Every week. hundreds of riders show up to race the REM track at Glen Helen, in the shadow of the famous National track.
Not all local races are created equal. There are hundreds of small, club-level meetings across the globe every weekend that nobody really cares about unless it’s a race you were at. From AMCA get-togethers in the West Midlands to minor races on little-known tracks in all corners of the globe, chances are there’s a dirt bike race going on every weekend of the year. A race that very few people apart from the competitors themselves care or know about.
And then there’s the Saturday morning REM races at Glen Helen, which run for up to 48 weeks of the year thanks to endless sunshine in the California desert near San Bernadino. Just a few miles from America’s mother road, historic Route 66 and right next to the famous Glen Helen National track. At REM there are no licences or pre-entries and no complicated grading system – you just choose what class you want to be in. And choose another one if you want to pay more and race more. There are no technical controls, licence and noise checks, no officials in blazers armed with rule books and the track doesn’t have complicated watering systems, just flag men with hose pipes. But that means the circuit can be altered from week to week.
There are certainly no big-money prizes or massive trophies. Although when MotoHead went there for the 20th year anniversary of REM at Glen Helen, there was a nice $500 purse for the 125cc pro class. That’s $500 more than you get for winning an MXGP, of course. And 40 free mega-size pizzas were given away to all riders as a thanks for their support. Win at REM and all you prove is that you beat anyone else who turned up and signed up for your class. It’s not like it’s a springboard for qualifying for some major race series.
Yes, the REM races are about as low-key as you can get. Except, they are the most famous non-important races in the world. That’s because the vast majority of the US motocross industry is based nearby. The big teams are there, the companies that make aftermarket products are there, the big SoCal holiday companies are on hand and then there’s Motocross Action magazine, which puts out a weekly report and lots of photos of the action to a global audience. Add in some other dirt bike mags which hang out and test bikes there, and that’s a glut of publicity for one small race.
The track, based on the land used by the old Arroyo Cycle Park circuit from the 1970s which held the first ever 125 US National, has big elevation changes, tricky soft sections and always gets very rough. It’s a proper motocross track where you need serious skills to get round it at speed, rather than a flat-out supercross-style circuit where the limiting factor seems to be how brave you are at hitting mega jumps. It’s a tough track that pulls in real motocross riders rather than wannabe supercross stars. Real riders who also want to show their stuff in front of team bosses and the industry, and claim the odd scalp of a National pro who may have turned up for a big or training. And that means everyone – from Jeremy McGrath to Dean Wilson, Eli Tomac and Adam Cianciarulo – who has raced there. Pretty much all the top AMA pros when they are out in California for some testing or training.
And many of the stars of yesteryear still come out to Glen Helen to race. Former AMA 250 National champ Gary Jones, the man who developed the first Honda CR250 Elsinores and gave Big Red its first US title, was still racing the day MotoHead braved the scorching heat. As was eight-time British champion and Motocross des Nations winner Kurt Nicoll, who has lived nearby for over a decade. Former AMA pros of the 1970s and 1980s, like ex-Pro Circuit team rider Mike Monaghan, was racing hard in two classes despite being over 60 years of age. And he’s not alone, as the most popular classes are for the over-50s, with lots of over-40s and over-60s riders to keep them company. Often accompanied by their sons racing in the regular classes, or even grandkids on the 50 and 65 track that runs alongside. Other REM regulars include former Yamaha factory Supercross star Doug Dubach, lots of Hollywood stuntmen and always loads of foreign riders who just want to tackle the famous rolling hills of REM.
In fact, the core of the REM regulars have raced together since the 1970s when the Saturday morning racing was at the now-defunct Saddleback Park. The teams did their testing there, the factory riders braved the heat and hard-pack track to get fit and it was the centre of US motocross. When that got closed, many of the regulars switched to Carlsbad near San Deigo, when the REM racing was truly born. Some switched to Perris as it was run by ex 500 US factory rider Goat Breker. But when REM’s Frank Thomason moved his REM series to Glen Helen and built an all-new track there, SoCal once again got its spiritual home of motocross back again. That home is Glen Helen, and the REM races on it. If you’ve ever dreamed of racing in the USA, then you must do it least once in your life. And if you race at REM, you’ll have a great time with a friendly crowd. And you may even end up world famous.
MotoHead Issue 17 – Spring 2018
By Adam Duckworth