“Life is hard. Then you die. Then they throw dirt on your face. Be grateful it happens in that order,” – David Gerrod
In the wake of the tragic passing of former world champion Nicky Hayden I was once again caught up in the black spiral of memories associated with death and all its trappings. Since the day my little brother Frankie died from a heroin overdose 29 years ago, I have backpacked around a slightly morbid mindset that quite often pushes its way to the front of the line in the form of my art. If anyone remotely close to my circle leaves this world I usually try to offer to knock out an ‘in memory ” style design. Some of them just get posted on social media while other designs end up as stickers. This tradition offers minor comfort and while I am not a fan of doing them, [not the work—the reason I generate them] the opportunity to do so seems to loop back around to my desk more often than not.
Throughout the many years that I have been trudging in and out of the carcass known as the motorcycle industry I have sadly amassed a quite lengthy list of racers that were snatched onto the deck of the ebony boat sneaking about the shadows. The rusted name plate attached to the stern of said ship reads: Death. It is no secret that everyone flies away in the end, the trick [in life] is to try and catch a later flight and not worry about getting a middle seat next to a teething baby.
After brother Frank died it seemed that every funeral I went to had a new-found impact [on me] that carried a much greater weight. Looking into the tear-stained eyes of the family members touched a spot inside me and swirled within my gut. I could feel their pain as cliché’ as that may sound.
The world we motorcycle people live in is unique in many ways: from the highs of the podium to the lows of the green whistle. Our two-wheeled version of the Hatfield’s vs. the McCoy’s bitter blood feud could be racers against emergency room nurses. Motorcycles can be dangerous, that fact is not up for dispute. But for a kind soul like Nicky Hayden to slip away from a bicycle crash many years after all the time he had spent clinging to a blurry weapon at 300kmh, well, that is just a cruel, cruel irony. Eliminating any suicidal thoughts for breakfast, no one wakes up and plans on dying.
“He died doing what he loved.” Poignant, yet true with a twist: we all die that way, we all die living and that is what everyone from my list was doing: living. Most of them just happened to be racing when the curtain dropped unexpectedly.
" .... we all die living and that is what everyone from my list was doing: living. Most of them just happened to be racing when the curtain dropped unexpectedly."
In my television heyday, I was lucky enough to spend time picking the brains of many an athlete or racer. There have been countless numbers of interviews chronicled and many [of them] eventually ferried the smell of race gas and burning rubber up to the clouds. Fabrizio Meoni, Richard Sainct, top fuel drag bike racers Dave Schultz, Elmer Trett. The legendary Davey Coombs Sr., Bruce Ogilvie, Nathan Woods, Kurt Caselli, Doug Domokos, Elmer Symons, Danny Hamel, Jeff “Ox” Kargola, Casey Folks, Andy Caldecott … the list is endless.
Death is never fair about his craft. The Grim Reaper does not use MapQuest nor does he care where you live, how much you make at your job or if you donate your time to help poor-little orphans. That greedy son-of-a-bitch is like everyone else who has to answer to the boss. For him, it’s all about the numbers, bodies stacked high like cinder blocks from hell. To Death it makes no difference if you ‘lived a good life and took care of everyone you loved,’ he still will put that fateful red dot dead center on your forehead. Does he focus on the worst mankind has to offer?: thieving, killing, baby raping, drug dealing pedophiles? Yes—he wants them too. He will lay everyone of them he can get in a ditch side-by-side, be it a murderer of children now stagnant and rubbing elbows with Mother Theresa herself. In the end no one asked if he (the victim) was a “nice guy” on his resume. When your ride is here the Grim Reaper just rolls up on location and beeps his horn.
"Death is never fair about his craft. The Grim Reaper does not use MapQuest nor does he care where you live, how much you make at your job or if you donate your time to help poor-little orphans."
If you play your cards right you have about eighty years on this planet—make them count—and there is no solution to this puzzle called life. As a racer the minute you decide to hang up your boots you are not immediately insured that you will have a long and healthy spin around this swirling globe of confusion.
One day here in Australia I met a young kid at a trail ride named Zeke Klibbe. Zeke was 16 years old and all he wanted to do was ride his dirt bike. He was a smiling and happy only child and he was fast as hell on his treasured YZ450-F. Well one day that goddamn-son-of-a-bitch Death locked in on Zeke and the poor kid had a fatal asthma attack at home [he was 17 years old]. Zeke’s family worked on him frantically and even [after arriving] the paramedics could not save him.
About a year before Zeke passed away I had asked Kurt Caselli for a signed jersey to give to him as a surprise. [Zeke had stated on social media that KC66 was his favorite rider.] Kurt sent me the jersey and I blew Zeke’s mind by handing it off to him at another ride we were on. When Zeke died I told Kurt about what had happened and he asked me if there was anything else he could do for the family. Kurt Caselli was a racing legend and was well known around the globe, he had never even met Zeke but he seemed to always have time for his fans. That is the way Kurt was, he was a genuine and caring soul.
That signed Kurt Caselli jersey still hangs in Zeke’s untouched room and now that Kurt [himself] is no longer with us that piece of memorabilia is a double-header whammy reminding us all that everyone, no matter who you are, famous or not, flies away in the end.
“On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.”― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club