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Monday, August 23, 2010
Ghost Rider




The Metal Mulisha Compound circa NOW.

"How many people can say that?" asked Brian Deegan, standing in his trophy room deep within side the Metal Mulisha Compound, holding a medal in his left hand and a trophy in his right. "How many riders can say they've won an X Games gold medal and a 125cc Supercross first place trophy?"

"Nobody I can think of," I replied. "Man, I remember the night you won that race in the Coliseum in '97," I went on. "You had just passed [Robbie] Reynard. I was standing in the infield and was so close to you in one corner; I could have reached out and shoved your shoulder."

The night Deegan and I were reflecting back on was Saturday, January 18, 1997. After getting a mid-pack start, Team Moto XXX privateer Brian Deegan methodically picked off riders in a spirited charge to the front of the field. With just a few laps remaining, Deegan passed leader Robbie Reynard (a full-on factory rider) and charged towards the checkered flag. Upon reaching it, he jumped off the back of his RM125 and ghosted the Suzuki over the finish line. The 50,000 fans on hand that chilly night went berserk.

I think that at moment I was just really rebelling against everything and wanted to do something different. That night in the Coliseum really launched the attitude and the Mulisha.

-- Brian Deegan

It would be the last race the then empty-pocketed privateer would ever win. For within two years, Brian Deegan was a full-time freestyle motocross pilot, and arguably, the most popular in the world.

"That night was actually was the fist time I started writing Metal Mulisha on my bike and helmet. I still have the helmet that says "Metal Mulisha" in marker that I won the Supercross with," said Deegan pulling the helmet off a shelf. "I think that at moment I was just really rebelling against everything and wanted to do something different. That night in the Coliseum really launched the attitude and the Mulisha."

"Hey, remember when we did that column in Cycle News about the ghost riding incident?" I asked Deegan, a few members of the Mulisha listening in. "Yeah I do, do you still have it? He asked"

"I think I do," I replied. Thus upon arriving back home in Orange County, California later that evening, I started digging through my huge stack of Cycle News back issues. Fingers smeared in old ink, I finally found it.

From Supercross winner to X Gamer, Brian Deegan has succeeded at everything he's put his mind to. Now racing rally cars and trucks, we have yet to see a finish line ghost ride on the four wheels. Is that even possible?

View from the Fence
By Eric Johnson
Cycle News, Page 59
February 5, 1997

"I've always told myself that if I won a race, I was going to do something totally different -- something that no one else has ever done," declared Brian Deegan to the nearly 50,000 spellbound spectators sitting in the Los Angeles Coliseum grandstands.

Just a few moments earlier, Deegan, a true to life, dyed-in-the-wool privateer, had jettisoned off the back of his of his nearly bone-stock Suzuki RM125 and ghosted it over the L.A. finish-line jump. The bewildered crowd roared in approval. In fact, the 20 big-time 250cc riders I was standing among behind the starting gate when the move went down all began jumping up and down and screaming in support as well. It was certainly a move that will go down in the folklore book of Supercross.

That night was actually was the fist time I started writing Metal Mulisha on my bike and helmet. I still have the helmet that says "Metal Mulisha" in marker that I won the Supercross with.

-- Brian Deegan

However, that said, Brian Deegan's well-deserved night of glory ended up being an evening of mixed emotions. A double-edged sword, if you will. After basking in the glory of victory and climbing down from the top step of the podium, Deegan was approached by an AMA official who immediately informed him that he was being fined $1000 for dangerous riding and for his mechanic running out onto the course.

At the time, Deegan let it go. He shook his head and said, "Fine." However, once he arrived back at his well-worn box van and thought the matter over, he felt that he was not completely in the wrong with his actions; he believed he had been sent a mixed message by the AMA.

"Duke Finch was the one who came over and talked to me," said Deegan over the telephone on the Wednesday morning after the incident. "He kept saying to me, 'I'm sorry I have to do this, I don't really want to, but we have to because we can't let people do this kind of thing.' Duke told me that they didn't like what I did because I could have hurt someone. However once I thought about it, I believe that basically they are trying to make an example out of me, and I don't think it's fair. I think they're afraid to make an example out of one of the factory guys, because those guys are always doing this type of thing. However, the factory teams are paying the bills to the AMA, and we're just a privateer team, so they can do what they want to us because we don't have any power, you know?"

While it can certainly be argued that Deegan's self-described "punk rock" move was in fact dangerous, he does have a point about the double standard that appears to exist at times on the AMA Supercross circuit between the big-four factory teams and the much-maligned privateer group.

2010 saw Deegan return to the same place he threw down his infamous ghost ride a decade earlier ... but this time he was in a car.
"They fined me $500 for dangerous riding and endangerment of their flagman, and the other $500 fine came from when my mechanic [Kenny Watson] ran out onto the track," Deegan said. 'I mean [Jeremy] McGrath's mechanic has run out onto the track a bunch of times, and what about the time Stanton's mechanic ran out on the track when he won the Supercross Championship? (Note: Jeff Stanton was met with open arms  on the track  by his mechanic immediately after winning the 1992 AMA Supercross Championship).

"Also, how many warnings have they given [Jeff] Emig kicking people or pushing them, or I heard [Mike] LaRocco launched his bike in the tunnel onto someone, and nothing happens to those guys  that is not endangering someone? They are sending a mixed message. Those guys are intentionally trying to endanger someone. What I did was for entertainment.

I'm not afraid to do what I want to do. I want to be who I want to be. It's not a theory of causing trouble, but a theory about being myself.

-- Brian Deegan

"What they did was fine me $1000," Deegan said. "I've never even heard of a rider being fined $1000  factory or not  for fighting, or anything in front of people. What happens when people are fighting on the track? That endangers the rider and everyone. What I did the crowd totally loved and probably made all the people come back and watch another race. All I did was try and pump the crowd, and now they're trying to make an example out of me, and I can't do anything about it  and it took $1000 out of a privateer's pocket. I have to pay my own way to get to the races."

It's hard to say who is right in this situation. While Deegan -- seemingly with the best of intentions -- did take a chance and pull a "that's entertainment" move out of his bag of tricks, the potential was there for someone to be hurt by the flying yellow Suzuki. However, it can also be argued that the AMA may have some down a little too hard on the Nebraska-based privateer.

"At the time we didn't even argue it -- we figured we would just pay the money," Deegan said. "We know this was going to be huge exposure for me and all the privateers. Now all of this in just another blow to all of us. They see that the AMA isn't afraid to take half of my prize money. I don't want to burn the AMA. They have gone out of their way for me before, but they don't stand up for the privateers. I don't want to sound like a whiner, but the AMA has to back up the privateers. I mean I didn't even get a warning or anything."

Despite all the high drama of probation, fines, rule infractions and finger pointing, no one can dispute the fact that Deegan was dazzling in his Coliseum victory. Arguably the most impressive fact to come out of Saturday's festivities, Deegan is the first true American privateer since Mike Brown in 1994 to win an AMA 125cc Supercross. And in an era where the high-dollar factory teams are pledging huge financial resources and technical support in this supposedly "entry level" class, Deegan should be quite proud of his accomplishment.

Deegan has kept his racing skills sharp throughout the years, and he had the chance to put them to good use during Speed & Style at X Games 16.
"I bought my own bike," Deegan said. "I mean I went down and paid $4000 for it. I'm a true privateer and I won."

So, even after all the fallout and bickering, was the brilliant -- and spooky -- ghost rider move worth it?

"So far, every single person I've talked to -- and my phone has been ringing off the hook -- thought it was the coolest thing they had ever seen," Deegan said. "Like I had McGrath say to me, "That took a lot of courage and it totally fired me up."

High praise from a high source.

"What I did that night -- I mean I have always been a little wild and I'm not one of those guys who is going to let myself be bossed around by the factories," Deegan said. "I'm not afraid to do what I want to do. I want to be who I want to be. It's not a theory of causing trouble, but a theory about being myself."

And what do the detractors who feel that he may have crossed the line (no pun intended) and put the safety of the trackside people in jeopardy?

"Yeah, at the time I thought, 'I hope the bike doesn't hit anyone when I let it go,'" Deegan said ruefully. But I figured we were racing for the lead and no one is going to be on the track anyway. Who is going to be on the track when I'm the first guy coming across the finish line and there are 20-some guys behind me?

"What can they say to a guy who is out there making the crowd go nuts? How can they come down on him?"