The Grand Trans-AMA Quest of 1979
Based on excerpts from My Life as a Motorcycle List

While still in my senior year of high school, I made the fateful decision to join the Navy. It was one of the worst winters we had in a long time. I was willing to believe all the promises the recruiter had made about "the very likely possibility" of shore duty in San Diego. Southern California was my Motocross Mecca. Living there and being able to ride BMX and dirt bikes year-round was a frequent subject of my daydreams.

When the day of reckoning arrived, I was headed to Orlando, Florida for Navy boot camp. Choosing Orlando in the middle of summer was an unusual choice. Great Lakes, Illinois was where most recruits from Minnesota went. I endured the humidity and daily rain because if I was going to be in the Navy, I thought that I should be within a hundred miles of a large body of salt water. Besides the climate, boot camp was quite an adjustment in many other ways. My gratuitous sarcasm and tendency to rebel against authority would not serve me well in the next four years.

After boot camp in Orlando, I made the relatively short trip to A School in Meridian, Mississippi. While I was going through this schooling, I heard that there was going to be a Trans-AMA race 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. I made the mistake of wondering off to a vulnerable spot. Once there, two large gentlemen gave me the option of giving them my money, or beating me up and taking the money. I opted for the first one. I had already paid for my ticket to the city near the track, so after conducting that transaction, I decided to get on the bus and continue 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 only to find out that the track was over ten miles from town. I was able to get some cash wired to me, but not quite enough to get a hotel room. I thought 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. It dropped into the 30s and all I had was a light jacket. I went into a motel, found a seat in the lobby, and fell asleep. I didn't know it at the time, but it was right next to the hotel lounge and things were quite festive later that evening. I slept through it all. The motel 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 a few riders, participating in the race I was about to watch. Still needing to get to the track, I knocked on the frosty window of a privateer's van and asked him if he could give me a ride. Not only did he give me a ride to the track, he gave me a ticket and a pit pass.

Gary Bailey working on David's Bultaco, one of the last of the blue bikes out there.

And the gift kept on giving. On the way to the track, he stopped at an Embers for breakfast. Ross rode a Husqvarna. They were going out of favor, so apparently all the Husky guys hung out. We had breakfast with Chuck Sun, just returning from Europe, and his brother Ron. Ross ate a really big breakfast, while Chuck ate much lighter and kind of chided Ross for eating such a heavy pre-race meal. Whatever Chuck was doing must have worked. He won a moto later that day, and 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 other riders were taking turns on it. It was much more difficult to ride than you might think. The races were good too. There were no Europeans, and not all the top US riders were there, but there were more than enough stars for me. I got to see Magoo flog his Maico around the track, and Darrel Schultz bull his factory Suzuki to a moto win.

This may not be the same race, but I'm pretty sure it's the same year. Chuck Sun on his Husky.

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 the bus. Even though it is called Road Atlanta, it's a long way from the city itself. 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. Atlanta was a dangerous town in those days, the Murder Capital was its nickname. In retrospect, hitchhiking may have been dangerous also, but I choose to ignore that.

I caught the late bus back to Meridian, arriving a few hours before role call Monday morning. I was already way ahead of schedule with the self-paced study, so I mostly read with my eyes closed that day.

This obviously staged photo was taken a few years later on a ship.
The then-young author is posing as an office puke.