Kayla Morales called to tell me about a party raising funds for her motorcycle-racing pursuits. She knew a lot about the sport and was informative. She talked about wanting to go to Nashville to race. From the sound of her voice, I assumed Morales was in her early 20s. I was shocked when she told me that she was 14. I headed down to the Hot Monkey Love Café, where Morales's benefit was taking place, and met her dad at the door. I said, "This must be an expensive hobby. Couldn't you have talked her into piano lessons or something cheaper?"
"Yeah, it's expensive," he said, "I don't want to think about what I've already spent. Maybe $25,000 to $30,000. I tell my kids, 'We'll spend a thousand bucks on your hobby. If you aren't good at it, we won't continue spending money on it.'"
I asked why it was so expensive. "Gas is $26 a gallon. It makes me laugh when I hear people complaining that gas went up to $3 a gallon. We have to use something that is 110 octane. It's pure, without the additives. We also have to pay for track time. Kayla doesn't have her license yet, so she can only ride her bike on the track."
I asked Mr. Morales if sponsorship helps. "Well, a company like Dunlop, they give us tires. When you win, there are more companies that will sponsor you or pay you. We have the Dunlop stickers on the bike." He handed me a list of all her sponsors and asked if I could mention them in my story. I laughed and changed the subject.
How dangerous is this?
"They wear all the armor. A back protector, elbow and knee pads, boots, gloves. That keeps your skin on. She complains it's heavy and hot. But after her first crash last week, she was happy to have it. The gas tank landed on her knee. It was really jacked up.... She crashed going over 100 miles per hour. At first she wasn't moving. We were worried."
"And why didn't you insist on giving her piano lessons?"
"We do have another child that's a musician. A guitarist. She's at Washington State."
When I saw Kayla's younger sister near the racing bike, I asked her if she was going to race. With a grin, she told me that she wanted to be a photographer.
Kayla apologized to me for not having more people there. As she greeted her friends that did show up, she'd explain the different parts of her bike, which was parked outside. She pointed out the dent from her accident.
I asked her if it was tough working with her dad. "He pushes me as far as I can go. It's great. He's my manager, mechanic, everything." As she went running over to hug another friend that showed up, I said to her dad, "She's at the age where girls try to impress boys. No better way than with a fast motorcycle." He said there was a boy she liked that was also a racer.
When Kayla's mom showed up, I asked her if she worried about her daughter on the track. "A little. But, really, the toughest thing is that the nearest track is four hours away."
Kayla's uncle Dave owns a shop called ACME Motorsports. ACME was the first sponsor to jump on board. He was also the first person to let her ride a motorcycle.
He grew up racing bikes and is still passionate about the sport. He said, "I worked there 19 years ago. I basically bought it to support my hobby." He handed me a business card and told me that he is the person on the bike in silhouette. It reminded me of Jerry West on the NBA logo. I asked him, "Can you prove this is you?" He said, "I have the picture!"
When I asked about his niece's accident, he said, "She went flying. She was out for two minutes. The paramedics were all around. Seven days later, she took second place in a race."
Dave and I talked about our favorite punk bands. He had seen a lot of shows at the Whiskey a Go Go in L.A. back in the '70s and '80s. And then he took me outside to see his bike.
When Kayla's uncle and her dad told me that she needed to work on her speed, I asked what her top speed had been. They said 160 mph. "On the shorter tracks, 140," her dad added.
Alma, the owner of Hot Monkey Love Café, is generous about doing things for the community, as she supports local musicians, photographers, and poets. When I talked to Alma, she told me, "They just wanted to have a bucket set up near the register to try and raise money. I suggested we get bands in here and do a fundraiser."
I stayed for two of the bands -- Jews for Jesus and the Jack Rabbits. The musicians looked to be in their early teens. One of the singers was only ten years old. Hearing a little kid yell punk lyrics was bizarre -- "throwing firecrackers on a baseball field!" (That rebel.)
When it got to be too loud, I headed outside. Near Kayla's bike, I heard her talking shop with her dad, a detailed discussion about gear shifts, suspension, and how she handles turns. It was unusual to listen to a young girl who was knowledgeable about such topics.
Between bands, Kayla got up on stage and thanked everyone for coming and then thanked a list of her sponsors.
One of the drummers had an Afro and wore a psychedelic shirt. He reminded me of the drummer from Grand Funk in the '70s. His mother was at the party with a pleased smile on her face, proud of her boy. I thought of Little League parents who watch their kids and scream from the stands. This is one endeavor where you could watch your kids and scream and you'd fit right in.