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Thank You, David Lack

By Brett Smith

David Lack left his spot on the bench. On November 29, Lack died after a long battle with kidney cancer. He left behind Susan, his wife of 35 years, three sisters, a brother and 3,363 devoted followers on Instagram. 

He was 64. 

The high majority of us followers never met Lack, who lived in Starkville, Mississippi and spent his entire life in and around The Magnolia State. But we had something that bonded us. We spoke the same language: dirt bikes. We are bench racers just like him. Lack wasn’t an executive in the motorcycle industry; he wasn’t a mechanic, truck driver or journalist. He never even raced a dirt bike. Lack was an unintentional historian, who documented dozens of professional motocross races in the south that didn’t get much media attention. And he did it all from the fence line. 

Lack didn’t realize the magic of what he had until after his retirement from Mississippi State University where he worked as a videographer and producer. On October 24, 2011, a year after retirement, doctors discovered a tumor on his kidney. Realizing his fate (and not knowing exactly how long he had) he went to work unboxing and scanning the thousands of photos and video reels of motocross racing he shot (and thankfully kept!) in his youth. He started with photo collages on YouTube, attempted a Facebook page but found a community of like-minded souls on Instagram.  

“I wanted these photos to be enjoyed by others,” he said in a September 2019 phone conversation. “I didn’t want them to be in a drawer, hidden forever. I’m glad I did. It makes me very happy that others have enjoyed them.”

Lack’s contribution to the sport truly started around 1969 at a track in Vicksburg, MS that the Childs family carved into the woods. Lack doesn’t remember how he got there because he didn’t have a driver’s license. But he’s got the photos from his Kodak Instamatic to prove it. He also often brought along the Super 8 video camera his mother, Dorothy, bought him for Christmas in 1965. 

Lack took his cameras everywhere and worked hard on his craft. He was self-taught behind the lens and when professional motocross races popped up in the Deep South he showed up. A shy and quiet person, he didn’t try to apply for a media credential. “I just shot from the sidelines,” he said. “I’d sneak over the fence in some areas but I just did it for the fun of it. The improvement in his skills are apparent. The closer the photos in his collection get to 1983, the better the quality and composition. 

For 14 years, his angles came from the fence and with consumer-grade equipment. And perhaps the most special aspect of his collection is that many of the races he attended–Burnt Hickory, Rio Bravo, Waggaman, LA, Lake Whitney, Atlanta International Raceway…–were what Racer X Illustrated Founder, Davey Coombs, calls “The Lost Nationals”. 

Many of these 1970s races in the South were not covered by the California-based magazines and few quality photos exist. David’s photos and videos are a window into a time that we all heard about and read about but for four decades have lacked visual reference. 

In 1980, Lack headed west with his brother and sister. They hit the Lakewood National in Colorado, saw the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and the 1980 USGP at Carlsbad. It was the race where Marty Moates became the first American to win the USGP of Motocross and the site of some of Lack’s favorite personal images. (the headline image of this article is from Carlsbad)

The last race Lack shot was the 1983 Lakewood, Colorado Motocross National. He was 28 years old and still wanted to be like his hero, Jim Gianatsis, who shot and wrote for “Cycle News” and “Motocross Action” in the 1970s and 80s. Lack loaded up and drove from Mississippi to Denver by himself. He brought the film home and developed the photos in the bathtub at his parents’ house. Then he sent some into various magazines and recalls getting the formatting all wrong. He got $50 for one submission but couldn’t remember the title.  

Lack didn’t race but he loved riding. He owned Kawasakis and CZs and supported his brother, Richard, who rose to the expert level in the Southeast. Lack moved on from moto after a bad leg injury but he spent 30 years as an avid road cyclist (bicycles) and enjoyed riding his Honda GB500 on the streets. 

Canton, Mississippi. Richard Lack #16. David Lack holds the pitboard

In November 2017, I stumbled into Lack’s work on YouTube where I saw a few photos in his reels that fit well with a story I was working on at the time (a story I, regrettably, still haven’t finished). He donated the images and we talked off and on over the next several months. On March 4, 2018 I surprisingly got tagged in a photo of Bob Hannah and Jimmy Ellis battling at the 1978 Rio Bravo Motocross National. Lack had finally started the Instagram feed that connected us moto history nerds. For the next 20 months we enjoyed the tales of his view from the fence. 

Thanks for the ride David. 

David Lack: March 2018 in Birmingham, AL