By Brett and Melody Lee
Photos by James Lissimore
The 2020 Walton TransCan was a remarkable week. It happened so quickly, and so much was just as it has always been, but so much wasn’t. It was a week that showed the very core of our sport, our people. It was mask-wearing, and following painted arrows in grass fields, and all the things motocross racers always have always done. Anything to race.
The race itself was as normal as it could be in the new world we’re living in, but the journey to stage the race was anything but normal. It was a journey like motocross itself, full of incredible highs and lows. In the end, the 2020 Walton TransCan, just like the year before, crowned champions, celebrated the highs and lows of motocross and sent everyone home safe. With it being such a unique year with so many challenges surrounding the 2020 Walton TransCan, instead of a race report let us take you through the month-by-month process my wife and I endured in order to make it happen.
Brett Lee: When COVID-19 came, it was scary for everyone. It literally froze everyone in their lives. A global pandemic was something from a movie. But everything stopped. Entries stopped. Sponsorship froze. Everything came to halt. It may not seem like a big deal in March, but so much of TransCan happens in March. It all just stopped, and no one had answers to anything.
Melody Lee: When you own a seasonal business, you’re typically prepared to weather the off-season in a mostly sustainable way. But when we went into lockdown, and there was no end in sight, it was an absolutely panicked time that I would be grateful to never have to relive again. You look at your financial projections, you’re seeing what your bleed-out rate is, you’re on these insanely emotional zoom calls within the tourism industry, the news is hammering you daily with how horrible it’s going to be. There were some dark days – we finally had to turn it all off and remember how to breathe.
BL: It felt like we had a meeting on Zoom or phone daily. We talked daily with members of our industry, of the tourism industry. There were all these huge questions, but the big things were how long were we going to be shut down, and when could we open for business? It was even more dire for Gopher Dunes and Motopark. We were all at the end of our cash cycles, and for them April was their time to get rolling. In what should have been a busy time, they (and many other tracks) had to sit idle. Jetwerx had cancelled AXTour, AMO Racing in Ontario was postponing events. Things seem to be running away. Then a lot of industry, including sponsors, sent their staff home and people just simply did not know what to do.
ML: I am fairly certain the only thing that got me through April was wine and Kerri Schuster. I think the hardest part of being in this industry is feeling like you are alone in your business, but if COVID-19 has taught us anything it’s that we are surrounded by some of the best people in motocross, and we are all in similar boats. Kerri talked me down off a few ledges, and we’d be on these provincial Zoom calls together having side convos distracting ourselves with the direct webcam shots up people’s noses. She made April happen for me.
BL: In May the questions about whether we go or not started to creep in. In March we thought things would be open by April, then for sure by May, but now we just didn’t know what to expect, or how it would look in the re-opening stages. People were getting their heads around that it may go on for a while. Jetwerx was pretty sure they would cancel western swings of the MXTour, and races across the Canada were being cancelled. We had committed money for the 2020 TransCan already and the pressure was really mounting. This was when we begin to push as a group. We got organized and started to work the phones.
ML: Hope started to creep back in when May rolled around (thank God). The major question was how we were classified as a sport. Believe it or not, motocross is not a super familiar sport to the upper echelons of our provincial government. But we pushed, collectively as a group, and asked everyone we could think of with influence to bring our sport to the table and it worked. We were included in the stage 1 framework on May 19 and we opened our doors 10 days later with maybe $500 left in the bank account. TransCan was still a big question mark, and while we had three months to go before we had to produce the event, it required some heavy evaluation in regards to the financial security of the biggest amateur race in Canada knowing our odds of having spectators were slim to none. This year was full of moments like that – you’d catch your breath, relax a smidgeon and then the next moment you’re back to treading water just trying to keep your wits about you.
BL: We got off the ground in a kind of normal way. People were not committed to TransCan, but we had some sponsors say they would support it. We put our energy in racing locally. Showing local leaders that we could do races in a way that was safe. Riders and their families embraced what everyone was trying to do and showed up in huge numbers. It was energy for us.
ML: June brought more stability to our business when we were included in the Stage 2 framework. Now we could have camping, which in turn meant races. Ryan Gauld brought so much to the table with AMO this year, and our riders committed to the ANQ/Provincial series in numbers we hadn’t seen in 10 years. It was unbelievable, in the best way possible. Sure, we still had our snafus, but what happened in June made TransCan that much more possible. I know outwardly no one really knew about the hard convos we were having daily, but it wasn’t an easy decision to hold the race. Did we want to? 100 percent. Did we know if people would sign up? Not even maybe. In hindsight, we should have known better, but that’s easy to say now looking back two months after the fact.
BL: We came under heavy scrutiny at this time. Stage 3 announcements had created confusion. People, health officials, provincial and municipal leaders everywhere were taking stances on which businesses should be open and which ones shouldn’t. Regardless of the government framework, it was taking a personal stand. TransCan is such a profile event that people were coming at us from all directions. We had spent our entire lives building this race up. Promoting it to be a showcase, a celebration of motocross. We committed to doing the race, for racers and ourselves – and racers were responding in record numbers.
ML: Here’s a little TransCan honesty for everyone. We didn’t fully commit to the race until mid-July. We needed to hit a certain number of entries to make it financially viable (we’re talking about a break-even scenario), and when that happened everything quickly transitioned from a question mark to a big fat yes. The good news was we have the best team that works with us, so we knew we could pull it off with only four week’s lead time. Interestingly, during the first week of July, Brett and I were also unsure if we could host the Pro National. With no spectators it would be impossible to pay the purse. July’s second week then brought us a second national. We went from maybe one to bookending TransCan with two. I honestly cannot remember what happened within those ten days to change our minds, but one thing we have mastered this year is the pivot. I think we all have. It’s the only way you have a chance of surviving running a business during a pandemic.
July also brought us angry members from the local community. What a joy that was. The four weeks leading up to and including the TransCan were, undoubtedly for me, some of the most difficult weeks of my life. Emotionally, I was spent. It’s so disheartening to watch the people you thought were allies, neighbours, friends, just absolutely try to run you over. And not even have the courtesy to speak to you first before forming their unbalanced opinions. I mean, these people would write letters, send emails, hop on Twitter, and then walk away from their computer and not think of the effect their words may have on the person reading them. The lack of accountability that social media affords people is its ultimate downfall. Thankfully, we had some amazing people who worked with us to ensure the race would happen and while it was frustrating at times, it definitely made the TransCan the most rewarding event ever for me.
BL: I won’t lie, the week leading up to TransCan was intense. We had invested in everything, Money was spent on equipment, staff, trophies, you name it. And although we had all the approvals, there was enormous stress that we could be shutdown at any moment and there was no money for refunds. We didn’t have a B plan, this was it.
There was so much to be proud of how it looked, the fact it didn’t seem that different, that our team was as determined as us, it was great. When the gate dropped on moto 1 of TransCan, Melody and I both felt like we needed to see it to believe we were going to go. When the gate dropped on moto 1 of the TransCan, I knew we were going to get this event in. As much as people credit Melody and I, this week each year is special because of the riders and their families. Everyone did some lifting on this event. We needed a community effort and we received that.
ML: I loved every minute (minus maybe 30) of this year’s TransCan. From the moment our gates opened and riders and their families rolled in, to watching our staff take so much pride in this event and absolutely kill it, to being able to hang with some of our favourite people all week long, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to top it. I still get goosebumps thinking of that first gate drop. Probably one moment that stands out for me which is not race-related was minutes before my major walkthrough with the powers that be on the Monday before TransCan.
Kourtney Lloyd had come up the week before for Walton 1, and she’d been along for the emotional ride that the past few weeks were for me. Just before I left to meet everyone at the front gate, she gave me a big hug and started crying because she knew how important it was and how much the lead-up to this moment cost us emotionally. It reminded me how much this event means to so many people, and how much we’re invested in one another as a family, and while I may have been the only one walking with the people who decided our fate for the next hour, I knew that I certainly wasn’t alone.
I think everyone who attended the TransCan this year should feel immense pride. The largest amateur sporting event in Canada took place here, during a year of unparalleled cancellations and postponements, and we made it happen. Every single person that was here made it happen. And I know Brett and I will be forever grateful.