How did you get the bug to start BMX’ing? What was the first bike you owned?
The way I first got started was that a bunch of kids around my neighborhood had bmx bikes and were always riding around in a big pack riding in the woods and what not. I knew some of them and I was needing a new bike, so my dad bought me a early birthday present. A lot of these guys had raced a time or two, so it was just a natural progressinon that I became part of their “CREW” and eventually raced a few weeks after getting my first bmx bike.
What was your first race like, how quick was your progression to expert?
My first bmx bike was a Schwinn Scambler with tuff wheels.Man that bike was a tank! Plus it had a crazy easy gear on it that made racing it a real callenge. 39X18 was the gear beleive it or not. Plus the fact that it weighed about 30 lbs. I raced it for the first time at Vineland in the summer of 1979. There were only 4 guys total in my class and 2 of them were buddies of mine that came to the race with me and my parents. I placed 4-4-4 in the moto’s. I was spinning my brains out trying to keep up! I only raced that bike about 3 times before my dad figured I couldnt be competitive with that bike. He then bought me a used MCS Spider about a month later.Needless to say my results improved shortly there after. I think I raced novice (there was no beginner class at that time) for about 5-6 months before I turned expert. I did most of my racing at that time at Craigmere in 11-13 novice. The class was HUGE, and on most Sundays we had 10-15 gates of riders in that class. So just making the main was a real challenge most of the time.
Mark, you switched teams like people change shorts, (just kidding)MCS, Profile, Scorpion, Blue Max and Cyclecraft… do you feel each move was a step up in the sponsorship rung?
I did switch teams a lot during my racing carreer, but it was not always what it seemed. The first team I rode for was MCS on the support team for a little over a year. In the early days it was my dream to ride for factory MCS since my first real race bike was an MCS. After the “81” season I got the call that I was being promoted to the factory team. I did o.k. that year in my first full NBL national season……..I ended up with national # 10 , won 2 nationals and also won the state title in my age class. But by the time I was bumped up to the factory team MCS started to have financial problems. So I was a little dissapointed when my level of support was not what I expected. They gave me bikes,equipment, and every ounce in a while would pay for an entry fee.But at the end of “82” Profile was coming on the scene and my good friend Jamie Burrows started riding for the team as well as my factory MCS teamate Shelby James made the switch as well. I was offered a ride with Profile as well and took it. After all I knew it had to be a little better than MCS was, plus I knew Profile made all of Hutch’s stuff so I knew the bikes were first class. In fact with the exception of that little tube that ran from the top tube to the down tube the Profile and Hutch frames were identical. I won my first national on the team so Jim Alley was happy with me. I remember when the team showed up at the NBL grands in 1982 at South Park……….we had that custom painted semi,plus all the team riders had matching black bikes spicificly for that race to match the truck. I finally felt like I had a “real” ride. They paid my entry’s and flew me to the races my parents didnt go to so things were good. My dad became team manager at the beginning of 1983 and was actually going to become Jim Alley’s partner in Profile. Jim gave my dad control of the team and told him to pick up who you want and cut who you want to make us the “REAL DEAL”. I still remember sitting down with my dad at the kitchen table and writing down names on a peice of paper. The names were Eric Rupe,Pete Loncarivich,Richard Zagars,Danny Nelson and Sherry Elliot.As it turned out Eric and Richard were the guys we came to terms with. The guys that were going to stay from the previous year were myself,Shelby James and Greg Beller. My dad prepared us to move Florida to be near the Profile factory, he even put our house up for sale.At the last minute Jim Alley changed his mind about wanting a partner.Needless to say my dad was upset but told me “you can still ride for the team, its up to you” . It just didnt feel right to keep riding for the team after all that even though I was happy there.If it was not for that I think I would have stayed with Profile for a long time. I remember the day my dad told me that I went down to the garage and pulled all the Profile stickers off my bikes. I told myself I was going to go out and do some winning and get a new sponser. I ended up winning a total of 10 nationals that year and had talked with Skyway,Scorpion,Vector and Kuwahara by mid summer. I had an offer from Skyway but they couldnt take me on until the start of the next year.I talked to Kuwahara but their team roster was pretty much full.Vector talked with me but I just was not crazy about riding with those 1 peice bar/stem combo.So that left Scorpion……..they wanted me now and I had two good buddies that would be my teamates…….Byron Friday and Mahlon Abrams. I took the offer and had a great time riding for those guys.But ounce again a team I rode for was having financial trouble and by early 1984 had cut their budget for a race team.So ounce again I was in search of a ride.Eric Rupe had just gone back to Mongoose(dont think he could pass up the $$$…..LOL) and told me Mongoose was going to start a new team called “Blue Max” and was looking for riders.He said he would put my name in team manager Brett Allens ear. A few weeks later I got a call from Brett saying “Welcome to the team”. Eric for sure helped me out there. But it was a blast we went first class everywhere and a huge team roster between Mongoose & Blue Max.Plus Eric and Ken Aman were on the team so I had two good friends there and that made it that much more enjoyable.I think there was a total of 14 factory riders between both teams that year. But Blue Max had only 3 riders Fred Johnson,myself and Brian Gass. Most of the riders on the team were riding prototype frames.All our expenses were paid for ,plus we had a good contingency plan set up for us.So when we won or did well we were paid……….even as amatures.It was always nice getting those checks in the mail when you were a 16 year old kid. I did well that year winning some big races(including the World Cup) and narrowly ended missing getting the #1 plate in my cruiser class to Richie Anderson(I ended up #2).By mid 1985 the word came down that the teams were going to make some huge cuts.Out of those 14 team riders there now were to only be 4! There were a lot of great riders cut including myself, John Tomac,Todd Henry,Brian Gass,Karim Richardson,Kevin Collins,Jason Kick,and others. A lot of those guys were nat. #1 plate holders and World Champions.I talked to the Martino’s and they had just started a new team called Cyclecraft and offered me a ride.I ended up riding for them until I called it quits toward the end of 1985.
It’s been said that Cyclecraft was a great team to ride for, it was more like a family than a race team, is there anything you’d like to add?
Yeah it really was a very family envirorment. The Martino’s are great people and were always very generous with me.But by the time I started riding for them I was starting to suffer from travel burnout and started to become distracted from racing.Plus I think they were still struggeling with their frame set-ups in the beginning. I think I rode 4-5 frames in the time I rode for them…………….each one a little different.So ultimetly I never felt 100% compfortable on the bike.
Can you tell us a great, funny, or insane story from each of your sponsorship “eras”?
Oh man I dont know where to start! Some that come to mind are when I was on Blue Max me,Aman and Rupe doing “Rockfords” in the rent a cars………..even before I had a drivers licence.I remember being in Gilroy Ca. in 1984 when Eric Rupe’s wife was about to give birth to his first son when O.M. announced that Erics wife was about to give birth right before Erics main!Right after that our team manager took Eric straight to the airport.But he left it up to me and Ken Aman to drive his brand new Honda Accord 6 hours back to his place in so. Cal.The only problem was Ken had never driven a stick and I didnt have a drivers lic.Everything was o.k. until we had to get off the highway to get gas, then the fun began. Ken trying to balance the clutch on those steep nor. Cal. hills was a callenge. All I can say is I think Ken melted a couple thousand miles off those tires trying not to wreck the car………..can you say burnout?When I was on Scorpion me Byron and Mahlon getting busted after breaking into a wave pool in South Park and jumping off the back wall into the water in our underwear! They were closed at the time for maintance and the security guard caught us and kicked us out.
Who do you feel was the biggest contributor to NJ BMX in your day non-racer wise.
I dont know if I can pin point just one.But I can tell you a few people that did for sure.Charlie Litski,Bob & Carol Gleason,Jeff & Julie Platt,The Zeanur family,Leroy Veal,Widol Rubel,and my mom and dad(who ran the NBL office in N.J.) were all people that made things happen in the early days of bmx in Jersey.
What was the highlight of the racing days? What are the things you remember most?
Winning the World Cup in 1984 was a great moment for me.It was one of the biggest races ever and had every top guy there was and I won………..and came real close to winning both classes that day.But most of all was spending so much time with my mom and dad and all the great friends we made over the years. Those were the best days of my life and created the best memories.I have really learned to cherish those memories over the years.
Who was in your New Jersey crew riding during your riding career?
Where I lived (Sayerville) there was a bunch of guys in the early days.Paul Veltre,Ted Douglas,Dave Dandorf,Steve Radica,Bill Gelder and Pat Kelly to name a few. But most of those guys gave it up a year or so later so I had to motivate myself to ride and try to get faster.When things got more serious over the years Jarrett Justice became my good friend and training partner.So we rode together at least a few times a week even though we didnt live close to one another.We did what we had to do to meet up a few times a week so we could ride together.In the end it made us both faster and more agresive.Brian Shepard and Lenny Hicks lived close to Jarrett so I rode with those guys quite a bit too.
When did you stop racing?
I stopped racing at the end of 1985.I was starting to get burned out on all the travel and being away from home so much. Girls started to distract me as well……….
What occupies your time now?
I live here in West Palm Beach Florida and I make my living as a real estate investor buying and selling homes.I still ride but have not been on a bmx bike in 20 years. I ride on the road and mountain bike fairly regularly……….I even race from time to time.I spend most of my free time with my girlfriend Carmen and we plan to marry in the near future and start a family.
How do you feel BMX helped you out in your attitude toward life?
It definetly helped with a lot of things. We live in a competitive society and bmx taught me to thrive on my own and excell with no one to get things done but myself. I work in a very competitive enviorment and would like to think my bmx past has taught me how to beat my competition.
Everyone was real bummed to hear about your Dad. I’d love for you to share some of those great, “Dad made you bust a gut laughing, or just gave you some incredible advice stories”
My dad was a great guy and taught me so much about life.It was not always easy being Frank Lopez’s son. He was very competitve at heart and he hated it when I lost. I have told stories about him over at Vintage bmx.com so I wont tell the same story twice.But one of the the stories I told was about how my dad used to take me out to this dirt road everyday after school and made me do 10, 1000 ft. sprints. They were hell and what made it worse was he used to follow me close behind with the car and threaten to run me over if I didnt go fast enough! So one day I am riding my bike down the street after school headed out to meet my dad and do the sprint when my friend Dennis stops me and asks me where I was going. I told him I was headed to do some sprints with my dad. Since he raced at that time to I told him to come with me and do them with me. He said “o.k.” and we rode our bikes the 3-4 miles to get there. I remember it was a warm spring day and Dennis had never done these “hell sprints” before. So we start doing the sprints and by the 3rd or 4th one Dennis starts to look a little peak-ed. Plus my dad never let us rest more than about 5 minutes or so between each one.So he took it easy on me that day since my friend was there with me and not looking so good. But we still did 10 sprints then I was headed to my practice track to do some riding so Dennis decided to follow me over. Well on our way there Dennis just disappears behind me. So I start riding back trying to find him when I come across his bike lying against the curb. As I get closer I see him laying in the grass and he was sheet white. He was so fatigued from the sprints he actually passed out riding down the road. I told my dad later that Dennis said he would never do those sprints again. He said “Is your dad trying to kill you or something?” I just laughed and said “No, he just wants me to win on Sunday”. Another good one was in the early days of bmx there were no chrome aluminum parts available. All aluminum at that time was anodized. One day at a local race at Lawrenceville we saw Rich Farside’s MCS sitting there and the whole bike appeared chrome. It was sweet looking. My dad went over to Rich’s dad and started asking how he got the bike like that. Rich’s dad was kind of secretive about the whole thing for a while, but soon they became friends and he let my dad in on the secret. He used brush on oven cleaner to remove all the anodizing from the aluminum and then used aluminam polish to buff it up to look like chrome. That was it, my dad took all the aluminum parts off the bike and used the oven cleaner on them. Now my bike looked the same as Rich’s………all chrome. It looked bad ass for sure but man was it tough to maintain. My dad was a clean freak so every Saturday afternoon before a race he would make me clean my bike. Wax the frame,fork bars,and seatpost. Then I had to use Mothers aluminum polish on the rims,hubs,brakes,cranks,stem,seatpost clamp and pedals. It took hours to get it the way my dad liked.He even made me use rubbing compound to get the brack pad residue off the sides of the rim. I used to argue with him that it would be back on the rim after the first lap of practice! He didnt care, he said “just do it”. But my dad really loved the racing………and more than anything loved the people that became our friends during those years. I really miss him but he knows I carry him close in my heart. And he knew I loved him just as I knew he really loved me. He really was my best friend, and there are not a lot of people that can say their dad was also their best friend.
Final thoughts, or thank you’s?
Well my parents deserve the biggest thank you. With out them I would never had the leval of success I had in BMX. They have been there for me through my entire life.Even though my dad passed away recently I still think about him everyday.I really do have two first class people as my parents……….and they raised me right. Also want to thank all my old friends for the memories, the Stinsons,Jarrett Justice & family,The Rupes,Jamie Burrows,the Shackels,the Perrino’s,the Theodores,the Lux’s…….the list goes on and on.And thank you Brett for thinking of me for this interview. Its been a blast .