In Recess

‘You Don’t Get Out of This Sport Unscathed’

DJ Burrus dishes on Houston area motocross and stepping up to the A class

Interview by Eric Quitugua

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DJ Burrus hits a jump months after telling the Texas Bar Journal he was done catching air. Photo by Samantha Webb

As kids, we’re in and of the dirt. We played in it, we ran in it, our clothes were caked in it. But if you’re like Houston attorney DJ Burrus, you’re probably cutting through it on a Kawasaki 450. Since age 12, he’s been in the Houston area’s motocross circuit, picking up sponsorships and hoisting plaques and trophies along the way. Bu could make the Golden State Warriors blush. If you own a dirt bike but haven’t fallen, do you even ride? Burrus’ tales from the track spin hilarious, ramshackle victories and a glut of injuries that could make the Golden State Warriors blush. If you own a dirt bike but haven’t fallen, do you even ride?

What are you looking for in a track?
If a race is coming up, you want to find a similar track. Rio Bravo has a really old school layout. It’s a very safe but fast track. 3 Palms is a complex with four different tracks—a variety of skill levels but they’re all primarily sand tracks. And then Freedom has two different types of tracks. They’ve got an outdoor, wide-open track and a tight-knit night track. They’re both more hard packed. If you’re trying to race on certain tracks, you’re going there to practice. If you’re just riding with your buddies, it depends on what kind of riding you’re trying to do or who wants to ride where.

When you’re first learning how to ride a bike, is there a fear of falling or getting hurt?
No, that came later. There’s the age-old saying: “It’s not if you’re going to fall, it’s when.” Any motocross rider you know is going to have a list of major injuries a mile long. You don’t get out of this sport unscathed. It’s a weird thing because as soon as you’re hurt or you’re off your bike, you’re sitting there watching motocross movies and races, you’re reading magazines, you’re itching to get back on your bike. I remember as a little kid having a broken collarbone and sitting on the bike for an hour out in the garage not being able to ride and wishing I could. There wasn’t a real fear ever until there was and once that happened, that’s when my racing stopped.

What happened?
By 2011, I had bumped up to the A class. When you race in the A class, you’re getting paid, hopefully. It was college so it would have been nice to have the money. I picked a Saturday night race in Paige at a track called Cross Creek, which had these two tabletop jumps about 115 feet apart. The really fast guys would jump from one to the other. There’s plenty of room to get the speed but the face is 12-15 feet tall. It’s just vertical. So it’s a hard hit. And the tabletops don’t line up. The second one is probably 10 or 15 degrees to the right. You have to hit the first jump all the way to the right and land all the way on the left of the second one. I said, “You know, if you’re racing A class, you have to do what the A guys are doing.” I jumped it six or seven times perfectly fine before the race. OK we got this. Can’t wait for Saturday. My girlfriend (now wife) was there. I was like, “Hey did you see it?” “No, no, I never saw it.” So now I’ve got to go one more time. I split really hard out of the corner. As I came up to the face of the jump I didn’t think I had enough speed to make it over it, but I also had way too much speed to let off. I was in a sticky situation. I overshot the jump by about 15 feet and flat landed it. My rear wheel came down. Then my front wheel. Then my pegs hit the ground and my ankles too. And then it just shot me off the bike to the right and the bike cartwheeled over the next set of jumps. It was just bad, man. It wrecked my knees and my ankles. Broke my tibia and four ribs. Bruised my lung and shoulder. Had a bunch of road rash. Had a concussion. I had to have guys load my bike and help me into the truck. I was so out of it I went to call my dad to tell him I got hurt but dialed the wrong number and my boss answered. I had a coworker meet me at the track because I didn’t know how to get home. After that wreck, I went from seeing the fast race lines to thinking I can go over the bars here. I can land it on here. I can smash this corner and get hurt. I’d only see where things could go wrong.

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Burrus, who said he was done with racing after his wreck in 2011, is eyeing 2020 as the year he returns to the circuit, saying, “I’m hoping to start racing again or at least ride more next year. I turned 30 in October but this year I’ll be the young guy in the 30 class. I might get out to a few races next year.”

So how soon were you back on a bike even for fun?
I kept my bike for probably another four months after I was cleared to ride. OK, Saturday I’m going. I’d be super excited all week and then the morning would come and I’d come up with every excuse in the world not to go. After that I was off the bike for about a year and a half. Then I went to law school and got a bike to fiddle around on. After law school I got a 2017 Kawasaki KX450F and KX125 to ride leisurely. I actually just picked up a YZ250 to complete my collection.

It was cool watching that YouTube clip where you fell early on but came back and won the next moto. What was going on in your head when you dropped the bike at first?
“Great, here we go.” Your plan is always to first get a good start. The first 10 feet off that gate is one of the most important parts of the race. Then your goal is to survive the first corner. From there you can settle down and figure out where you are. I felt like if I rode smooth and just picked people off, I’d be able to make it back up front. So on the second moto, I holeshotted and didn’t fall, but I ran out of gas on the last lap. Complete rookie move. That was my first race back in a long time.

How about the two-stroke? You won that one. What was that like?
So we show up to this two-stroke race. I’m on a bone-stock 125 that I rebuilt but the suspension’s probably still 15 years old. I didn’t even change the oil in it. My buddy Brant shows up on this full mod 250 that he’s been building. It primarily was a sand track and I was severely underpowered. Brant is smaller than me so he had a significant weight advantage. The first moto Brant took off, and I only saw him for a couple laps because his bike was so fast. I finished second in that. Then in the second moto, I was watching Brant, paying attention to his lines. He fell over and his bike broke. So I finished the next four laps out in front and went 2-1 overall. I got the first place trophy, which was awesome. It was an American Motorcyclist Association-sanctioned state championship race, which is icing on the cake.

What’s an ideal day on a bike like for you these days?
Cool weather, a nicely prepped track, a good group of buddies, my bikes, and just a solid day of motos. We’re all out there having fun and nobody gets hurt. I like to hit corners these days. Good, low/medium corners to blow up would be great. TBJ

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