by Robby Bell
When I look back at pictures from a decade ago, when I first started racing professionally, I hardly recognize that wide-eyed, acne-covered little boy in the photo. It honestly seems like a lifetime ago, and hard to believe that was even me. I’ve learned so much through my experiences in chasing a professional racing career, and those experiences have touched and molded every aspect of my life in some way. I’ve always maintained that racing—being “a racer”—isn’t who I am, doesn’t define me, but it has most certainly shaped the man that I have become.
First and foremost, it’s taught me a respect for my body. There are plenty of sports that…how do I put this…royally suck for the human body, and racing dirt bikes has to be right up there. It also doesn’t help that I always had a fragile body when I was younger. At Perris Raceway, in 2003, I just barely came up short on a jump, didn’t crash or fall off my bike, but I broke my left radius (forearm bone) up near the wrist on impact. I also broke my collarbone (twice), both ankles, my fibula, and my hand between 2002 and 2005. Like I said…fragile.
I was fortunate enough to make it through the next five years or so with just some minor injuries—sprained ankles, wrists, etc.—but I also wasn’t getting the greatest results, and was struggling physically the whole way. I’d have small flashes of speed and stamina, when the stars aligned, but for the most part I couldn’t last past an hour of exertion at speed before I’d hit the wall. My good friend Ryan Abbatoye affectionately began calling me the “Superfader;” we still joke to this day about how many times he’d catch me from the row behind—that started a couple minutes back—and think to himself, “Yep, there’s ol’ Superfader Bell,” as he’d pass me by.
It wasn’t until 2011, when I had lost most of my personal support as a pro, lucky to ride the coattails of the team that my dad at Precision Concepts had started, that I finally made the decision to look for some real answers. Fortunately, I turned to diet first, because with the amount of trial and error I did with my diet, I couldn’t imagine how long it would have taken me to make some progress had I started somewhere else (I have a couple blogs on my website that explain a little more in depth all of the things I’ve tried).
Once I saw a few things click, as I changed my diet, I had my first ground-breaking revelation that taking personal responsibility for my actions—in this case, what I decided to put in my body—had real, tangible, and positive consequences. These consequences have transcended beyond simply affecting my racing, to every aspect of my life:
I used to fear and avoid working out because I always felt over-trained, and I never really saw improvements no matter how hard I pushed my body. I even remember times telling my dad I was going for a trail run, but instead driving through McDonald’s and listening to music in my car for what I figured was the same amount of time it would have taken me to go on the run. Now, through what I’ve learned with my diet and the amount of energy I have as a result, I’ve completely changed how I view training; I do it simply because I love the feeling of being active, instead of doing it because I “have to” in order to be a successful racer. In fact, I sometimes train almost in spite of racing, bummed when the weekend comes and I have to taper so as not to be over-worked on race weekend. And all of this energy has changed me from fading at the hour mark to enjoying when the races are every bit of two-hours long.
Another positive consequence is that my body is more resilient, less prone to injury. Believe me, I still do pick up injuries (which is why I’m minus a few teeth at the moment), but my most recent ailments have been because of some major-catastrophic events, and even then, I feel I’ve come off quite well for how bad the crash or incident was. Picking it apart, I’ve learned that what I put in my body, and the lifestyle I lead (i.e. training, mobility work, etc.), has a direct effect on the strength of my bones, the flexibility of my joints, any inflammation from previous, and/or current injuries, and all of this has shaped how I live my life, and will continue to do so. It’s also invaluable knowledge, in my opinion, that I can pass down to my children, and so on. True, racing has left its fair share of scars, but I feel I’m so much wiser for it, and almost certainly healthier now than I would have otherwise been had I not raced and learned what I have in the process.
Another way I’ve grown through my racing career is how I try to represent myself on and off the track, and how I strive to treat everyone I meet. Our society, our sport, and I think happiness and human health in general, are all dependent upon the relationships in our lives we create and maintain. There are the obvious relationships with our close friends and family, which are important, of course, but I feel the relationships we create with the people outside our close circle should be taken just as seriously, and in our industry, every request for sponsorship or support is a request to start a relationship. I definitely didn’t appreciate that fact earlier in my career; I thought, like so many do, that you simply race, win, and companies support you and give you free stuff. Of course that can happen to an extent, but to really earn the support of a company takes the realization that you are entering into a relationship, which consists of a give for every take.
Now, I don’t mean you have to start taking yourself too seriously and become a corporate robot—variety is definitely the spice of life, and your personality should shine through in everything you do—but accepting the fact that, if you want to represent another person or company, your actions are going to be noticed should carry a bit of weight and responsibility with it. Our industry is too small to be too selfish, take advantage of anyone, or treat people poorly, and one thing I’ve learned is that if you do respect and appreciate every connection you make, you’ll be surprised how much of a positive impact it will have on your career and your life, and you never know when an acquaintance you made will offer some type of support or help when you least expect it.
Along that same vein, one of the greatest gifts my experience has taught me is not to take myself too seriously. I used to be so concerned with living up to what people thought of me and was the first one to look for an excuse, or make one up, if my result wasn’t what I wanted. I think that need to be liked, or more aptly, accepted, is what drives us to look for a reason things went wrong. We can get this idea of what we “want” or are “supposed” to be in our heads and when we don’t live up to these expectations, we have to find a reason to give the people around us. Looking back, I’ve realized that it doesn’t really matter what you tell people, if they want to think a certain opinion of you, they’re going to regardless. What really matters are what you think of yourself, and the effort you’ve put in to what you want to do, or be. Once I truly realized this, it took a lot of the pressure I had been carrying off of my shoulders. I stopped worrying about being perfect every time I raced, or living up to the expectations I thought others had for me, and just enjoyed what I was doing. Another side effect of this is that people do start to look at you differently; when you’re comfortable in your own skin and stop putting up a front to be what you “think” you need to be, people notice and respect that.
It also changed the way I looked at my fellow competitors. I stopped looking at the riders I raced with as “threats” to what I wanted to achieve and actually started to enjoy the competition. Of course I still strive to win every time I compete, but I’m focused more on my personal performance, and if that lived up to what I expected of myself, then the result comes secondary. I’ve also learned to appreciate the effort other riders put into what they’re doing, e.g. I’ve seen how much it truly means to Justin Jones, and my teammate Justin Seeds, and the heart they’re putting into their racing; I’ll be so pumped for both of them when they achieve their goals—one of those, I know, is winning a WORCS race, so I’ll still be trying my best to keep that from happening for the time being, though I do feel it coming.
I could go on and on describing the way this sport has affected my life, but these are a few examples that mean the most to me because they’re things that I’ll carry with me beyond when my racing career comes to an end. There have definitely been times throughout my career when I wondered if all of the sacrifice was worth the physical and emotional cost of chasing being a professional motorcycle racer, but when I look back at the things I’ve learned, places I’ve been, and people I’ve met, I can say with a full heart that I wouldn’t have changed a thing. This sport has given me more than I ever deserved.
Photos: Harlen Foley.