The risks we take each time we mount a bike are not ones to be taken lightly. It seems that with a quick scan on the various forums or news outlets, a mile long list of tragedy and heartache due to injuries or death can make even the most dedicated rider reconsider loading up and heading to the track. This year has been a cruel one, with the loss of Jeff Kargola, Nathan Woods, Josh Lichtle, and now Jim McNeil.
McNeil’s passing, the result of a practice crash while warming up for demonstration that was to take place prior to NASCAR’s event Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, sent shock waves through not only the MX industry but the entire sporting world. It comes after a tumultuous spell of weeks marred by loss for motorsports, starting with IRL’s Dan Weldon, Lucas Oil Off Road racer Rick Huseman, and Michael Byrne’s mechanic Nick Hoffman (all unrelated incidents) deaths on October 16th, followed by the violent death of Moto GP’s flamboyant Italian rider Marco Simoncelli just weeks later. Questions of safety and risk versus reward flood in from both fans and the “outside world,” people exposed to the feature by a media organization that runs the headline due to its contrast to a typical sport related story. Disrespectful comments, while few and far between, stand out among the condolences and grab one’s attention. Others, calling for the ban or interference of said activities from governing bodies are common, but are quickly brushed aside. The remarks from those that indulge in the activity being questioned are the only ones to hold any clot in the conversation.
While three of the five incidents mentioned stem from an accident while partaking in one’s chosen sport, it does little to ease the shock and dismay when individuals are taken away in the prime of their careers. It is a known and accepted fact that nearly any motorsport has a higher probability of catastrophe in relation to a traditional sport such as baseball, as flying around a track at break-neck speeds or launching thirty feet into the air are acts that man and body were not intended for. But that is what makes the feat enticing. The push for progression is never ending, but it comes at a cost. The question of “How much more does freestyle motocross have left to grow before it plateaus?” is widely asked, and prospects of what the future holds frightens many of the current top professional riders. When the sport started, the idea of a back flip seemed impossible, but now variations and even double back flips are commonplace. As long as we have eager, young riders willing to risk it all for fame and accomplishment, the magnitude and difficulty of the tricks will continue to grow.
McNeil had been part of the sport for many years. Time spent on various tours, including the early IFMA contest circuit, the Nuclear Cowboyz, and his role on the Boost Mobile freestylemx.com team exposed him to a wide audience, his hard working and friendly personality easily made him a fan favorite. Video parts, such as “On The Pipe 5” showed his prowess and extensive caliber of tricks, a skill that many “ramp tramps” fail to possess. Close friend Cory Stem was quick to respond to our inquiry on Jim as a person, saying, “A lot of riders can come off looking boring and robotic, and some riders have no style. But Jim always had it. He was unique, with his style on the bike and off the bike. He was always the life of the locker room or the bus, no matter where we were. Sometimes I wonder if he came to ride his bike or if he rode because he could hang out with his buddies and have a good time.” The overwhelming support from the motorsports community for a rider who was not a household name comes as little surprise, as it seemed that every rider and racer mentioned McNeil on the social networking site Twitter after they heard word of his crash and passing. “That lends itself to how he was off the bike,” says Stem. “Not just freestyle guys, but people from every motorsport. Guys in the off road community and drifting, because he put together some bad-ass little cars, he crossed all lines.” The mention of a long time friend and neighbor that surprises Stem the most is from racing legend Mario Andretti. “That right there amazes me. He is gone, and he is amazing me still.”
A memorial will soon be announced in honor of Jim McNeil, and we will post details as they become available. Thank you to Cory Stem for his time, and our condolences to Jim McNeil’s family and friends. Stay safe.