Did you know that before the People’s Park and the CowTown Raceway, motocross riders in the CNMI used to race in a cow pasture?
In their bid to revive motocross on the islands, Marianas Racing Association president Steve P. Sablan went back to memory lane, recalling his first race on Saipan in a meadow on a loaned bike before he got a sponsor for his races on island and in Guam.
“I returned to Saipan in the late 1970s for a two-week summer break and found that Saipan’s motocross scene was alive and well. Mr. Ray Alvarez organized the club which had quite a few riders at the time. There was a track at the Santos farm in Papago near Kagman Mobil. It was actually a cow pasture. The track had evidence of the inhabitants everywhere,” said Sablan.
The MRA head managed to join the race, thanks to Joe Flores, who offered his motorcycle and riding gear to the Sablan.
“That weekend I competed against people that I had not known before and who would become lifelong friends to this day. The late senator Joaquin Adriano was also in the class that I raced and I recalled that he was very impressive. He was always a smooth rider, which is hard to do on a big motorcycle that is always trying to toss you off like a rodeo bull,” Sablan said.
The race on the cow pasture was not Sablan’s first rodeo, as he had been riding in Guam through the help of his friends. He also assembled bikes during the summer at Island Cyclery, which was owned Mr. Henry Simpson and his familiarity with motocross and the bikes led him to getting a sponsorship ride from Roman Ayuyu.
“I rode a 1973 Honda 125 Elsinore. It was my first real taste of racing. After two years, I eventually moved to the mainland where for four years I lost almost all connection with the sport of motocross, except for the occasional drive by a motorcycle shop where a few dirt bikes were on display in the town where I lived,” Sablan said.
Back where he belongs
No matter how many times he took breaks from motocross, Sablan always finds himself getting back to it. It was just like how he first heard of the sport and the sight and sound of motorcycles kept playing on his mind.
“I fell in love with motorcycles at an early age when a group of motorcyclists from Guam came to Saipan and had an exhibition scramble at the old baseball field in Susupe where the Joeten- Kiyu Library now sits. One of the participants was Jesse Stein. He led the group that was part of the entertainment events during a Liberation Day celebration around 1968 or so. I never forgot the noise and rumble of those motorcycles as they circled the field that day,” Sablan said.
After moving to the mainland, Sablan returned to Saipan anew in the late 1980s—the time when motorcycle club on Saipan had grown and riders were no longer utilizing a cow pasture and were instead racing on a real track called the People’s Park (Capitol Hill area).
“I saw many families and riders’ supporters attend races almost every Sunday. The governor at the time was Carlos Camacho who had attended a few of the races as he was quite a fan. There was a big mini bike class of some 20 riders. Each of those riders had multiple family members that were present to cheer, support, and assist them. It was always a big outing,” said Sablan.
Sablan raced at the People’s Park on a Honda 125, courtesy of United Micronesia Development Association, and faced a track that used an all-natural terrain with huge downhill jumps and high-speed winding uphill runs.
The course was obviously a challenge for Sablan, but he conquered the track through the help of the late Joey Togawa.
“Joey saw that I was having trouble with that section of the track which he had pretty good command of. It was the double jump that measured approximately 40-plus feet from point to point. From my perspective it looked more like 100 feet at the time. He patiently explained the speed I would need to be at and what gear that bike should be in order for me to clear the double. After several attempts and near misses I cleared it. Unfortunately, we lost Joey in the early 1980s. He was my best friend. He is in every motocross racers’ heart,” Sablan said.
From People’s Park to CowTown
The People’s Park eventually closed after residents circulated a petition to cease the activities at the raceway.
However, Sablan never lost interest in motocross and in 1995 started forming a group to revive the sport with the help of Cuki Alvarez and Norman Del Rosario. Sablan and Alvarez worked on the technical side of the races, while Del Rosario helped in marketing the sport.
The group went on to organize four big international races every year in Marpi (the Kan Pacific pool side) with races spread into three days and thousands of fans trooping the venue to watch local and international riders.
For the second time, motocross’ home had to be closed, as the Marpi area was not legally designated as a race track.
“We had to remove all the soil and return the area to its original condition after each event until the following year. We basically organized a race and built a track to be used for only 3 days,” Sablan said.
After back-to-back heartaches, the motocross community finally acquired a land suitable for its races and other activities through the help of the Department of Community and Cultural Affair, which was then under the leadership of Juan L. Babauta.
“CowTown was handed over to the Marianas Racing Association. Our club president, Eric Cruz, got to work right away and organized our members to clear the road to the location so that he could get his heavy equipment into the area to prepare the site for our track. Although our permission to use the area was on a year to year basis, we felt it had more permanence than what we had before,” Sablan said.
CowTown was home to MRA for a decade before the group suspended activities in 2007 due to economic challenges, according to Sablan, and the property was reverted back to the Department of Public Lands.
Today MRA is building up interest in motocross anew by holding weekend practice races at the Marpi area. The group is also working on getting back the CowTown Raceway to provide riders an appropriate track and give motocross fans the exciting shows that they have been missing for more than 10 years.