It took crushing three vertebrae in his back, losing an inch-and-a-half of his height, before Matt Davis hung up his motorcycle racing helmet. But not before he had some stellar times.
“You’re going to get injured racing motorcycles,” he says. “You know that going in.”
The threat of injury was never a deterrent for Davis. As a boy growing up in Preston Hollow, he had the ultimate playground at his disposal.
“There were 200 acres of fields by my house. There were trails everywhere,” he remembers of a time before Dallas’ most exclusive neighborhood was built out with elegant homes. Those wide open fields were a haven for the neighborhood kids, who found endless ways to entertain themselves outside in a time before cellphones and Youtube videos. With two older brothers who rode mini bikes and motorcycles, it was only a matter of time before Davis felt the itch.
“They had done it, so I was going to do it better,” he laughs.
Much to his mother’s chagrin, he convinced his father to buy him a Honda Mini Trail 50 when he was about 10. He learned to maneuver with slick precision, especially around tricky turns, making him one to watch when the neighborhood kids raced each other on tracks they made in the open pastures.
“I didn’t have the fastest bike, but I was winning the races,” he says. “It’s all about being the last to brake and the first to gas, every racer knows that.”
His skills caught the eye of a neighbor who built motorcycles for professional racers. He saw potential in young Davis, and started taking him to the local racetracks like Mosier Valley and Rabbit Run where he watched with jaw agape as the riders flew past, sending plumes of dirt into the air. He was hooked.
“After that, it was every single day. As soon as I got home from school, I was on my bike,” he says.
At 14, he won his first race. And the trophies and medals kept coming. While most of his friends were cruising Forest Lane to pick up girls, he was mostly glued to the track, honing his skills.
It was as consuming as it was dangerous. He suffered multiple fractures throughout his youth, things he considers “minor” injuries. Once it was his wrist after his handlebars collided with another racer’s coming down off a jump. He was in Oklahoma, during the state’s biggest rivalry football game of the year between University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
“There were no doctors at the hospital, they were all at the game,” he laughs.
When he graduated from W.T White in 1981, he was on his own financially. Motocross proved too expensive to keep up with at the time. He took a break, got married and let the motorcycle collect dust in the garage. In the late 1990s, he met a friend who was into cross-country racing, a new take on an old favorite for Davis.
“Motocross is sprinting,” he says. “Cross-country is about endurance.”
Races lasted a punishing 50 miles, often through inhospitable terrain such as mud, heavy tree lines and rocks. It was a new mountain to tackle, and Davis was headed straight for the top.
“I went to a race just to watch. I didn‘t get maybe 10 feet in the gate when I smelled that race fuel and had to sign up [to race],” he says. “Eventually I was state champion.”
That was the 2004-05 race season with Texas Cross Country Racing Association — earning him a coveted racing jacket. He laughingly admits the prizes in motorcycle races are lackluster at best.
“We don’t spend a lot of money on our trophies,” he says. “It’s mostly about bragging rights.”
One year after his champion season, he suffered the devastating injury that would end his racing career. Despite surviving all manor of collision, this injury was sparked by a simple miscalculation on a landing.
“I rode off the track, I just thought I knocked the wind out of me,” he says. “The EMTs were kind of jerks. They rolled me over and said, ‘Oh s***.’ I said, ‘What do you mean oh s***?’ ”
Clearly something was wrong — very wrong. As mentioned, Davis suffered a compression fracture in three of his vertebrae. His recovery wasn’t terrible, he says. At the same time, a close friend also broke his back, nearly paralyzing him — it was three years before he could walk unassisted again. It was a wake-up call. Davis was the father to a 5-year-old, and wanted to be there for his son. So he stopped racing. “But I still like riding,” he admits.
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