Racing in Morocco: Dust, Dunes and Dirt-bikes
By Linda Harris
Morocco World News
Marrakech, April 4, 2012
They are hidden on the outskirts of town. Far off from the paved roads, you can find them on the weekends. A large cloud of dust and a deep rumbling of noise gives away that you are coming closer to your destination. Behind rundown buildings, in the open dunes and dirt hills away from the city, they gather to compete in a race of man and machine, risking their own safety to show off their skills – they are the daring racers of motor cross.
Growing in popularity, motor cross in Morocco is becoming a choice for many Moroccans who are looking for an adrenaline rush while enjoying extracurricular physical activities.
Although the sport is expensive, more and more Moroccans are able to participate in this growing sport, with new motor cross clubs springing up in cities around the country.
During the most recent race, ‘Championnat Marocain de Motocross & Cross Country’, which was held in Marrakech March 31st and April 1st, 2012, Morocco World News had an opportunity to observe the sport in action at the Mejjad Loisirs track in Marrakech and talk to a leisure racer with more than two decades of experience.
Moroccan racer Reda Tassi, 33, who races in the ASMC motor cross club out of Casablanca, has been active in motor cross since he got his first bike as a child. During his childhood and teenage years, he recalls many memories of him and his older brother racing and enjoying motor cross.
“We race against each other,” Tassi says of his brother, “but we always share our bikes and help each other with equipment and parts. We have raced together since we were little kids, so we have a lot of history. Back, when we first started, there weren’t any motor cross clubs in Morocco. They started forming in the late 80?s and in the beginning there were almost no members. But over the years, the sport has really grown, and now it is organized; in Morocco, we have 6-9 good months of competitive racing.”
Tassi spent a period of time in the USA for studies. While there, he continued to pursue his love for motor cross.
“It’s easier to engage in the sport over there,” he says. “There are more tracks, better bikes, and better access to parts. Now that I am back in Morocco, I stock up with parts from the US, so I don’t get stuck at competitions without any ability to repair my bike.”
Access to equipment and parts is a common challenge for Moroccan motor cross racers. Most bikes are
bought used and run around $5,000.00. Additionally, racers need to invest in personal safety equipment, and means to transport their bike/s to and from events.
Parts are always needed and because they are not easy to come by in Morocco, racers need to think ahead, anticipate common repairs, and stock up on spare parts. Some racers get their parts and bikes from Spain and France, while others, like Tassi, orders from America.
As we sit for the interview, in the shade of a racing tent, kids run around in the common areas and play with each other. Some occasionally jump on small bikes and take a spin around the tents. They laugh, wave, and talk to everyone. Adults wave back and call them by name.
“Motocross is definitely a family sport,” says Tassi. A lot of the guys I grew up racing with have families now and they are getting their kids started on bikes. Everyone comes
with family. For me, it’s the same. We all go together to these events. My father never raced but he still comes to the races. A lot of my family and friends join us. We leave for a weekend trip, stay at the same hotel, eat together, spend all of our free time together – being together and spending quality time together on trips is definitely a big part of why I love the sport. That, and the adrenaline rush.”
And a rush it is. Motor cross is an extreme sport and not for the faint hearted. The roar of powerful engines constantly fills the air while the loud thump of house music pumps out energy from the sponsor tents.
Racers go through steep hills and large jumps, tail whipping their bikes in free air, before they land at high speeds and continue their mad dash through the tracks. Dirt and dust covers the racers and any onlookers who have come too close to the race. Fumes and smoke blast out from the exhaust pipes and rocks and sand blow up from behind the tires.
“The rocks are like projectiles,” says Tassi. “I know a guy who broke a finger when a rock hit him from the guy in front of him. We wear protective gear and put rock guards on the bike handles, but accidents still happen. Yesterday, one of my friends broke both of his tibia bones when he crashed his bike. He’ll be in a wheel chair for at least six weeks.”
This, is, however, all part of why the participants love the sport so much. Everyone knows that it is dangerous, but the rush of operating the extreme machines at high speeds and flying freely through the air on top of a powerful roaring engine, attracts racers of all ages.
Still, since most Moroccan participants are adults with family responsibilities who enjoy motor cross as a hobby, everyone takes personal safety very seriously.
“We wear protective gear,” says Tassi. Everyone wears a helmet and goggles, to protect the head and eyes. Some even wear a neck brace. We also wear a protective suit, gloves and special racing boots. A lot of racers also wear a chest protector to help deflect the blows from flying rocks.”
Onlookers are kept safe as well. Under the patronage of the King, the government freely supplies police or military personnel for the clubs to help with crowd control and public safety. Safety zones are set up for onlookers, although it is still possible to get very close to the high speed chase.
The venue itself is calm and organized. There are sponsor tents, from an energy drink company that often provides sponsorship funds to the clubs, where racers, family members, and onlookers gather to enjoy refreshments and chit chat about the events and race results.
Other tents have products for mechanical needs and parts for sale. Around the area, barriers and uniformed police keep everyone within the safe zone, while efficient parking attendants oversee and direct all parking.
Nowadays, there are motor cross clubs scattered throughout Morocco from Marrakech and Agar, to Tangier and Casablanca. Although it is a growing sport, it is likely to stay a hobby for all participants.
“I don’t foresee motor cross as a professionally sport in Morocco,” says Tassi. “We just don’t have the things we need to compete on an international level. Our greatest hope for a professional world class Moroccan racer would be a kid who is trained and raised in the US. Here in Morocco, we don’t have the caliber of bikes and equipment they have in the US to produce a world champion.”
“Worst of all, we don’t have coaches. This is our greatest need right now, “continues Tassi. “We need coaches in the clubs to come and work with us and push us forward so we can improve and bring the races to another level. We hope that a sponsor will come forward and help us bring a coach in from the US or Europe for a weekend or two every year to work with all the Moroccan club racers.”
The largest international motor cross race event in Morocco this year is the Arab Cup, which takes place in the beginning of May. Participants will come from UAE, Qatar, Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, and more. This year the cup will be held in at the Mejjad Loisirs track in Marrakech.
To learn more about Moroccan Motor Cross or to find a local club, visit:
Linda Harris was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. After completing high-school, Ms Harris emigrated to the United States where she has lived since and continues to have a home. She has a BA in Psychology with minors in Religion and Philosophy, Magna cum Laude, from the University of North Florida. She also holds a MA in Practical Philosophy and Applied Ethics from the University of North Florida. Ms. Harris has worked as an Instructor and has taught Philosophy to students at Daytona State College, Florida for 3 years, as well as International Relations Theory at the University of Florida. She is currently working on her PhD in Philosophy, which involves data collection and research in Morocco. Her research includes ethics of gender, religion, and cultural identity in Morocco and in Moroccan immigrant communities. She currently resides in Spain. She is Morocco World News correspondent in Spain.
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