I Finally Ride at “The Pit”

By Billy Rainford

Presented by Leatt

The old saying is true: If you want to ride a lot, do not get a job in the motocross industry. Unless you’re a test rider, the more involved you get in the industry, the less time you have to actually ride.

I’ve been lucky enough to carve out a nice little niche in our sport and I’m thankful for it every single day. Having said that, every time I tell myself I’m going to ride more often, I get let down. This year, I plan to change that. And the fact that I’ve now thrown my leg over a bike once this spring means I’m already ahead of the last…oh, let’s round it to 35 years. You heard me.

Sure, you see me popping up all over the world covering racing and the riders, but don’t think for a minute that I’ve been tearing up tracks as I travel. I haven’t owned a bike since 1987. I feel terrible saying that, but it’s the plain truth. With Jeff McConkey‘s Yamaha YZ250 2-stroke in my garage, I’m bound and determined to burn a bunch of laps this summer.

I have a bunch of great Leatt gear in my bag and that means it’s time to go out and ride in it and give my feedback. Nope, I’m not going to set any lap records, but I can give an honest opinion of what the stuff feels like.

Since moving back to Ontario from BC back in 2007, I’ve always heard of this little track just outside my home town in London, Ontario, called “The Pit.” I even drove over there once to have a look but didn’t take the time to really check it out. I’ve always seen photos of it on social media, especially on Kassie Boone‘s Instagram page; she always seemed to be riding there.

#37 Dario Zecca and #313 Nick Burnside at The Pit a few weeks ago.

A couple weeks ago, I headed over again to find #37 Dario Zecca putting in some laps. It was that day that I first saw the massive jump at the far end that everyone seems to call “Mount Ugly.” Since then, we’ve posted a bunch of videos of people jumping this crazy thing. So, when my high school buddy, #116 Jamie Ruddock, said he and #174 Chad Valenti were heading there to ride on Saturday, I went for it.

These are a couple of Vet riders who I knew I would have a fun day with at the track. No pressure, just go out and burn some gas. Well, that was me, these guys actually get after it out there!

With COVID-19 restrictions in place all across Canada, we knew we had to get there early, since we heard they were only allowing 30 riders on the track. Jamie is nothing if not punctual and he said we should get there before 10:30 to be sure we get on the track. I actually beat him there!

You roll up to the property that sits on a bend in the road above a nice little valley just north of the town of Thamesford. It’s a really nice little piece of property, and it’s kind of ‘Moto Heaven.’

There were a couple vehicles ahead of me and I pulled up in the DMX Van with the #739 on the hitch rack. It’s nothing fancy, but I’m more utilitarian than flash these days, anyway.

I stopped the van in the little circle that goes around the farm house, put on my mask, and walked up to the porch to sign in and pay my $25.

I didn’t catch the name of the friendly couple who own it, but I chatted with them for a little while. They saw the van and asked what Direct Motocross was all about. After some explanation it became known that they didn’t even have internet at their place! A big part of my Vet brain really liked knowing that. It felt just like the old days.

I got back in the van and drove around the house and past the growing line-up of vehicles and over to the track.

I parked in front of the Pee Wee track just like Jamie told me to.

I parked in the place Jamie told me he likes, over in front of the Pee Wee track. And what a great track it is. To be honest, I think I would have been happy turning laps on it all day! If you’re in the area and want to get your kids into the sport, be sure to check this place out. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

As more and more vehicles pulled in and took their places, I began to notice that most of the riders were of “advanced” age, just like me. I thought to myself that if older riders like the place, it’s probably a pretty well laid-out track. Of course, there were a bunch of youngsters, too, but the high number of Vets struck me as a very positive sign.

Good to meet you Saturday, John.

Jamie and Chad parked beside me and we began talking about the day and the track. I’d wandered around a little when I was there the week before, but not to the extent that I would say I knew the track. My dad was always big on walking a track on race day morning, so I wanted to make sure there wasn’t a gator pit or some such thing you had to jump with speed before I went out on the track for my first session.

And then I saw someone pull in who I hadn’t been on a track with since 1987. Yes, you still heard me. The friendly voice was immediately known to me – my old friend and rival Al Strickert was there to ride that day, too. I felt like I must have dropped some Chernobly in the hot tub the night before.

My old 1980’s friend and rival, Al Strickert, was even there!

Al wandered over and we talked for a while. Our families became friends back in the day, so we got caught up on all the things going on.

We all went back into our trucks, trailers, Sprinters, and minivans and got dressed to do some riding. My plan was to try and hit the track 3 times at 20 minutes a ride. I’ve been doing a lot of cycling already this year, so I thought that was a realistic idea of a good day on the track.

I was actually ready to go first and headed out for my first moto.

They had the track prepped and ready, and I was immediately happy with the place. The jumps are well thought out and about as safe as they can be. You’re going to find it pretty easy if you are a fast rider, but it will definitely hone your scrubbing skills.

I clicked my old, trusty, Timex Ironman watch and started trying to get comfortable.

I spent a big part of that first ride looking over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t getting in anyone’s way. There weren’t any Pro riders doing laps, but I was going so slowly that it made good sense for me to try and not cut anyone off or get landed on. Man, it’s tough to get old!

I didn’t do all the jumps that first time and just kept rolling around trying to sort the whole thing out. If it ever happens to you, you’ll be amazed at the disconnect between what your brain thinks you should be doing and what your body actually does out there on the track. Time is a weird thing.

I did my moto, pulled off the track and rolled back to the van to get a drink and rest before going out again. I put the bike up on the stand, sat down in my chair and stopped my watch. 12 minutes???!!! How was that only 12 minutes???

The amount of sweat in my helmet just didn’t line up with a slow 12-minute moto on the track. I wasn’t tired, per se, I just knew it was time to pull off and get a drink. But 12 minutes was hard to take! It turns out, nerves will make you sweat…a lot. I hoped that would change the more I got out there.

Al still looked good out there on the track, and that kind of pissed me off. Lol

Al was out on the track now and he was looking good. He didn’t even ride like an old fart! His style was up to date and I thought he looked pretty fast. I told Jamie that I thought he was going to have trouble staying with him and I could tell he didn’t appreciate that comment.

#116 Jamie Ruddock and #8 Al Strickert having some fun.

Jamie pulled out and he and Al were right together. I watched these two guys battle like it was A1 or the Gopher Dunes National.

The competitive spirit stays with you, I guess. Al worked his butt off until he made the pass. Jamie stayed right with him and then Al pulled off the track that very same lap. He’d accomplished what he wanted to, I guess. It was pretty funny.

During my first break, I grabbed my camera and snapped a few shots. I’m not out there to get competitive to hit the races for gate drops. No, I’m simply there to have some fun and tell some stories. I know what lane I’m in these days, and I’m happy with that.

Everyone came off the track and went to their pits for some water and some food. I hadn’t brought any food, but I did have some Ryno Power mix in my water jug, and down it went.

I set my helmet out in the sun to let it dry a bit before heading out for session #2. This time I’d do 20 before coming off.

I started getting a little more comfortable that second time and even managed to clear most of the jumps. Time off the bike puts you back close to square one as far as progression goes. I know this is going to take some time and I wasn’t about to do anything stupid. It’s just really embarrassing watching people do jumps that appear tiny when they do it only to have the reality that you’re not even going fast enough to do them yourself hit you right in the face.

This rider appeared to have the best chance of jumping Mount Ugly that day.

If you’re wondering whether or not I did Mount Ugly, you haven’t been reading this very carefully. I was proud of myself for finally clearing the tabletop jump at the beginning of it! Actually, I don’t think anyone was doing the jump that day.

I put in a bunch of laps and started thinking it was probably time to head back to the pits. I glanced down at my wrist on one of the shorter straights but could only see the seconds ticking away. I stretched out my left arm to try and move my cuff out of the way. I’d do another lap then take a better look.

12 minutes again! Seriously? Off the track and back to the van I went. If I was looking at my watch, I felt I should probably just take another break.

It was now around 1:30 and I knew I wanted to be home in time to watch the Atlanta Supercross at 3, so this was going to be a shorter break.

Jamie looked good out there, and that, too, sort of pissed me off!

I had more to drink and stood around chatting with Jamie and Chad. I took a look in the gas tank to see that it hadn’t moved much at all. I was getting great mileage! LOL I topped it off anyway.

Heading out for my 3rd moto of the day, I was hoping things would start to smooth out a little for me. Instead, I started to feel my right hand going a little numb. I was suffering a slight spell of arm pump and it was going to make this last time out on the track a little difficult.

I think Chad may have been turning the quickest laps on Saturday.

I started my stopwatch again and went for it. Jamie made fun of me when I came in after my first ride and I became aware that I was, indeed, crouching in a way that I don’t remember ever doing back in the day – a rather awkward bastardization of the JSR crouch. The trouble was that I didn’t seem to be able to do anything about it! Is this what happens when you become a kook, you can’t do anything about that terrible riding style?! Trust me, I’m going to do everything in my power to not let that happen.

Even though my arms were starting to fatigue, I wanted to hit that now-magical 12-minute mark again for my final time on the track.

I purged myself of all my crazy racing superstitions years ago, but I found that there was still no way I was going to say, “Just one more lap” to myself. I’d do what I always did. I’d say, “Just a few more laps” to myself and then pull off. How is that any better? It’s amazing the mind games you play with yourself when you’re out on the track.

I actually did a few more laps and found that there were getting to be more and more square edges on the track and on a couple of the jump faces in the spots I always seemed to find myself riding. My “race craft” leaves a bit to be desired right now…

I found I was having tons of flashbacks being at the track with these guys. Unfortunately, nothing came back to me as far as riding goes, but I’ll keep working on it.

I managed to ride 13 minutes that last time before calling it quits for the day. 12, 12, and 13, almost one moto from back in the day. Wow.

As I got undressed and put the bike back on the rack, a feeling came over me that I haven’t felt in much too long. There’s nothing like a day at the track to remind you of what you love.

I thought about my dad. I pictured him in his race day red pants and Castrol ball cap. I pictured him cleaning my bike to the point that it was almost embarrassing. I pictured my mom walking around with her clipboard counting laps for really no other reason than to keep her nerves in check. It brought a tear to my eyes while also putting a smile on my face.

There was no trophy on this day, just that amazing feeling of having spun some laps on a fun track with some great, old friends.

If you’re fortunate enough to be able to ride all the time, you may not have even understood these ramblings. To you, riding is no big deal. No, it’s a given. In fact, you probably take it for granted. But trust me, when you get older and maybe you haven’t been able to get on a bike for a bunch of years, you’ll know exactly what all this was about. It’s both terrible and amazing at the same time.

Ride on, everyone.

Just being on a track again was a big deal to me, but to these kids I was just some random kook riding slow at a practice track. See you at the races…