Geoff Lance's introduction to dirt bike riding certainly didn't go as planned and ended very much the way many hope doesn't happen. He broke his arm.
But like all youngsters, he healed and got over it, but didn't throw his leg over a bike again for years. The second time around proved much more successful and a hobby began. Lance dabbled in Motocross, even grabbed a podium this year in the Redbud National Motocross Amateur races, but cross country and trail riding beckoned.
Mostly though, his riding was limited to the occasional weekend excursions but in 2015 Lance decided enough was enough and on a whim entered a cross country race. He could barely walk afterwards but the fire ignited. Now a MotoSport sponsored rider, Lance races like a full-time pro but he actually holds down a day job keeping planes airborne during the week. Once Saturday and Sunday roll around Lance is usually somewhere in the Midwest traversing some of the gnarliest terrain the region offers.
Lance continues our "grassroots" series of sponsored riders who have regular jobs while racing on the weekends. This is what he said:
Years Riding: 12 years off and on, two years at the starting line.
What age did you start riding and on what: 14 years old, on a 2000 Honda CR250R
What do you ride now: The very same 2000 Honda CR250R.
Hometown: Uniondale, Indiana
Career Highlights: 2016 season fourth-place for Open B and a 3rd place overall trophy at Halloween 100, a three-hour race.
Favorite Track/Course: Leisure Time MX in Medaryville, IN and Indiana Cross Country Racing (IXCR) at the John Vincent Hunt Club Course in Madison, IN.
Other sports participated in: Ran track, Wrestled, and Played Football back in high school.
Other hobbies interests: BMX, hunting, vintage street bike restoration
1. How did you get started riding a dirt bike?
When I was very young my eldest brother brought home a Yamaha YZ80. My dad decided he would let me ride it. I promptly broke my left arm. The next time I rode a bike I was 14 and it took me all summer to save up the money to buy it.
2. So was it Dad that said "No more" after the broken arm or did you have a bit of fear factor to overcome?
Actually there were several factors. Two weeks after the cast was removed I fell while on vacation and broke my arm again. It took almost two years and seven surgeries to fix my arm. The doctors had to put metal rods inside my bones to keep them together. When it was time for the rods to come out I still had to wait for the bone marrow to return. So by time I was able to ride I was fearful. If a minor fall could break it I didn't want to risk another dirt bike accident.
Also, My parents never said a word, but the cost to fix my arm was huge. So the next time I was going to ride a bike I would have to buy it. When I felt like my arm was ready I saved up my money and by December 2004 I had enough money to buy the very bike I race today. My 2000 Honda CR250R. I was 14 at the time. When I was in high school I had several more bad accidents. Once again I parked the bike until I was mature enough to ride smart. In 2015, I refurbished the bike and started racing again.
3. Today, you're pretty active in cross country racing. Was Motocross ever in the cards for you?
Initially I was more interested in Motocross than cross country. But the more time I spent on the bike the more I found myself hopping logs in the parking lot than I did seat bouncing doubles on the track. I guess the woods were a more natural fit for me.
4. So, last year started your foray into cross country riding. Was it a now or never thing? Tried it once and got addicted?
I got started on a wild hare. It was July 2015 and I hadn't been able to convince any of my Motocross buddies to try the woods with me. Out of frustration late on a Saturday night I decided I would drive down to the Mid America XC race the next morning on my own and try it out. While I was loading my bike up at my dad's shop the next morning my mom came running out of the house, presented my still half-asleep dad and said "Your dad is going with you because you are going to be tired and need someone to drive home." It is a good thing he came. She was right. It was the hardest thing I had ever done. I only got two laps. But I love a good challenge. I could hardly stand for a week. I was hooked.
5. Earlier when we talked you said something very interesting I think others could take advice from. You said you bounced around from series to series until you found what worked for you. Can you explain this more?
Indiana has at least five well known series that run Cross Country type races primarily within its borders. This meant if I wanted to compete for points I had to choose one. I didn't know much about Cross Country racing. So I bounced around looking for a series that was efficiently run with consistent rules. I wanted to be a better rider, not just win trophies. I wanted to earn every finish.
So I looked for a series with stiff competition and talented riders. I had no idea what kind of terrain or course layout would benefit or challenge me. So I learned how each series set up their courses. I also needed to run a series that had races close enough that I could run every event and be back for work on Monday. I was in luck, two series fit the bill and they never ran races on the same day as each other - the Indiana Cross Country Racing Series (IXCR) and the Midwest Cross Country series (MWXC).
6. Was there a point where you felt maybe cross country racing isn't the hobby you hoped for or was it more finding out what worked in terms of schedule and staying employed?
There have been several points where I questioned if it was something I could continue. It can be tough. You get home late Sunday after a bad race with a busted up bike. When you go to work on Monday you pretend like your arms don't feel like they are on fire. And you're worried it is affecting your work. All you want to do when you get home on Monday is collapse. But if you don't wash the bike and make a parts list you will miss the next race.
Sometimes you miss a family function for an important points race. It adds up and makes you question why you do it. Please don't misunderstand, since day one I haven't even thought about stopping all together. It gets in your blood. It becomes as much a part of you as you are a part of the sport. When you are at the starting line in total silence and you hear "In 10 Seconds!" You suddenly become acutely aware of why you keep coming back. I always say when you come through the finish line check point and you're tired and your arms are pumped up like a fire hose, if your bike and body are still moving go for another lap. You will be glad you did. I will always make a place for racing in my life.
7. What series are you racing in and how have you fared?
My primary focus for 2016 was the Midwest Cross Country Racing series (MWXC). I did much better than I had anticipated. The first two races were not good for me. But at the third round I had my head and bike right and was ready to race at my best. I finished the year in fourth-place for Open B just barely missing third because of an uncharacteristic break down. On the off weekends I was also able to take seventh for the year in the Indiana Cross Country Racing Series (IXCR). I have also raced in the Cross Roads series, the Mullins XC series, GNCC, Reads Racing Indiana Championship GP series, and of course the local district and benefit rides.
8. You've raced in 53 events thus far this year. One would think you're a professional full-time racer. But you've got a day job. Tell us about this:
I am a Licensed Aircraft Mechanic for Alan Aircraft Services Inc. This is a family run company, run by myself and parents. Luckily I work for some pretty laid back people! We primarily maintain small twin engine planes for a locally owned Air Taxi service. We source aviation related parts and equipment for projects related to the armed forces. With a primary focus on the large transport planes such as the C130 and Black Hawk helicopter. We also offer expert witness and appraisal services.
It can be challenging with work and racing. My job is 9 to 5 or however long it takes to get the job done. Often till 10 or 11 in the evening. But the skills I use at work have been a God-send come Friday night when it is time to put the bike back together. I help most everybody that rides fix their bike. I even try to patch bikes together between Moto's for other racers when I can.
My employer supports me in my racing and allows me to take the occasional day or two off to get the bike ready for a race - as long as everything at work gets done. As far as how many events I have been in, that has taken a lot of scheduling, luck and sleepless nights in the garage. The UPS delivery man probably thinks I am addicted to overnight parts from MotoSport.com. With a race or two every weekend and only one bike spare parts are paramount. Not just a spark plug and a set of brakes. You need simple things like front wheel bearings or grips to big ticket items such as a Wrench Rabbit kit sitting on the shelf. You need to plan out everything and be proactive. I would argue that Indiana has more races in a year than any other state in the nation. We love racing here. This made it possible to ride multiple events in a weekend. Sometimes even two events in one day. I suppose I have a fever and there is only one prescription.
9. Working on aircraft engines is far different than a 2-stroke or 4-stroke dirt bike engine but it probably helps when it comes to working on your own machines.
Dirt bikes and airplanes have only one thing in common, air time. The truth is a brand new four stroke has more advanced technology than the average airplane, and leaks a lot less oil. But, the wide range of training has helped me be able to keep my bike race ready. I couldn't afford to race if I hadn't been trained how to overhaul an engine or rebuild a shock on my own. Being able to fix my own machine and borrow specialty tools has made all the difference. Racing every weekend means that sometimes the race is as much about going fast as it is saving the bike for the next race. Because of my job I have learned how to schedule my maintenance and when to slow down a bit so that the top end doesn't blow. On airplanes we don't wait for something to break. Most of our time is spent inspecting and fixing things before they cause a problem.
10. With work and all the events you're entering do you have much practice time or does race day double as practice day?
Often it does double. But if the bike didn't take too big of a beating I can ride at one the local tracks that are open seven days a week. Or swing by one of the many private tracks. During the early part of the season I try to practice two nights a week. Riding hard for 15 or 20 minutes then taking a break for 10 or 15 over two or three hours.
11. You're still pretty young. And based on your results you've got something going. Any desire/thought of pushing this to race full-time as a pro?
I dream just like everyone else. Realistically, I hope to be a competitive A Class rider for 2018. Who knows after that. If I am going to sit at the pro line I have a lot of work to do. I look to Graham Jarvis (41 year old Enduro rider). I will never have as much talent as he does. But if he can do what he does at his age, then I still have time to make something happen.
12. What does 2017 look like? Are you going to focus on a particular series or continue with the weekend assault on racing?
I am looking forward to next year with a good deal of enthusiasm. I will probably not make quite as many gate drops. But I will focus on one series for sure. I am already trying to schedule enough time off so I can follow the GNCC next year. Fingers crossed. I believe that I am ready to compete in B class in the GNCC. It will challenge me and hopefully make me a better rider. I can't wait to see what the new season will bring. Hopefully it will bring a brand new bike into the mix, but I will just have to wait and see.