Bailey’s parents divorced when he was nine. His mother remarried, and Bailey’s stepdad was iconic American motocross rider and racing instructor Gary Bailey, known simply as the Professor. For much of his early life, David Bailey traveled the country with his stepfather, experiencing the racing life up close and personal, helping his stepdad with motocross schools and honing his own riding skills.
Young Bailey was anything but an instant prodigy, however, finishing dead last in his first race in 1973, in Slidell, Louisiana. But driven by a never-quit work ethic, he pounded out the laps, eventually finding a fluid, natural style that soon garnered him the nickname the Little Professor. He was also known as a good kid.
“When he was racing, he was an all-American boy,” says Bevo Forti, director of racing for motorcycle-accessory manufacturer Scott and someone who has known Bailey since he was 12. “He was clean-cut, a good role model then -- and he still is today -- somebody you want your kid to grow up and be. That’s what every sport needs, a role model who shows a lot of determination.”
During his eight-year professional career, Bailey was a four–time American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) champion and a two-time Grand National champion. He participated in many of the sport’s most famous races, including the Trophée des Nations competition from 1982 to 1986.
In 1986, he married his fiancée, Gina, and they honeymooned in Hawaii. Ahead of him lay what promised to be his best season with mighty Team Honda, and he was on the verge of signing a new multiyear, multimillion -dollar contract. “I’ve never seen him happier than that day, and it will be my fondest memory of him,” Forti says.
Everything came tumbling down in January 1987 at a race in Huron, California. “I felt like I could do anything on a motorcycle at that point,” Bailey says. “I was attempting a double jump that no one else was even thinking about doing. It was a case of too much confidence.”
But Bailey came up short, and the resulting crash crushed several vertebrae in his back, leaving him paralyzed below the chest.
Bailey’s accident sent shock waves through the industry. “When you looked at David Bailey, he was precise, he was in shape, he was doing everything you’re supposed to do,” Forti says. “Some of the racers before were known for riding over their heads and aggressively. But David was fluid in motion. For him to get hurt opened everybody’s eyes that it could happen to anybody at any time.”