Wednesday, November 5, 2014

November 5, 2014 - End of an Era

By Steve Elston....

I am feeling quite sad today, after spending a good part of the day yesterday in Carlsbad California.  You see, Carlsbad California was at the epicenter of motocross during the 70’s and 80’s which is when I was growing up.  I didn’t care much about the usual sports like football, basketball, or baseball.  My favorite sport was motocross.  Unfortunately for me, my parent’s hated motorcycles and basically prevented me from owning a dirt bike.  I managed to sneak away and do some riding with friends who had dirtbikes when I was in elementary school, and junior high, but I could only learn the most basic of skills like how to work a clutch, shift, control front and rear brakes.  I got a few bikes airborn, learned to spin donuts, and even pulled a few wheelies.   My bedroom walls were plastered with pictures from “Dirt Bike” magazine showing pro-riders blasting around berms, soaring through the air, or fighting it out handle bar to handle bar with another rider during a race (at 70mph, no less). 

I can vividly remember (when I was a child) waking up early on Sunday mornings, grabbing the newspaper and searching for the TV guide section, yellow highlighter in hand.  I would scour the entire weeks listing looking for anything related to dirtbikes that would be airing on our 3 or 4 Seattle TV channels (we didn't have cable TV).  Fortunately, Wide World of Sports had some decent coverage of US motocross when I was a kid, so I could usually catch a race every month or so on TV.  VCR’s hadn’t been invented yet so if you missed it, you’d never see it again.  So, I made sure I was at home whenever the race was aired.  I never missed a race!

At that time, every year the US hosted one event on the world championship circuit.  Prior to the late 70’s, this event was almost always won by a European.  But by the late 70’s the young southern CA boys were getting really good and started winning the US event in the world championship series.  Where was the annual world championship event held in America you ask?  Carlsbad California of course.  It hosted the event for about 15 years in a row.   Most of the great American riders of the 70’s and 80’s came out of southern California and several of the best came from Carlsbad, and neighboring towns like El Cajon, and Mission Viejo.  I was a young boy and these guys were my heros.  I knew all their names, what bikes they rode, where they were in the national standings, etc.  I also knew the name of every turn and treacherous section on the Carlsbad track.  Places like “the Carlsbad freeway” where riders would 70+mph during a 14-story drop down into a canyon, OR "Devil’s Drop", and "Rattlesnake Gulch" at the bottom where they had to clamp on the brakes to slow to 10mph in order to make a banked hairpin turn so they could then rocket back up the canyon to the top, ripping through all 6 gears skipping across the tops of some significant "whoops".  It was an exciting track, and it was scary looking.

But, being a young kid from Washington State, with parent’s that hated motorcycles, I never had a chance to pursue my interest, or even go see a race in person.  I did eventually buy a brand new Yamaha dual-sport motorcycle when I was 16, after saving every penny of my paper route money for years.  Then in my early 20’s I bought a real dirt bike and started riding every weekend.  I entered some races and had good events, and bad events.  I do remember how shocked my parents were when after riding for just a few months, and entering my first race, I came home with a 2nd place trophy.  An impressive result for a novice with just a few months of time on a dirt bike.  But, getting started in your 20’s is pretty late in motocross where most of the champs started out at age 6 and were already turning pro before graduating high school.   So, dirt biking became my primary interest and hobby, but not something I could ever realistically pursue.  I simple started way too late in life (most pro's are wrapping up their racing career by their mid to late 20's).   Eventually I began to lose interest as my riding buddies dropped out of the scene.  So, I sold my bikes and started following my other childhood passion, which was boating.  I did have a brief return to dirtbiking in the late 90’s until about 2002.  I entered a few more races including the Dessert 100 twice, but I was getting too old, and too out of shape to be competitive.  But it was great fun.  Interestingly, Kathy (my wife) got into dirt bike riding and would go riding with me most of the time.  She even had her own dirt bike.  At that time, before moving to La Conner, we had several neighbors that also rode, including one of the wives.  We spent a lot of weekends out trail riding with our neighbors.  It was great fun, and great exercise.  But once again, the boating bug returned and we sold our dirtbikes and bought a 28’ boat and have never looked back.

So, what am I sad about here in Carlsbad?  I found out that back in 2005 the track was bulldozed to make room for the “Carlsbad Raceway Office Park”.  I was such a significant track for me as a child (and also as a young adult) that even though I never set foot on the grounds, or rode any part of it, it was a place that I spent hours dreaming about as a youth.  I dreamt that I was blasting down the Carlsbad Freeway battling it out with Bob Hannah, David Bailey, Broc Glover, or Roger DeCoster.  So, when I found out we were going to be in Carlsbad I wanted to go see my favorite track, but sadly it is gone.  I suppose it would be like a golf fanatic finding out that Pebble Beach had been leveled and replaced with condos.  Or a baseball fan finding out that Fenway Park was now a parking lot.  For me, Carlsbad WAS motocross.  And motocross was the most important thing to me for a good part of my childhood.  How sad it now gone.  I wish I could have seen it….

Wild motocross action at Carlsbad Raceway  Late 70's
Large crowds in Carlsbad.
Even larger crowd.  Carlsbad WAS motocross!
A youtube video of a race I remember watching on Wide World of Sports when I was a kid:

1 comment:

  1. Hi Steve,
    Just came across your blog. I'm currently living in Bellingham (WA) but I grew up in San Diego and raced Carlsbad for about 5 years. I used to dream about it too before I was old enough to race there. I would get all the motocross magazines and read about it and imagine I was racing there before I eventually got to! Lots of memories for sure.