveway and unloaded the bike, it was the sweetest time I can recall. It was a time that I will never forget. It was a time that my Dad gave to me without pause. It was right from the moment he brought that little mini bike home the first time.
The last time that I felt that experience literally was when I had the most serious wreck I had ever had. I was simply going to ride my Cagiva down the road, to warm it up, for a guy who was going to buy it from me. The moment I got on it, I felt that same feeling I always felt and rode it like I had always rode. I somehow hit a deep rut on the cemetery road that I had rode down countless times, and hit in it a way that forced the handle bars to swing with such force that they smacked the side of my head so hard I lost all equilibrium for what seemed an eternity. I crawled to the nearest house and told them to call me Dad. Who else would I have them call? There had been lots of times I had casually gotten on my bike to take a quick spin before supper down the cemetery road and have the bike stall on me and Dad would have to come pick me up. When Dad got this call, he assumed the same thing. I remember how much better I felt when I saw Dad pull up. Even though he at the time didn’t realize how bad I was hurt, I somehow knew things would be ok after he got there.
Thanks Dad for giving memories that mean so much to me. I will never ever forget any of them. To me, they are the greatest memories anyone could possible have.
I know that I will ride again some day. When that time comes, I know that every time I start the bike up, I will not only feel the rush of adrenaline I always got when I had done the same thing countless times before, but I will have a feeling that nobody else will have, and that is that my Dad gave this to me.
Copyright Jeff Jackson 2002