The Amazing Dave Wilson
by Stu Osborn #657
PORT ANGELES, Wash. – Dave Wilson is a fast rider at motorcycle racing events in the Pacific Northwest such as "Hammer & Tongs". In that regard, the 37-year-old isn't much different from a lot of guys who come out and race vintage and evolution motocross.
Except for one thing: He only has one arm.
After dispatching many of his competitors in the Unlimited Amateur Class who challenged him on his Maico 250 at the second round of this Washington state VMX series, the affable and smiling Wilson remained humble.
"Everyone here is my hero." he says, accepting his cold, solicited beer held like an extension of his left arm. "Thanks… Gotta maintain my speed", he says with a grin. Why do you race? I ask. “Because it’s fun and the people here are great. I used to go to the Pro races but the guys there don’t give you the time of day. Here everyone is so nice and they walk right up and start talking to you. It’s a family atmosphere here.”
Most of the guys who challenged him that day lost. One by one they got passed and fell behind while dicing with him on the tough course at Port Angeles. This was not “vintage-friendly” terrain by any stretch of the imagination with a lot of rough stuff and tall jumps, tabletops, fast downhills, tough up-hills and tight hairpins. By the end of the day, the course had taken its toll on many riders and their equipment. Bikes and bodies were beaten, broken and eviscerated without mercy by the track and by Wilson’s relentless pressure.
"The first time I won a race at Woodland (VDR Northwest) when I got home and told my roommate he said, ‘There must be some pretty crappy racers around here’. So I told him he needed to get off his fat ass and get out here!” he says in jest as he sits drinking his beer watching the sunset. “As a teenager, I used to practice one-handed wheelies”. Little did he know at the time that in 1991 he would lose his right arm at the shoulder and be required to draw on that experience.
Wilson was involved in a near head-on motorcycle accident while serving in the infantry ousting Noriega from Panama, and following his recovery he eventually decided to take up vintage motocross racing. “I saw the X-Games on TV one day and thought if those young guys could land such hairy jumps from 50 feet up with only one hand on the handlebars, then I could too.” Wilson is a resident of Marysville, Washington and has only been riding again for about two years and really had no intention of racing at all until some time after the accident when he met Rick Lago, owner of the Moto Centre in Yakima, Washington. After asking lots of questions and paying particular attention to learning motorcycle repair and maintenance, Dave finally convinced Rick to let him work at the shop for free. Then one day Lago asked him if he’d like to take on a restoration project. There in the corner of a back room was a pile of Maico parts, a 1992 frame, an ’85 motor and a ’81 brake drum and wheels.
Photo by Gary Osborne
"I didn’t know how I’d do it, really," Wilson says, as he continues sipping his beer while staring straight forward. "But with Rick’s help, we got it done.” Wilson has some help these days too. His good friend is Lyndell Raphael, an Intermediate Northwest VMX racer who is heavy into vintage racing and building motorcycles to compete on. "I really credit Lyndell with helping me with technical knowledge and sound riding advice and taking me out to the races. Make sure when you write this up that you mention Lyndell and Rick would you?"
When the inevitable question of, “how did it happen” comes up, Wilson just shrugs. “I was on a Ninja 900 going around a blind corner in Panama and this oncoming car decided to pass another car on the turn. I came around the bend going about 60 and the only thing I could do was hit the brakes and try to steer the bike straight down the center line between the two cars. The next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital and passing out and waking up again and passing out but before going under I kept hearing, ‘You’re gonna be all right!’ That kind of made me uneasy as I slipped in and out of consciousness because as a soldier we’re trained to tell guys wounded on the battlefield that very same thing, whether they are or not.” He spent two months in the hospital and was released with a $5,000 prosthetic for a right arm.
How did you persist, I asked and why didn’t you just give up riding after it happened? Shaking his head he says, "I had taken 13 years off from riding after my accident but quitting never appealed to me. I just wanted to finish what I started. Finishing what I start is always what I want to do." When Wilson rides, he uses his left hand on the handlebars, working the specially designed throttle forward instead of backward and grabbing the clutch with his left hand when he shifts. He doesn’t use his front brake. He rides the same course as everyone else. He jumps the same jumps as everyone else. All day before the racing starts, he doesn’t need any help and once the race ends, he’s usually beaten almost everybody else in his class.
How he became so good is not such a big mystery to Wilson.
"It’s all about practice and staying on balance going up the face of the jumps and keeping your balance on the landings and keeping the throttle on.” he says, “It’s always better to stay on the gas and I also grip the life out of the motorcycle with my knees. I’m never conscious of moving the bike around with brute force. It’s mostly finesse.”
Wilson goes racing any chance he gets around the state of Washington, and is a student at Perry Technical College in Yakima while pursuing a career as a graphic artist and web designer. Every now and then some cocky racer will line up next to him on the starting gate and take him for granted. That is always a big mistake.
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Stu Osborn is McCookRacing.com's roving reporter and he's Back in the saddle!