Once a Racer, Always a Racer?

By Dale Spangler

By Dale Spangler

With some days off over the holidays, and a little time on my hands, I decided to look through some archives and came across this piece written way back in December of 2006. The article appeared in the April 2007 issue of Racer X Illustrated in a monthly column called “Revolver.” Back then, Racer X accepted editorial submissions for consideration for the column, and this particular piece made the cut for the April 2007 issue. It’s hard to comprehend where all the time has gone since this piece was written. As always, thanks for reading, and happy 2019!

Once a Racer, Always a Racer?

I have asked myself this very question on many occasions. Technically, I am not even riding a dirt bike at the moment, so maybe I’m not a racer anymore. Or am I? There is more to this question than one would think. I doubt I’m alone in wondering about this and for those of us who have moved on in age, the question has even more relevance.

I started racing when I was 12 years old. My dad had taken me to Ohio International Raceway in Ravenna, Ohio. I knew as soon as I saw the later-to-be-famous Jeff Hicks launch his bright yellow YZ465 off the “sky jump” that I was destined to race motorcycles. Sure enough, Dad sensed my piqued interest, and within two weeks a brand-new 1981 YZ80 showed up in the garage. You see, my dad had been a drag racer for the better part of 15 years, and he pined for his days of speed. Motocross offered him an opportunity to feel speed again, albeit vicariously through his son. By no means was I forced into racing; I knew it was what I wanted to do.

Soon, father, mother, and son took to the road, and as I gained more skill on the bike, the trips increased in distance. From Ohio, we began to venture off to Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New York. Eventually, we tripped to Florida and Texas and Tennessee. I was a racer, and I defined myself as such.

Racing through my teens became a lifestyle, and because of it, I became somewhat of a social outcast. I missed many days of school and was something of a ghost in high-school. I often found myself drifting off in class, consumed by thoughts of practice laps I would be riding upon the sound of the day’s last bell. I laughed off the “cool” kids’ jokes about riding dirt bikes and scoffed at statements like “How hard can it be? All you have to do is turn a throttle!” After a while, I learned to keep racing to myself, simply because I knew they didn’t understand and had no clue what racing entailed.

I graduated in 1987, an average student with racing the only thing on my mind as a future. I didn’t attend graduation and instead raced the High Point Team Green National in Mt. Morris, Pennsylvania. It was the best graduation present I could have ever asked for: a four-moto sweep of the 125 and 250 A classes and a headline in Cycle News that read something like, “Bradshaw, Spangler Sweep Mt. Morris Team Green Spring National.” Not bad company to share a headline with. Coincidentally, the author of that story happened to be none other than this magazine’s editor, then a cub reporter for Cycle News and no slouch on a motorcycle himself.


After a few years on the national scene, my racing came to a halt, partly because of a pact my dad and I had made a few years prior, after my graduation. We discussed the future of my racing and decided that If I had no factory ride by the end of 1989, I would move on and do something else. The offer never came. In retrospect, maybe I should have hung out for another year or two, but then again, maybe I wouldn’t be sitting here in Idaho, and maybe I wouldn’t have gotten my first job in the motorcycle industry. There are many what-ifs in life, and I am a firm believer in moving forward with no regrets.

I have no regrets about being a racer. In fact, quite the opposite. I have nothing but fond memories and admiration for my fellow racers. Many years have passed since my last race, yet I still define myself as a racer. In 2003, I decided to fulfill a dream I’ve had for many years: I decided to enroll in a four-year college and get an undergraduate degree. I credit racing and wonderful parents with helping me obtain the drive, discipline, and work ethic required to reach this goal. Like a true racer, I decided that I was not going to be an average student, just as any racer aspires to be an above-average rider. Because of racing, I have managed to work twenty-five to thirty-two hours per week, take fifteen to eighteen credit hours, and become an above-average student. I’m a racer, and that’s what we do. In May 2007, I will graduate from Boise State University with an undergraduate degree in English. It will be twenty years to the month, of my high-school graduation. You can bet I won’t miss my graduation this time.

Because of racing, I have seen places and done things that many never will. Because of racing, I landed my first job in the motorcycle industry, which led me to time spent in Europe, which led me to a new life in Idaho. Because of racing, I jumped down the peristyle jump at the LA Coliseum in the 1989 125cc East-West shootout. Because of racing, I ate Sea Urchin in a small Spanish town on the Atlantic coast, sipped wine on a riverboat on the Seine in Paris, railed legendary sand berms in Cocoa Beach, Florida, had a down-home Cajun dinner with a wonderful family in Texas, took Valentino Rossi riding dirt bikes with Mike Metzger, met The Prodigy in Bologna, attended the Motocross of Nations twice, and watched my mom and dad beam with pride when I won races. Because of racing, I will obtain a college degree.

Whether or not I have a dirt bike in the garage or line up at the starting gate every weekend, I define myself as a racer. It is the reason I have been able to rise to the challenge of a four-year college at the age of 37 and maintain a GPA that ranks me in the top 10 percent of my class. As racers, we just do things differently, and to risk sounding cliché, we are simply filled with a competitive spirit unlike those who are not part of our community. Because of racing, I am the person I am today. We all are. For me the answer to the question, “Once a racer, always a racer?” is simple—a resounding yes. And for this reason, I will always call myself a racer.