The Creed Of Veitch

“This is a sport that eats its weak.”

Connor Veitch had training wheels on his first motorbike.  It was a Yamaha PW50.  He was five years old.  When I was that age, I didn’t even have a bike.  At six, Connor was racing while his father encouraged his son to brave the next hill.  More than two decades later, that relationship remains unfaltering.  Connor makes a point of frequently crediting his time racing to his then mechanic and coach, his father Duane Veitch.  Motocross permeates the Veitch family.  Connor’s older brother, Conan, admits that his family lived the sport, but stressed Connor’s matchless expertise.

“I’m proud of what Connor accomplished,” Conan boasted.  “Kid was a machine when he raced.”  Duane Veitch was never a racer, but he was a rider.  The moment his children expressed interest, they were both given bikes.  Such a family is representative in motocross.  More so than any other motorsport, the soul of motocross can be found in its privateer teams, the vast number of those being family run.  Many of the greatest riders competing today still call on their parents to manage their careers.  It’s not always trophies, filled coffers, and sweet-smelling roses.  A successful racer with titles to his or her name could find a spot with a factory team, potentially, though often eventually, breaking up a successful family.  Most riders are kids burdened with heavy responsibilities well beyond their years; couple that with injuries sustained throughout the rigors of the sport, and many are forced into an early retirement, thrust into adulthood with little education or prospects.  It’s an unfortunate fate, one most riders are at some point forced to confront, like it was with Connor Veitch.  

The sport dominated the Veitch family in their early years.  Brothers raced in different classes often on the same day.  Practice would fill the interim.  But even Conan admitted that the incurable desire for speed and competitiveness that had infected Connor had left him.  Several major injuries would eventually seal the deal.  “Conan was never jealous,” says Connor, “he supported me even as the family money flowed towards my racing.”  Conan, despite his love for the sport, directed his energy towards higher education, now with a masters in computer science, destined for an ultimate Ph.D.  
In 2001, when Connor was only thirteen, he had scored 3rd place in the Western Canadian Amateur Nationals in Raymond, Alberta.  “I think I took it for granted.  I didn’t realize the caliber of the race.  I was battling against the best Canada ever had, and I was near the top.”   Two years later, Connor scored the 125 Intermediate Championship.  “I remember my first win against my good buddy, Logan,” Connor remembers.  “By the end, it was me, him and one other guy, just the three of us at the front.  He was beating me the entire race…then he pulled off on the white flag.  First win, it was a real battle.”  I could tell Connor had no regrets from his past, recounting his various races.  “I hated losing more than I enjoyed winning.”

Connor’s determination was natural, not one forced by parents wishing to displace their offspring’s victory onto their own.  Connor’s parents were supportive in ways many riders would envy, and Connor never resented anything his parents did.  “If I raced my heart out and got 10th place, they’d accept it, but if I phoned in 4th, I would hear of it.”  Despite that drive and the successes that followed, Connor’s conscience, as well as the natural byproduct of motocross, would eventually catch up.  

“I tore everything from my knee, past my calf.  Broke my left wrist, broke both lower arms.  Dislocated my shoulder.  Fractured three ribs, cracked two more.  Sprained my ankle four times.  I had maybe a half-dozen concussions.  And, oh yeah, I compressed five vertebrae.”  It was humorous how Connor casually threw that last one out.  But that wasn’t everything.  

When he was seventeen, Connor witnessed a fellow competitor lose his life on the track.  It was a stark reminder that this was, to quote Steve McQueen, a professional bloodsport.  “There wasn’t a sound on the track,” Connor recalled.  “Everyone knows the risks, but when something actually happens…afterward, there were a lot of accusations.  Who needs to be blamed at a time like that?”

“What went through your head?” I asked.  “How did you and your father address it?”

“Honestly,” Connor replies, “despite our deepest sympathies going outo his entire family, we were concerned the next day’s races would be canceled.”  Spoken like a true competitor.  “I still wanted to race.  If you’re not scared, then you shouldn’t be out there.”

In the end, injuries coupled with the awareness of the sacrifices his family was making for his benefit, was taking its toll.  “No one put as much into my racing life than my father.  I couldn’t have asked for a better coach.   He was an amazing mechanic.  But by the end, I couldn’t ask any more of him or my family.”  Fate would step in to make that decision easier.  

Connor was eighteen, battling for a podium with the newest rising star.  With Connor, hot on his opponent’s tailpipe, the rival missed his rut, taking a corner wide.  Connor raced passed with his sights on the lead.  Then came a crucial corner leading to a 70-foot triple jump.  Connor emerged from the corner wider than normal, revving his bike longer before takeoff.  Upon hitting the crest of the jump, Connor’s bike bogged out.  After launching from the jump, the front end dropped, ejecting Connor eighty-five feet, cartwheeling and flipping for thirty more before mercifully coming to a stop.  Connor was on crutches for three months; he missed the rest of the season. 

“That was a crucial year for me,” Connor admits.  “Every time it happens, it makes it that much tougher to go through the whole process again when your competitors have a year of practice on you.  This is a sport that eats its weak.”  Connor’s competitive days were over.  In time, he eventually picked up a respectable profession, becoming a plumber.  “There were six years where I didn’t return to the track,” he laments, “I didn’t go, I didn’t watch.”    

But that wouldn’t last.  

It started with the AMA Nationals.  The itch started to come back.  After nearly a ten-year absence, Connor Veitch returned to racing.  He started by walking the track, recollecting past moments, the highs, and lows.  He would compete when he could, straining old muscles and aggravating injuries.  Connor didn’t care.  It was around this same time he started talking to parents, offering advice to them and the next generation of young riders.  “It was my way of coming back,” Connor says.  This included Connor becoming the unofficial coach of rising local motocross star Hayden Wolff, training him for most of last summer.  At the time, Hayden was intermediate.   When Hayden’s father couldn’t take him to practice, Connor would take over.

“He's still got speed for not riding for so many years,” Hayden Wolff says.  Thanks to Connor’s involvement, Hayden will be one of the many rising stars to watch this June when Prince George hosts the second leg of the Motocross Pro Nationals, its inaugural event.  “I'm racing the intermediate class at all the local races,” says Hayden, “and I'm racing the four west pro nationals this year as well.”  

But Hayden’s arrangement with Connor was never meant to be permanent.  As Hayden moves on, certainly adding to his already impressive win roster, Connor will remain local, fostering newer kids in the pursuit of their dreams.  Not everyone had Duane Veitch in their life.  

Connor can still be found always at the track, often accompanied by both father and brother.  Connor is always open for advice when he’s not racing.  All anyone need do is ask.

A2017Norm Coyne