For the entire time I knew him, Ski’s body was in a state of repair
Dave sacrificed his body for racing success. By the time he was a semi-fast 250 rider he’d already had numerous giant crashes which did serious damage to his body. After one big get-off on a 600 he came to the grid not being able to feel his feet. He actually asked his then mechanic, as they sat on the Armco barrier by the grid, if his feet were on the ground because when he sat, post-crash, he’d lost all feeling in his feet. They still worked, he just could not feel them from time to time.
When he moved into Supersport and Superbike racing, Ski’s “Death Before Dishonor” approach to racing remained the same as it had in 250s; it’s just that he was no longer crashing and throwing around a tiny, light-ish, Grand Prix bike. He was now trying to will GSX-R750 and 1100-sized bikes, not lightweight bikes at all, to do his bidding. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.
Ski’s back was a constant problem, one that only became worse with time. Where his back problems originated is truly the stuff of paddock legend. Only it’s true. Unfortunately, painfully, true.
On the warm-up lap for a now long forgotten Superbike race at Road America—see, “Ski at Elkhart” could be a book—the battery in Ski’s GSX-R750 died or came un-grounded on the warm up lap. Dave had qualified on pole and was in full flame-on motivation to win so when the corner workers pushed his bike behind a fence and locked the gate Dave elevated his mood to the temp of an out of control nuclear reactor. The warm-up lap at Road America is a long one so Ski still had a few minutes to fix his bike. After he did so, he asked the corner workers to let him back on the track so he could make the grid.
I’ve long said you’ll never make an American happier than the day that you give them a whistle and the ability to say no; and that’s just what the corner workers told Dave—no. In their defense, rules are rules and procedure is procedure.
Frustrated, angry and full of Sadowski-level (volcanic) angst, plus adrenaline, Ski looked around and saw that what was preventing him from being in the race was just a chest-high fence made of wire and wood. And all that needed to happen was for his Superbike to be on the other side of said fence.
Ski was very strong. He refused to let machines win. I literally ate donuts and drank coffee once while we waited for Ski to destroy a hotel elliptical trainer he thought could defeat him, before we could go to the track one morning. He screamed and pounded the trainer, set on the hardest setting, refusing to let it win. Little kids on their way to the hotel pool stopped and watched in awe as Ski battled the trainer, seeing it with the honesty of children’s eyes.
I’m sure they thought they were witnessing some crazy red-head pick a fight with a piece of exercise equipment, which, let’s face it, they were.
Those of us who knew Ski were in no way alarmed, and further knew that telling Ski the elliptical trainer was just an inanimate object designed for exercise and not someone who had sworn a blood oath against his family so “beating it” like he intended really didn’t matter, we knew that telling Dave this was a complete waste of oxygen. Soon enough one of the arms stripped itself and now that the machine was beaten into submission we could go to the racetrack. Just another morning with Ski.
Back to Elkhart. Dave picked up the bike and started to lift a 400 pound Superbike over the fence. He was able to get it half-way over by lifting it up the front end and pitching it over the fence. When he lifted the back some fans tried to help him, but Ski grabbed onto the back of the bike and hoisted it over the fence mostly solo. I honestly can’t remember if he made the start, because my overwhelming memory of that incident is that Ski’s back was never the same. He eventually learned that he had crushed three discs and did other substantial damage to his spine in lifting the bike over the fence at Elkhart.
For the rest of his life Ski’s damaged and patched together back was a factor in most everything he did. Dave’s first course of treatment on his back was a chiropractor. After three or so twenty minute sessions Dave was styling. Meaning that he had Ski Brain-Sucked the chiropractor into telling him just enough so that Dave sort of fancied himself a chiropractor himself and could fix his own back or the backs of countless others in the paddock. Which he did.
When self-chiro treatment stopped helping Dave finally saw a surgeon. The surgeon almost had his breath taken away when he viewed the first x-ray of Ski’s back—he said he had seen patients who had survived their parachute not opening who had suffered less damage to their back than Ski had done to his by just being Ski. The surgeon opened up Dave’s back and did an extensive repair, removing discs and fusing Dave’s lower back. He also asked Dave when he had broken his neck—Ski said he recalled hurting his neck in a crash on a 500 Interceptor at Laguna Seca once, and being incapacitated for a few days because of it. Incapacitated in this case meant Ski laid down in the back of the van leaving the track and he could not get back up for days.
The van stopped at a party on the way home and people brought Ski beers as he lay in the van. This time no amount of beer would allow him to get up. This is the period when alcohol stopped working as a pain reliever.
The surgeon recommended that Dave’s racing days were best put behind him. However, the only limiting factor Ski saw in his new “fixed” back was that it made it difficult to get into a full race tuck behind the windscreen. He rode for Yoshimura Suzuki that year in Superbike.
It wasn’t a great year; by the end of the season Yoshimura had their fill of Dave and Dave also had his fill of Yoshimura. The next season Dave was walking by the Yosh truck and noticed his old mechanic from the season prior looking at the new Yosh Superbike in puzzlement. Dave talked to him for a moment about the bike, then pumped the forks up and down. “It’s too harsh,” he said, walking away.
Because he had let Ski touch one of their bikes, the mechanic was fired on the spot.
Like I said, Yosh had their fill of Ski. But it was a good rehab year for Ski.