The other day I went down an internet wormhole and ended up on a website about early vintage Yamaha mx bikes. If you know anything about early Yamaha mx bikes, you’ll also know the name Don Jones. Don passed away in 2008, but his memory and legacy lives on every time a Yamaha motocross bike turns a wheel in anger. If you don’t know what I mean, go ahead and Google “Don Jones Yamaha.” Be sure to add “Yamaha,” or you’ll just get the football player. Go ahead look him up, just be sure to open a new window so you don’t forget to come back!
I had the great pleasure of meeting Don about a year before he lost his battle with lymphoma. I’ll never forget it. I’ll remember November 12, 2007 for several reasons. First of all, it was the day that I realized the Primm Vintage Motocross Collection (which no longer exists by the way) isn’t really in Primm, Nevada, but Las Vegas. Secondly, I learned that my wife’s little Ford Escape tops out at right round 100 mph (this was discovered on the stretch of freeway between Primm Nevada and Las Vegas, coincidently). I also will not forget seeing the mind-blowing Primm Collection motocross collection for the first, and last time; I was given a tour by Mr. Greg Primm himself. But, the main thing I’ll remember from this day was meeting a friendly, unassuming older-fellow named Don Jones.
My brother and I arrived at the Primm Collection Industry Open House about an hour and a half late. It was to be a pre-opening gathering for a museum that never actually opened. We had spent the previous hour searching the streets of Primm, asking for directions at gas stations to a museum nobody has ever heard of, given wrong directions, leaving paniced voicemails, and all to find a museum that was in a different city. The other half-hour was spent scanning for the high way patrol as we slalomed through traffic at speeds no one should ever attempt in a four-cylinder Ford. Upon our arrival we were on edge to say the least.
We were supposed to meet up with the legendary Derek Rickman (of Rickman Motorcycles, one of the pioneers of motocross) at the museum to conduct an interview over an hour ago. We rushed into the motorcycle laden warehouse and luckily Derek was still there. We met up with him, Greg Primm, Rick Doughty, the owner of So Cal’s Vintage Iron, and another older gentleman who looked vaguely familiar. I couldn’t place him, but the conversation he was having with Derek Rickman led me to believe that he was far more important than he would like people to think. “That’s Don Jones,” Rick said as he leaned my direction.
The next half an hour turned into one of those surreal moments while I listened to Dereck Rickman and Don Jones swap stories about their racing days. They had raced each other before, but never met. “Oh, that was you?” Derek said while talking about a race he placed second in at Perris Raceway over forty-years ago. Second to Don.
I was lucky enough to hover on the outskirts of this conversation for some time, throwing out the occasional, “Wow,” or, “That must have been quite a race.” You know, the types of things you say in an attempt to include yourself in conversation that you really have no right to be in.
As a visiting Brit, Dereck had other people to see and I was able to hang around and chat with Don. We talked for a while as the guests were ushered out and the warehouse emptied. He told me about the times when motocross was racing British twins and singles in frames meant for gentle trail riding. He expressed how proud he was of his son, Gary. He even told me about his shed at his home which was filled with so many trophies that he strung a bunch of them up on a rope and hung them on a fence to scare away intruding birds!
Being in Don’s presence made me wish I had been around back in his hey day. I was speaking to a walking-talking legend and historical archive; I was conversing with someone special- and I knew it. To Don I must have been some youngin’ asking random questions, trying to keep a conversation going. But, from where I stood, I could see glimpses of a man and a time I wish I could have known better. Unfortunately, that time has passed and regrettably Don as well.
We live in a time when the legends of this great sport are getting closer to their own personal finish lines. As vintage enthusiasts it is our job to remember these legends and learn as much as we can from them while we can. Though it is always hard to see people go I consider myself fortunate to have met Don Jones.