In photo: Southside Motorcross Park season opening races. (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Story by Tim Smith
In the beginning, it was just an idea to solve the problem of pack racers on Bermuda roads.
But over the past five decades, motocross has created numerous sporting legends, kept thousands upon thousands of spectators entertained and proved a crucial source of bonding for countless local families.
Four presidents of Bermuda Motocross Club – founder Robin Simmons, multiple champion Otis Ingham, long-serving advocate Ras Mykkal and first female president Arlene Simmons – reflected on the sport’s captivating history as they celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.
The journey to acceptance, they said, has often been as bumpy as some of the tracks where they made their name.
Mr Simmons recalled how it all started in 1972, when the authorities asked him to do something about bike racers risking life and limb – and putting motorists in danger – on the main road near Warwick Secondary School.
“On summer evenings, that stretch in front of the school was the racing stretch,” Mr Simmons said.
“The police were overwhelmed because there were so many, sometimes over 100 racers.
“I was called upon, because people knew I liked cycles and racing, to intervene between the police and the cycle racers.
“Government called me to a meeting and asked what could be done. They wanted those guys away from there.
“I said what they need is a track. I said we have got to have somewhere to race.”
Horseshoe Bay was used temporarily before an estate in Ferry Reach, St George’s, was selected as the venue for the first meeting. More than 3,000 people came out to watch.
“They brought their blankets or something to sit on and a picnic, and took their spot along the trail,” Mr Simmons said.
“The race went beautiful. It was a fantastic race. We had a community. We really gelled from the beginning.”
An extremely popular pastime had been discovered – but Mr Simmons said the Government of the day insisted the venue switch to the more remote Coney Island.
“We asked our members would they come out and help to make the track at Coney Island,” Mr Simmons said.
“It was a Sunday morning. I said we don’t know how many people are going to come. After ten minutes of standing there waiting, I saw them come with picks, shovels and mallets. They came with their children and their wives. We cut out Coney Island by hand, all up the hill and down by the side.
“It gave us so many joyous moments. That’s the one thing about it, to see the people coming together.”
Meetings continued to attract thousands and traditions such as Boxing Day races became established.
It moved to PHC in Warwick, where more than 3,000 people gathered for the first race, and eventually moved to its current location in St David’s.
While motocross is exciting for spectators, it’s even more riveting for the participants.
Mr Ingham, the son of legendary rider Bert Ingham, took part for 40 years.
“Motocross meant everything,” he said. “That was life for lots of us. It was probably the love I had for riding a bike. Just something about the adrenalin that hit me when I turned the gas.”
Mr Mykkal said: “Every lap, the track is different. It’s uneven. You can come off the bike in spectacular fashion, but 95 per cent of the time you can get back up.”
Ms Simmons, the current president, attends races with her whole family; her grandson takes part.
“In my time, motocross at Coney Island was a rite of passage,” she said. “I really want our community to know about motocross, not just about coming to the track and watching the race, but really knowing our history.”