Shortly before this bike was purchased, I made the fateful decision to join the Navy. It was one of the worst winters we had in a long time, and I was willing to believe
all the promises the recruiter had made about “the very likely possibility” of shore duty in San Diego. I signed the first set of papers in February, but wasn’t going
in until August. I graduated from high school early and had time to work more hours to save up for a new bike, once the previous one was sacrificed.
Like the last one, I bought this bike brand new, this time from another local dealer, Leo’s Kawasaki in Lakelville. I was one of the few people that was riding green that
year. When I lined up for my race, there would be a sea of yellow, with only a few specks of green and red.
I rode it a lot in the spring, mostly in the sand down by 1&44 in Shakopee. I started racing more often than the previous year. I did a bit better than the year before,
but was still a ways away from earning a trophy. I really liked the bike except for its Achilles Heel, which was that it came with a 428 chain. To make matters worse,
Kawasaki didn’t make enough rear sprockets that year, and aftermarket ones weren’t yet available.
When the stock sprocket got too worn to hold the chain, it threw the chain so hard that it broke (of course it did, this was the same size chain that comes on 50s now).
Timing being my strong point that year, the chain broke at the end of the sand wash at Zumbro (as it was then known). Several family members drove down to watch me race.
Since I broke Race 1, Lap 1, I only came around for the first lap, and I was in the middle of 125B chaos.
I tried very hard to find a sprocket. After I called about every dealer in the region, and several weeks passed, I ended up getting a sprocket custom machined. This was
about three times as expensive as a sprocket would usually be, added sprung weight, and didn’t really last any longer. It did get me riding again and I convinced myself
that it looked cool.
I can’t remember if the stock shocks were bad or not, but somehow I got the idea that I had to replace them with Fox Air Shox. This was a big ticket item for my budget.
In a move that was quite symbolic, I had to sell my bass and amp to pay for them. I traded music for dirt bikes, and it would be a long time before I started playing
the bass regularly again.
I put the stock shocks back on before I sold the motorcycle. Somehow, the Fox Shox stayed around for over 20 years, still in the box I got them in (just barely holding
together by that point). I checked around, and with the rise of vintage racing, thought I may be able to sell them on this newfangled thing called EBay. I sold them for
$100, which to me was like free money, I had forgotten I even had them, but to the guy who bought them, it was a great deal.
Then the day of reckoning arrived, and I was headed to Orlando Florida for Navy boot camp. Choosing Orlando in the middle of summer was unusual. Great Lakes, Illinois
was where most of the other guys from Minnesota went. I endured the humidity and daily rain, because if I was going to be in the Navy, I should be within 100 miles of
a large body of salt water.
Besides the climate, boot camp was quite a shock in every other way. My gratuitous sarcasm and tendency to rebel against authority would not serve me well in the next
four years. I also realized there was a whole other world of people out there besides the quite homogenous area that I grew up in. Prior to boot camp, I don’t think
I ever had a conversation with a black man from the US south, or even seen someone from the Philippines or Puerto Rico. More than race, the biggest adjustment for me
was getting along with people from the big eastern cities, and to a lesser extent, guys from the Deep South.
After boot camp in Orlando, I made the relatively short trip to A school in Meridian, Mississippi. With more freedom to go out into the civilian world, my eyes would be
opened to a not so pretty part of life. During our short orientation to the base. They said that when you were going into town, make sure that you did not make any
references to the clan, especially jokingly, and they strongly recommended against “mixed-race, public dancing”. It was fine on the bar on base, just not anywhere else.
This was the end of 1979. In my mind, “all of that” was fixed by the early 70s. I’m not saying people in Minnesota didn’t have their blind spots, but the demographics of
suburban Twin Cities in the 70s, and the passive aggressive tendencies of the Upper Midwest in general, made it much more subtle.
During the time I was there, there was a Trans-USA race being held at Road Atlanta. We had weekends off, so I concocted a plan to travel there by bus to watch the race.
It didn’t exactly go as planned.
The first major stop for the bus was Birmingham, Alabama. I didn’t yet realize that bus stations are almost always in the worst part of town, and made the mistake of wondering
off to a vulnerable spot. Once there, two large gentleman gave me the option of giving them my money, or beating me up and taking the money. I opted for first one. I had
already paid for my ticket to the city the track was near, so after conducting that transaction, I decided to get on the bus and continued on to Georgia.
Having no money brought a few issues. Food, hotel rooms, tickets to the race, and the bus ticket back to the base, all required cash. If I was not back by Monday morning,
I’d be AWOL. I got to the town near the track, and found out that the track was over 10 miles from town. I was able to get some cash wired to me, but not quite enough
to get a hotel room. I figured I’d close my eyes for a few hours on a park bench or something, and then start off early for the long walk to the track.
The flaw with that plan was that it was unseasonably cold, into the 30s, and all I had was a light jacket. I went into a hotel and found a seat where I wasn’t bothered,
and fell asleep. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was right next to the hotel lounge and things were pretty festive later that evening. I slept through it all.
The hotel employees must have felt sorry for me, because they left me alone.
The next morning I went out to the parking lot, and to my surprise, it was filled with team trucks and rider’s vans. The party I was oblivious to probably included many
of the mechanics, and possibly even riders, participating in the race I was about to watch. I knocked on the window of a privateer’s van and asked him if he could give
me a ride to the track. Not only did he give me a ride, he gave me a ticket and a pit pass.
And the gift kept giving. On the way to the track, he stopped at an Embers. He rode a Husqvarna. They were going out of favor, so apparently the Husky guys hung out. I
ended up having breakfast with Chuck Sun, just returning from Europe, and his brother, Ron. Ross, the guy who gave me a ride, ate a really heavy breakfast, while Chuck
ate much lighter, and kind of chided Ross for eating the big pre-race meal. Whatever Chuck was doing must have worked, because a year later, he was the 500cc national champion.
It was great being in the pits. I was taking pictures of all the works bikes. Danny Chandler had this bicycle that steered in the back and a bunch of guys were taking turns
on it. It was much more difficult to ride than you might think. The races were good too. The series was losing its luster, so there were no Europeans, and not all the US
stars, but more than enough for me. I got to see Magoo flog his Maico around the track, and Darrel Schultz bull his new factory Suzuki ride to a moto win.
The reason I didn’t buy the bus ticket back to Atlanta was that I would have had to miss the second set of races in order to make it back to town in time to catch that bus.
Even though it was called Road Atlanta, it was really quite a long ways to the city itself, a connecting bus ride from Atlanta. I watched all the races, then hitchhiked to
Atlanta. I was quite fortunate that the guy gave me a ride directly to the bus station itself. Atlanta was a pretty dangerous town in those days. Hitchhiking may have been
dangerous also, but I choose to ignore that part of it. I caught the late bus back to Meridian, arriving a few hours before school started Monday morning.
After getting done with boot camp and A school, I went back home for a while. While I was going through my initial Navy experiences, the bike waited patiently in Minnesota.
It was early November and unseasonably warm, so I took the opportunity to go riding at a little track that used to be by the VA hospital. There were a few other guys there,
Jim Delzer is the only one I remember, I was riding pretty well, and having fun riding a dirt bike on a beautiful day. As is often the case in these situations, I thought
I’d do “just one more lap”, which is of course when I swapped out and crashed.
I was pretty sore, but seemed OK. Someone ran up to see if I was hurt. I was just going to ride back to my car and go home, but I couldn’t pull in the clutch for some reason.
When I took off my glove, the bottom of my thumb was kind of at a 90 degree angle instead of the usual 45. The would-be helper said, “You broke your hand!” With the sight of
my misshapen hand, and his cheery observation, I felt a bit faint, so I sat down on the ground for a while to ponder my situation.
The VA hospital was right across the street, and I was eligible to go there now, so that is where I decided to go. Some people think they closed the track because of my injury.
I kind of doubt it, but I apologize if that’s true. If one is needed, my excuse for not changing out of my gear or going to some other hospital is that I also hit my head
pretty hard when I crashed.
It turned out my hand was not broken, but I had dislocated my thumb. I always thought when you dislocated something, you just popped it back in and went about your business.
I knew a few people who claimed such things, but I realize now that they were not talking about themselves, but perhaps someone they saw in a cartoon or movie. They put a cast
on it, hung it up in the air for traction, and I had to stay overnight at the hospital next to a crabby old guy who would complain every time I turned on the television.
I don’t recall anything about selling the bike (must have still been feeling the effects of hitting my head), but I knew I wanted to go back to a Yamaha.
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This obviously staged photo surfaced 30 years later.
Revised January 2018