Racing a CZ Motocrosser for Old Time's Sake

Time Machine: There's no outracing destiny

Ed Tashjian and Brian Catterson dual wheelies
With friends like these... After getting taken out by Shawn Culp in his first moto, Catterson (26) got passed by Ed Tashjian (58R) on the last lap of his fourth and final moto. Thanks, bros!Jim Palmus

I have a confession to make. Before competing in the 2016 Don Matthews CZ World Championships I had only ever ridden a CZ once, when the U.S. importer brought back the dated, long-travel 400 circa 1991. I remember that day well as I photo-modeled for then-Cycle World Off-Road Editor Ron Griewe at his top-secret practice track. There was a rolling jump that led to a G-out, and on my very first pass I snapped off both footpegs and dented the top of the steel gas tank with two very delicate parts of my anatomy. Fortunately, Ron got a photo of me in mid-flight.

That was 25 years and about that many pounds ago, so I was more than a little concerned about racing Dave Coupé's 1973 CZ 400. If the footpegs had snapped off of a brand-new bike, how strong would they be on a 43-year-old example? Turns out I needn't have worried, because the footpegs survived unscathed. As did I—mostly.

CZ motocrosser static side view
This unassuming 1973 CZ 400 has an impressive pedigree, as it's owned by Dave Coupe and was raced in the 2015 CZ World Championships by Gary Chaplin, both former Pros.Brian Catterson

There were a few things I had forgotten. First, a CZ has its kickstarter on the left, and you have to push down to release it. Second, the lever throw on the four-speed gearbox is looong. "Knee to chin," I was advised. Third and last, the upper corners of the coffin-shaped tank bruise your inner thighs.

I was entered in two classes, International Trans-Am 500 and 50+ Expert, and scored 9-6-8-5 finishes in my four motos. That first result isn't entirely representative, however, as my buddy Shawn Culp took us both out while forcing a pass on the last lap. I swear I heard him apologize as he was crashing, which has to be a first!

That collision happened in full view of the spectator area, and as a result I was awarded the Crash & Burn trophy: a coffin tank with a huge dent in a familiar place. It may have taken 25 years, but in the end I got what I deserved.

Brian Catterson holding his dented tank trophy
Author Catterson didn't figure in the results, but he did take home a CZ tank dented by event namesake Don Matthews himself. It's a perpetual trophy, so he'll have to bring it back next year.Lori Payne
CZ motorcycle engine details
The '73 CZ is distinguished by its radial cylinder head. Selling for $1395 new, it came stock with a dreaded Jikov carburetor, but mine was upgraded with a more modern Mikuni.Brian Catterson
Brian Catterson race action
The hunter becomes the hunted: I passed my buddy Shawn Culp (4) in the first moto, but he wasn't having that and forced a pass on the last lap that put his both down. "Sorry, Brian!"Robert Mance
Brian Catterson cornering race action
Eyes on the prize: I didn't even know what color my borrowed bike was going to be prior to my arrival, so the fact that my retro AXO Trans-Am gear matched perfectly was dumb luck.Dennis Cox
International Trans-Am 500 holeshot action
Gate drop for the first International Trans-Am 500 moto (showing half the field, anyway), with yours truly (26) starting next to the "doghouse." Figuratively speaking, I finished there, too…Dennis Cox