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I've never met Tom Andrews in person, but I am very impressed by him. Andrews teaches creative writing at American University in Rome, and he's also a loyal Racer X reader, but that's not what impresses me the most about him. What I like about Tom is that he recently pulled off an all-time interview session for this magazine with the one motocross racer I have always wished to sit down and talk to.
Grand prix motocross racers have always fascinated me. Ever since my dad started getting Cycle News every week when I was five years old, my dirt bike heroes have been men like Roger DeCoster, Gerrit Wolsink and, of course, the notorious Heikki Mikkola.
When I was a kid I used to dream of travelling to Europe to ride on the fabled tracks of the 500cc World Motocross Championship circuit. Namur in Belgium, Payerne in Switzerland, Hawkstone Park in England - these places seemed like the most exotic destinations in the entire world to me as a third-grader. You see, the world was a much bigger place back then. Without the Internet, cellular phones and cable television, information on GP motocross was limited to the weekly titbits we got from Cycle News, or whatever I could dig up in the back of the library at Cheat Lake Elementary School. I often spent recess searching for information about faraway places like Belgium, Finland and Austria. I vowed that once I grew up, I would find a way to travel to those countries and see those great tracks and racers with my own eyes. I promised myself that I would never become some decrepit old senior who rides the same local track every time and wears a hospital orange-coloured helmet so everyone else out there knows not to run me down every time they lap me.

Now that I'm all grown up (mostly), I am proud to say that I've managed to go to those races in Europe many times. I've been to Namur and Hawkstone Park, interviewed DeCoster and Wolsink, visited almost every European country that existed in Cheat Lake Elementary's encyclopaedias, and I wouldn't wear an orange helmet in a dark closet. But the one thing I never did was interview the "Flying Finn" himself, the great Heikki Mikkola.
Mikkola was my all-time favourite rider. He hailed from the ice-covered Scandinavian nation of Finland, and with his goatee, piercing eyes and rugged frame, he looked every bit the Viking warrior. That's all I really knew about the man. I guess he became my idol because his name would appear in headlines above or below that of his rival DeCoster, whom everyone else in my family (not to mention my fourth-grade class) adored. And I just had to be different. As a kid, the back of my jersey said Mikkola, not Coombs, and my mom hand-painted the metal tank of my '74 Honda XR75 so that it looked like an old Husqvarna, which was what Mikkola rode to conquer DeCoster and win the 1974 500cc World Championship. The Minnesota Vikings even became my all-time favourite football team because, in my elementary school logic, if Heikki Mikkola played football, that's the team he would play for!
Alas, Heikki Mikkola was long into retirement by the time I finally saved up enough money to take my first trip abroad. When he was done racing, Heikki went back to his family home in Helsinki, Finland, and rarely emerged to see the races. The only way to find the man would be to travel there, and because Finland is no longer on the GP map, the chances of just dropping by his house someday for coffee and conversation were slim to non-existent.

Last month I got an unsolicited email from Tom Andrews:

"I was in Helsinki as a guest of a friend who teaches part-time at the Institute for Art and Design in Vantaa (a suburb of Helsinki). I mentioned to a colleague of my friend that, as a kid; I was a huge fan of a Finnish motocrosser named Heikki Mikkola. The colleague said, "Oh, I remember him. He lives around here somewhere. If you like, I'll see if he's in the phone book." I explained that I'd love to interview Mikkola, so he did some snooping for me, found Mikkola's address and phone number, and called him to set up an interview. He drove me to Mikkola's house and translated for me when Mikkola wanted to respond in Finnish. That's how the interview came to be. Thanks again for your enthusiastic response to the interview, Davey. You know, the whole time while talking to Mikkola, I kept thinking, "I can't believe I'm actually here talking to Heikki Mikkola!"