The fastest way
to go from point to point on the face of the earth, assuming that you do not
prepare the ground in front of you but take it rough and unimproved, is on a
motorcycle. The right bike in the right hands can travel full tilt in bumps,
slides and vaults over ground that would gunnysack Land Rovers and power
wagons. In the hands of the cyclists who dominate motocross racing, Europeans
all, the progress is made with a power and alacrity that make your hair stand
unknown in this country until recently but gaining familiarity very rapidly, is
easily one of the more popular sports in Europe. It is, to attempt a
definition, a kind of motorcycle racing that is done on courses that epitomize
the rough terrain of enduro or desert racing. The courses are all different;
those of Russia are unlike those of Spain, say, or California; and the courses
of some regions have notorious problems—the deep sand of Belgium, for
instance—that sometimes allow local heroes to upset the established
international stars. Belgian racers topped the Swedes in 250-cc. racing last
year, but at the moment Sweden still dominates world motocross competition in
the 500-cc. class.
Motocross is very
properly considered a sport. It requires strength, the balance of a slack-wire
walker, incredible coordination and endurance. It requires a lot of training.
The paunches and bubble-butts of other motor sports are not seen here. A
contending motocrosser can expect to play out around 28 years old, sooner than
a fighter or football player. There is no retirement plan.
But in Europe
motocross offers access to daydreams of folk-heroism, much as baseball does
here. The great Swedish champions, Torsten Hallman and Bengt Aberg, had at one
time both entertained dreams of being soccer stars, a parallel route off the
farm. Hallman, whose reputation emboldened him to an autobiography, recounts a
career that is both mildly picaresque and yet utterly integral to the wishful
daydreams of innumerable young Europeans. When you hear of Hallman and a
companion driving down from Sweden towing a trailer that carries their racing
motorcycles, crossing into Poland and Russia and Czechoslovakia to hit any race
going, bringing back trophies or wrecked motorcycles or nothing, you cannot
avoid thinking of knights-errant. Nor when you see Hallman or Aberg or Christer
Hammargren or Ake Jonsson or any one of the northern superriders can you quite
think you are watching yet another West Coast internal-combustion lunacy.
It was new to me.
I have since made a rather selective picture of motocross in my mind; in
effect, a reconstruction whose components are largely drawn from the Inter-Am
events at Morgan Hill, Calif. and at Saddleback Park, near Orange, Calif.
Inter-Am is a sanctioning body, one of the groups fighting over American
motocross as it makes its start here. The entrepreneurs are in on it too; and,
in general, the money boys are atwitter.
In the crowd
there is something ghoulish. The day is gone, after all, when you could watch a
hanging; and there is one part of you that is a spectator at the event because
something might happen.
So there is that.
There is also a rather comfortable sense of its being merely a sporting crowd;
you might bet on the outcome; there are certain expectations; there are those
who could admire the good riding. There are families, friends of racers,
couples, hippies, kids who have rigged a balloon on the Schwinn to make it
roar. Everywhere, it would seem, are the archetypal California females: the
nifty incipients in bathtub-fitted button-up Levi's, Indian moccasins and loose
peasant blouses or white T shirts, the latter possibly with that no-bra,
ubiquitous California woman is there—a rather unappetizing item in a pants
suit, weirdly dyed as though the material had been on the scene when Krakatoa
let go, and possibly silver slippers, owl glasses and any number of fashion
accouterments that could have made Orwell's vision of an uninhabitable future
so much more convincing. The first of these women that I saw, cross my heart,
shot through the crowd on a three-wheeled ATV (all-terrain vehicle), spangled
Capezios working the aircraft pedals with a certain élan you couldn't ignore,
braked up shy of a refreshment stand and ordered a Diet Pepsi that she
consumed, at speed, one arm authoritatively steering the buggy among the legs
of the other spectators.
Another I saw
wore a jump suit identical to her husband's, both advertising STP in huge
letters. Still another wheeled a pair of infants in matching "Sock it to
me!" playsuits. Virtually all the rest of the crowd were just regular
people—but who wants to talk about just regular people? The hubby of the mommy
of the "sock-it-to-me" twins caught up with his family and asked the
little woman, "What's happening?"
"Me and the kids is gonna boogie over to the refreshments for a hot
dog." I meant to make my way through these...fans and head for the pits.
But on the way I bumped into the lady of the ATV. A man standing over her kept
looking down at the machine and saying, "Fyantyastic!"