A True Motorcycle Enthusiast’s Lessons For Us All

Remember Chris Carr’s outlook on life.

Chris Carr
Chris Carr at the COTA 2019 Grand Prix.Nick Ienatsch

Our dear friend Chris Carr died last week. Nearly everyone involved in AHRMA and MSF know Chris because Chris was a joy to know. He owned six Motorcycle Safety Foundation sites, had over a half-dozen AHRMA championships, and for the last many years was the voice of AHRMA on the public address systems. If you knew him, you loved him. If you didn’t know him—you missed a livewire.

I’m not big on eulogies and this won’t be one. If you want to read my goodbye to Chris Carr you can read about our trip to COTA last summer.

We both knew the cancer had him, and we spent three great weekends together in 2019, culminating in VIP tickets to COTA and a joy-filled weekend with our friends Don and Amy Cook. He had melanoma and it got him. I think about him everyday, and it always makes me cry and then laugh. That was CC.

Chris loved motorcycles and motorcyclists. He loved riding, buying bikes, teaching students—loved. If there is a common thread through all our Cycle World readers, it is this love of motorcycling, but it isn’t universal in our industry. You can feel the problems when you walk in certain dealerships. No love. No joy. That bugged the hell out of Chris. He had an appreciation of his position in life, of making a living in an industry that paid him for a job he’d do for free. Love of motorcycling.

You can feel the non-love in certain bureaucratic positions in the industry. Not long-ago, Chris and I were involved in a group that was sinking into political wranglings and he called me with the concern that “the love of the sport is getting lost”. He saw agendas being prioritized over the riders. Over time the situation improved, but Chris stayed separated from the drama, and in touch with the riding.

He and I both agree that when motorcycle industry people stop riding motorcycles, they will soon find themselves out of love with the industry. We believe in riders. Enthusiasm wanes when handlebars aren’t in hands. Industry people: take a hint from Chris and get back in the saddle to rediscover why you joined this industry in the first place. Chris’ silver-bullet to motorcycle passion was riding.

It’s Going to Stay Chris Carr

This column occasionally sinks into silliness because it’s apparent that we're gonna die sometime, and I refuse to ruin one of our main joys: motorcycling. How can I say that “motorcycling is one of the greatest joys of life?” Because I’ve watched millionaires come into motorcycling and get addicted to the point of racing, sponsoring race teams, building bike collections, and even race tracks. They have the money to do literally anything on earth, but our sport captures them completely. We motorcyclists have a unique and wonderful passion.

I’ve pulled up next to Malcolm Forbes in Yosemite Park and had him tell me, “Nick, the most beautiful sight in the world is a clear road ahead of us.” I’ve traded bikes with Jay Leno because, “I gotta ride your Evo XLCR.” I’ve watched Adam Bronfman get so hooked on bikes that he started his own race team. I’ve ridden on Alan Wilzig’s amazing private track. I’ve raced the Britten and ridden the MotoCzysz. In every example, and many more, the joy of motorcycles captured successful men, encouraging them to get deeply involved in our industry.

From those examples and the example of Chris Carr, I have decided to enjoy the beauty of two wheels. I’ve told my ChampSchool staff that we instructors must give 100 percent or quit; it’s never going to be half-way or laborious or drudgery. There’s enough poor customer service in everyday life. Students come to us with a passion for riding and our job is to increase their passion by sharing our own. I’ll write more about this in another column.

Even as Chris’ health diminished, his interest in all things motorcycle stayed high. I would ask about his health and he would ask about our Barber plans. “When do you want me there?” Barber last October was the last time I saw him, surrounded by friends in a world that is understandable, measurable, and constantly challenging. You can’t talk or spend yourself to the front in motorcycle racing and mistakes are usually punished immediately. A pure world.

And this pure world of motorcycling either attracts tremendous people or creates tremendous people. Maybe both? A few years ago my wife Judy noted that almost all my close friends raced motorcycles, then laughed when I reminded her that we met at Willow Springs Raceway. Motorcycling creates a humility in most riders and because mistakes are so quickly punished—sometimes painfully—riders begin to work on limiting their mistakes in all phases of their lives. Humility and a push to improve: A pretty good recipe for friendship and a six-word summation of Chris Carr.

Even some of my staff don’t know where my motivation stems, but now they do. My friend Chris Carr is dead. He can’t hug his wife Sowatha again, he can’t fire up his CBR1000RR, we can’t go to the AIMExpo again and eat ice cream together, he can’t wheelie his GPz over the hill at Barber, he can’t send me more pictures of another XR1200 he wants to buy, and we can’t go snowmobiling in Yellowstone. Ever.

Chris (left), myself, and tuner Stewart Anderson
Chris (left), myself, and tuner Stewart Anderson with Chris’ championship-winning GPz550 at Barber Motorsports Park.E-tech

Of all the things we can do while living and able, riding motorcycles and being around motorcycle people are near the top of my list. To that end, it must be enjoyable and exhilarating, liberating us while challenging us. If it’s not, then it’s just another piece of life’s BS: another political argument, another April 15, another road-rage incident, another school shooting, another September 11, another pet dying, another relative sick, another friend divorced, another kidnapping, another car bomb. All chains of the modern world.

People have called me a thought leader in the industry. Let’s pretend that’s true. These are my thoughts: What we have is something so special that clinical psychologists have written that motorcycle riding would be their number-one go-to for treatment if all their patients could ride. It’s so special that extremely intelligent and successful men (including retired Marine Corps officers) work at YCRS as volunteers. So special that I often share an AHRMA garage with a three-star Marine Corps General who has open invitations to fly jets all over the world. So special that Neil Peart of Rush used a motorcycle as therapy after family tragedy. So special that my Marine aviator friend John would choose track riding over jet flying if forced to choose. So special that my friend Wayne, an ex-special-forces operative, has a bike modified for his missing lower leg. So special that my definition of living has been defined for me by my dad and dear friend Chris Carr, both ardent riders.

Life will bring tough times. Chris Carr reminds us that motorcycling represents life’s best times. Let’s do it while we can with joy in our hearts.

More Next Tuesday!