John Kocinski: Racing Again

Two-time world champion is following his dirt-track dream.

Photography by Jeff Allen

John Kocinski: Racing Again

John Kocinski: Racing Again

It's Friday evening, sun long since set. But I'm still at my desk, on the phone with John Kocinski, three-time national and two-time world champion-turned-Los Angeles property developer. He's describing his Wood-Rotax dirt-tracker, which he'll be racing in the Pro Open class at Saturday night's running of the West Coast Flat Track Series, AMA hall-of-famer Gene Romero's tag-along to the final round of the AMA Pro Racing Grand National Championship in Pomona, California. "You can't miss it," Kocinski adds as we say our goodbyes. "It will be the only bike in the pits with carbon-fiber numberplates."

Next day, at the track, I pick up my credential and make a beeline for Kocinski's pit. He's just back from practice and looks frustrated. "It hasn't been any fun so far," he admits. "I hit those bumps and just went straight." Nearly two years in the making, the big Thumper itself is everything Kocinski told me it would be. When I ask Ron Wood about the bike, he calls it "art," adding, "It's probably the best-looking dirt-tracker I've ever seen."

With one lap left in his heat race, Kocinski is fifth. Four transfer to the final; the rest go to the semi. Kocinski is sitting tall on the bike. He looks uncomfortable. "He's not flicking it into the corner," says Kurtis Roberts, standing nearby. Back in his pit, Kocinski is limping. "I stuck my foot in a hole," he winces. "It feels like a charley horse that won't go away." Where's your masseuse, I joke. He smiles, "She's coming later."

His mechanic wipes dirt from the aluminum Performance Machine rear wheel. It spins freely, and I glance at Kocinski. "We've spent a lot of time making sure all the tolerances are correct," he says. Describing his Vance & Hines Ducati Superbike back in 2000, Kocinski once told a reporter, "I don't care if it wobbles as long as it turns." Here, on the biggest and roughest dirt-track he's ever ridden, he wants stability. "I haven't been comfortable on the bike yet," he says.

Kocinski meticulously preps his helmet, an older-issue Arai emblazoned with his trademark eagle. I ask about the tape holding the right side pod in place. "I broke the plate," he says. "It's been a long time since I changed a faceshield." In the semi, he gets a great start from the middle of the front row. First into Turn 1, he runs wide but hangs onto the lead. On the last lap, JD Beach, riding Chris Carr's 450 Honda, runs under Kocinski in Turn 3 and leads the champ through 4 and down the front straight. Kocinski powers past at the checkers to take the win.

Back in the pits, Carr, Kel Carruthers and others offer congratulations. An AMA official stomps over and chastises Kocinski for making an extra lap. He smoothly diffuses the situation. Minutes later, the official is back with his son, asking for an autograph.

I check in again with Kocinski once more before the main event. "People ask if I'm having fun," he reflects. "I like winning. Winning is fun." He starts from the last row, passes one other rider and comes home 11th in a tough field, his progress stalled by a sticking throttle. Afterward, a crowd gathers around Kocinski's pit. Just like old times. Maybe even better.

John Kocinski: Racing Again

John Kocinski: Racing Again

John Kocinski: Racing Again

John Kocinski: Racing Again

John Kocinski: Racing Again

John Kocinski: Racing Again

John Kocinski: Racing Again

John Kocinski: Racing Again

John Kocinski: Racing Again