Motocross racers are real people, too

Sometimes, you gotta take a step back from the track to see what’s right in front of you


Colton Facciotti looking through a tool box.

I walked up to Colton Facciotti’s tent with my camera aimed and cocked. This is the smile he gave me when he noticed me approaching. It looks sincere to me. — Jim Muir photo

I perceived the CMRC Pro MX Nationals in Nanaimo, B.C., differently this year than I have in the past. Instead of focusing my attention, and my camera, at the racers racing around the track with numbers representing them, I tried to focus on the people behind those numbers, and the people behind the scenes making it all happen. I spent more time in the pits and less time on the track. It was a better experience for me in the end.

Turns out, the people, and what goes on behind the scenes, are at least as interesting as the racing itself.

Zen, karma or something like that

I’ve recently completed a weekend teaching with a Tibetan monk (lama, I think) at the local Buddhist temple. The monk stressed that as important as actions are, it is the “motivation” behind those actions that is most important.

From my quick weekend of Buddhist schooling, the big takeaway for me was that I should strive to make my highest motivation to care for all sentient life at least as much as I care for myself. I took away that how we treat people, and animals, is of paramount importance to our own spiritual well-being. So I imagined walking in the Alpinestars Tech 10 boots of some of the main players, and the duck boots of some of the lesser players, in this major motor sporting event.

My motivation for this article came largely from my weekend with a Tibetan monk, but also partly because it’s what RidersWest asked me to do. And they are sentient beings, so it all works together in a Zenny kind of way.

More than numbers on the finishing line

The first thing I learned when I started going around to the team tents—and I honestly had no idea—was that most of the top riders and teams knew who Seehorse was before I introduced myself. Instead of feeling pride in this though, I felt humbled. I felt deep gratitude that these people, idols of mine, had taken some moment, at some time, at some place, and acknowledged my existence and hopefully enjoyed my photos—many of which include them.

It seems only fitting, then, that I should do more than post photos of them as a number and a finishing position. We are all much more than a number, and there are things about us more important than where we finish.

I didn’t do long interviews, I didn't ask them what their favourite colour was or what kind of music they listened to. These people were vigorously involved in racing and preparations for such. I just asked a couple of questions here and there, and tried to get a general feel for the people I spoke to. I spoke briefly with Colton Facciotti, Brett Metcalfe, Jean Sebastien Roy, Mark Stallybrass, Kyle Beaton, a couple of the Rockstar girls, and Mike Smith, who is a long-time acquaintance of mine and, I discovered, now Cole Martinez's mechanic.

Teddy Maier looking upset at his bike.

This is how Teddy Maier looked after the first moto. How do you think his race went based on this photo? — Jim Muir photo

I also spent time in the pits with some of our local racers, specifically Jason Abernethy, Joe Nikirk and Graham Scott. I took photos throughout my wanderings and I have to say that the photo gallery linked to this article says more than my words ever can. There are things you can see that are just too sublime to articulate with words, at least for me. But I’ll try—and add as many photos as the sentient beings at RidersWest will allow.

Cool, calm Colton

All the racers, and all the crew members, were very nice to me and generous with their time under the circumstances, it being a National race and all.

Considering that he was probably under more pressure than anyone else I spoke to, I was especially touched by the moments I shared with Colton Facciotti. He’s got a good heart and a quick smile. You can see his sincerity in the photos of him. You can’t fake a smile and a glint in your eye. If it’s insincere, the camera’s eye will catch you almost every time.

The first time I saw him was well before racing began. I walked up to his tent where he was talking to the team manager, or someone dressed like that. I waited a short moment but he acknowledged me as soon as he saw me. I told him who I was, which apparently I didn’t need to do, and proceeded to ask him if he had anything for Metcalfe today in Nanaimo?

He laughed a bit, perhaps at the forthright nature of my question, looked up in thought briefly, and then said with humility, “I don't know. I wasn’t at my best in Kamloops, but he’s fast. We’ll see."

Bobby Kiniry, Cole Thompson and Colton Facciotti talking in the pits.

L to R: Bobby Kiniry, Cole Thompson and Colton Facciotti. Two of these guys will undoubtedly go down in history as two of the best our country has ever produced. The other is one of the fast Americans who came up and helped make them that fast. — Jim Muir photo

There was no bravado in his voice, but there was also no fear. These kinds of boys are oblivious to fear—it’s part of what makes them what they are. Facciotti was loose and smiling. Not a pretend I-have-to-smile-for-the-media kind of smile, but a genuine I-love-what-I-do kind of smile.

I told him I’d be back after the races and that I’d try to get a shot or two that would do him justice. I hope I succeeded on that count. I wouldn’t want to disappoint the Champ anymore than I suspect the Champ wants to disappoint his fans.

Brett Metcalfe and wise words from Mike Smith

On my way past the Kawasaki tent, I saw Brett Metcalfe riding the stationary bike. Again I introduced myself, thanked him for coming back to Canada, and then asked him if he could cut our Canadian boy a little slack today if the opportunity arose.

I said, “Colton’s a good egg—he could use a break.” It was a joke of course, and a bad one at that. He laughed a bit, but made no commitment to honour my request.

When I walked around the corner to the front of the Kawi tent, I was somewhat surprised to see an old acquaintance, Mike Smith, spinning wrenches for the #134 bike of Cole Martinez.

Despite being just about to send his “knight in shining armour” off to battle, Smith gave me more than a nice smile of acknowledgement. He took a few moments to talk to me.

We talked about his journey from travelling with Kyle Beaton and Spencer Knowles, to his days wrenching for Ryan Bissenden (who rode for Duncan Motorcycles, along with Andrew Belin while I worked there), and then he caught me up on how he came to be wrenching for Jimmy. There was a lot of in-between stuff about living the life, and the struggles and the joys associated with it. The long and short of it is that this is a guy who has devoted the better part of his life to spinning wrenches, and now he’s at the top of the game in Canada. “Follow your dreams” is the lesson Smith brings to this story.

Mike Smith talking with another man in the pits.

Mike Smith engaged in a heated argument over which tire compound to go with for the second moto. It got intense. — Jim Muir photo

Thanks from Kyle Beaton

Oddly, as I walked around the corner headed toward the Yamaha tent I almost immediately saw Kyle Beaton. It seemed evident I was supposed to talk to him next.

I really dig this guy. I feel like I get him. It may be relevant to say that at one point in my life I was nowhere near as good a rider as any of these boys are, but I was close friends with guys that were. I hung out with them. Those guys and these guys are the same guys, except these guys have better bikes than those guys. This is where I have to do some serious name-dropping to make my point.

I rode, played guitar and drank beer with Darryl Fisher, who is Derek Fisher’s dad. Derek won an MX2 National Championship and still has one of the best amateur records, above and below the border, of any Canadian rider. Derek’s dad was as good as his son. Well, he rode at that level anyway. I don't want to start any family squabbling. I can safely say he rode at the level these boys (Facciotti, Beaton, etc.) ride at.

So did the guy I rode with more than anyone else, and was closer to than anyone else at a certain point in time. His name is John Scott. John beat Doug Hoover (whose house I have also visited) for the National Intermediate (Senior then) Championship. Hoover went on to be a two-time National champion and Scott went on to be a computer operator.

My point is that I see those boys in these boys, more than I see them as numbers. I see the gleam in their eye, and I think I see what it is about their character that makes them the racers they are. I knew what it was in Darryl Fisher and I admired him for it. I knew what it was in John Scott. He had a humble kind of bravado that said, ‘I can’t deny that I'm good—that would ring as false humility—but I can express my confidence in small ways that don’t offend, but rather entertain those around me.”

Scott’s sense of confidence made me laugh, as it was intended. If you asked him if he thought he was going to win he would put his hands out, palms up, and say, “Why not? It’s way more fun than losing.”

Scott, like all the best of these boys, knows he’s good, but never wants to make an issue of it. Kinda like a Buddhist monk.

So back to Beaton. He was eased back in a lawn chair with a can of cold liquid in his hand. No idea what it was. He had on dark sunglasses and was wearing comfy-looking shorts and cool footwear. He knows me. He's one of the guys I knew knew me.

He greeted me with a raised arm kind of hello that made me feel welcome, and maybe even appreciated. We shared a few giggles about his new training program, and I told him how disappointed I was that he wasn’t racing, given that I could see he was so deep in training. I think he laughed a bit. I told him I wanted to make a T-shirt out of a photo I have of him. I thought there might be some legal issues if I printed a thousand T-shirts of his image and he didn’t know about it. It seemed like a good time to slip it into the conversation—whatever was in that can seemed to have put Beaton in a good mood. He was enthusiastically down with the idea. He thanked me as I walked away.

KYLE BEATON thanked ME!  I’ll try to make that happen for Beaton. I dig him.

That was a taste of my experiences with the “big boys” in the Pro pits on race day. I spent more time, though, with the local boys who made the cut. I walked back and forth between Jason Abernethy’s tent and Joe Nikirk’s.They were parked side by side so it was a very short walk.

Jason Abernathy smiling and laughing.

I don't want to lessen my admiration for any of the other local boys, but I have a soft spot for Jason Abernethy. He doesn't look especially happy in this photo, but usually he walks around with a smile from ear to ear, and a twinkle in his eye. He's better than a good kid. — Jim Muir photo

The family-friendly in motocross

The amateur pits are a lot different than the Pro pits. In the amateur pits, they call the team mechanic “Dad” and the team manager “Mom.” The team rig is a toy hauler, and the fans are brothers and sisters, grandparents, friends and fellow racers—especially fellow racers.

Nikirk and Abernethy have become two of the fastest Intermediates on the Island and find each other on the track more often than not. As their on-track rivalry grows, so does their mutual admiration and respect. Their on-track excursions will make them brothers for life. They will always know each other forever forward.

This is the takeaway of motocross: it is an opportunity to bestow respect and care upon other sentient beings, even your greatest competition, just as you bestow it upon yourself. And you do it with humility and sincerity.

Which brings me to my final takeaway from my assignment at the Nationals.

Mini Rockstar/Monster girls photo shoot

I've never taken pictures of the Rockstar/Monster girls before—well, not that I’ve published anyway. It didn’t seem dignified. I felt the way these girls were paraded out to sell hopped-up pop was something I didn’t really want to support by taking eye candy shots.

With my new focus on the people behind the scenes, however, I had to look a little closer at those girls, much as I dreaded it. My daughter is on the fast track to becoming a model. As a father, it kills me to tell you how beautiful she is. As a father, it scares the crap out of me. So much ugliness can result from so much beauty. Those Rockstar/Monster girls could be my Madison.

A beautiful Rockstar girl at the CMRC Nationals.

Beautiful Rockstar girl. I’m pretty sure she was going out of her way to be this ethereal. — Jim Muir photo

I turned my camera to them this weekend with a different eye, and I think I may have caught, possibly blinded, a couple of their eyes with my click, click, clicking in their faces. We exchanged a couple of nods and smiles, and I made a couple of quips about the relationship between their job and mine. I think their smiles and blurts of laughter were sincere. I think they started putting on a bit of their modelling act for me, and I also think they were seriously flirting with Teddy Maier! I don’t think I would have gotten the shots I got without their co-operation. I really, really hope that if the girls ever see these photos that they feel I treated them with the same care and dignity I would afford my Maddy.

I don’t love all people, but I sure love a lot of them. This assignment, that was given to me by either a Tibetan monk or RidesWest magazine, or both, has reminded me that I love this sport for the people more than anything else.

Also, that I love life mostly for the people that I love. In fact, I live FOR them. 

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