Motorcycles have a way of becoming part of the family and sometimes you will see even three generations sharing a two wheeled passion. I have mentioned before that I had little to no support in my two wheeled adventures and as my father had no motorcycling background, I guess that would make me the OG of motorcycling in the Vallee family. While I was the first, the purchase of a PW 50 in 2003 ensured I was not the last, and perhaps I have set the table for more generations of Vallees to jump onto the two wheeled bandwagon.
I won’t lie, the PW 50 was purchased with the purpose of getting my son into racing as I thought motorcycle racing was just about the coolest thing around. Having said that I didn’t force Braden to race, it just became apparent right from the start that he thought racing was pretty cool as well. As a bonus mom needed little to no convincing to allow her son to take up the hobby, so without even knowing it, we had started a family journey that would last just shy of fifteen years.
Braden was a very active kid and along with racing he played hockey, ball hockey, lacrosse, and even tried his hand at soccer briefly. As any parent with a kid in sports understands, your kid’s sports season tends to turn into the bulk of your social life. This was how it was for us for years, and we have made some amazing friends through both the minor hockey world as well as the racing world. What was unexpected however was some of the flack we took along the way from parents who essentially thought we were borderline child abusers for allowing our son to do something as dangerous as motorcycle racing. The conversation was escalated on those days when we happened to be at one sport with the motorcycle tucked into the van so we could leave right after the game to head to a race. I can remember a few ball hockey games where we had to do this, and it even happened at lacrosse provincials in Whitby, where after playing two early games we headed off to race in Welland only to return to the hotel in the wee hours of the morning in preparation for another game on Sunday.
Don’t get me wrong, we were aware of the risks involved in racing as we had witnessed some bad injuries and unfortunately worse in our time at the track. I still think it takes a special parent to watch your kids doing dangerous things while at the same time supporting something they love. As hard as it is for a dad, I think the emotions are compounded for moms and I give Kim all the credit in the world for putting on a brave face every time her “baby” was out there. Braden had a few hard get offs over his career and without ever discussing it beforehand, Kim and I seemed to come up with a routine. After an initial contact with my son to ensure things weren’t horribly wrong, I would head for the bike to investigate damage and possible quick repairs while Kim would stay with Braden and speak to paramedics. There are a couple of videos out there where I am seen going to the bike after a particularly hard tumble, but I swear that I checked in with Braden first. After every crash we also spoke to Braden and asked if he was done racing, but the answer was always the same. He always wanted to race again, sometimes even on the same night as long as the paramedics had cleared him to do so.
In 2013 Braden had a pretty hard wreck that ended up breaking his foot in 13 places. Within minutes of the crash and with adrenaline pumping Braden was pleading with paramedics to let him race again. After a few minutes however the pain started to set in, and the long ride home (we didn’t want to get stuck in a hospital out of town with surgery expected) was no doubt the low point for him in his racing career. I remember thinking that this was probably it, as many racers stop competing after a major injury or if they do come back, they come back looking scared. I quickly got my answer just four weeks later when Braden was on the track riding as aggressively as ever using a borrowed boot to fit over his broken foot. I’m sure allowing this didn’t get us any votes for parents of the year, and although I’m positive that Kim wasn’t thrilled, she once again nervously bit her tongue as her baby took to the track.
Years ago, I was helping to coach Braden’s hockey team, and we had a kid on the team that was very talented but only showed that talent every four or five games. The rest of the time he floated around like he didn’t want to be there, and it was truly frustrating to watch. One day he put it in perspective for me when he tugged on my jacket and told me that he hated hockey and he didn’t want to be there. He only played because his dad made him play, and his real desire was to play the piano but his dad wouldn’t allow that. I instantly felt horrible for the kid and the irony was not lost on me that one of the hockey parents that thought I was doing such a bad thing by allowing Braden to race, was at the same time forcing their kid to do something they didn’t like.
As I mentioned earlier the racing world became a big part of our social life and our entire family spent a lot of time travelling in pursuit of the racing passion. In fact, Kim and I never really had a real vacation up until about seven years ago as most of our vacation time was used up on racing trips. It’s really hard to explain to a hockey parent that you are headed to Florida for a week to go racing or that last Saturday you went to Indiana for about ten hours.
Recently I spoke to Doug Lawrence who has competed in both the highest level flat track has to offer as well as the highest level of road racing in Canada. Lawrence has a two-year-old son, and he told me he is not sure he wants to get him into racing. He even went as far as to say that he may have to quit soon, or maybe even head off to races without taking his son so that he won’t develop any desire to get into it. I don’t have an answer for Doug, I just know that he will use his dad instincts to do whatever he feels is best.
We spent fifteen years with our son in the racing world and it cost a lot of time and ate up a substantial amount of disposable income. I have to tell you I wouldn’t change a thing and I hope that Braden feels the same. Maybe this whole Vallee on two wheels thing stops at the second generation but I guess there is always a chance that someday I am announcing a race that has one of my grandkids in it.
- From Todd Vallee