Freestyle motocross pioneer Larry Linkogle's new book, "Mind of the Demon: A Memoir of Motocross, Madness, and the Metal Mulisha," comes out June 24 (you can pre-order it from Amazon.com). Linkogle's book, written with Joe Layden, includes milestones such as his 2005 world-record long-distance jump of 255.4 feet on a 250cc motorcycle.
As its publicity material states: "[Linkogle] and a friend created the Metal Mulisha -- now a top brand in FMX -- and he was on a fast track to the good life. But after a near-fatal accident, 'Link' made a series of decisions that almost finished him off for good -- getting involved in prescription drugs, drug and gunrunning, underground fistfighting, and other behavior that compromised his health, his relationships, and his career. After hitting rock bottom and experiencing a moment of clarity, Link began to turn things around, salvaging and strengthening the things that mattered most. Now an icon to millions of extreme sports fans, Link is well on the road to a happy ending."
Before he turned 20, Linkogle had grown frustrated with the restraints of motocross racing and lost his desire to train and compete in the sport. His true enjoyment on a motorcycle was free riding on trails, hills and sand dunes, and he had made it into "Crusty Demons 2," a FMX video, because of his jumping abilities. Nicknamed "The Wombat," he had developed a bit of a following for his rebelliousness, and his sponsor, SMP, parlayed that into some gear sales but declined to give him a raise, setting up a pivotal moment in 1996.
The following is an edited excerpt from "Mind of the Demon," with permission from Running Press.
The motocross nationals were being held at Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino, Calif. One day prior to the competition, there was a huge autograph show at Chaparral Motorsports, one of the biggest motorcycle shops in the state, located on I-215 just ten miles from Glen Helen Raceway. The idea, of course, was to hype the event by giving fans who had flocked to the area from all over the country an opportunity to meet their favorite riders. Most of the top athletes in both the 125cc and 250cc classes had been invited to appear at the autograph show. I'd been invited, too, despite the fact that I wasn't a top-10 rider or anything; hell, I wasn't even a top-40 rider by this time. But thanks to the growing popularity of SMP, the company now had the clout to insist that its boys be included in publicity events such as this. I wanted no part of it, to be perfectly honest, but SMP made it clear that my presence was required. And so, like a disgruntled employee, I drove on up to Chaparral with Nathan Fletcher, determined to put my own weird stamp on the proceedings.
"F--- this, man!" I said to Nathan. "We can't go up there looking like a bunch of f---ing dorks again, the way we did at San Diego. We need to make a statement."
"What do you have in mind?"
I remembered that my dad had some old war paint in the garage, stuff buried in an old shoebox that he'd brought back from Vietnam. Why he'd never thrown it out, I have no idea. But it was there, just waiting for the right opportunity.
"I'm gonna paint my face for the show."
Nathan started laughing.
"Oh, dude ... that would be so cool, like the ultimate 'F--- you!'"
"Totally, right? That's what I'm thinking, too. F--- you guys!"
So I painted one side of my face completely green, the other side completely black. This was about a year after "Braveheart" had come out, so I was after that sort of warrior look and spirit. Mainly, though, I just wanted to make it clear that I was not like everyone else who would be appearing at the show. Motocross autograph shows are all about glitter and flames; I was going for grunge. The AMA hated it, of course, as did my fellow competitors, but the fans ate it up.
On the way back, Nathan and I were totally stoked, not about motocross, but about coming up with some sort of master plan to wreak havoc on the motocross industry by behaving in a way that would make the establishment squirm. We would create a propaganda machine designed to make free riding look appealing, and traditional motocross boring and stodgy. Anyone with an ounce of cool in their blood would prefer the former. I'm not saying we were geniuses; we were more like Bill and Ted on an angry f---ing adventure of mayhem and madness.
"We need a name for our propaganda machine," I said.
"Yeah, Dude," Nathan said. He paused. "I got it! How about the Metal Militia?"
"Oh, man ... that is f---ing awesome. The Metal Militia!"
There was silence.
"What's it mean?" I wondered aloud.
Nathan said nothing. Then he began bobbing his head slowly, like he'd come up with the perfect answer.
"If anybody asks, we'll just say, 'Metal Militia -- it's nothing now, but one day it'll be something!"
"Dude! That is f---ing brilliant!"
In a way, it actually was kind of brilliant. Nathan and I had been talking for a while about sponsorships and endorsements, and how strange it was to see all these kids dressing like us, wearing the same gear we wore when competing. We realized that it didn't matter who produced the gear; we were the only brand that mattered. Eventually we'd figure out how to combine our disdain for the mainstream motocross world with a legitimate business plan. Anger and frustration actually fueled a viable company.
As for the name ... well, as far as I can recall, it had something to do with the fact that Nathan was a big Metallica fan, and "Metal Militia" was a Metallica song. I guess it just popped into his head that day. I'd like to tell you we chose an alternate spelling to avoid copyright infringement, but that isn't what happened. The truth is, when we scratched out the first logo that very day, neither one of us knew how to spell "militia."
"Just spell it the way it sounds," I suggested.
And so, in true Beavis and Butthead fashion, we ended up with Metal Mulisha, a company that today is a leader in the action sports industry, with annual sales of more than $30 million. At first, though, it was more like a club for me and my friends. We'd wear spiked shoulder pads and camouflage pants. We'd use thick black markers to write "Metal Mulisha" on our shirts and on the sides of our bikes. People would come up to me at freestyle events and ask, "Dude, cool logo. What's it mean? Is it a clothing line?"
"Uhhh ... I don't know. Maybe."
"What do you mean, maybe? What's the Metal Mulisha?"
I'd smile and nod.
"It's nothing yet, but one day it's gonna be something!"
On the way back from the autograph show at Chaparral, we passed a limousine carrying five or six of the top riders. We were so disgusted. Rolling to an autograph show in a f---ing limo? Are you kidding me? For motocross riders? S---, not one of these guys was recognizable on the street, and here they were acting like NASCAR superstars.
So Nathan slowed his old white van and allowed the limo to come alongside us, and there, right out in the middle of the freeway, with my face painted green and black, I dropped my trousers and gave them the middle finger. The windows were tinted, but I'm pretty sure I could see them all just shaking their heads.
I showed up at Glen Helen the next day with a big chip on my shoulder. The autograph show had gone well, despite my attempts at sabotage, and now everyone from SMP was excited about what might happen at the nationals. On an outdoor track I was fast enough to at least perform competitively, so the SMP logo would be visible and my name would be called over the PA system often enough to legitimize the company from both a creative and competitive standpoint.
"This is the day, Larry," SMP's owner said to me that morning. "We're gonna show 'em. We're going to take over this industry!"
Yeah, right ...
I went to the starting line with his words in my head, coupled with the memory of our recent negotiations. SMP wanted to pay its serious racers three times what they were paying me, even though I was arguably the most popular "brand" in their clothing line. I couldn't get over the notion that they were basically laughing at me; they were cashing in on my popularity, and the budding free-riding movement that I had helped create, and yet they didn't feel my contributions were worth compensating.
We're going to take over the industry?
I looked down at the starting line, across the row of riders in their glistening uniforms, on their pristine bikes, and I was filled suddenly with a sense of disgust. I'd felt it in the past at various times: a complete and utter disinterest in competing, and something like contempt for the sport itself. I felt confined, constricted. When I was younger and felt this way, I usually just gave up or simply rode badly. More recently it had played out in the form of general craziness on the track: occasional jumps and dangerously aggressive riding. Now, though, I felt something stronger, a need to take all this anger and funnel it into something bigger. I thought of the debacle at San Diego, and I felt a rush of shame. These people had no idea what I could do on a bike. Maybe it was time to show them. Rather than going out and finishing maybe third in my qualifier and fiftieth in the finals, I would try to make a point. I would turn the outdoor nationals into a freestyle demonstration.
I would go out not with a whimper, but with a bang. With one massive, final "F--- off!"
The gate dropped. While everyone else hit the throttle and jockeyed for position, racing to the first turn, I just cruised casually to the back of the pack, doing little wheelies, letting the field pull away.
Having practiced on the course, I knew the layout featured at least a few jumps that could be utilized for tricks, so I just let everyone else go off and race, figuring I'd ride just fast enough to avoid getting lapped, but not so fast as to become part of the pack. In other words, I'd have the track to myself. So I rolled into the first jump and -- boom! -- Double Can Can. Both legs hanging off the side of the bike. In the years since, this little trick has become almost like a warm-up maneuver for freestylers. It's that common, that basic. But in 1996, it was practically brand new. And in this context -- in front of some 50,000 people who had come to witness a motocross race featuring the fastest riders in the world -- it was shocking, if not downright revolutionary. There was no YouTube; hell, there was barely an Internet. Cell phones were not equipped with cameras. The unusual did not become mundane overnight, the way it does now. A few hardcore fans had probably seen some of the Crusty Demon videos, but for the most part, this was a crowd of traditionalists. They probably thought I was crazy.
I can still remember the sound -- complete silence as I flew through the air. And then an incredible roar as my bike hit the ground. I'd been riding for almost a decade, and I'd never felt or heard anything like that. I was so amped.
Whoa, much better, dude!
Honest to God, I don't think I would have felt that good if I'd won the nationals. So I kept right on going. Second jump -- let go with both hands ... and both legs! The place began to freak out. Next jump, another trick. Followed by another. By the end of the second lap, people were pushed up against the edge of the track, cheering me on as if I were one of the leaders of the race. I didn't have a strategy for any of this. It was spontaneous, and I even figured I'd be off the track within a minute or two of hitting my first trick. Instead, I completed the entire race, nailing jump after jump with the crowd going nuts the whole time. And I remember feeling a swell of pride as I cruised into the pits after the race ended; a sense of validation. I had stolen the show, and that in itself was an accomplishment.
"Dude, that was so f---ing sick," Nathan Fletcher said. "Listen to these people! They're stoked!"
Not everyone appreciated it. The other riders were pissed, the race organizers were pissed, and even the owner of SMP was pissed.
"You didn't even try out there," he said, shaking his head in disgust.
I didn't care. They wanted me to be their poster boy? Fine, I'd give them more than they bargained for.
"Didn't you hear everyone screaming?" I said. "They loved it!"
He just walked away. Apparently I had crossed a line. What SMP wanted was a bad boy image, without actually having to deal with a bad boy. They wanted me to pretend to be some sort of rebel, but on race day I was supposed to conform and be like everyone else. I couldn't do it.
After that qualifier I spent the rest of the day getting hugely f---ed up. I wasn't much of a drinker, but that day I got completely s----faced. People kept coming up to me, congratulating me, telling me they'd never seen anything like it, wanting to know when and where I'd be riding again. I turned my SMP shirt inside out and used a Sharpie to write "Metal Mulisha" on the chest. I'm pretty sure I wrote some other real sinister, nasty s---, as well. At some point one of the fans asked me for my shirt, so I gave it to him. I had no tattoos at the time, so I inked myself with the Sharpie, writing "F--- Off!" on my skin. I'd walk into the pit crews of other racers and start punking them.
"Dude, how's the race going? You got 23rd place? Cool. Good for you. How's that training going? Keep working hard, maybe you can finish in the top twenty." I was a total a------. And I did not care. I don't say that with pride. I'm just trying to relate my mindset at the time. I'm trying to be honest. I had hijacked the outdoor nationals, and 50,000 people had voiced their approval. I realized then that there was an audience for free riding ... or freestyle ... or whatever you wanted to call it. It was a defining moment in my life. The thing I loved -- the thing I was good at -- had value.
It would be arrogant and self-aggrandizing to suggest that this was the day freestyle motocross was born. For years guys had been executing tricks and riding purely for the joy of it, usually far from the crowds or the video cameras. I hopped on the wave, adapted a few new tricks, and embraced it as a lifestyle. No single person can take credit for "creating" freestyle -- the movement was organic and widespread. But if you want to pick one day, one moment, when the free-riding movement elbowed its way into the spotlight and became something more than a sideshow ... well, this one is as good as any.
I made a decision that day: I was done with racing. I was done with motocross and the AMA and all of its stick-up-the-ass rules and regulations. From now on, I was a freestyler, a free rider.