My cousin Mike recently published this incredibly lucid account of his glory days racing a 1974 Honda Elsinore in Olympia, Washington.
32 years later, Mike has just finished a season of vintage motocross racing atop a 1974 Elsinore that he lovingly restored.
Here’s how Mike remembers the summer of ’74:
During the mid 1970′s in Washington State I and a fellow motocross racer found a teacher to sponsor a motocross club at Olympia High School my senior year. That club was about the only thing that motivated me to put in an occasional appearance at school that year. I don’t believe I missed one of the club meetings at school. With the help of my uncle I bought my 1974 CR250M Elsinore from our local dealer, and we asked him to sponsor us. He gave us everything we asked for and more. He gave the club a sponsorship and discount on parts and supplies for the entire school year. He even supplied every member of the club with custom racing jerseys with our club logo and colors.
It was quite a sight to see all the members show up at Straddleline for a Friday night scrambles with matching team jerseys. The club membership was spread out over different classes and skill levels. So there was at least one or two OHS team jerseys on the track at any given time. I can recall the pride of seeing one of our group doing well on the track with the rest of us at the edge of the track cheering him on. I think that having our friends at the track cheering each other on actually helped to improve our individual performances. When one of us would ride better than he had before, the rest of us were inspired to do the same in our classes.
I can clearly recall one Friday night. It was near the end of the school year and the last time the OHS motocross club would be racing as a team. The track conditions were as bad as I had ever seen at Straddleline. The mud was so deep and the racing surface so slippery that most of the riders were having to ride with their feet dragging on the ground like a pair of outriggers for large sections of the track. Needless to say this style did not make for good racing or fast lap times.
At the start of the event that night after the riders meeting most of the club members agreed that because of the poor track conditions this would be a night of caution and slow racing. Too bad because we all wanted our last event as a club to go well and it looked like it would be a discouraging event.
One of our club members was a small unimposing individual named Mike Cummins. Mike was usually quiet and composed. His style on the track often reflected his personality. He rode in the 100cc or 125cc class, as I remember he was a “C” (or novice) rider on a very clean yellow Yamaha MX. His finishes during the year were generally predictable, a very safe, conservative riding style usually finishing somewhere in the back half of the pack, but always finishing. He was one of the first club members to hit the track that night. About half way thru his first moto it was clear that this was not going to be just any Friday night on the track for Mike or the OHS MX club.
I was in the pits making sure that my Elsinore was ready for my first moto and trying to work thru the butterflies in my stomach. A couple of the club members came running by and yelled at me. They wanted me to look at the track. I ran over to the edge of the track with most the club and to our utter amazement Mike Cummins was tearing up the track! There he was in his OHS jersey standing up going sideways thru the corners in the deep mud passing two or three riders at a time! He was in the front half of the pack. I don’t recall how long it took him but at some point Mike had the lead and was sliding away from the pack! The team was so stoked that we were yelling and screaming at the top of our lungs.
Mikes performance in that early moto lit a fuse in the entire OHS MX club. One by one the team members hit the track and most were racing at a level of competition not seen during the entire season. It made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
By the time I made it to the starting gate for my first moto I was so pumped full of adrenalin I could taste it on the sides of my tongue. I knew the track conditions mandated caution but, I also Knew that I did not want to be the guy who stopped the winning motocross vibe that was by now coursing thru the veins of the entire OHS MX club.
My ’74 CR250M Elsinore had not let me down for the entire Friday night Scrambles season. It had a wicked power band and I had learned to ride it at speed with constant wheel spin. In fact, I found over the course of the season that if I ever did get the back end to hook up I would most likely bog down the engine and have to grab the next lower gear. I wanted to be in the highest gear possible coming out of the corners so I could use that addictive power band to my advantage down the straights.
So, that is how I rode all my races in the ’74 scrambles season in the 250 “B” class, constant wheel spin on all parts of the track except the last half of the straights. I did not know it at the time but it turns out that my squirrely constant wheel spin riding style was going to be very useful this night.
At the start of my moto I can remember putting the bike in second gear as was my usual technique, and placing the wheel just back from the gate. After the gate dropped everything is a blank. All I know is when I got to the first corner, there was no one in front of me! This was the first time in my life I had the hole shot! As I apexed that first corner I could literally feel the second and third place racers putting pressure on me from both sides. They were close, so close we were rubbing! At that moment something happened that has only happened to me a few times in my life: I became sure that I had the ability to win this race regardless of track conditions or the skill of my competitors. I was so full of confidence after watching Mike rip up the track that I knew I could do it too! I think this must be the feeling the terms “in the zone” or “on fire” are used to describe.
From that first corner on there was no holding back, mud or no mud I opened the Elsinore up and gave it everything I had and the bike returned in kind. I was riding with a style that the mud had very little effect on: CONSTANT WHEEL SPIN! That’s right the same squirrely style that I had some how managed to ride with thru the season with was now just the ticket for this most slippery of tracks. Sure I was going sideways thru most of the corners but I somehow managed to keep it together. The track was so slippery that I was sideways for the first 3/4 down the long straight but I did not let off on the throttle, in fact I opened it up and held on as tight as I could! It was as if everything slowed down. I knew I was going faster than my usual middle of the pack pace, but for some reason I was in control and had the ability to pick the perfect line and recover as needed when the track tried to throw me off balance. I almost felt as if I was in some kind of motocross daze, I knew I was going fast but it felt slow.
After the first lap I could not hear the second place rider. I knew that if I could just keep up this pace for the entire race I could hold on to first place! I also knew that the track was so muddy that I must be throwing a huge rooster tail off my rear tire with the super high speed wheel spin I was using to keep me up on top of the mud. There was no way a competitor could get any where near me with out his vision being completely obscured! Being in front there was no one to throw mud on my goggles. The rest of that race I ran as hard as I could. I was concentrating so hard on trying to stay upright I had no idea what lap it was, so I could not let up. I must have missed the white flag because before I knew what had happened I took the checkered flag for the first and only time in my life.
When I made it back to the pits some of the team were there waiting for me. It was Bill Mauerman who got to me first. I can still remember the first words out of his mouth: Hey, I though we were going to take it easy tonight because of the mud? I looked at him with big grin on my muddy face and said well, when I got to the first corner there was no one else there so I thought if Mike Cummins can do it than I better as well.
One by one the OHS MX club members made it clear that night. Right here, right now, WE ARE A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH. I can still remember hearing people in the stands asking who are those guys? I was never prouder to be a part of a team in my life.
Over the years I have forgotten most of the guys I raced with as a member of the OHS MX club one golden summer. But from time to time I wonder what path the lives of Dave Dunkelberger, Mike Schlender, Harold Lange, Dave Cleveland, Roy Clark, Bill Mauerman and Mike Cummins have taken. I also ponder if they ever wonder the same about Mike Yates after all these years.
Photo by Dorian Sleeper
Mike Yates currently competes in vintage motocross on a restored 1974 CR250M Elsinore in Washington State.