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Sep 2, 2009

We Get Letters: Remembering Andre Espaillat, R.I.P.

FIRST PERSON/OPINION

Via e-mail:

I write upon hearing of the passing of Andre Espaillat, the creator and championship rider of the "EX from Heck." I do not know the specifics of his passing, having been notified third or fourth hand. I do know that Andre has been ill for several years.

I met Andre in 1992, as I was beginning to race as a very old guy (let's let it go that I was over 50 when issued my first competition license). Andre was openly gay. Andre was openly willing to help an EX500 rider that obviously needed help. That was me. It was about my third CMRA event when a guy, I don't remember who, said "Andre came by looking for you, had to leave. He'll look you up next race."

"Who's Andre?"

"You don't know Andre? Every EX500 guy knows Andre."

Next race I met Andre.

Mr. Editor, how long can I go on?

One time my son Bentley, probably a seventh grader at the time, and I had gone down south of Houston to an old blimp base some guys thought was usable as a racetrack. Andre said I should go. I guess he thought it could be used as a racetrack. I was very new at this stuff, but to my un-trained eye it looked tiny, covered with dirt and rocks, run-off area full of big rocks, chunks of concrete with re-bar sticking out everywhere. So the 20 of us that had been told to show-up with brooms and shovels got to work. An hour later Andre says, "Come on Bentley, let's see how the track looks." I didn't think anything of it. A few moments later we look up at the sound of screaming tires, to see Andre's Ford Explorer in a full four-wheel slide (some of the body was low, some was high, it wasn't clear exactly which way it was sliding, nor clear what was going to happen next!) with Bentley clearly not wearing a seatbelt. You could tell he wasn't wearing a seatbelt because his whole body was pretty much up on the dashboard, pressed against the windshield. You could also tell that his arms and legs were frantically searching for something solid to brace against. The nice family SUV didn't roll. Andre was always lucky like that.

I called Bentley tonight to tell him about Andre. His words tell the world about the kind of man Andre was. Bentley said, "I remember the road trip (I think it was to Hallett) I took alone with Andre. By the end of it I understood about respecting people who were really different than me." Like I said, Andre was openly gay and a racing buddy of mine that used to take my son to the track for me. That's what I know about the kind of man Andre was.

I also know a little bit about the bike he built, the EX from Heck. I hope somebody who remembers the story and some of the wins will tell us about it. I was told that in the late 1980s he spent $25,000 on it. I believe that. After he wore it out and had kept it in the corner of his garage for a few years he made me buy it. Dollar down and a dollar every now and again. Man, what a machine. Otter Lance was interested enough in it to bring it back to life, and as far as I know it had no Suzuki parts whatsoever. It had lots of Honda and Yamaha parts. I'm sure the steering head and one of the engine side covers had been made by Kawasaki. I learned what club racing was really like with that bike. Especially the checkbook part!

And I learned to ride on that machine. I hope to use Andre's advice for many years - "If it ain't squirmin' around under ya', you're not going fast enough."

Andre, my friend, be at the top of your game, burning rubber and spreading wisdom.

Peace, my brother.

Chuck McCoy
CMRA #658
Dallas, Texas
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