My earliest childhood memories are from the early ’60s. My exposure to sports at the time was very minimal. I do remember flat track and speedway races. My heroes were men like Robert Vaughn, Chuck Connors, and Robert Conrad. But these were fictional heroes, as my hero worship didn’t really carry over into reality.
There were also political and social heroes. I remember watching my Mother crying as we learned of the Kennedy assassination live on our black-and-white TV. Upon my graduation from elementary school in Palo Alto, California, in 1967 I memorized and recited Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech at the graduation ceremony in front of hundreds of parents. Those were big life moments that you don’t forget. Like the moon landing and watching Muhammad Ali fight.
It wasn’t until later that I had sport heroes like Rick Barry and Joe Montana. And then there were my motorsports heroes. Men like Al Unser and AJ Foyt. What did all these men have in common? Strong, tough, independent, smart. All the things I wanted to be. But much more than all that they were “cool.” I think that was the most important criteria for any hero. They had to be cool. Hell, Montana’s nickname was “Joe Cool”.
And then one day in 1971, when I was 11 years old, my best friend Paul and I went to see “On Any Sunday” at the theater. Our lives would never be the same.
Motocross did not get started in America until the late ’60s, and didn’t become a real thing until the early ’70s. I had a lot of motocross heroes. But these heroes were different. I could watch them work. I could talk to them. I could take pictures of them. I knew that what they were doing was truly spectacular and fearsome.
And out of all my motocross heroes there was no one cooler than Roger DeCoster. Not even close. Fierce determination, humility, kindness, unselfishness, and toughness made him the perfect ambassador for this fledgling sport.
His nickname was “The Man.” If you knew MX, that’s all you had to say, and everyone knew who you were talking about. He is largely responsible for the popularity of motocross in America, and the world. He was fast, super smooth, always stylish, and a great ambassador. What I admired most about him was how much he hated losing. His quote “confidence is the key” always stuck with me my whole life. And I could see it in all he did.
I took this photo at Sears Point in 1977…