2013 was the last year that the AMA Motocross series held a race at the famous Southwick track.  Being a fan of all motorsports and going fast, I am thereby a huge moto fan, much like the rest of this readership.  Some teammates of mine and I decided we were going to go down and join in on the fun for the historic occasion, because why not?  I had never been to a moto race, and this was a big way to start things off.  In my partial ignorance of the scene, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, and perhaps my expectations were a little high.  But, coming from a sport that is so interactive and inclusive of the spectators, I was a quite surprised at how separated we as fans, were from the athletes.
It was like being at the Hippodrome, where you were there to see a show, and had little intimate relation to the “battle” set before you.  I didn’t expect to be able to go give Villopoto a hug, but I was a little shocked that you could “shmooze” with the pros, for a price!  What a weird concept that is to me…pay to meet someone?  To me, half the point of being a professional athlete is being able to inspire fans by your presence, but to make them pay to be around you?  Too weird!  Moto is so commercial, it is to a point where I don’t bother watching the podium interviews at the end; checkered flag, TV is off.
In contrast, years ago I was fortunate enough to attend an NBA playoffs game (Celtics v. Magic) with my brother.  Again, an adventure where I had no idea what to expect – I only care about racing, so this was a foray into unknown territory. But, imagine my surprise when we (a group of 20 people hanging out pre-game by the tunnel) were able to brush shoulders with Dwight Howard’s enormous shoulders!  I was floored: never did I think I’d be hanging out in the presence of one of the top players in the NBA.  It was a fleeting interaction, but clearly it left an impression.
Similarly, in our sport of mountain biking, we have the chance to run into industry big wigs, pro riders, and all sorts of “names” out on the trails, especially with all the top-quality lift access riding we all congregate around.  On the race circuit in particular, one mills about with faces seen on Vital, the pages of Dirt, and many of us probably follow a lot of them on various social media networks.  That to me is the most remarkable aspect of this sport – the ability for us laymen, to just casually meet these heroes of ours, the only cost to us is not being too shy.  It’s a big deal to meet these famous figure heads with our sport, but the thing is, they are just cool people who happen to be wickedly fast on bikes/love the sport for all its worth.  No pretense, nothing “Hollywood”, but a bunch of men and women playing in the dirt, just like you and me.
2007 US Open, photo with Jurgen, who became a friend through the local race series year after year.
   The interactions I had with the Pro riders when I was little kid without a doubt fueled my fire for racing and overall passion for riding.  It was awesome to walk around the pits getting autographs from and pictures with these faces from the magazine pages – it was such a thrill to banter with world-caliber athletes.  Daily inspiration came from two framed and signed photos: one of me with Cedric Gracia, and the other with Marla Streb – both from Mt. Snow 2003 when they each won.  The riders would always have a pearl of wisdom for me and their encouraging words still echo in my mind.  The crazier part about all of this?  Nothing has changed!  It is so wonderful to see the excited humility of the elite riders signing shirts, helmets, and posing with fans of all ages.
   As a fan and rider, it reminds me that there is nothing more important than remembering that we all have to start somewhere, and as one gets closer to the top, the kind words, smiles, and enthusiasm becomes that much more important.  The limelight gives the riders a chance to pass the torch to the up-and-coming generations of riders, as well as the new comers to the sport.  One should never underestimate the reach and impact that can be had with a few words of encouragement and a high five.
   It should not be a surprise to me when I meet industry folks and riders who are super nice, casual, and always stoked – they are in the sport for the love of it, and they get to do what they love for work.  Our sport is one of soul, camaraderie, and passion.  The energy at a race or competition cannot be faked, and that electric sensation is contagious.  We all feed on it, and it keeps the cycle spinning like a racers wheels and a freeriders bike and body.  Having a no-nonsense attitude is important to success, but having a friendly demeanor is the key to inspiring success in others.