Photo dispatches from an American in Italia—a MXoN 2021 intro

Jarred Elrod in his garage with a 1988 Honda XL350 in Italy.

from my garage to yours

Hi everyone 👋 —I recently got the opportunity to snap some photos and do a little writing for VurbMoto as a spectator at this year’s MXoN in Mantua, Italy. I’ve been following VurbMoto for a while. When their team Puerto Rico effort sadly fell though I decided to reach out to see if they wanted to share my images from the event on their site—I explained that I’m in Italy already and am taking my cameras. I got a super nice response back from Brent at VurbMoto shortly after and we were off to the races! My goal for the photos I captured were to be less about race results and more about documenting fan experiences during this unique time—particularly with global events like MXoN.

In planning to do this, I also wanted to share a bit more about my family history with motorsports and talk a little about how my experiences around racebikes and racecars as a child got me interested in design and typography—kind of an intro companion to the event post, if you will. If you ever had me as a teacher you probably heard this story more than once—and I’m sorry about that 😀. This is something I’ve been meaning to get in writing for a few years now and it feels good to finally make it happen. Let’s get into it.

I grew up in rural West Texas on motorcycles and bikes—I got my first BMX at the age of two and my first motorcycle, a PW50 at four. It broke my heart to leave my 2016 XR 650L in storage for our journey to Italy, but as fate would have it I found this amazing 1988 XL350 (⬆️ top photo) at a great local shop called Albatros Moto . I love how short and light the 350 is compared to my 650, but I do miss that push button start!

Photography has always been a big part of what I do as a designer. When I found out MXoN was going to be in Italy this year I knew I wanted to go photograph the experience. I’m bummed the U.S. didn’t field a team, but I’m still really excited I got to go. Since being in Europe, I’ve learned a lot more about the MXGP scene and I really wanted to experience one in-person. Italy had a great team this year for their home race and I wanted to capture the environment with my camera—it was a really neat experience to see them win by one point. With Tony Cairoli retiring after an amazing career, this was a very special moment to see in-person.

Todd Elrod racing motocross in the late 70s and 80s

my history: a family of racers

The images above ⬆️ are my uncle Todd Elrod racing in West Texas in the late 70s and early 80s. He raced through the mid 80s and was always known as one of the fastest guys in the region (he’s still fast on the trail). Looking back at the few photos we have I thought it was interesting he was riding Maico and KTM in an era where Japanese bikes (like the YZ490 he’s riding in the upper right image) were super popular. I asked Todd about this and he told me it was because his dad / mechanic (AKA “papa”) got a kick out of beating people on equipment nobody else wanted to use. This attitude was something I experienced first-hand and adopted later when I was racing go-karts and midgets. I loved it and it always kept things spicy at the track when it came to “altercations” in the pits.

Jarred Elrod as a small child with vintage dirtbikes

all the graphics & colors

I was born in 1985 as my Uncle’s moto career was winding down. Some of my first memories were of his motorcycles and gear. He had a pair of Sinisalo pants with a patch that said “Elrod” stitched in a giant arch across the ass. I thought that was the most amazing thing in the world. I was pretty much obsessed with it all—hell, I still am—especially the stuff from the 80s. The Maico jersey above ⬆️ is a piece I’ve hung onto since I was a kid, but need to send back to my Uncle. It’s an amazing piece of family history. I wish they still made gear that looks like this. That said, it’s super-heavy cotton and maybe some polyester—I’m sure it must have felt like riding in a soaked sweatshirt after a few laps. My stuff now isn’t the best looking, but I imagine it breaths better, at least. That’s Papa ⤴️ with my sister and I on the CR and KX when I was a baby. I’m told I was Mr. Tough Stuff trying to twist the throttle until they fired up the motorcycles, then I was afraid to get close, lol.

Kawasaki riders Ron Lechien and Jeff Ward ↖️ were my favorite growing up because I loved the green Kawasakis and their amazing sense of style. I’m positive being around this stuff (logos, numbers, bright colors, etc…) from a young age sparked my interest in Graphic Design. My dreams were realized in the upper right image when my parents borrowed this amazing Kawi gear from somewhere for me to wear on Halloween. Sadly, it wasn’t permanent and I was back to just jeans and my Fox Pawtectors a few days later.

Elrods Racing Cars

four wheels & a steering wheel, please

While I always rode motorcycles growing up, I went the four-wheel route when it came to racing like my papa and dad did (above left and middle ). I was just naturally better with a steering wheel in my hands—I’ve never been a great rider, but I was always fast in car. That’s me driving the #37, 600CC micro-sprint around 2006 in Oklahoma City above right ↗️. I was just starting my design career at the time and cut my teeth painting and creating the vinyl for our cars—probably no surprise I chose to use Kawi colors here against the advice of my Papa, citing green as unlucky in racing. We were really fast, but blew up several Kawi motors that year, so I guess he was probably right. I went orange, cream, and black for the next year.

the experience of riding in Italy

Riding on the streets around here is an interesting experience for sure. Your head definitely has to be on an extra-oiled swivel at all times, but the curvy roads and general lack of traffic police make cruising the mountain backroads an amazing experience. I also like how it’s easier to see from the motorcycle and squeeze through tight spaces than it is in our car. There are no shortage of trails and rocky river beds for enduro riding, although I will say it’s tough to tell which trails are moto-OK and NOT OK (definitely been screamed at in Italian a few times). I’m meeting locals that are teaching me where the good spots are, but I still have so much to learn. Because of this, I spend a most of my two-wheel fun time on my mountain bike. It might be tough moving back to anywhere flat after this! That’s probably enough for now, but I’m building a version of the post that went to VurbMoto here that has more photos. Say tuned!

📸 + ✍️ + 🎞