Linkogle fathered freestyle motocross, but nearly lost it all
by Tod Leanard
Larry Linkogle is talking about flirting with the flame, and he’s not just referring to the days when he intentionally set himself on fire during his outrageous motorcycle freestyle shows.
At lunch over sushi in downtown Oceanside, one of the most notorious action sports athletes considers a life of wild contrasts. A father of the freestyle motocross movement that now fills arenas and plays huge on the X Games stage, Linkogle became an anti-hero icon and a wealthy man through the Metal Mulisha company he founded in the mid-1990s.
After pulling off a particularly gnarly trick, Linkogle would dump his bike on the ground and flash both middle fingers to the crowd. The fans ate it up and cheered him even more.
But by the new millennium the Temecula-raised Linkogle was a strung-out, angry addict who’d pushed away his family and friends and spewed hate about the very sport he’d created.
“Had I known a lot of the stuff I was going to fall into … “ says Linkogle. “I can’t say I wouldn’t have done it. I probably had to be burned a couple of times to not touch the fire.”
Linkogle claims to not be overly reflective about the hard-living 36 years of his life, but he is in a position to have to talk about it. His memoir, “Mind of the Demon: Motocross, Madness, and the Metal Mulisha,” written with Joe Layden, was published in June, and it arguably is one of the most outrageous sporting stories ever told.
It’s got tattooed thugs, wild women, gun-toting gangsters, bad drug trips, bare-knuckled fighting, and Linkogle being nearly decapitated by a helicopter in a movie stunt gone wrong. And there’s plenty of motocross, a sport synonymous with Southern California counterculture.
On Friday, Linkogle made book-signing appearances at both Camp Pendleton and MCAS Miramar as a nod to the military and his own father’s service in Vietnam. He claims to be healthier than he’s been in years, surfing and riding often, and is a divorced parent with custody of his young son, Lynkin.
He is putting his passion and energy back into freestyle motocross by training a couple dozen riders at his MDP Block compound in Temecula that is world famous in the sport. Many of the next generation’s greatest freestyle artists will bear the positives of his personal stamp. Linkogle is particularly fond of underdogs.
“I don’t need to make a name for myself,” he said. “I do what I do because I want to have fun. I love to ride a motorcycle and I love the sport and want to give back. I want to see it grow to its full potential, just like my company, rather than being cut off by greed and selfishness.”
He said his motivation to write the book was to “give voices to the people like me who have been held down so much in the industry. There’s so much politics and oppression going on. My voice is just one of thousands.”
Obviously, Linkogle’s anti-establishment ways have not changed. Metal Mulisha, with its freestyle motocross tours and clothing line, reported more than $30 million in sales in 2011, but the owners who share a 50-percent stake don’t even speak to each other. Linkogle views partner and accomplished rider Brian Deegan as something of a sellout because he’s made the company too “corporate.”
“There are some people in my organization who would rather capitalize and make money for themselves than help others achieve success,” Linkogle said.
Linkogle rode in freestyle’s X Games debut in 1999 in San Francisco, but he now views the Olympics of action sports -- the 19th edition is this month in Los Angeles -- with wariness and some disdain. He says while he appreciates what ESPN has done to raise the stature of athletes and their skills, not enough money is going in the performers’ pockets, considering they risk their lives with every performance.
Two freestyle motorcrossers have died this year in practice crashes, and San Diegan and Metal Mulisha team member Jeremy Lusk was killed in 2009 during a Costa Rica competition not associated with X Games.
Commercialism and distaste for competition is why Linkogle, at only 19, escaped the motocross racing world in 1996 after he’d dropped out of school to become a pro factory rider at 16. Linkogle started freestyle jumping, and he and his friend, Nathan Fletcher, came up with a team name, Metal Mulisha, which they culled from a Metallica song.
“We didn’t know how to spell ‘militia,’ “ Linkogle said with a grin. “So we just spelled it like it sounds. We were big Slayer fans, and we could use the Slayer ‘S.’ It was perfect.”