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Browse Current IssueArtifact The “Wonder Dog” That Became a Dirt Biking Phenom

On his way home from work one day, 1970s motorcycle racer John McCown had a sudden urge to stop by the local animal shelter to obtain a dog. Little did McCown know how the impromptu detour would shape his life.

At the shelter he perused the available canines, and a homely brown-and-white mongrel stood out from the rest. “I’ll take that one,” he told the shelter officer. “Why that one?” asked the officer. ”He’s the ugliest dog here,” answered McCown. “No one wants that kookie-looking mutt.”

And just like that, McCown had a dog and the dog had a name.

Kookie learned to read the terrain, leaning back in the rough stuff and standing up on the smoother terrain. John could always tell what was up ahead by the way Kookie moved.

Not long after he brought Kookie home, McCown noticed something that set him apart from other dogs that he had owned. Whenever he went to the garage to work on his dirt bike, the dog followed him in and intently watched his every move. When it was time for McCown to leave and head out for a race, he would get sad looks from his new friend.

So McCown decided to take the dog for a ride, and placed him on the gas tank between his arms. To his surprise, Kookie had excellent balance and was able to ride along with very little help from McCown. The only trouble was he slid around on the gas tank. A piece of rug glued to the tank solved that problem, and Kookie quickly began mastering his riding skills. He got to the point where he could brace himself and lean into the turns and knew whenever McCown would do a doughnut turn to look directly at the ground inside the “hole” of the doughnut. He even got so good at scanning the road ahead it was as though McCown had a second set of eyes, as he read Kookie’s body language. “Kookie learned to read the terrain, leaning back in the rough stuff and standing up on the smoother terrain,” said McCown’s wife Cindy. “John could always tell what was up ahead by the way Kookie moved.”

They became so good at riding together McCown decided to have Kookie ride with him on the desert racing circuit. Six years and some 300 races later, the duo had won numerous trophies and become fan favorites on the circuit. “The enthusiasm from spectators and other riders was overwhelming, and John and Kookie were hooked on racing,” says Cindy. Millions of people were introduced to them when they were featured in the classic film On Any Sunday and Kookie became known as “The Wonder Dog.”

McCown decided it was time to retire Kookie from racing just before his fourteenth birthday, and he passed away when he was 16, but Kookie produced two sons, Kookie Junior and KJ. Both of them had similar skills as their father and carried on the racing tradition. McCown had so much success racing with the younger dogs he eventually received sponsorship from Kawasaki, Ossa and Can-Am.

McCown went on to write a number of children’s books chronicling his racing adventures with Kookie. McCown passed away in July, 2011, but the two of them made an unforgettable mark in motorcycling history and in the hearts of adoring fans.

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