The hunger never fades
THIS YEAR, A SOUTH AFRICAN TEAM AIMS TO TAKE OVERALL HONOURS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE PREMIER CLASS AT FARLEIGH CASTLE, THE HOLY GRAIL OF VMX
SA’S motocross old-timers go for gold
You’re getting older and it’s getting harder,” says Gavin Williams. He’s been riding since the age of seven. Always motocross, enduros, trials; not super-elite or anything. At age 53, Williams says he races more or less at a modest Clubmans level. “I’ve accumulated some bumps and bruises. I’ve broken a leg, I’ve broken a shoulder.” In between he ran a lot, completed several ultra triathlons, and played golf. An orbital walker is helping build up strength after the leg break.
It’s a Saturday morning and we’re squeezing our way between rows and rows of shrouded shapes parked on one of those you-caneat-off-it floors. “Sorry, the place is a bit of a mess right now,” says Williams. Mess? To me, things look particularly neat and orderly. More or less in fact the way they would look if you had to keep, say, a couple of hundred racing motocross bikes in showroom condition. But they don’t just look the part: all of these bikes can run, and run in anger. Williams’s private collection, tucked away in a nondescript Cape Town industrial estate, will once again provide the steeds for this year’s assault on the annual Vets Motocross des Nations. The bikes have to be pre-1989 models and the riders… well, they tend to be of a similar vintage.
For the past four years, Williams has been providing the national Veteran Motocross team with its pre-89 GP MX machines from his collection, along with backup support. It helps that Williams is the founding shareholder of Global ASP Limited a specialist technology company involved in data centre hosting of mission critical financial applications to institutional clients.
“Last year we went up quite seriously,” says Williams, who will also act as team manager. “We were competing against some of the big factory names overseas and ended fourth. This year… this year, we’ve got our sights set on an overall win.”
The bikes that will travel from South Africa are pedigreed Hondas – three CR 500s and CR 250 – and the riders are multiple champions in their own right.
There’s a clue in the hair, which is streaked with grey and the stubble that’s pretty much all white. The wrinkles. And now and then, in the wince that’s the response to a stabbing pain erupting from a creaky joint. But always, always, there’s the desire that burns like a white-hot flame: beat the other guy. If growing old is not for sissies, motocross is a whole other level of unsissy. ***
But it’s not just about the bikes. “Logistics are a major issue,” Williams says. “My view is that if you’re going to do this thing, you’ve got to do it properly. So I am going to buy a container and put the bikes in there, make sure that they are ready here.
“Last year we stripped them here and then had to rebuild them. It’s a logistical nightmare. You’ve got to travel and the con- tainer should be delivered to the track and then we would get the bikes ready.”
Fortunately, Rwandair have come on-board to cover all the airline tickets for the SA team; and the shipping of the race machines, equipment, parts, tyres, tools and accessories is being handled by World Net Logistics. Thanks to rider Ryan Hunt’s connections with leading power tools and accessories brand Tork Craft, marketing, reporting, media communication, media and TV liaising costs are covered.
Farleigh Castle was, originally, the motocross holy grail, like the Masters of golf. After the venue was lost for many years, an enterprising guy by the name of David King unlocked the opportunity of using it again. “It started off very low-profile in 2009.
But each year it gets bigger and better. I think they have 30 000 spectators there now.”
The way the team competition works is that four riders are allowed with only the top three scores counting. “Last year our top rider dropped out in the second heat of four,” he says. “We ride in a category called the International Class, which is the premier class. During the course of the day, there’s probably eight to 12 classes. I rode one year and lined up against 21 former world champions.”
Williams plans to ride again this year, though he’s quick to point out that he’s not in the same class as the others. “Last year I managed the team and my bikes and this year, I thought to myself, I’m going to see if I can do both.”
When Farleigh Castle started in 2009 it was a bit like ‘call back the past’, but as time went on it just got more and more serious” he says. “The Americans come out with big names. I mean these guys are serious hitters, they get paid to ride. We are carrying our costs.”
Effectively the bike he plans to ride in the over-50 class will be the team’s spare. “If I do one heat, I’ll be happy. This is not about me riding, me winning. It’s a case of I have been in a fortunate position. I have gone there, I have raced on my own, seeing all the teams, I thought, I’d love to come here and make a mark.”
For the past several years, Williams has been involved with the annual event in another official capacity. “My company, Global ASP has made the bibs that are worn over your kit. I only make enough for the riders. The guys don’t want to give them away any more and they have become collectable.”
Although mostly contested by privateers, the event will pit South Africans against stern factory support. “They don’t come out and make a noise, but you’ve got Suzuki, you’ve got a lot of support overseas,” says Williams. What does it take to win against that? “You need to have four good riders who are capable of riding and winning and they have to have the determination to want to do it.”
It’s like the seniors golf circuit, says Williams (himself a pretty handy golfer): the hunger never fades. “The guys don’t lose the talent. They may be injury-riddled, but the guys are generally fit. In the context of able-bodied men, we’ve probably got, if not the fittest, then among the fittest probably, the teams that are consistently racing 12 months a year. These guys all want to win. They don’t lose that competitive spirit. But frustration sets in.”
The senior members of this year’s South African team are 55-year-old SA National Motocross Champion and Springbok Tony Riddell; 46-year-old Ryan Hunt, Springbok and Protea award winner and past previous Pro Veteran winner plus international GP rider, and multiple SA national champion with four decades of SA National titles to his name; and 49-year-old Collin Dugmore, Springbok and multiple SA National and German Champion with many years of international experience on the tracks in Europe. Completing the team is 39-year-old Andre David, who was based in the UK for several years competing in the British MX2 and MX1 Championship, the British two-stroke series, and numerous events in Europe. All the race preparation is done out of South African by Paul Symons, who has being doing the race prep for the SA team for the past few years and is the race mechanic at the event.
“This is the toughest international veterans event for most riders, mainly due to the older machinery they have to ride,” says Williams. “Any rider entering this event has to get used to riding this machinery again. The bikes are different to modern machines, heavier, with less forgiving suspension and less capable brakes. “You’ve got to be super fit to ride these older heavyweights on what is considered one of the most demanding circuits in the UK.”
Still, he has plenty of fond memories. “Last year when I was at Farleigh Castle, I didn’t ride because I had a bad outbreak with my health. My body was too sore.
“I went down to the gatepost and saw these Mr Price hats. So I stood to one side, listening to these guys talking about the South Africans and I promise you, it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever experienced. I didn’t introduce myself, I just sat and listened to the story being told. That’s the part I enjoy.”
Like they’ve just come off the production line, the Honda collection (main picture and left) stands proud. Below left: action at Farleigh Castle.
Right: Freshly fettled, these Honda and Kawasaki machines are ready to be shipped off to with the SA team. Above: Start of another project… Williams is aiming to produce a complete bike for a visiting racer by November.