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Captured Moments / 1988 Loretta Lynn’s Motocross

Published on July 30, 2020

With this year’s Loretta Lynn’s Amateur National Motocross set to begin on Monday, August 3rd, I found it only fitting that this installment of Captured Moments focuses on a photo from the same event—albeit from 32 years ago. That’s right, 32 years ago! (Just typing that made me feel old.)

Anyone who’s ever raced or been to the Loretta Lynn’s Amateur National knows it’s a special event. For the amateur motocross racer, Loretta Lynn’s Ranch is hallowed ground, and racers headed to “The Ranch” each year know that if they qualify, they are one of the top amateur racers in the country.

For many, Loretta Lynn’s is a weeklong family vacation, and much of the fun occurs the weekend before the racing begins. For us, each year, a group of racers and families from Ohio would set up camp together in a chosen area, usually near Hurricane Creek. Naturally, shenanigans ensued, with moms and dads and friends drinking beers down by the creek during the day, then later around a campfire. Ever the jokester, my dad took upon himself to ensure not a single canoe got past our spot at the creek without being tipped and taking a swim—whether they wanted to or not.

Once the racing started, things got serious for me. With the extreme heat and humidity in Tennessee during August, I had a strict regimen I adhered to each day to stay well-hydrated and was usually in bed by 9 pm. The year the photo was taken, 1988, we’d decided to return to Loretta’s one final time before moving on to Pro Motocross full time. The year before, I’d had two of my best finishes, with a 3rd place in the 125A class, and a 5th in 250A. Because of those finishes, I was assigned number 3 for 1988, and I chose the oversized version of 3 that factory Kawasaki rider Jeff Ward made famous.

“For the amateur motocross racer, Loretta Lynn’s Ranch is hallowed ground, and racers headed to ‘The Ranch’ each year know that if they qualify, they are one of the top amateur racers in the country.”

Loretta Lynn’s in 1988 did not go well for me. I think it started the year before when I severely broke my ankle at a local race in the fall of 1987 after receiving my 1988 Kawasaki KX models. After a long recovery from the broken ankle and winter training in Florida, I never seemed to find my stride in 1988. By the time Loretta Lynn’s came around in August, my confidence just wasn’t there the same way it had been the year before. I believe this captured moment photo perfectly sums up my 1988 Loretta Lynn’s experience: chasing other racers and eating a lot of dirt! I was able to salvage a 5th-place finish in the 125A Modified class, but my 250 results were lackluster at best.

Despite how I finished that year, I love the photo. I believe it perfectly captures the intensity of motocross. Not only do racers have to control the motorcycle, but they have to be keenly aware of their surroundings at all times. A motocross racer’s situational awareness is often like a sixth sense, whereby they can determine where other riders are around them without seeing them. It’s something I’ve never experienced in any other sport.

Loretta Lynn's National 1988 | Dale Spangler
Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, August 1988

Almost ten years later, after my pro career had ended, I decided to go back to Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in 1997 to race the Plus 25 age category class. By that time, I was a regular working man—with low expectations and poor fitness—yet I somehow managed another 5th-place finish. To this day, out of all of the trophies I earned from racing motorcycles (and of the few that I kept), three of them are from Loretta Lynn’s. And some of my fondest memories are from time spent at The Ranch in the rolling hills of western Tennessee.

Good luck to all of the racers headed to Loretta Lynn’s for this year’s National Championship. No matter where you finish, you’ll be making lasting memories.


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