The Story Behind the Photo | Where it All Began
By Billy Rainford
I guess this story has been bubbling in my brain waiting to get out for a long time. You know the one, the story of where it all began for you and how this sport got its hooks into you so deeply that there’s really no way for you to get out. I tried to get away once, but, like the movie cliché goes, “Just when I thought I was out…”
So, here’s my version of “The Story Behind the Photo” and this one is where it all began for me.
For most of us, the story begins the same way – our dad probably raced when he was younger and you grew up heading to the races as a family and you just naturally got a PW50 and started riding. Not me.
My dad never rode a bike. The troublemaker across the street from me did, though, and that’s how I first even realized there was a thing called “Motocross.” It was never anything my parents were interested in getting me started in, so I would just walk across the street and watch Steve clean his bike after a day tearing up a gravel pit just outside London, Ontario.
My dad was a business owner and dealt with a tool and mould shop owner (and fellow Englishman), John Allen. John’s son, Mark Allen, was a motocrosser and I have to assume John and my dad would talk about where they were off racing on the weekend. That must have been when my dad weakened and considered it as an activity for us to do.
What kid doesn’t want a dirt bike? None, that’s who.
At some point along the way, we began looking in the classified ads of the local London Free Press newspaper. I would scour the latest morning or evening paper (you heard me) and one day it appeared before my eyes: 1980 Kawasaki KX 80 $600 (I want to say we got it for $590)
The year was 1981. Yes, I’m old. My father and I got in touch with the owner of the bike and set up a time to head over to check it out.
We hopped in the van and drove across the city to see what it looked like. Of course, it looked perfect to me. I ignored the fact that it was somehow missing a kickstarter and, next thing I knew, I was the new owner of a KX80.
I can remember rolling it up my driveway as my buddy, Cary Hitchen (in the brown tee shirt) was already there waiting to see it. I had told him we were going to check it out, but he knew it would be coming home with us.
Cary had always had a mini bike and would rip up the grass of our elementary school any chance he got. He’d never let me ride it and so now I had a bike of my own to keep from him. However, mine was a state of the art racing machine, not like his little mini bike with a headlight!
After several weeks of riding in that same local gravel pit my neighbour would frequent, I started getting comfortable on the bike. No, I wasn’t good or even showing signs of natural talent, but it was all I could think about from sun up to sun down. You know the feeling.
At some point, John Allen mentioned to my dad that they were heading north of the city to some place with the comical name, Hully Gully, for a day of practice riding on an actual track.
Wow, an actual track made for racing dirt bikes! I couldn’t even imagine how much fun that would be. I’d gotten the hang of changing gears and may have even had both wheels in the air at once. This sounded like fun.
The photo for this story is us loading my bike onto the Allen’s three-rail trailer and heading one hour north to do some riding, that fateful day.
As we pulled in the gate at Hully Gully, something occurred to me…this doesn’t look like a bunch of kids practicing. This looked like an actual race!
And so there I was at the first Hully Gully House League race of my life. Yes, it was just a Thursday evening house league event, but it seemed like the World Championships to me.
I was actually terrified and, looking back, I think I remember not wanting to line up behind the gate for the races. It was all completely new and scary to me. The advice I was given was to “line up on the far outside and just let everyone go.” Good plan.
I was terrible and didn’t even have a kickstarter on my bike! I had to bump start it and then keep it running up at the starting gate while the previous race left for their moto. I stalled it and can still remember the voice of Irv Ford saying, “Well, it looks like we’ve got a push-starter up on the line next,” over the PA system. I was young and embarrassed.
I don’t actually remember anything after that point. I have no idea how the “race” went. Actually, that’s not true. I remember I was dead last and got lapped at least once by…everyone. I was wearing my Innuck winter boots with my jeans tucked into my dark brown socks with light blue stripes, and I was wearing volleyball knee pads. My white full-face helmet was purchased at Canadian Tire and I think it even had the full visor on it. I think gardening gloves protected my hands.
I also remember being a little upset that I’d been duped into attending an actual race when I simply wanted to ride around a track at my own pace and have some fun. In hindsight, that’s exactly what I did, anyway!
So, that’s the story of where it all began for me. That was a very long time ago, and I know similar stories are being written every year and every day since it happened to me.
Motocross (and motorcycles in general) is a sport that gets under your skin and into your blood. There’s really no way out, once you’re in. You know exactly what I’m talking about. And if you don’t, go ahead, just try to leave the sport and go live in the “real world.” We’ll leave the door open and the light on back here for you, and we’ll see you soon.