There’s so much to say about country music legend Loretta Lynn, who passed away today at 90, that it’s no surprise that most of the obituaries may neglect to mention the role she played in helping save the sport of motocross in America. I wasn’t aware, either, untilI had the chance to spend some time with people involved.
“Amateur motocross families have lost an iconic member,” according to a spokesman for the AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship. “The Queen of Country Music has opened her home to thousands of motocross athletes for the past 41 years. The memories made at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch are indelible to our racing family.”
Famously born dirt poor in the coal mining country of eastern Kentucky, Lynn was a natural singer and storyteller. She married young and used her powerful voice to tell unvarnished tales of real life that were dark and yet beautiful and funny. She also wrote an autobiography called “Coal Miner’s Daughter” that became the popular film starring Sissy Spacek as Lynn.
Here’s Lynn performing “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)”
That big my smile as she warns “It’ll be over my dead body, so get out while you can” over a twangy steel guitar is tragic and wonderful, giving you just enough of a glimpse into both the difficult circumstances of her life that led her to that bit of wisdom and also the strength she was able to conjure when faced with hard times.
If you’re paying attention you’re likely to be inundated with Loretta Lynn information and tributes as well as, reportedly, a massive funeral/celebration planned by Lynn herself. That’s why I want to take a minute to talk about this small, but important part of her life.
Back in 1966, Lynn and her husband Mooney were looking to get out of Nashville and found a white house on a hill. To buy the house and surrounding acreage she had to essentially buy the entire town of Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. Over the years the place slowly transformed into Loretta Lynn’s Dude Ranch – one of the many rustic campgrounds that dot the eastern ranges of the United States, albeit one with an exceptionally cool owner and the perfect conditions for a motocross course.
Today, American motocross is considered the best and most competitive in the world, which is why athletes like Germany’s Ken Roczen, France’s Dylan Ferrandis, and Australia’s Lawrence brothers all race here. Just as the Scandinavian countries tend to do well in rally, America’s deep well of talented riders has made motocross here so competitive. A lot of that strength comes from the Amateur National Motocross Championship.
It’s a long story to tell, but the short version is that racer and promoter Big Dave Coombs was with his two sons at an amateur motocross event out in Oklahoma in 1981 and was unhappy with what he felt was favoritism and a lack of organization. I visited Big Dave’s son Davey Coombs in Morgantown, West Virginia last summer as part of a shoot for NBC’s Off The Grid and I learned a lot about what happened.
A friend told Big Dave he should camp at Loretta Lynn’s on the way back because it might make a good place for a motocross event. The family stopped by on the way back to West Virginia and Big Dave struck up a conversation with Mooney and the rest, as they say, is history.
The first race big race was in 1982 and every year since the Lynn family and the Coombs family worked together to create, as they say, a ‘championship experience for everyone.’
There’s a great article that ESPN ran earlier this year about the race, its history, and how much of the property was destroyed and quickly rebuilt following a fatal flood and it’s got this wonderful tidbit:
In those early years, Loretta performed at the campground music pavilion and handed out trophies with Dave Coombs, whom everyone called “Big Dave.” She traded the sparkly, couture ball gowns she made famous for jeans, sponsor tees and her fair share of mud.
“When you’re talking to Loretta Lynn music fans, you don’t get to discuss the machismo side of her,” Tayla says. “Sure, she is the grandmother in the ball gowns. But she’s also the grandmother who says, ‘Let’s invite thousands of adrenaline junkies to ride like hell on our property.’ She’s rockabilly. And she’s proud there’s a whole group of people who only know her name because of motocross.”
Lynn was elected to the AMA Motorcross Hall of Fame last year. Which makes sense. As Davey Coombs told me this morning: “She was an amazing lady and a great friend for three generations of motocross riders.”
All photos courtesy of RacerX online and used with permission.