This week Bill Carne looks at the thrills and spills of motocross through the eyes of Gary Thomas, who is a relative newcomer to the sport but loves it with a passion . . .

THIS week we are delighted to highlight a new sport as we delve into the hurly-burly action of Motocross as we chat to someone who has always had a love of motor bikes and over the last few years has managed to achieve his ambition of competing in this hectic and exciting motor sport.

Gary Thomas works all week fitting windows for Gardinia and readily admits that looking after his much-loved motor bike and preparing for the weekends’ racing, as a good way of relaxation after a hard week’s work.

For the uninitiated, motocross is the modern equivalent of scrambling, which featured many years ago on BBC’s ‘Grandstand’ programme on Saturday afternoons, with commentary by Murray Walker as stars like Dave Bickers and Arthur Lampkin ploughed through the mud when it was wet as a means of negotiating large ramps and tight bends, or risking pieces of stone flying up like shrapnel from the back tyres in front of you, when it was dry.

“Races are usually over a time of been 12 and 20 minutes, plus one lap, depending on the age and experience of the riders,” Gary told us, “with courses often of a winding nature and with natural or man-made ramps, chicanes and tight corners to negotiate safely at high speeds.

“People think it’s just sitting on a bike but it is surprising how fit you need to be able to keep control, especially with other keen riders around you and looking for the same space – and overtaking needs skill and good judgement, otherwise you can go airborne and end up in a heap on the floor”

“There are dangers if you are not in control and I would love to see some of my friends have a go because they would be in for a shock!”

Gary had ridden through the forests near Llanwrtyd Wells as a teenager because his grandparents had motorbikes on the family farm and there were lots of spaces for him to negotiate – and although his top speed was in the region of 35mph he felt that it was more than double that on the narrow tracks

He had his first motor bike at 18, a Yamaha YZ 125 and he thought he was a real speed king, and when he moved to Pembrokeshire he acquired a Kawazaki KX 250, a lot faster than his first machine, and started practising at Glandy Cross (near Crymych), Meidrim, Pendine Beach and Castell Howell with the Swansea Motocross Club or the more local Dredgers Club.

“I was made very welcome by members of both clubs, who are always available with good advice or helping with parts.

“My race debut came at Glandy Cross and it would be hard to describe it as a success, although it was a flying start because I was a little too quick off the mark and the elastic starting gate got caught in my back wheel.

“It gradually wound itself around the wheel until it totally jammed things up as I approached the first ramp and when the bike came to a quick stop I carried on, over the handlebars and into space before landing with a big bump!

“I smashed the peak of my helmet and my goggles, bent my handlebars, as well as hurting my shoulder and back – it was so embarrassing but the marshalls were very sympathetic and the medical help was very reassuring as they hid their chuckles well!”

Things could only get better from that inauspicious start and as Gary has gained in experience so his placings have improved. There are three categories: for experts, club riders and novices, as well as for youth and juniors, and at the moment he is picking his way through the novice section, looking to move into being a club rider when he can.

It is fair to say that Gary hails from a sporting family because his mother, Rachel Osborne, used to compete at mountain biking whilst sister Chloe enjoys keeping fit and brother David likes mountain biking and road racing. Gary’s partner, Jennifer Losado, is a good netball player, as is her daughter, Courtney Keight, who has had Welsh trials in the same sport.

Outside of his motocross, Gary played football and rugby as a junior and when he lived in Llandinam, near Newtown, he represented Montgomeryshire in darts.

“I used to play a lot then,” Gary told us, and when I won a local Christmas competition the prize was to play against Eric Bristow in an exhibition evening.

“It was best of three legs and I scored 180 with my first three darts, which caused the ‘Crafty Cockney’ to make a few choice comments – and when I won 2-1 he was brilliant about it and gave me his flights as a keepsake.”

Back on the motocross theme, Gary now has a new KXF 450 bike, which is a four-stroke beauty that Gary says has different gearings and ‘more grunt’, which is the bikers’ term for greater power!

Ask Gary about costs and he would admit that it is not a cheap sport:

“You need a really good quality helmet, boots with steel toe-caps, quality riding leathers, padded gloves, goggles and a neck brace, because safety is paramount. Then there is the entry fees, cost of fuel and transport to race meetings.”

Gary is lucky that he has a van and trailer available, plus excellent support from friends Matthew John and @@@ Feetham.

“Matthew is very clued up with regard to the mechanics and my major job outside racing is making sure that the bike is spotless after going through so much mud.”

Gary races as often as he can but is still learning from mistakes, like when he was trying out the new bike at Castell Howell and was going well until he misjudged his speed into a berm (a man-made bank into a corner).

“I braked too hard,” he told us, “and the bike just took off into the air but I managed to bale out in time so that all I hurt were my feelings – and the embarrassment of having to collect my bike in front of some laughing marshalls!”

Motocross takes place from March to October so Gary is just getting geared up for the new campaign.

“I’m not worried about trophies,” said Gary, “because I just enjoy the adrenalin rush that the thrills and spills bring, and I have made loads of good friends and aim to carry on for as long as I enjoy it.”

It is easy to see Gary’s genuine enthusiasm and we are already looking forward to seeing the big fellow demonstrating his riding skills at Glandy Cross in the near future!