(Last) Weekly Roundup: The First Loser Edition

At some point in every race weekend with my son, whether it’s BMX or karting, I always have this horrible, cut-crystal moment of clarity that says: you don’t have to do this. You can go home and sign up for something reasonable, like basketball.. This past Sunday, that moment came to me when I realized that I’d taken a simple complaint — my son had not been paying attention on the gate in his first moto, causing him to start with the wrong pedal forward and take a last-place finish — then extended it all the way into the kind of business/career/life metaphor with which my father used to browbeat me. “You know,” I snapped at John, “if you’re just going to screw around and be lazy out there… at what point does it stop? Why bother to race? What do you think is going to happen when you turn Expert? Do you even think you’re going to get to Expert with this attitude? WHAT WERE YOU THINKING ABOUT UP THERE THAT WAS MORE IMPORTANT THAN SETTING THE CORRECT PEDAL FORWARD? This is how losers behave! DO YOU WANT TO PACK THE TRUCK AND GO HOME?”

“Maybe I am a loser,” he replied, giving me a flat-eyed murderous look that made me momentarily glad I was still two hundred pounds heavier than him, “but I want to race.” Which, of course, made me feel like garbage. Because of course he was going to have his head in the clouds. It was his first-ever outdoor race, a 76-moto, 400-rider carnival of an event featuring a sea of pop-up tents and a constant crowd-noise level of approximately 100 decibels. On the way up to practice, we’d seen an authentic four-way fist-fight between BMX dads, which was eventually broken up via the interaction of three more BMX dads. Six of the seven were bald, goateed 300-pounders; one still had a half-circle of roid-head hair. When Dad 6 took Dad 3 to the ground with a running forearm slam, the resulting impact caused the adjoining pop-up tent to half-collapse. Most of these guys looked like they could shake off being shot in the head with a .44 Magnum, the same way the Cape Buffalo can be remarkably resistant to even major-caliber skull hits.

It’s a great sport, if you fancy the intersection of white trash, random violence, forty-five-second interval training, off-the-charts stress, and the occasional bout of paralysis. My son cannot get enough of it. Earlier in the day, he had told me, “I feel like we don’t race as often as we could,” which is as close as he will come to demanding any change in my self-centered, SCCA-and-NASA-and-sprint-car-and-God-knows-what-else scheduling. I’d taken the hint and mentally scrubbed one of my SCCA races off the calendar in favor of the Toledo BMX Nationals. He wants to race.


After a few more minutes’ worth of discussion, and a timely interjection or two from Danger Girl, we agreed on a strategy for the second moto. I would walk him all the way to the gate and help him set up. No matter what happened, he would not stop pedaling until he crossed the finish line. His start was not good, but he managed to finesse his way out of last place by the end of the second straight. Our home track, Cobra BMX, is needlessly, oppressively long. It was laid out in 1987 by city planners who didn’t know the first thing about BMX. I was there on Opening Day and I was horrified. There are five, count ’em, five straights, with the fourth straight at a diagonal and therefore longer than the others. It is my least favorite place in America to race a bicycle. On hot days, such as this past Sunday, the second half of each race resembles nothing so much as a mountain stage in the Tour de France. Misery abounds.

Ah, but John is fitter than his competition, and he does not give up once his mind is set on a goal. Around the last turn, he was a bike behind the lead rider. I saw the kid “bonk” and just give up on his way across the last tabletop jump. There was a ten-foot straight between that and the finish line. John snagged him at the line by maybe three inches. The former first-place rider’s father threw his water bottle into the fence.

“It’s hard, watching the kids,” I offered, because I’d been on the edge of vomiting for the previous ten seconds.

“Whatever, buddy,” he spat, and stormed off to confront his child. That’s the nice thing about the lower classes; they have no illusions. That man is my enemy, as I am his. We need not indulge in conviviality or collegiality. Only one of us will have a happy son at the end of the day. In team sports half the kids get to win but in racing virtually all the kids — eighty percent or more, usually — get to lose. The worst part is that you can’t protect your child from that loss. In karting you can spend more to tilt the playing field, but the boy whom John had just beaten was riding a $2,000-plus custom build with carbon fiber parts from axle to axle. God only knows what percentage of the family’s income that represented; they’d arrived in a 1999 Explorer. It didn’t help. What helped was to not give up until the end.

I resolved to be as effusive in my praise of John as I had been critical previously, but he was not interested in hearing what I had to say. He was angry with himself over his poor start. It takes a certain kind of person to win a race and be self-critical afterwards. What I wanted to do was ruffle his hair and hold him in a bear hug until that feeling went away. But: the future is a zero-sum game where 90% of the population will be effectively unemployable. It won’t be enough to be a winner. You have to be a winner who is dissatisfied with winning. What you need is perfection. That’s how the mortgages will be paid in 2045. John will spend his life facing the cream of the global crop, many of whom will start the 100-yard-dash on the ninety-yard line thanks to trust funds, family connections, invested capital.

We’ll come back to that tomorrow. Let the evil of the day be sufficient. Because there was, after all, just a little bit of evil. In the third moto, that same kid swerved over and ran John off the track, dropping him to third place. Then the kid wrecked trying to pull the same move on another rider. John held on to take second place. “It doesn’t count,” he informed me. “The other kid wrecked. I didn’t beat him.” I went to get his oveall trophy, which had a large “2” on it between a pair of snarling cobras.

“Do you know why it’s a second instead of a first?” I asked him.

“Yes. If I had gotten one place better in the first race I would have won the first-place trophy. But I didn’t, because I might have been lazy then.”

“Is that a problem that we can correct next time?”

“Yes, Dad, it is.” I saw his over-aggressive competitor flopped on the ground, sobbing, while his father waved a third-place trophy in a threatening manner in his direction. All around me, there were children crying or cringing before examples of utterly unhinged parental temper. Some of the bald dads looked like they were getting ready to scrap it out again. Eighty percent misery. Minimum. Guaranteed. Thanks for coming, see you next Sunday.

I cannot live with the idea of ever returning to this place unless I can tease some skein of purpose out of the mess. I think it’s something like this: Today, John learned that you can win a race by pushing to the end. Regardless of the heat, the noise, the distractions, the pain in your legs. If you learn that lesson early enough in life, it might stick. Most importantly, he came to that conclusion and learned the lesson all by himself. He had my encouragement, but not my help. There was no help I could give. And here’s another moment of clarity that came to me as we loaded the bikes into my truck and headed home: The time will come, sooner than I can know, when I’m unable to help him with anything at all. Right now I walk up to each race with him, but soon I’ll be just an encouraging voice on the sidelines. Then I’ll be a distant presence on the phone. Then I’ll be… just plain gone. On the day that my son looks back and doesn’t see me there at all, I hope he remembers to keep pedaling.

* * *

This was an exceptionally light week because I was out of town working on a story. For R&T, I suggested a second act for the second Mustang. My contribution to TTAC didn’t run until today. However, Brother Bark is here to talk about tires. As always, thanks for reading.

29 Replies to “(Last) Weekly Roundup: The First Loser Edition”

  1. Tristan W Weary

    In 2045 after the collapse of society, you can visit me in my yurt in Moab and we’ll ride some trails.

    Reply
  2. Mike Reddy

    Thanks for your perspective Jack. As you know, decades ago BMX was important to my kids and myself. This article makes me revisit many fond memories.

    Mike

    Reply
  3. John C.

    On the Mustang II reboot, a little bit of dreaming is required. A lot of the 74s went to young single females, the first generation to work. No more work, no more money and no more females willing to sit low. Even if it was off an Escape instead of a Focus, it would bomb ala 3 door RR Evoc.

    Reply
    • JustPassinThru

      Interesting quote. “It is better to live on your feet than die on your knees.”

      I would submit that the success of the image-and-lineage Lido-conceived II, was a case of the old hoss living on its knees, rather than going out in a blaze of glory. Or crawling out of sight for extended hibernation.

      Nor is that the ragings of the armchair fanboi. Give you and example of where I stand, I OWNED two Pintos back in the turbulent early 1980s – one, a Texas wagon I was committed enough to name. Blazing Saddles….with a 1203 HazMat placard on the back. In those days you could engage in that sort of whimsey.

      I liked the Pinto, a lot, for what it was. It was a honest first-stab at a market Ford had abandoned 40 years earlier, and trying to reconcile conflicting demands for style and cost with unsuitable, obsolete technology. It was reasonably well-made, Fast-Rust steel-stock notwithstanding.

      But the more it pretended to be what it was not, the more ridiculous it became. The II was a six-year-old in a Superman costume – cute, for a minute or two. And that’s it.

      The II is important in Ford’s history and the Mustang lineage, but only because history, good and bad, matters. But the specimen, examined alone…is clearly a case of the Emperor having no ass.

      Reply
  4. Ryan

    I always enjoy these stories as they remind me a lot of my childhood. It’s funny that you mention your son no longer needing his father’s help; my father and I had that exact conversation last night.

    Please excuse me for articulating this poorly, but I noticed that feeling within my father slip away in recent months. As I approached graduation, it became noticeable that his demeanor has changed in some respects. While this change is entirely positive, it is certainly noticeable after being away from home for two years (well really four, if you count living with my ex). It’s an odd feeling, to say the least.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      In the case of my father, I’ve been so incompetent most of my life that he’s really only laid off with the advice recently!

      Reply
  5. Jorge Monteiro

    Nice BMX Lifestyle Story, Jack!

    I’m a “just race for fun” guy and BMX coach at the single one Lisbon BMX Racing Team
    https://www.facebook.com/SADBMXRace/

    It’s very hard to balance all different tempers, and make them to don’t give up, don’t cry, at the same time make them to want to be a winner and respect that all the kids will want to win too.
    Educate the fathers to support them 😀

    My main goal is to make them to love BMX Racing.

    Reply
  6. Steve Ulfelder

    I read and enjoyed Mark’s tire piece. He gave Michelin a fair airing while making it clear he understands this is a PR push. Generally speaking, I’m a buy-generic-it’s-all-the-same-shit-anyway guy, but having suffered through Doral tires on a couple of used cars, I’m willing to step up and pay more – specifically, for Michelins (hell, the reduced road noise alone is worth the premium).

    Reply
  7. tyates

    Excellent piece – really enjoyed this. I have an eleven year old daughter who spent her winter break drawing photorealistic portraits of all of her friends and I can trace her development as an artist back to a single day. Seven years ago, she asked me what I thought of her picture of Jake the Dog, and I was inexplicably honest and told he that it wasn’t very good and that I knew she could do better.

    What an awful thing to say to a four year old girl, right? But what if I had told her “that’s very nice dear”, and just put it on the refrigerator like any other parent?

    Reply
  8. E. Bryant

    Jack,

    As a parent to two boys, I do try very hard not to be the type of overbearing asshole father that you describe. But what if that behavior is so common because it works? What if this is actually desirable, and helps with the prime directive (perpetuate the bloodline)? Maybe natural selection – cruel bitch that it is – has determined over the past eon that things work better when dads berate their sons over trivial failures in organized sports.

    I hope that this isn’t the case, but I’m also starting to learn that even (especially?) the uglier behavior exhibited by the herd probably doesn’t occur by accident, and probably didn’t just start happening in the past decade/half-century/whatever.

    Reply
  9. E. Bryant

    My seven-year-old takes seriously even the slightest criticism, and will work relentlessly to address the issue (well, unless we’re talking about keeping his room clean). I’ve done things like bust his chops for not applying threadlocker to a bolt, and he will remember that and not make the same mistake again even if it’s another several months until the same task need be performed again.

    My four-year-old is typically a bit more zero-fucks-given, and does his own thing.

    I can see some of the pros and cons to each approach.

    Reply
    • safe as milk

      is he a capricorn? my wife claims it’s astrology which i think is nuts. however, she did tell me that as a capricorn our daughter would be very sensitive to criticism which is 100% true.

      Reply
      • everybodyhatesscott

        I’m guessing it has more to do with her being a daughter than her being a capricorn

        Reply
        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          Ridiculous, women and men are identical and either gender can become the other one just by wishing it was so

          Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      The important thing is that we don’t cause that womyn too much distress on her way to being tortured and killed by insurgents.

      Reply
    • silentsod

      I, too, prefer a kinder and gentler armed forces rather than a rowdy, rough, patriarchy loving group of killers.

      Reply
      • hank chinaski

        There are accounts of soldiers fragging incompetent or otherwise dangerous officers in combat. I can alternatively see a group of grizzled veterans leave princess to a deserved demise vs. command ordering more than a few men to their deaths to bail her out.

        But who are we kidding. The ‘insurgents’ would Stockholm the crap out of her.

        Reply
  10. safe as milk

    when i read these articles, i breathe a sigh of relief that my only child is a girl and is not interested in competitive sports.

    my background is completely different from the environment described here but i will offer one observation on parenting. i am always there for my child but i try to direct her actions as little as possible. it’s more about nudging her in the right direction and offering her opportunities to get involved in things that i think will benefit her. she has plenty of ambition, nagging her about what she needs to do doesn’t help.

    for example, when her peers were playing in princess outfits, i didn’t ban girly-girl stuff but i quietly removed the disney channel from our cable lineup and kept putting art materials and musical instruments in front of her. she’s twelve and she is more musically and artistically accomplished than i will ever be.

    Reply
  11. -Nate

    ” “I feel like we don’t race as often as we could,” .

    Always good to read your parenting stories Jack .

    You care and look inwards unlike those fools who think embarrassing their own kids in public is in any way helpful .

    My grand daughter is five now and beginning to race her Moto a bit, previously mostly just puttered it around .

    Racing, as you so clearly point out here, is *very* educational, it’s tricky getting the Child to see it .

    -Nate

    Reply
  12. tyates

    Mark’s tire article in TTAC was really funny and informative and brought out a lot of good comments – really well done.

    Also in your mini-Mustang article, you mention the Veloster N – I’d really like to read more about this car and the base model. I have no idea whether the base Veloster is considered a success or failure in the market but I do know it is a pretty unconventional car and there seems to be something worth learning from it, and yet it’s virtually ignored in the automotive media in favor of cars like the BRZ, Golf GTI, etc. I have to think there’s a story there, and for why the company is choosing to release the N now.

    Reply
  13. Panzer

    *Exhales dejectedly*
    In the future i’d like to be the father that pushes his kids to work hard and achieve their potential whatever that may be – But at the same time I don’t want to be BMX dad either(of course that excludes you Jack)
    I wonder if i’ll ever be able to get that right…

    Reply
  14. JD

    “Today, John learned that you can win a race by pushing to the end. Regardless of the heat, the noise, the distractions, the pain in your legs. If you learn that lesson early enough in life, it might stick. Most importantly, he came to that conclusion and learned the lesson all by himself. He had my encouragement, but not my help. There was no help I could give. And here’s another moment of clarity that came to me as we loaded the bikes into my truck and headed home: The time will come, sooner than I can know, when I’m unable to help him with anything at all. Right now I walk up to each race with him, but soon I’ll be just an encouraging voice on the sidelines. Then I’ll be a distant presence on the phone. Then I’ll be… just plain gone. On the day that my son looks back and doesn’t see me there at all, I hope he remembers to keep pedaling.”

    My dad used to say this to me in the short amount of time that we had together in my adult life. He would jokingly tell me to take notes. I will always cherish the advice, encouragement and love that my dad had for me. I also still to this day tell myself to push harder – not only for myself, but for my dad who has been gone for almost four years. I am sure that John will look back, remember all of the times that *you were there,* and keep pedaling!

    Reply
  15. ltrftc

    “It won’t be enough to be a winner. You have to be a winner who is dissatisfied with winning. What you need is perfection. That’s how the mortgages will be paid in 2045. John will spend his life facing the cream of the global crop, many of whom will start the 100-yard-dash on the ninety-yard line thanks to trust funds, family connections, invested capital.”

    Do you ever consider that you may be being *slightly* pessimistic about your son’s future? It’s possible that your own father worried in the same vein that the Soviets would drop their nukes on you or you’d grow up in world completely ravaged by AIDS? Regardless, I really liked the final paragraph, it sums up the truism that one day they need to make their own way through this world.

    Reply

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