The first year I raced as a Novice I had come off the bike and broke an arm. That year the Check Chase
started off the I-40 just east of Barstow and I was unable to participate. I believe that was in ?71 or ?72. As it turns out, the course was generally the same every year varying only slightly in various sections with the greatest difference being the starts. The River Run started in several different areas each year in which I rode it. I believe the next year it started at Soggy Dry Lake and went through the Marine base. The following year the bomb run was at Sheep Hole Pass just east of the Twenty Nine Palms Marine base where the first gas pit was the preceding year. A change in camp commanders gave us a "by the book" marine who inquired of superiors about our trespass permit and higher authorities rejected it. I have no recollection of why but in 1975 the "river run" was at the river, run entirely in the state of Arizona on the Indian Reservation there. This was the beginning of the restrictions and efforts by the greenies to do away with our sport. The path of lease resistance was for the Checkers to do away with the BLM and County of San Bernardino requirements. That run at Parker was the last Check Chase I rode as the following year the old Rams MC died. I was the only participant for the Rams in early ?75 and through several Checkers with whom I had ridden in team races asked me to ride with the Checkers, I became a member. I had been the Referee and race coordinator for the Rams and it was natural for me to do so for the Checkers as well. That year I not only put on the last Rams race (while already a Checker), but also was deeply involved in another race the Checkers ran at Parker, Arizona within a couple of weekends of each other. I raced neither race and Terry Davis was the "main man" at that time. Incidentally, with all the restrictions and limitations put on the desert racers, all the clubs started suffering in attendance. Terry Davis, along with Jim Baker, Bill Saltzman and Steve Kirk were the mainstays that held the club together in those difficult years, but particularly Terry did it almost single handedly. He WAS the Checkers!
Up until this time we raced 3 desert races and one Grand Prix per month every month of the year. The
weekly races always had upwards of 1000 participants with about 15-1600 for the River Run and over 3000 for the Barstow-to-Vegas. About that time District 37 started pushing us to again do a River Run and with a great deal of help and support from the then president, Jim Wells of Desert MC and with some support from Gerry Hillier, the District Manager of the BLM, we started getting permissions and trespass permits, not without a great deal of difficulty. As you may know, the desert is dotted with private ownership, many of the sections in the Mojave having been given to the railroads in the 1800ís as inducement for them to build the railroads to the West Coast. The desert is checker boarded with parcels of private land mostly owned by railroads. We couldnít cross a parcel without written permission and acquiring that was a monumental task. The biggest obstacle was the railroads not only for the many parcels they owned but for the various points where we had to cross their rights-of-way. There had been an unfortunate death near Ludlow in one of our races where a rider in order to gain advantage and to avoid a bottleneck at a culvert crossing under the railroad right-of-way, had tried to go up the embankment and cross in front of an oncoming train. He dropped the bike trying to get over the tracks and was hit and killed by the train. His family sued everyone including the railroad and they werenít going to expose themselves to that sort of thing in the future. It took a good bit of doing, and several meetings with some very gracious railroad executives and their general counsel before we could get a permit and license for them. While at the time I was an executive in a major insurance company, some of my cohorts sported the long hair of the era and didnít quite dress the part for a meeting with high level corporate executives. Convincing them to cut their hair and dressing up for at least the first meeting, we were able to erase from their minds the stereotype of outlaw biker gangs. Once we got the railroad agreement the rest was much easier. If handled properly that permission is enduring and they are basically the key to the entire run where permissions are concerned.
The general course of the River Run except for the various starting areas outside the Lucerne Valley competition area, involved about 235 miles. With the starts in the competition area and the races finishing in Parker, there were 5 gas pits, with one optional just as you crossed the Colorado River. From the start in the competition area the course headed due north to Pisgah Crater west of Ludlow and south of the I-40 to the first pit just south of Ludlow. From there the course went towards Amboy and Bristol Dry Lake and the second gas pit. The course then wandered east and just north of Cadiz Dry Lake then south into Cadiz Valley and the third gas pit near Highway 67 just west of Iron Mountain where General George Patton trained his tank corps for its North African campaign against the Germans and General Irwin Rommel in World War II. From there the course went straight north across Danby Dry Lake to the fourth gas pit where it picked up the old Parker 400 course heading straight east to the river and Parker, Arizona. There was a gas pit near Vidal Junction when one of the runs didnít end there, and an optional pit a few miles from Parker just before the course crossed the river. Incidentally, while I and other Checkers (particularly Al Thomas and his sons, Cliff and Greg and Verlin Van Zee,) handled the course up to Danby, Terry Davis handled from there on to Parker.
The course was not easy, what many called a "typical Checkers course." It was long and since there werenít too many alternatives, the course didnít have an over abundance of ribbon. The sand near Bristol and Danby was much different than what everyone was used to in the higher desert and it took its toll on many a bike. While a rider before joining the Checkers I had been leading my class when I hit a small washout across the sand in a place where there wasnít supposed to be anything across the grain and sheared both my front forks, the only Checkers race in which I didnít finish. All the others I had managed to win my class and trophy, trophies which I value the most highly among some good ones.
After the first race in the new era of restrictions we continued to be harassed by the environmentalists, some of whom were in the county departments which regulated our use. In particular I remember one, an officer in the Sierra Club who was also the head honcho in the environmental department for San Bernardino County dealing with the race. Chuck Bell turned out to be a friend and very helpful in subsequent races, at least during my involvement. The harassment came mainly from the Sierra Club upper echelon and the Wildlife Society and a few others who Iíd just as soon forget. One particularly notable experience occurred in Cadiz Valley where they felt we were a threat to some lizards and to the desert "pavement" which could NEVER recover from the tracks of over a thousand bikes. We went out there with various members of those groups and even though that portion of the course had been traversed by hundreds of bikes just a couple of years before, the ONLY way we were able to find the trail was by a couple of old pieces of ribbon tied to creosote bushes. The strands had been pulled but the knotted part remained. Their argument about "healing" the tracks taking over 100 years was ended then and there. The best part of the experience was the bit of vandalism that seemed to have occurred to the vehicles of the environmentalists which were left near the highway in the pit area. "Someone" seemed to have singled out their cars and deflated all their tires. Iím thankful that none of our young Checkers would do such a thing!
That year, which was about 1980 or ?81, the Sierra Club worked hard to stop the race. They had the audacity to call me at my business and ask me to their office so they could serve me with a Temporary Restraining Order for stoppage of the race. We had taken the precaution of enlisting a number of old retired racers from other clubs, not only to start the race but to man all the crossings and gas pits so that if in the event the Checkers were properly served, the race could go on without any involvement of any Checker, and thatís the way the race went off. I donít recall the names of the many old farts that helped, but they did a wonderful job.
When the banner went up, I was vacationing in the Caribbean to avoid being served with documents. I didnít see two events at the start area in Anderson Dry Lake but I sure wish I had! First, the banner was handled by his club whose name I donít recall, a guy I raced with in my class, Bob Tarter. When the banner went up it said "FUCK THE SIERRA CLUB". When it dropped, one of the Sierra Club members present and with whom we were involved, went running up to Verlin Van Zee of the Checkers, who was idly observing the start of the race wearing his colors, and said "Stop them, stop the race!" About that time the banner dropped and they were off! Verlin said "Iíll go see what I can do!" jumped on his bike and took off to ride cleanup. Incidentally, that race was filmed for "On Any Sunday II".
As a result of the way that race came off the Sierra Club and others were much more amenable to talking though they were still intent on doing away with motorcycle racing. After that there were two more races as far as I remember. The following year I was pretty much retired due to injuries and quite occupied in business. An outstanding young man, great rider and as nice a kid as you could ever meet, Chuck Stearns, took over to run the River Run. Chuck and his brother Scott ran what I believe was the second to the last River Run. Chuck unfortunately died and I donít believe another River Run was held after a race in May of 1986. That last race was coordinated by the then president of the Checkers, Mike Sixberry, to whom I lent some assistance as I could.