The story or the (alleged) man.
(I wrote this a long time ago. I sent it to almost every major motorcycle magazine in America (there were many, then), and they all liked it. Motorcyclist offered me a job. Considering this was the first piece I'd ever sent out, I figured I'd be famous by now. And yet no one would publish it. I wonder why. Y'uk.
Yes, I've put this on the Fiction page, so don't even ask. It also is included in Goodbye and Other Stories.
I never knew Gumby's real name. Or if I did I forgot it on purpose. You see, Gumby was not someone with whom a sane man would associate voluntarily. I don't know what that says about me, but I must admit, I sort of liked the guy. Just the same, whenever he came around, I couldn't help but cringe. Gumby was, you might say, "compulsive". His nickname, for instance, resulted from his reaction to his first toothache. Gumby headed straight to the dentist. Okay, so far. But rather than having the dentist locate and tend to the offending tooth, Gumby decided to eliminate the problem of toothaches forever. He told the dentist to rip all his teeth out.
Gumby enhanced his new smile by growing a mustache down to his ankles and opening it, like a curtain, only to admit vast quantities of food, beer and various female body parts. In time Gumby developed his gums to the point where the only limitations to what he could eat were determined by what he could mooch off someone.
This refusal to compromise for any reason, such as common sense, is what attracted Gumby to motorcycles in the first place. Naturally, then, it's not surprising that his first bike was not a Vespa. No, Gumby went right for the throat. He purchased nothing less than an 1100 Katana, which at the time was the hot ride. I think the time was about three o'clock. By 3:30 everyone was buying XJ-1100s, so Gumby decided his Katana wasn't fast enough and started plugging all kinds of performance-parts into it. Or paying someone else to do it, since the words "Gumby" and "tools" were seldom used in the same sentence.
Every new part was a reason to take his Katana out and "open it up". Of course, Gumby was a true sportsman, in the same sense that hunters who go out on jungle safari at one of those game farms in Texas are. Gumby would head for the nearest interstate highway, unfolding his passenger pegs and tucking in behind his fairing, just like the guys in the magazines. Actually, this was probably the safest place for Gumby to ride as he had just two basic styles of riding, flat out and sliding on his back. Just like those guys in the magazines.
So if those guys in the magazines were roadracers, then Gumby figured he must be one, too. This earned him the right to live the reckless lifestyle of a vagabond racer. Now that was something Gumby could do. Gumby sent in the forms, got his hands on some leathers and headed for the required drivers' school. One might wonder how Gumby made it through a school that was meant to weed out potential disaster as much as it was to actually teach anybody anything. It was simple. Gumby went slow. He was not about to get in over his head and risk revealing what he ultimately knew, that he simply had no business being on a racetrack. No, others would find out later, when Gumby started racing.
It was suggested to Gumby that he start in endurance racing. There, the demands of riding for hours would encourage careful riding, in the interest of accumulating laps. Gumby, to his credit, admitted that this idea made some sense, especially since the advice was offered by some people who had been around the track a lap or two. Other advice offered to Gumby wasn't as appreciated. For as willing as he was to maintain a low profile on the track, off it he still was, well, Gumby.
Considering Gumby's attraction to motorcycles, it's not surprising that he had a certain fascination with firearms as well. But not just any guns. Gumby was particularly drawn to the loud, violent, highly illegal variety. The thought of an Uzi in the hands of someone like Gumby might seem a bit disturbing, but the fact is that Gumby was about as harmless as anyone could be with a loaded automatic weapon in his hands. You see, Gumby chose targets that you or I might have thrown snowballs at, back when we still considered that a challenge. Nevertheless, this peculiar "hobby" gained Gumby his first notoriety in the racing community.
Gumby was at Pocono for his first race. He had gotten a friend, "The Rubber," to transport him and his bike to Pennsylvania in his van. In tow was an entourage of Gumby's buddies, assorted groupies and various others who could just sense that something interesting was about to take place. The night before the race Gumby was surprised to learn that he and his Katana were being banished from the van. The Rubber had decided that he much preferred the company of an assorted groupie to that of Gumby. Gumby was not pleased, but rather than get angry he decided to play a harmless prank and grabbed the automatic assault toy he had brought along for just such an occasion.
Doubtless there were racers camping at Pocono that night who thought they were awakened by some idiot with fireworks. Doubtless they never noticed the van parked among them which was riddled with small holes along one side and corresponding fist-sized openings on the other. Also doubtless to friends of the Rubber was the fact that he had used the traditional position in his gropings with the groupie, for the next morning he was alive to tell the tale.
The Rubber was not particularly disturbed by the incident. In fact on the drive home he enjoyed some time behind the trigger himself, as he and Gumby made frequent stops to assault caution-lights along the highway.
"Boy, you can't kill those suckers!" I remember Gumby saying. "We'd fill 'em full of lead, but they'd just keep on blinking."
And who says you can't find quality these days?
Gumby's first few races presented few problems finding riding partners. The chance to race somebody else's bike was too good to pass up for a lot of guys, especially since Gumby had the cash to get his bike properly prepped for each outing. But as the season progressed, it became increasingly difficult to find anybody willing to have anything to do with Gumby's racing exploits. It finally got to the point where Gumby could find no one interested in sharing his ride. Just the same, Gumby headed for the season's last race, at Road Atlanta, convinced he'd find someone desperate enough to accept.
But Gumby's reputation for off-track mayhem had traveled far and wide. His offer found no takers at Road Atlanta either. Gumby was not fazed. In fact, in a stroke of demented logic, he came up with a fictional name, (Pokey, perhaps?) bought an extra pit pass and viola! Instant Team Gumby. And in matching leathers, no less.
It went well enough at first. At the end of the first hour, Gumby headed for the pits. Ducking out of sight like Superman stepping into a nearby phone booth, he changed into borrowed gloves and helmet and returned to battle. No one was the wiser. The trouble with this plan was that Gumby was hardly one to pace himself when he was half of a team. Being both halves hardly made a difference.
The hours began to take their toll. With every "rider-change" Gumby looked more and more beat. His riding grew more ragged. But did Gumby slow down? Nah!
Then finally, as Gumby reappeared on the pit straight, he seemed to drift wide, as if to enter pit lane. Perhaps he was ready to hang it up. But Gumby didn't slow down. Spectators and crew members along the pit wall couldn't tell if Gumby meant to come into the pits or not. Couldn't tell, that is, until the wall of tires on the outside of the pit entrance exploded in a cloud of dust and they saw the rush of safety workers toward the explosion.
But wait! Was that Gumby, rising like a phoenix from his own disaster? Or was it Pokey? Everyone had lost track by now. But there one of them was, refusing to accept the obvious, getting a push and firing up his Katana. Gumby headed back into the fray, charging up the pit lane - backwards! Yes, Gumby drove back up to the pit entrance and hung a left onto the track as safety workers and race officials scampered in every direction with their arms flailing, not sure if they should tend to their devastated tire wall or chase after Gumby with a net.
Gumby completed one more lap of Road Atlanta before he received his black flag, unfurled and waved with such passion that even he couldn't ignore it. He came off the track, headed for the paddock, and proceded to disappear so quickly you'd swear he kept right on going, out the main gate, onto the highway, and out of Georgia, and racing, forever.
It's been quite a few years since I last saw Gumby. I understand, though, that his other hobby finally got him in trouble. He got pulled over one night in a rented car and was found to be carrying quite the little arsenal. The cops had finally caught up to Gumby after an impressive car chase. Seems Gumby never lost his love for speed.
I don't know if Gumby has returned to freedom by now. If you're reading this, Gumby, I hope life is treating you well.
But please, don't look me up.