That’s me, (under that little red arrow) at 16 years old in the 1988 ABA BMX Grand Nationals Cruiser Expert Main Event. The yellow arrow indicates my good friend and nationally ranked Factory Sponsored Free Agent rider “Power House”, Parnell Haley. Parnell and I met in first grade and we became instant friends. A few years later at the age of 10, Parnell started racing BMX, and I started a few years later. By the time I started, Parnell was already a very accomplished rider. He spent hours in the gym and on his bike training and traveled to races all over the country with his team. In addition to perks like free gear and travel expenses he also got to race against the very best riders in the country! By the time he stopped racing, he had racked up an impressive string of accomplishments, including 8 Time Grand National Champion, 1987 National #7 Cruiser, and 1987 & 1988 National #1 Age Group Champion!
All new riders start out as a Novice. After a handful of wins, you move up to Intermediate and then to Expert. After about a year, I was able to rack up enough wins to become an Expert. From that point on, the wins just about dried up, because I was racing against Parnell in almost every race. Occasionally I would get a home town win when Parnell was at a national race somewhere in the country, or he slipped a pedal in a race, but other than that I was usually playing second fiddle to Parnell. Parnell and I and several other friends and fellow racers spent a lot of time “recreational riding” around town especially in the summers, but few of us took training as serious as Parnell. When he wasn’t riding with us, he was in the gym or on his bike racing against top riders all over the country. About the time I turned 14 I started to take racing a little more seriously. My Dad and I started to follow Parnell and his Dad to other local races in San Antonio and Austin and to regional and national events that we could afford to drive to. The extra races paid off, and I started to get better. In 1985 we made our first trip to Oklahoma City for the Grand Nationals, but I failed to make it out of any of my heat races and went home empty-handed. In 1986 and 1987, I did better and but never made it to the finals.
Things started to change in the summer of 1988 when Parnell asked me to train with him. Maybe it was because he felt sorry for me, or because my persistent string of 2nd places finishes finally made me worthy of training with, but we started training together several times a week for the next 6 months. I don’t know if the training helped him, but it definitively helped me. About a week before we were scheduled to leave for the 1988 Grand Nationals I beat him wire to wire at our home track. At the time, I wasn’t sure if the win was a fluke, if he was taking it easy before the big race, or he just had a bad day at the track.
The Grand Nationals
The Grand Nationals are held every November in Oklahoma. The event takes place over 3 days and is attended by riders from all over the country. Riders can compete in several different events including Class (20″ bikes), Cruiser (24″ bikes) and Open Class. Each rider is assigned to a heat race with 7 other riders and they have 3 chances to win the heat in order to advance to the next round. I signed up for both the 20″ and 24″ cruiser class. In 1988, the 16 Expert class had about 650 riders and the cruiser class had over 300 riders. As the gate dropped on my heat races, it was apparent the training paid off. I coasted to victories in the first attempt in both Class and Cruiser. Then I sat and watched the other riders compete for the chance to go into the next round. When Sunday rolled around and the semi-finals were announced, I found out that I would have to race in 6 more races in Class and 4 more in Cruiser before the field could be whittled down to the final 8 riders for the Main Event. I easily won the next 2 semi-finals on my 20″ bike before tragedy struck. It could have been nerves or my lack of experience in high-pressure races, but while leading in my 8th main, my front tire clipped the top of the first jump and I “crashed and burned”. A rider behind me landed on my left knee and I heard a loud pop. When I stood up and looked down, the lower part of my left leg was out of alignment with the rest of my leg. I thought my leg was broken, but I heard another loud pop and my knee popped back into place. I tried to get back on my bike to catch the other riders, but I could only make it to the first aid station before the pain became too intense. The doctors in the first aid tried to convince me to go to the ER, but I informed them that I had spent the last 6 months training for this race and even though I was out of contention on my 20″ bike, I still had a shot at the main event on my cruiser. After several doses of Ibuprofen, I climbed back on my cruiser and competed in the 8th, Quarter and Semi-final races and was one of the final eight riders in the Main Event.
The Main Event
The main event was filled with Factory Sponsored riders in full racing gear including my friend and training partner, Parnell. I nervously waited in lane 4 (right next to Parnell) for the gate to drop as the only “Dad” sponsored rider in the race. When the gate dropped, I did my best to power through the pain, but I didn’t have the strength to compete with Parnell down the straight. By the time we hit the first jump I had drifted into the middle of the pack and got squeezed out. I backed off the pedals and fell back in the pack to avoid a 2nd crash on the bad knee. I was able to keep the other riders in site until the 3rd turn when the riders bunched up again, and I ran over a downed rider. At this point, I got back on my bike and watched Parnell use his skill and experience to cruise to victory, clinching one of his 8 National Championship wins, and taking home his 2nd consecutive National Age Group Champion. While I was upset that I wasn’t able to compete or challenge for the win, it was clear that training with the best paid off. Because I had the opportunity to train with one of the best riders in the country, I had developed enough skills that even an injured “no-name” rider like myself was able to advance to the finals in the biggest race of the year and against the best riders in the country.
What does this have to do with Firearms Training?
There is a small group of nationally recognized trainers that travel the country offering classes to “no-name” shooters like me. Many of them offer training classes right here at Boondocks FTA™. In the past 5 years, I have had the opportunity to train with Dave Spaulding, Tom Givens, Mike Green, Brian Hill and more. I usually average about 2 classes per year and what I have seen is that about half of the people in the classes are folks that I have trained with in the past, and another handful of the students are usually Boondocks FTA™ instructors. Many of the students have taken multiple classes with a particular instructor, some are trying to take at least one class from each, and some have even taken the same exact class with the same instructor multiple times. These are the “best of the best”, the 1%’ers. These are not the people that are just “recreational shooting on the range with their buddies”, they are seeking the best training available. Now, this doesn’t mean they don’t mess up and “crash and burn” on a drill from time to time, but they don’t give up. They get right back on that bike and continue to train. These are the people that have the skills to fight through the pain and still perform at a high level. They have given themselves the best chance to protect themselves and their family and prevail in a life or death situation.
As you look forward to 2020, take a look at the list of upcoming Guest Instructor Events to see if there is a class you might be interested in. If you’re unsure about being able to complete an advanced class with one of the guest instructors, look at our intermediate handgun classes. These classes are led by Boondocks FTA™ Instructors (who have been in these advanced training courses) and will walk you through the class step by step, give you valuable feedback on your skillset and guide you through your training journey. Can commit to taking one class per year and practicing at the range every other month? If so, you will be in the top 1% of gun owners in the United States and will likely have more training than most police or military personnel! You will also quickly see improvements in your skillset and will forge new friendships with these elite groups of folks!
- John Farnam – Urban Rifle
- Massad Ayoob – MAG40
- Spencer Keepers – AIWB & Performance-Focused Skills, Drills, and Tests
- Tom Givens – Master Firearms Instructor Development
- Brian Hill – Pistol Essentials & Beyond
- Defensive Carry
- Defensive Pistol I
- Defensive Pistol LIVE