(Before I met Weege, he was doing this Blogandt errr, blog on the early days of Racer X Online. Funny stuff, an obvious passion for the sport and I felt like, “Hey I think I would like this guy if we ever met” which we did and I did. Smashcut to starting Pulpmx.com way back in 2009 and just having it as a place to put stuff. I remembered one time Weege told me this whole theory he had on NJ rock stars and racers so I asked him to write about it for Pulpmx. It might’ve been the first non-Matthes story on the site. He broke it all down for us and it was quite funny. So here it is again, we’re running it over! #quarantinecontent- Matthes)
The year was 1986, and New Jersey fashion was actually in fashion everywhere else. Big hair. Tight jeans. Chest hair. I-ROC Z Camaros with t-tops. All the fashion statements that are distinctly Jersey today where distinctly everywhere else, also, back then, which meant that, for perhaps a week or two during 1986, the Jersey shore ranked right up with Paris or Milan in setting fashion trends. Kind of like Seattle setting the flannel shirt on fire in 1994.
But this is about Jersey and 1986. By that year, Bruce Springsteen was coming off of the highest peak of success with his album Born in the USA, which would have been THE album of the early 80s had Michael Jackson not put Thriller together—consider Springsteen the Windham to Jackson, who played the GOAT (or the KOP, King of Pop).
But when Bruce decided to take a rest from his Born in the USA tour (which, legend has it, saw him play 1,358 straight nights of concerts, each lasting well over three hours without an opening act) a new, up and coming rising star grabbed the torch to carry it forward for another generation.
The band was Bon Jovi. The five-member 100 percent NJ group put together two mildly successful albums in the early 80s before releasing the landmark Slippery When Wet in ’86. It went on to become the greatest album in the history of man kind (give or take a few superlatives by the author). The torch had been passed, but Bon Jovi, because they’re such great guys (the greatest guys ever, according to most people), didn’t just carry that torch. The attached other torches to it and lit them as well, creating a giant flame big enough to house many other bands underneath it. And so, Springsteen and his E-Street band saw the light still shining brightly on them, so they continued to churn out hit after hit. And so did Bon Jovi.
With both bands carving out such a huge place in history, fans of New Jersey music are torn. No one compares Springsteen and Jovi—you never see them as equals. If you’re a Bruce guy, you may respect Bon Jovi, but you know they suck compared to Bruce. Or maybe you don’t respect them and think they’re buffoons. If you’re a Bon Jovi fan, you may like Bruce, but you’re not hanging pictures of him on your wall like you did with Jon Bon Jovi way back when.
Anyway, the point is that no one from New Jersey likes Bruce and Bon equally. They each know who is the best, but they do not agree with each other, and they never will.
Also, in 1986, the torch was passed through New Jersey motocross. Ever since that year, there have been two distinct answers to this question: Who is the best motocrosser ever from New Jersey?
The answer is either Mickey Kessler or Barry Carsten. The answer depends on who you ask. But you have been warned: whatever answer you get, accept it as fact. Move along, walk away and no one gets hurt. If someone answers with “Kessler,” do NOT follow up with a second question of “Really, not Carsten?”
Seeing as both Kessler and Carsten are two of the flashiest, wildest, edgiest riders in the motocross history, it makes complete sense that their careers follow an arc very similar to that of two icons of Rock N Roll who also hail from the Garden State. Kessler is Bruce Springsteen, Carsten is Bon Jovi.
And remember that in New Jersey, NO ONE is a fan of both Springsteen and Jovi at the same level. You pick between the Yankees and the Mets and the Giants and the Jets. You pick between the Boss and Bon. You pick between Kessler and Carsten.
Kessler, out of Farmingdale, New Jersey (the same town the lubricant magnate Bel-Ray hails from), can tout five top-ten seasons in the AMA Nationals: 7th in the ’75 125 Nationals, 8th in the ’76 125 Nationals, 8th in the ’79 500 Nationals, 6th in ’80 500 Nationals, and 10th in the ’82 500 Nationals. In 1982, he did the deed while riding for, yes, the factory Maico team. Kessler won’t tout this because he isn’t the type to brag. But most other New Jersey folks are that type, and when the Kessler versus Carsten battle comes up, they’ll quickly bring up “The Mick’s” top ten national performances and point out that Carsten never got near the top ten in national points.
But most of the Jersey love for the Mick is built not by his performance at the national level, but by his rides closer to home. Mickey Kessler simply is the all-time king of New Jersey’s only long-lasting motocross track, Englishtown’s Raceway Park. At one time, Kessler had won so many races in a row there that the promoters put a bounty on his head. Since this all happened before I was old enough to walk or talk, I don’t know how it ended or how much money was available, but some dude named Kenny Adams was the first to beat him.
Kessler still dominated at Englishtown for years after the bounty days. And in, yes, 1986, Bob “Hurricane” Hannah came to town for a big Suzuki race. Hannah’s teammate Johnny’s O’Mara was supposed to race, too, but he was hurt. It was up to “The Mick” to put on a battle with “The Hurricane” and he sure did, battling him tooth and nail in both motos to the delight of the approximately 150,000 fans on hand to watch. Hannah did eventually win it, but NJ fans were quick to point out that The Hurricane was still a young kid—he was 28 at the time and Kessler was 30.
Kessler’s career was so revered at that point that the seminal supercross movie Winner’s Take All even threw a little tongue in cheek joke at him. When privateer hero Rick Melon heads out to practice at the Dallas Supercross, his mechanic/girlfriend Judy McCormick says “hey Ricky, watch out for #56, he’s completely out of control out there.” Who was #56 that year? THE MICK!!! The Hollywood types are such jokesters—as if Kessler was ever out of control.
By ’87, Winners had hit the theaters and the sport was bigger than ever (kind of like that giant bump we all got from Supercross: The Movie a few years back). With the world primed and ready for a new hero, the Barr dog, Barry Carsten, was ready to strike.
And strike he did, landing 5th in the 1987 125 Eastern Region Supercross tour. He followed that up with a 4th in the 1989 rankings. Then, using his championship-honed experience, Barry came out with a consistent run at the East/West opener at Houston in 1990 (yes, back then the East and West regions met up several times each year). Barry finished 5th in the Houston race, and since the top four riders were all from the West, he left Texas as the EAST POINTS LEADER!!!
He finished the year solidly in 4th.
After that, Carsten went on to live through the Suzuki contingency program. It has been rumored that Suzuki would have a car that outsells the Toyota Camry today had Barry not eaten up so much of the R&D budget through his contingency exploits. Over in Japan, he is heralded for his longevity, and in his honor, when Barry declared that he will not race the AMA Nationals for 2009, Suzuki pulled its contingency program. It was basically only there for him anyway.
Barry held an AMA National number from 1987 through 2005. In ’05, he got ripped off because Suzuki didn’t have a 450 yet for anyone except RC, so Barry was left like three points short of a number when saddled with an RM250. To shove it in everyone’s face, he came back on a 450 in 2006 to earn number 93. If it weren’t for that John Dowd guy, Barry would hold the record for national-number longevity. Kind of like Thriller outselling Born in the USA. Bastard!
The bottom line is this: Kessler and Carsten both hold their place in NJ lore. For his incredible longevity, Carsten fans will quickly point him out as the NJGOAT. But while Carsten had to battle dudes like Ty Wallace to win motos at Englishtown, Kessler would just clean up there every weekend. So Kessler fans believe their man is the NJGOAT. And the fans of either will not debate this.
They do not debate, though, that the Greatest Time of All-Time was 1986.
And oh by the way, didn’t Jason Lawrence come out of New Jersey to win the whole damned Lites Eastern Region SX Title last year? Didn’t he finish fourth in the ’07 Lites Nationals? The debate continues….