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MXP Chatter With Melody Hodgson Presented By Fox Racing Canada

The announcement last week that registration for the 2024 Walton TransCan is now open signifies that riding season is just around the corner. Soon, Walton Raceway will be a busy hub of activity with events, summer camps, and, before we know it, opening ceremonies of the TransCan. We caught up with Melody Hodgson to chat about all the exciting things happening at Walton Raceway in 2024. 

MXP: Hey Melody! Winter has arrived in Ontario. How are things over in beautiful Walton, Ontario?

Things are peaceful in Walton at the moment! Nothing but snow and animal tracks in the fields and the odd toboggan going down the Country Corners tunnel.

MXP: For the riders and families that only come to Walton Raceway in the summer when it’s sunny and warm. Can you shed some light on what the area is like in the winter? Are there still some fun activities to take part in?

You have to make your own fun in Walton during the winter, but I’m a country kid at heart, and that isn’t so hard to do. Harper and her friends take their toboggans and sleds out to the track, and thankfully, they’re old enough to haul the toboggans back up those hills because I am not interested in that task (laughs). For me, depending on the snow, I’ll toss on some snowshoes and make trails back in the old mud bog bush or find a reason to hang out with my chickens and goats in the barn. It’s a simple life once the snow starts flying!

MXP: That does sound like some winter fun. It was announced last week that the registration for the 2024 Walton TransCan is now open. We don’t know about you, but just hearing the word “TransCan” excites us for summer.

The number of riders who have registered for TransCan already this year is so exciting! We’re at four times the number of riders we had last year during opening week; with all the talk of a mini-recession, I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, having our riders and their families validate our vision so far in advance of the event is rewarding and motivating. While the classes allow for unlimited pre-entries, and a class can’t be filled until after the July 8th deadline, seeing 30+ riders already registered for Supermini is wild.

I often think back to 2018, our first year back after 2017 (when we didn’t hold the TransCan). We knew it would be a year of rebuilding. I remember keeping a sticky note on my desktop tallying the entries daily, hoping to break the 400-entry mark so we could pay our bills. I would text Gauldy with updates, and even if he was grimacing at the number internally, he always pretended to be just as excited as I was. I’m so thankful for 2018 and the last six years because it allows me to appreciate where we are today. The depth of ridership and the skill that lines up each August, coupled with the number of families that trust us to deliver them an Amateur National Championship worthy of attending, is the ultimate reward.

Spring is coming and it’s time to think about the Walton TransCan. Photo by James Lissimore

MXP: We’re still over six months away from opening ceremonies at the Walton TransCan, so people might still have the mindset to put off getting signed up. Please give us some insight into why it’s so important to get signed up as soon as possible.

The pure volume of riders who want to compete at the TransCan lends to the importance of early sign-ups. At the event, we limit entries to 42 per class with no onsite qualifiers, and riders are pre-ranked for the event based on specific criteria. A rider’s first moto gate position is weighted based on the following order:

Before the July 8th ANQ deadline

  1. Finish position of regional ANQ series (total points, higher points = higher ranking)
  2. Date and Time of registration (if a tie takes place with regional ANQ series points)
  3. Date and Time of registration (if no ANQ series results are present)

After the July 8th ANQ deadline

  1. Date and Time of registration (no ANQ series points are applicable)

A lot of people will look at option three and think to themselves, “Well, why would I race the ANQs if I register before the deadline I’ll probably get in!”. And while there are cases where that will happen, with classes like Supermini or 250 Junior, your odds of getting in without registering incredibly early and competing in at least one ANQ are slim. And there’s always the chance of an early-season injury limiting your ability to acquire the coveted ANQ points necessary to secure a guaranteed gate position. Having a backup plan like early registration is merited.

MXP: You certainly make some great points there. Every year feels the same: January always seems to go by slowly. However, once we hit February and early March, time speeds up, and before you know it, we’re into riding season and ANQ season. On your end, planning for the TransCan must be well underway.

The most surprising part of this business is that there is no break. Of course, we don’t have people onsite 365 days a year, but I can’t think of a day where the TransCan hasn’t consumed at least part of my thoughts. 

MXP: Last year, the Walton TransCan was again a huge success, especially when it came to the track changes. Are there any changes coming for 2024, or is it a case of why change something that works so well?

There are always small changes each year, but I can’t see us topping turning the track around two weeks before the event again! One thing we’re very excited about this year is the inclusion of the WCAN and ECAN results into the first moto ranking order. In 2024, the winners of transferable classes for both amateur nationals are guaranteed a gate position for the TransCan. The TransCan has always been about providing a platform for the best of the best in amateur motocross. Guaranteeing a gate position for WCAN and ECAN winners is an extension of that commitment. We’re working on the final details, but expect a press release next week!

Whether it’s on the track or off of the track, there are plenty of exciting things to see at the Watlon TransCan. Photo by James Lissimore

MXP: One of the really cool things about an event like the Walton TransCan is that you can separate the experience into two unique parts. There’s the racing and the on-track stuff, and then there is the socializing and off-the-track festivities. Both are awesome in their own right, without a doubt. When you’re in the planning stages of the TransCan, do you separate the two, or do you look at it mostly as one big event?

Personally, I look at it as one big event; separating it into two events feels daunting, so this format is easier on my brain and for me to visualize and build out. Without the social events, the TransCan wouldn’t have the same atmosphere or ability to generate as many core memories. Based on how many other events try to replicate the format, I think it’s safe to say that’s a universally agreed-upon experience.

It’s interesting how weighted the social events actually are. The KTM Group, for example, in addition to supporting their amateur riders and the Tyke classes, commits to participating in TEN social events. If they’re not planning it, they’re still providing prizing and staff to help. Working through the social calendar with Allison at KTM is probably one of the first TransCan tasks crossed off my list. 

MXP: We can’t imagine the stress and the responsibility you take on with the Walton TransCan, not just in the planning stages but also during the week of the event. Basically, you’re allowing thousands of people to come and hang out on your property. How do you and your family deal with it?

We’re incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by people who believe in the TransCan and what the month of August means to us and Canadian motocross. Every single person, from our staff and volunteers to Barry, my mom, Chris, and Judy, they all make sacrifices to ensure the week goes off without a hitch. I’ve never worked anywhere else that demonstrated that level of dedication to someone else’s business and vision. So I wouldn’t say that we “deal with it”; I would say that we’ve all bought in, and we know what that month takes, and when we commit to it, we’re all along for the ride. There’s no emergency exit, maybe a “holy sh*t” handle if you’re lucky – if you’re in, you’re in. And what a ride it is.

MXP: We know you love doing this, or you simply wouldn’t do it. The passion for the sport and this event runs very deep in your family and your community. However, as much as you love seeing the TransCan unfold in front of you, it must feel equally nice to look across the paddock a few days after the event and see an empty field. The feeling of satisfaction must be almost overwhelming.

I always feel a little lost after TransCan. I think the difficulty lies in my inability to acknowledge my achievements and the belief that what I’ve accomplished is never enough. There’s this palpable pressure to move toward the next milestone and create a new marker to measure my successes against. It’s hard to ratify when you’ve spent the year prior working towards an event or goal, achieved it, and not given yourself the ability or space to reflect on it adequately. I think it’s a common theme in our industry, especially with race results. So, the feeling of satisfaction is undoubtedly there, but it’s fleeting. I’d like for it to stay longer.

MXP: But is it challenging to go from the chaos of TransCan back to the peace and tranquility of your farm without a field full of trailers on it?

Admittedly, aside from what I touched on above, the most challenging aspect is knowing you have two weeks of clean-up, account reconciliation, and equipment returns ahead of you once the last trailer leaves Monday. We’re all mentally and physically exhausted, but there’s no real opportunity to decompress for the foreseeable future. But once those tasks are knocked off the list, it is the furthest thing from challenging to go from the chaos of TransCan to the tranquillity of an empty field in Walton. It’s an important balance!

Last year was the first year for the WLTN Kawasaki Team and Melody very much enjoys this new adventure. Photo by James Lissimore

MXP: Well, like everyone across the country, we cannot wait for this summer and the Walton TransCan. Moving on to another project you took on last year, the Walton Kawasaki Team. Running a team obviously brings massive challenges, and we would assume that last year was a steep learning curve for everyone involved. As you sit here today, how are you feeling about everything compared to this time last year?

When Brett tabled the idea of a race team a few years ago, I attributed it to another Brett Lee idea and did not give it more than a passing thought. And when the opportunity arose last year for us to take over the team, I said I would be supportive of this new venture but would not be very involved in it. Then round one happened, and suddenly, there was zero chance I would not be at the following seven rounds (laughs).

The race team is probably the most fun I’ve ever had in motocross. It is also the most challenging experience I’ve ever had in motocross. But I love it more than I ever thought I would. I especially love the dynamic of the team members. It’s different than anything I’ve ever worked on in my entire life, and while there are tumultuous moments, the moments of reward are so emotionally worth it. 

With the combination of the existing team plus the addition of Quinn [Amyotte] and Steve [Simms] for 2024, it feels like we’re mixing the right potion in the cast iron pot.

MXP: Yes, it’s exciting that you brought Steve on for 2024, as he brings with him a boatload of knowledge and experience, and Quinn is also a great addition to the team. We’re assuming your riders Quinn Amyotte and Tanner Ward are itching to head south and start riding; when is that happening, and what are their plans once they get down south?

I underestimated Steve’s abundant knowledge regarding everything to do with a race team. Sometimes, I feel like I’m being scolded by the teacher for not doing my homework, but I know his attention to detail and appreciation for clarity benefit everyone. And I never question whether the work is getting done; I don’t actually think I’ve had the opportunity to question it because Steve provides consistent updates with timelines for completion. In all truthfulness, I also have no idea how we would be race-ready by June if Steve were not at the helm. He is a massive positive for our race team.

As for the guys, Quinn is currently in Florida at Dreamland MX training with the Renzlands, and Tanner heads south shortly to train at GPF. To say they are keen is an understatement. There is talk of hitting up a few races, but I don’t know that anything has been 100% confirmed at this point in time.

Today is was announced that the WLTN Kawasaki Team will wear OG Gear in 2024.

MXP: The team has signed with OGs for 2024; how did that come about?

Kyle and Brandie Snelgrove have built OGs from the ground up. They’ve worked really hard to create a brand that is respected and recognizable not just in Canada but throughout the US. We’ve worked with them for a few years to help bring awareness to the TransCan with the amateur riders OGs supports in the states, and we’ve grown to really respect the program they’re producing. When Kyle approached Brett in the fall about working together on the team, it made sense.

We’re excited about the partnership; our focus is to support as many Canadian businesses as possible with our team. Between the customization Kyle can offer with the gear and supporting the businesses that support us, it is a great fit!

MXP: That is very exciting news! Last week, the 2024 Triple Crown Series Schedule was released. What are your thoughts on how the eight rounds are looking for this summer?

In a perfect world with unlimited funds, having four western rounds with BC on the schedule and adding another QC round would be great. But that’s not the world we live in. And I know our race team budget is spent to the last penny with our eight rounds already. So, I think the schedule is exactly as it needs to be in 2024.

I know it’s easy to bag on the Jetwerx guys, especially with no BC round, but they’re doing a good job. They’re incredibly good people. And they are 100% behind us and the TransCan – there’s zero time of day that I can’t call Justin or Kyle and bounce a hair-brained idea off of them or have them value my feedback. I’m fortunate to see and experience it as a promoter and a team owner. 

MXP: Your journey from Thunder Bay to where you are now is an interesting one for sure. When you think about where you’ve been, where you are now, and what the future might entail, what comes to mind?

I think we’re working towards shifting our business model slightly, if not this year, but the next. I know both Brett and I are refining how we want to spend our time, and making sure we can achieve those goals is becoming really important to both of us. Our focus will always be on the TransCan, and now the race team has also taken a large part of our interest. Finding the balance between the TransCan, motocross races, camps, schools, and the team will be our biggest priority moving forward, and I find it exciting. I never do well when things are stagnant!

MXP: Okay, one final question for you. If you could go outside, wave a magic wand and change one thing about this sport. What would that be?

It’s easy to say more money, right? But there will never be enough. I’ve learned that over the years.

I’m sure everyone’s answer is different because our own narratives and experiences shape our perceptions. I don’t know if I’d change anything; I learn best through trial and error, don’t mind mistakes, and love every opportunity to see our growth as an industry. I understand we’ll never be the US, and that’s OK. At the end of the day, we’re pretty lucky to spend a summer racing dirt bikes and welcoming the best racers in Canada to our farm every August. What’s there to change?

OK, maybe I’d make sure the TransCans with rain become distant memories only.

MXP: Sounds good, Melody. Thank you for your time. Stay warm, and let’s hope spring arrives sooner rather than later.

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