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Author: Mark Simpson

What’s Old Is New

What’s new pussycat? You might have to be over fifty to get that reference to a movie theme song from 1965. However, I heard it on a commercial for kitty litter the other day. Funny how old things become new as a whole new generation moans “whoa oh whoa oh whoa oh!” to Tom Jones’ familiar refrain. I know that the lyrics have nothing to do with feline fecal management. And one thing that is definitely not coming back in fashion is women allowing themselves to be called pussycats. But don’t let that ruin the analogy for you. With the aforementioned pussycats out of the way, “what’s new?” was the question in my mind at the NW Challenge Vintage MX two-day extravaganza this past weekend. Surely lots of old new stuff to see this year.

The highlight for me personally was meeting David Bailey and shaking his hand. Never seen him before. So that was new. Such a kind and gentle spirit.
[On a side note, all the old school mx heroes I have met have big hands. David has big hands. Must mean something. And seriously, who would you rather shake hands with, an old guy like Bailey or a new guy like Cooper Webb? Nothing against Cooper, but I’ll bet you twenty bucks he has small hands.]
Broc Glover was there. Chuck Sun was there. Scott Burnworth was there. Have seen their smiling faces before at PNW vintage races. Warren Reid was there! That’s new. They are all getting old, but they all looked fit and in great shape. I am 100% sure they all have big hands.

Overcast skies, known simply as “the sky” to Pacific Northwesterners, greeted racers and fans both days. Turned out to be ideal conditions and the track was prime. Things were behind schedule both days, but that is not new. That is simply part of the charm of a vintage event. This series has only been in place for six years. That surprised me. It is truly quite new, this series with old bikes and older people. As usual, the Huffman family did a fantastic job supporting the event and getting the track dialed. Ralph Huffman, the family patriarch, was presented with a lovely plaque made from a chainsaw blade for all his years of dedication and love for the racers. His speech was very moving and drove many to tears. Good man.

I made some new friends. Scott Wallenberg, David Anderson, Jeffery McClain, and others. They are old, like I am, but new to me! I saw a couple Husqvarna 360 CRs that looked exactly like my old bike. That was new. I loved that bike, even though it hated to turn, was hard to start, and had bad brakes. Which strikes me as funny. Bikes are so much better now. So how did old become new? As I watched a gentleman trying to start his BSA after stalling (I had a 441 Victor when I was 18, so I felt his pain) I thought to myself “they know that new bikes have electric starters, right?”. But a totally boring push of a button cannot compare to the extremely high heart rate one can achieve with full-body gymnastic kick-start exercises. And nostalgia sometimes demands payment in pain in order to truly revive those long-lost moments of utter frustration and disappointment. New modern mx bikes cannot offer you that!

Something else new this year, a modern bike class. Gives racers with modern four strokes a chance to enjoy the event without having to miss practice because they couldn’t get their thirty-nine-year-old warhorse started. As I watched these new bikes smoothly navigate the same course that had the old bikes bucking like broncos, it occurred to me that these machines looked pale and boring compared to the shiny Day-Glo colored Monarchs, Montessas, and Maicos. You don’t come here to see new stuff anyway. It’s the old stuff that’s new to you that grabs your attention and pulls at your heart strings.

Nostalgia is defined as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations”. But don’t get confused. These people are not reliving their past. They are living their present. They are not posers, pretending to be what they aren’t. The bikes aren’t showroom restorations that are brought out into the sun once a year. These are the bikes they ride all year. This is the gear they wear all year. This is the extended Oregon/Washington/Idaho Vintage MX Family. The Pacific Northwest has become known as the two-stroke epicenter of the motocross universe. That is because we never stopped riding these bikes and worshipping at the altar of Decoster, Pomeroy, Lackey, and Hannah. This is who we are.

So what’s new pussycat?! What’s new is old, and what’s old is new. Stick THAT in your pipe and smoke it! Time is just an illusion, after all. The only time that matters is NOW and the only thing that matters is chasing your happiness. And if that is what brought you to Washougal this weekend, to find the new in the old, I know you found it. Maybe it was that one bike you saw that brought long cherished memories flowing back into you. Maybe it was an old geezer tearing it up on an ancient steed. Maybe it was the smile on a kid’s face as she entered her first race on a bike from the 70s. Maybe it was in the joy felt when meeting a childhood hero like David Bailey for the first time. Maybe it was in the words of old man Huffman as he expressed his appreciation for the recognition he so richly deserved. So the next time someone asks you what’s new, make sure you tell them about all the old memories that were made new, at least for a day, at the 6th annual NW Challenge Vintage MX races.


See hundreds of photos from the event here: https://motohubnw.photoreflect.com/

Heroes: ROGER DECOSTER

My earliest childhood memories are from the early ’60s. My exposure to sports at the time was very minimal. I do remember flat track and speedway races. My heroes were men like Robert Vaughn, Chuck Connors, and Robert Conrad. But these were fictional heroes, as my hero worship didn’t really carry over into reality.

There were also political and social heroes. I remember watching my Mother crying as we learned of the Kennedy assassination live on our black-and-white TV. Upon my graduation from elementary school in Palo Alto, California, in 1967 I memorized and recited Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech at the graduation ceremony in front of hundreds of parents. Those were big life moments that you don’t forget. Like the moon landing and watching Muhammad Ali fight.

It wasn’t until later that I had sport heroes like Rick Barry and Joe Montana. And then there were my motorsports heroes. Men like Al Unser and AJ Foyt. What did all these men have in common? Strong, tough, independent, smart. All the things I wanted to be. But much more than all that they were “cool.” I think that was the most important criteria for any hero. They had to be cool. Hell, Montana’s nickname was “Joe Cool”.

And then one day in 1971, when I was 11 years old, my best friend Paul and I went to see “On Any Sunday” at the theater. Our lives would never be the same.

Motocross did not get started in America until the late ’60s, and didn’t become a real thing until the early ’70s. I had a lot of motocross heroes. But these heroes were different. I could watch them work. I could talk to them. I could take pictures of them. I knew that what they were doing was truly spectacular and fearsome.

And out of all my motocross heroes there was no one cooler than Roger DeCoster. Not even close. Fierce determination, humility, kindness, unselfishness, and toughness made him the perfect ambassador for this fledgling sport.

His nickname was “The Man.” If you knew MX, that’s all you had to say, and everyone knew who you were talking about. He is largely responsible for the popularity of motocross in America, and the world. He was fast, super smooth, always stylish, and a great ambassador. What I admired most about him was how much he hated losing. His quote “confidence is the key” always stuck with me my whole life. And I could see it in all he did.

I took this photo at Sears Point in 1977…

TNMX at PIR – 53rd Anniversary


WHY THEY DO IT

I’m not a very good golfer. Maybe I could be if I really tried hard. But then again, probably not. I can generally hit it straight and am pretty good around the green. I do find that the more I DON’T play, the better I usually golf. Practice doesn’t seem to make perfect for me. In reality though, I’m just not that good. I will admit that the highs of golf are quite incredible. Hitting that one perfect shot, exactly where you aimed it, almost makes all the pain you went through to get to that point worth it. Almost. But it’s the endless hooks, slices, and shanks that eventually get to you. As high as the highs are, the lows will drive you absolutely nuts. “A Good Walk Spoiled” is the name of the best-selling book on golf. It is a theme I can well relate to, as I recall countless furious rages at the Gods of the links. The general idea is; why would you want to spend significant time and money on something that frustrates you to no end?

This is what I was thinking about after spending time at the 53rd Anniversary Thursday Night Motocross at Portland International Raceway. Yes, I said that right. 53rd anniversary. That makes it the longest running night motocross series in the known universe. For those of you who haven’t been there before, let me tell you how it works. As you pull off the I5 freeway just north of downtown Portland you head down a street that takes you to a left turn onto a road that runs down a half-mile or so past a dog park. The actual entrance to PIR is to the left on this road, and only holds about 30 or so vehicles. After that everybody stages along this road running by the dog park. You drive down as far as the backup is, do a U-turn, and get in line. For this 53rd anniversary race they opened the gates at 2:00 to accommodate the huge crowds expected. Or at least they were supposed to. They didn’t actually open until much later. I decided to get there early as I knew it was going to be crazy, but it was way beyond that. I arrived at 1:00 and found myself just outside the entrance area, not too far back. But as the vehicles quickly piled in the backup looped all the way back to the main street. I had never seen his before. A major thoroughfare became essentially blocked by traffic trying to get into the race. It was insane!

Getting there is just stage one, however. After entering the facility and winding your way past the road race track finding a good place to park becomes your next challenge, especially on a hot, sunny summer day. You then unload your bike, get your gear ready, and setup your pop-up. Expect long lines at sign-up. The staff at PIR does a great job, which makes it all seem less stressful than it could be. Lines at the restroom, food stalls, and beer garden are just expected. Hopefully you got there in time for practice. And did I mention the traffic?

After all this you would expect a great night of racing, and it really was. The TNMX crew does a great job putting on these events. But there are sacrifices to be made when a zillion racers are signed up to race. For this night it is one moto only, except for the Pros who qualify for the main event. For everyone else they have signed up for one 5 lap moto, if they signed up for one class. This brings me back to my golf analogy. It seems like an awful lot of time and money spent for such a limited racing experience. Many of these racers had raced earlier in the day at the outdoor Washougal Amateur event earlier in the day. Wrap your head around that! Why would anyone want to put themselves through what appears to be a very low return on investment? Why would you want to spend significant time and money for only 15 minutes of actual racing?! Those of you who race know the answer to that question. For the rest of you I will fill you in. It’s kind of complicated…

FAMILY. Everywhere you look there are families racing, wrenching, supporting, engaging, and enjoying. Virtually every racer who has gone anywhere has had a family supporting them. The effort required to be even moderately successful in this sport requires a team effort. That cannot be denied. Motocross is a family affair. Always has been. Always will be.

FRIENDS. “Facebook Friends” is such a misnomer, at least in my opinion. It completely destroys the meaning of the word “friend”. A friend is someone you know well. It is someone who you have been through things with. It is some you trust. How do you develop these types of relationships in today’s time-deficient world? Friends have to spend time together in challenging circumstances. That is the only way you can truly know someone. Whether that is kayaking, snow-boarding, or dirt-bikes it doesn’t matter. It’s just that motocross happens to be the best.

COMRADERY. In a world dominated by social media and the gravitational pull of the couch, it takes something special to get people together to engage in extreme activity. That is the power of motocross. Being part of that group. Being part of that relatively young history. Seeing the huge crowds of people of all ages there to see you race is powerful. The bonds you can build in an environment like this are as extreme as the racing is.

ATMOSPHERE. The crowds. The announcer. The noise. The anticipation. The thrill of competition. The extreme performances. The jumps! The evening sky. The lights coming on. The satisfaction of knowing you did your best. PIR Thursday Night MX always has a great atmosphere.

GLADIATORS. Modern motocross is about as close to ancient Roman gladiators as it gets. Look at the gear they wear. The helmets, the boots, the gloves, the chest protectors, the pants, the jerseys, the knee braces, all specially designed for these warriors-on-wheels. The battles waged on the track can get very intense, but good sportsmanship is the rule of the day. No one wants to get hurt out there. In the end it is all about testing oneself. Surrounded by all the noise, excitement, and crowds, each racer is in battle against their inner demons of fear and doubt. Putting those demons to rest, at least for one night, is a noble undertaking to say the least.

IT’S THURSDAY! What the hell else are you going to do on a Thursday Night?! Watch Big Bang Theory re-runs or binge-watch Stranger Things again? Go grocery shopping at Wal-Mart? Play some lame video game that you aren’t that good at? Come on. Life is short. You can do better than that. April through September is the time to get out to Portland International Raceway and check out Thursday Night Motocross. They have been doing it for 53 years, so they must be doing something right. If you don’t have the guts to get out there and race, at least get out there and cheer on these amazing warriors. Just make sure you get there early and bring some patience. It will be well rewarded.

To see ALL photos from the event go to:

Misc. and Racers #0-100 https://motohubnw.photoreflect.com/store/thumbpage.aspx?e=10459217

Racers #100-300
https://motohubnw.photoreflect.com/store/thumbpage.aspx?e=10459218

Racers #300+
https://motohubnw.photoreflect.com/store/thumbpage.aspx?e=10459220

Heroes: KENNY ZAHRT

Kenny Zahrt – Argyll

If you grew up racing motocross in Lo Cal or No Cal in the 70’s, or were partial to the Spanish MX brands with their right side-shifting and left-side kick starters, you were probably a fan of the skinny kid with style for miles. I took this photo at Argyll MX Park in Dixon, CA. It was my local track/home-away-from-home during my teenage daze. Although it was 40 years ago I can still remember almost every section of the track, from the rubber band start to The Matterhorn.

One of the more prominent features was a tabletop that came up after the long back straightaway. It was about 15-18 feet high, with about a 12 foot landing area, and steep on both sides. Everyone would try to get up to the top then scoot across and drop down as quick as they could. When it was muddy many Beginners and even some Amateurs couldn’t make it up. If you were unlucky, like me, you had a decent chance of center-punching one of these losers as they slid out sideways going up the slope. Forcing you to go back and try again.

One day, I remember it like it was yesterday, Kenny Zahrt came to Argyll. He didn’t race there very often at all, but I knew about him from religiously devouring MXA on a monthly basis and seeing him at other CMC events. Kenny could fly! The fact that he looked like he weighed 100 pounds soaking wet must have helped him reach heights others couldn’t. He was so graceful, like a bird in flight. When he cleared that tabletop it was the first time I had seen anyone do it. He was the FIRST. Electricity filled the air that day, as all the spectators crowded around the tabletop to see it again and again.

Zahrt was one of those guys who didn’t care so much about having the latest, greatest technology. He rode Bultaco well past their peak of effectiveness. And in this photo he is on an Ossa, another Spanish brand that was a rare sight on local tracks. Most of his competitors were on superior bikes, yet he always got the most out of what he had and rode with great pride and grace. He just loved to ride.

“Magoo” may have done it later on his KTM, clearing that tabletop. But Danny Chandler was no bird in flight. He was more like a terrifying Pterodactyl, darting here and there, always on the verge of catastrophe. One of those riders that actually scared the hell out of you just by standing by the fence watching him. Kenny on the other hand was poetry in motion. He passed away in 2014. I am sure I am not the only fence-hanger who remembers these courageous deeds of a brave man. And that’s why I consider him a hero. Because on this one day he showed me something that I did not know was possible. And that’s something you don’t forget.

For Old Geezers Like Me

As we get older our mind starts to change. It becomes less sharp. It gets a little harder to focus. Just like your body, it becomes tired easily. And we all know that memory loss is one of the primary ravages of time. However, I am discovering another way the mind changes with age. As the day-to-day worries of raising children and advancing in your career are pretty much over your mind is freer to let certain memories break-through in powerful ways. Especially when those memories are from your early childhood. Things you haven’t thought of at all for many, many years suddenly rush back to your consciousness in surprising ways.

I saw that Gene Romero died the other day. It took my brain less than a micro-second to generate an image in my head of Gene on his Triumph with his #3 plate going flat-out through a turn at 100 mph. That made me think. Why was that so easy to bring to the forefront of my mind, when so many other memories have long faded from my brain? Well, I believe I found the answer.

Most of my earliest childhood memories of my father take place at a race track somewhere near San Jose, California. Flat track, speedway, and sprint car races were very popular back in the early 60s. All three were awe-inspiring for a four-year-old kid, but flat track always stood out to me because of the speed. Although I raced countless motocross races as a teenager, and some observed trials and enduros, I never had any desire to try flat track. That seemed reserved for people with a special level of daring and fearlessness. Maybe that’s why flat track racing has a special place in my heart. Of all the racing disciplines, it’s probably the one I could least see myself doing. It terrifies me just to watch those guys, and girls, swing it sideways at 100 mph. Insane. Yet at the same time it is so simple and pure. Motocross seems incredibly complicated compared to flat track. For whatever reason there were very few conversations between us, and maybe that was quite normal for fathers and sons back then. It was really those moments spent in silence, while motorcycles or sprint cars went whizzing by at deafening volumes, that we bonded.

Castle Rock is a city in Cowlitz County, Washington, United States. Located between the Willapa Hills and the western base of Mount St. Helens, Castle Rock is at the heart of Washington timber country in the Pacific temperate rain forest. The Castle Rock Raceway has been around since the 70s. It has a lot of history, not all of it so great from what I hear, but for the past ten years a lot of effort has gone into turning it in the right direction. That is where I found myself tonight, watching flat track races on a somewhat overcast Washington evening. Semi-ancient and well-worn grandstands surround a little over half of the track. The vast number of seats harken to what it must have been like when the stands were full of cheering fans. I don’t know what a decent crowd would be, but all I know is there were a lot of people there who seemed to be having a good time. As the races went off, one after another without a hitch, I felt that this was a very well-run event in the hands of the folks at the Mount Saint Helens Motorcycle Club. I see a lot of potential here, and I know I’ll be back. Maybe I’ll see you there. I know my Father was there, in spirit, soaking it all in. Maybe yours was as well. After all, what better way to spend a Saturday evening? My experience even inspired a poem…

Blue grooves and steel shoes
At the Castle Rock track
Inside, outside, you choose
Or move to the back

Under the lights
And the roar of the thunder
Saturday nights
Full of awe and wonder

Flat track racer
Smiling at me
Grin ear-to-ear
For all to see

Recollections to reprise
Now coming to be
As it once was
Again it shall be

And that’s no better wish
For old geezers like me

The Inaugural CLASS X MX Race


All you motocross racers out there, I have a question for you. If you were going to start your own motocross race series what would you do and how would you do it? Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time racing has probably thought about it at least once. You might have some new ideas that would work well and solve real problems. But be aware that your success in this enterprise will largely be determined by your motivation, and by your determination to see your vision come to life.

Maybe the bigger question is WHY would you do it? What would you do differently than other series/promoters? If that is your sole motivation, your dissatisfaction with other promoters, you will soon learn just how hard it is to put something like this together. If your motivation is to rake in the dough, you’ll also be sorely disappointed.

However, maybe you DO have an inspiration, an idea on how to make things better. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but great ideas never come out of bad intentions, so that’s a start at least. Ideally you would want to fill a need. Maybe focus on an underserved geography. Maybe think outside the box and create classes for folks who haven’t been on a starting grid in a long time, if ever. In the end the things that we create are a reflection of ourselves; our hopes, our visions, our dreams. A lazy person who is not good with details, for example, would not be a good race promoter. A dedicated hard-worker with a big heart would fit the bill much better.

And that brings me to Grant Ellsworth. I came to know Grant through Facebook. As a man who will be 60 this year that is both disturbing and incredibly common, but welcome to 2019. Something about the things he said, both weird and righteous, made me feel that this is someone I should get to know better. A brother-from-another-mother type of thing. He is someone who would never avoid a good argument. He is someone who knows how to go just enough over the line to make his point, so much so that it makes you circle back, only to realize the truth of what he was saying. He is someone whose honesty might set you back. But I am a Cancer, born in the year of the Boar, and honesty is a trait I can smell a mile away. Honest people aren’t the easiest to live with, but that’s only because we are always right. And then there’s Ricky Rogue, but that’s another story for another day. And I mean a LONG story…

Now when Grant asked himself that question, (“if you were going to start your own race series what would you do?”), he could have responded in two different ways. He could have been different for the sake of being different, reacting to whatever he felt other series were lacking, or he could have started with his own organic vision of what a race series should be. HIS race series. I am so glad he did the latter.

I know that there were so many other people involved in making this series a reality. The website classxmx.com was create by yours truly, with zero compensation. Not because it wasn’t offered, but because I never even thought to ask. All the guys that helped with the track, the ubiquitous Steve Clark, the girls at the sign up booth, the many great sponsors, and even Bob (when he wasn’t looking for his lost can of beer) all contributed greatly.

Yet this event was a true reflection of Grant. What do I mean by that? Every person was welcomed and made to feel at home. The signage and great background music all contributed to the atmosphere. The message was loud and clear, “we are here to have fun!”. The track wasn’t truly ready for this race. Everyone knew that. It had fallen into disrepair and it would take a herculean task to make it right, even with the right equipment. Let’s say something post WWII. As I wandered out to the fire pit at 11:30pm Grant and the crew were just pulling back into the pits from a very dark late-night track prep session. By daylight on race day Grant was back at it again.

The dirt could have used a little more discing. The soil was good, just a little clumped into large chunks. Despite incredible efforts to water the track, dry spots were bound to arise. Add in a 95+ degree day and I had my doubts about the track. But when race time rolled around, and with the help of the local Tieton football squad manning the flags, moto after moto rolled buy without a hitch. I didn’t see any pileups or real bad crashes, just a few wash-outs and high-sides. The dust was reasonable and confined to certain areas. The track was quite long and technical, with great elevation changes. It also held up quite well throughout the day. I was impressed.

So let’s celebrate this new race series! In a time of change, with new regulations and closing tracks, it’s a joy to return to the roots of motocross racing. This thing is just getting started. It will only go as far as WE take it. I can easily see what Grant mentioned in his speech, triple the crowd next year. And by getting involved yourself you’ll be able to answer that question as well, (“if you were going to start your own race series what would you do?”). Your contributions and ideas will add up to a bigger and better series. The motivation behind this series, as I understand it, is to maximize the FUN and offer something for EVERYONE. Now that’s a motivation I can get behind.

Hangover Scramble 2019

The Jones Creek Trails Riders Association conducted another successful Hangover Scramble at Washougal MX Park on New Year’s Day.

Check out our video below and click here to see almost 400 images from the event. Hi-resolution digital downloads are only $2.50 and affordable prints are also offered. Photos are organized by class.

Flashback Friday – Washougal MX National 2013

July 21st, 2013 would mark an important footnote in the career of Pacific Northwest native Ryan Villopoto. It would be his first time to win the overall at Washougal, a track he knows well, in his home state of Washington. He would battle with Ryan Dungey throughout the day and his 2-1 would beat Dungey’s 1-2. There was no question who the fastest racer was though. Villopoto came from behind in both motos, and while he couldn’t quite catch Dungey in moto one, his pass in moto two was a thing of beauty.

“I’ve never been very great at this place. I’ve always struggled here a little bit,” Villopoto told The Columbian newspaper. “It definitely feels good to get it done … I ended up on the short end of the stick a lot of times. Today, I ended up with the long stick.”

James Stewart rounded out the podium and Jake Weimer was at his best with a solid fourth. Eli Tomac was the master of the 250 class, with Ken Roczen close behind. A young Marvin Musquin would end up on the podium in third. Justin Bogle, Justin Hill, and Cole Seely were other notable 250 class top ten finishers. Adam Cianciarulo would get great starts, but could only muster a 6-16 for tenth overall. Zach Osborne came in sixth on a Honda, while Blake Baggett ended up fifteenth with an 35-8 on a Kawasaki.

Vintage Motocross @ Riverdale

Pacific Northwest Vintage MX Series, Final Round
September 29th, 2018
Riverdale Raceway

How do you define success? That’s a big question. A lot can ride on the answer. Success can provide fame and fortune, and the lack thereof anonymity and poverty. Most people will start with the numbers. That’s the easy thing to do. If someone were to call Ricky Carmichael “unsuccessful” at motocross you would laugh out loud, as would I. For a race promoter it is ALL ABOUT the numbers. If nobody shows up to your race, it won’t be much of a race.

The Pacific Northwest Vintage Motocross organization held the final round of their 2018 series at Riverdale Raceway this past Saturday. By all measures it would appear to be a success. Being able to gather hundreds of vintage mx enthusiasts, and their spectacular collection of archaic machinery, together over a six month time period at seven different locations is quite impressive.

Of course, we could expound on the numbers and dig deeper. Are they up, down, or sideways? What percentage of racers are racing in more than one class? What is the percentage of female participation, and is it increasing or decreasing? How about the age groups? How are they changing? We could analyze data until the cows come home and come to certain conclusions, conclusions that usually support our hypothesis.

But I submit that we need to take a different approach here. Was the 2018 PNW Vintage MX Series a success? Here are the criteria I would examine:

  • New Friends
    I have been to many motocross races. Thursday Night MX at PIR, for example. I don’t recall making any new friends there, although you’d think I would while waiting in line for 15 minutes for a corn dog. Fortunately, I cannot say the same for the Vintage MX series. Remember that scene from “Tombstone” where Kurt Russell says to Val Kilmer “I have lots of friends”? And then Doc Holiday says back to Wyatt Earp “Well, I don’t”. Well, that’s me, Doc, not Wyatt. However, I have made more friends just going to a few vintage races, let alone racing in them, than I could have possibly imagined. And EVERYBODY is so nice.
  • Smiles Per Minute
    We all know that racing is supposed to be FUN. Unless maybe it is your job. But even then, every time I ever saw Magoo, Schultz, Zahrt, or Pomeroy it sure seemed like they were having a good time to me. And, as they say, if it’s not fun you must be doing it wrong. I had way, way, WAY too much fun at this event. I was unprepared for the sudden rush of joy and satisfaction.
  • Selfless Acts of Kindness
    If you ever read a story that starts with “In the cut-throat, ultra-competitive world of Vintage Motocross…” you can rest assured that the author is a moron and has no idea what he/she is talking about. I either observed or was a recipient of some very nice acts of kindness by total strangers. So what is the source of all this goodwill and kindness? Is it Amway, or some religious “cult”? No. Perhaps it is contagious. Yes, I am sure it is. And I DO think it is a cult. The Cult of Vintage MX. I am glad to say that I am all in and hope to earn my status as a member in good standing very soon.

If you add it all up, I would have to say that this series was an enormous success. Since I am so new, it would be hard for me to really know all the names to thank for making all this happen. But better than words of thanks, let me say that I hope to contribute A LOT to the community in the future and get involved in growing the sport.

So now we’re back to numbers. How should the club grow? It is much more than just about adding more bodies, at least to me. It is about adding the RIGHT people. People who would rather come in second than knock down a fellow racer. People who would offer you anything they had with them if you needed it, even their bike, as long as you brought it back. People who will offer support, a smile, and cheers to the slowest racer in the slowest race not because they “should”, but because that’s just the kind of people they are. And THOSE are the kind of numbers I can really get behind!

The Top 10 American Motocrossers of All Time

Hey everybody, it’s another Top 10 List! Just what the world was asking for, I know. Another good excuse for an argument between moto-buddies. But hey, this one’s pretty good. At least in my opinion. This is my list of the Top 10 American Motocross Racers of All Time. You may agree or disagree, but this is MY list. You can go make your own!

I tried not to make this a “favorite racer list”. For example, Tony Distefano was a three-time back-to-back 250cc National Champion AND one of my favorites. He did NOT make this list, but he would have definitely made a Top 20 List. There are some racers who I was quite surprised to see near the top. In order to be more objective I did use hard numbers as criteria.

Here are the objective criteria I used.

  • Number of National Moto Wins, including Supercross (includes 250sx East & West) and the old 125cc Class
  • Number of USA Championships, including Supercross (includes 250sx East & West) and the old 125cc Class
  • Number of FIM World Championships

I then added some additional, more subjective, metrics. I wanted to reward racers for their impact on the sport and the historical significance of what they did.

Here are some of the subjective criteria I used.

  • Historical Significance
  • Career Longevity
  • Influence on the Sport

I put all this in a spreadsheet and weighted the criteria to create a balanced scoring metric. (by the way, my real job, besides this blog, is as a Data Analyst at HP) I assumed that I would tend to lean towards the racers from the 70’s, since that’s when I raced, but the objective criteria actually created a somewhat balanced list. However, it is light on racers from the 90’s. Four of the racers had their peak years from the mid-70’s to the early 80’s. Two are from the mid-80’s to early 90’s, and four are from the modern era of the late 90’s all the way to 2017.

When you think of something like historical significance, that will naturally lean towards the racers from the infancy of the sport. Motocross is a European sport, just as baseball is an American sport. Those few who broke through the European dominance and set the stage for American supremacy should be recognized for that. So that’s probably why it’s light on racers from the 90’s. Also, as you go back in time racers would race more than one class, and there were more classes. There were 500cc, 250cc, and 125cc outdoor National Championship series back then. Rare are the racers who won championships in all three classes, like Jeff Ward and Broc Glover did, but it DID happen back then. From the 90’s forward there was much more specialization. Some racers started to stick to one class their entire career and some are good at Supercross, but not outdoor Motocross, and vice-versa.

I have to note that the most dominant Supercross racer ever, Jeremy McGrath is not on this list. Despite his phenomenal success in Supercross he never had significant success in the outdoor Nationals. Again, he would easily make a Top 20 List. He probably belongs here, but impact on the sport overall and lack of strong competition during that period made me think twice. If you have him on your list I wouldn’t argue with you.

I know that there are a lot of worthy American motocross legends left off this list. The names and faces go around my brain like a whirlwind. But in order to come up with the Top 10 All Time I had to forget about all that and really take the time to look at the numbers. Doesn’t mean that these are the fastest American racers ever, or even the most popular. Danny Chandler was probably the fastest racer I ever saw, when he wasn’t crashing his brains out. But that’s for another list. These are the racers who either dominated their era to some degree in terms of sheer wins and championships, or made history by doing something no one else had ever done. The sport of motocross is, therefore, eternally indebted to these elite racers. The Top 10 American Motocross Racers of All Time…


# 10. Kent Howerton

National MX Championships:        3
National MX Race Wins:                23

The Rhinestone Cowboy, so named for his love of colorful tennis shoes, was a favorite of mine. He had a long, successful career. Howerton was one of a group of legendary riders out of Texas which included Wyman Priddy, Steve Stackable, and Steve Wise. He earned his titles on Husqvarna and Suzuki, like many others of that era. Great style and grace, but also a relentless and extremely fit competitor. At the time of his retirement in 1984, he was second on the all-time AMA 250cc motocross win list. His battles with Bob Hannah are the stuff of legend.

#10 was the hardest decision. Eli Tomac is almost there, as well as a few other choices.


#9. Brad Lackey

National MX Championships          1
National MX Race Wins                  16
World MX Championships              1

Some might be surprised to find “Bad” Brad Lackey here in #9. I weighted the criteria for World Championships and Impact on the Sport very highly. Since he didn’t race many Nationals or Supercross it hurt his overall score. But it is hard to deny that Brad may have had more of an impact than any American racer in mx history. In the early 70’s the idea of an American winning the FIM 500cc World Championship seemed like an impossible dream. Decoster, Mikkola, Wolsink, and Weil dominated and were years ahead of any Americans. After winning the very first AMA National 500cc Championship in 1972, he set his sights on the FIM World Championship. In 1982, after coming so close so many times, Lackey would finally achieve his dream and win the 500cc title. He is still the only American to ever win the 500cc FIM World Championship. His impact on American motocross is immeasurable.


#8. Broc Glover

National MX Championships         6
National MX Race Wins                  35

Broc Glover had a very impressive career. Broc earned six AMA National Motocross Championships, a record which stood for nearly 20 years until 2003, when Ricky Carmichael finally eclipsed the mark. Glover won all of his titles riding for Yamaha, creating an iconic image for that era. Glover won the 125cc National Championship in his first full year riding as a pro in 1977. He defended his crown in 1978 and 1979. He moved to the 500cc class in 1981 and won the national championship in his first year. He added 500cc championships in 1983 and 1985. When he retired after the 1988 season, Glover held the AMA all-time wins record in both AMA 125cc motocross and 500cc motocross.


#7. Ricky Johnson

National MX Championships          7
National MX Race Wins                  33
Supercross Championships            2
Supercross Race Wins                    28

Ricky Johnson was a racer’s-racer. When I think of flat-out, balls-to-the-wall guys Rick easily comes to mind. Johnson dominated the 1987 season, winning both the 250 and 500 crowns. In 1987, he also won what is considered to be one of Supercross history’s greatest races in the Super Bowl of Motocross at the L.A. Coliseum. After crashing in the first corner Johnson came back from near dead last to pass Jeff Ward, and eventually privateer Guy Cooper, on the penultimate lap to seize the win. Johnson followed this performance by adding the 1988 Supercross and 500cc National titles to his name. Rick started the 1989 season strongly but suffered a serious injury when he broke his wrist in a practice session. He would never fully recover from the injury. He soldiered on for a few more seasons but the injury proved too debilitating. He announced his retirement at the beginning of the 1991 season. At the time of his retirement from motocross racing at age 26, he was the all-time leader in Supercross victories.


#6. Ryan Villopoto

National MX Championships        10
National MX Race Wins                   31
Supercross Championships             5
Supercross Race Wins                     52

Ryan Villopoto is one of those guys who comes from a moto family and grew up on bikes. Extraordinary drive and will to win are what stands out to me. He put in some of the most impressive performances ever at the Motocross des Nations. Never one to seek the limelight, RV was somewhat private and guarded during his heyday. This may have limited his popularity somewhat. But throughout much of his career he was THE fastest racer around, just like Eli Tomac is currently. If only his run at the 450cc FIM World Championship had occurred a couple years earlier. He might have joined Brad Lackey as the only American to win it.


#5. Bob Hannah

National MX Championships          6
National MX Race Wins                  37
Supercross Championships             3
Supercross Race Wins                     27

Bob Hannah is an original. He would be very happy to know that I ranked him ahead of Howerton. He burst upon the scene like a banshee n 1976, leaving other racers in his wake. Brash, bold, and rebellious, he always went his own way. His race wins and championships alone would put him on this list, but it’s also his personality and the huge impact he had on the sport. He was the one you either loved or hated, yet couldn’t ignore. And that’s just the way he wanted it.


#4. Jeff Ward

National MX Championships          5
National MX Race Wins                  36
Supercross Championships             3
Supercross Race Wins                     23

Jeff Ward did it ALL, then he did a whole lot more. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Ward’s family moved to the United States when he was four years old. The diminutive Ward was a mini-bike star before bursting onto the scene in 1984 with the first of his many national titles on a 125. A year later, in 1985, he won both the 250cc and 500cc championships in the same year! In 15 seasons, Ward won a total of 56 national races placing him third on the all-time AMA motocross/Supercross win list at the time of his retirement. He won a total of seven AMA national championships, tying Bob Hannah and Ricky Johnson for the most career motocross and Supercross championships at the time of his retirement. In international motocross competition, Ward was a member of seven winning U.S. Motocross des Nations teams. Since retiring from professional mx he went on to a very successful career in Indy Car and off-road truck competition. Look up “racing” in your encyclopedia and you’ll probably find a picture of Ward smiling at you.


#3. Ryan Dungey

National MX Championships:         7
National MX Race Wins:                 46
Supercross Championships             5
Supercross Race Wins                     46

Regardless of your opinion of Ryan, his numbers and consistency set him apart. He is third on the list of all-time moto wins. He was Mr. Consistency throughout his career. Rarely thought of as the fastest rider, nobody can deny his accomplishments over such a prolonged period of time. He had tremendous skill and was a natural, and set the gold standard as an ambassador for the sport. I am somewhat surprised he is this high on the list. But, if I am being objective, it makes sense.


#2. James Stewart

National MX Championships:         5
National MX Race Wins:                 28
Supercross Championships             4
Supercross Race Wins                     68

I originally had James lower on this list. After looking at the numbers again and considering his impact, the spreadsheet put him here in second place. Some will put him at #1, while others will think he doesn’t belong on the list at all. Bubba was/is polarizing, that’s for sure. I was never a huge fan myself, personally, but that shouldn’t matter. I hated Bob Hannah. No one can deny Stewart’s impact on the sport. Andy Jefferson was the first black American to qualify for a Supercross main event in 1982. But very few know his name, as he did not go on to great success. James Stewart, on the other hand, is rightly recognized as the first African American Motocross Superstar. Not unlike what Tiger Woods did for golf, Bubba did for motocross. When he burst onto the scene he blew everyone away with his style of riding and sheer speed. He essentially created the scrub, dubbed the “Bubba Scrub”, that would revolutionize the way racers jumped from there forward. I remember during his peak watching Supercross races and asking my wife afterwards to guess who won. She knew nothing about Supercross, but would always say “that Stewart guy”. He was a household name, and she was usually right. A series of poor decisions, including a drug suspension by the FIM, and a tendency to crash in turns hampered what could have been an even greater career.


#1. Ricky Carmichael

National MX Championships         16
National MX Race Wins                 102
Supercross Championships             6
Supercross Race Wins                     60

Referred to by many as the G.O.A.T., Ricky Carmichael eclipses all other American racers in sheer numbers. More races wins and championships than anyone, not even close. And he did it indoors AND outdoors, something which kept Jeremy McGrath off this list. His sheer dominance prevented a great many successful and talented racers from ever winning a title. The only racer to have three perfect seasons, one on a Kawasaki 125 and two on Hondas, there shouldn’t be any argument here. Just look at those numbers. Case closed.

HEROES: KENT HOWERTON

I always hated the Dallas Cowboys. I was born in San Jose, CA, so of course I was a 49er fan. I was a 49er fan way before they were any good. Which was a LONG time. Before Montana came along it was a long string of failures, with just enough decent years to build up your hopes. But once they started winning I really hated Dallas. And, of course, Cowboy fans hated the 49ers. It was expected. Hard to blame them, for all the years they had to suffer at the hands of Rice, Lott, and Joe Cool.

These same type of loyalties also exist in the motocross world, either in the form of favorite riders or beloved bike brands. Sometimes, well many times, it is as simple as a favorite color. Red, Yellow, Green, Orange, or Blue. Take your pick. For me, it all started with Roger Decoster and Joel Robert. Then there was Heikki Mikkola and Gerrit Wolsink, aka the “Flying Dentist”. This was before American racers were able to compete at that level. In the late 60’s and early 70’s you admired and cheered for Americans, but you worshipped at the shrine of the Europeans. They were Gods whose every move was followed in the pages of Motocross Action Magazine.

So I was naturally disposed to be a Husqvarna and Suzuki fan based upon the brands raced by my heroes. My first mx bike was a Suzuki TM125 and I had a couple Husqvarnas also. Once the American racers finally caught up to the Europeans, towards the end of Decoster’s career, these loyalties continued. One of my favorite American motocross heroes from this period was Kent Howerton. Kent rode both Husqvarna and Suzuki to 500cc and 250cc championships. He was one of a group of legendary riders out of Texas which included Wyman Priddy, Steve Stackable, and Steve Wise.

Something about Howerton always stood out to me. He always seemed to be smiling in photos. He had tremendous style. One of my favorite photographs of all time is one I took of him wheelieing his Husky up a steep hill at Sears Point. You can see this photo at the top of the page. He had the nickname “The Rhinestone Cowboy”, because he liked flashy tennis shoes. I always thought it was a mismatched nickname, as he was humble and unpretentious and tough as nails. When other guys were melting in the intense summer heat he just kept going. And he was fast, really fast.

A fifteen year career in professional motocross is a long one. Most careers are a small fraction of that. In all Kent won 32 career AMA nationals and when he retired in the mid-1980s, he was second on the all-time AMA 250cc Motocross win list. In addition, he was the 1980 AMA Pro Athlete of the Year; a two-time winner of the 250cc United States Grand Prix; a two-time member of the American Motocross des Nations team and twice winner of the ABC Wide World of Sports Superbikers competition.

When I was a 17 year-old kid I took a photo of Kent at Hangtown. The year was 1976. That photo was published in Motocross Action Magazine! Pretty much the highlight of my entire high school experience. All those hours in the darkroom at Vaca High were mostly devoted to motocross photos, regardless of Mr. Swinerton’s assignments. That photo is the black and white photo above.

Kent Howerton always did things the right way and raced with fierce determination, but with class as well. He will always be remembered by me as one of my favorite racers ever. If I were to have a beer with any two racers from that time period it would be Howerton and Distefano. Don’t ask me why. Just something about people like that, people whose character is revealed by adversity. And is proven to be worthy of admiration.

PNW Vintage MX – Round 6 @ Eugene MX Park

— Lawrence Wernik —
—Reporting LIVE on my experience at Round 6 of the PNW Vintage MX Series at Eugene Motocross Park—

This is only the third vintage race I have ever entered. For all three races a good friend of mine has put me on one of his bikes, a 1981 YZ 465. I really love that bike and we have definitely bonded, but more on that later…

My first observation for the day was how awesome Portland, Oregon, traffic is at 7am on a Sunday! My second observation was that the Willamette Valley is so very flat. It is so flat you wonder how a mighty river can possibly flow through it. My destination was Territorial MX Park in Eugene, Oregon. Never having been there I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was told this was a beautiful facility, but descriptions don’t do it justice. Very nice track laid out in the rolling hills with plenty of trees all around. Very different than what you see in the flat valley one mile away.

Upon entering the facility, it was very apparent that all the riders and spectators alike take this “Race for A Cure” very seriously. There was Pink everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE, including pink tutu’s and pink streamers laced through the spokes of wheels on bikes. Even the checkered flag was pink! I wasn’t really expecting that, but next time I will have to step up my game and get my pink on.

Rider’s Meetings are usually not a highlight of any MX race. This was a little different. It’s not often you see every single rider attend a riders meeting. Of course, all the normal race track stuff was covered, but then some reps from the American Cancer Society spoke about the alarming numbers of women diagnosed with breast cancer in Oregon. Skeet Hise, who was recently awarded by the club for his splendid work, also had some emotional words to share. He spoke of his cancer-surviving friend, who was also in attendance. I am sure I am not the only one in the crowd fighting back some tears. That turned out to be an amazing gathering of friends.

It is so great to be able to engage in your passion for racing, while doing and experiencing something truly meaningful at the same time. There was a pink MX boot for donations, and of course all the money raised went directly to the Cancer Society. I would also like to offer a big shout-out to Skeet, Oley Glover, Willie Parish, and Linda Parish for all they do. Great people. And did I mention the BBQ? No? It was epic! The best potluck BBQ ever. Truly amazing!

And now, back to the track with your trusty reporter. No fake news here. Did I mention that the track was awesome? No? Well, the track was awesome! The crew did an amazing job of changing the normal layout to accommodate all the Vintage, Evolution, and Revolution bikes. They ripped it up and watered the heck out of it. It is a high-speed track with tons of elevation changes. It really is a fun track! The one common thing I heard from others was that it was very fast. And I would have to agree. I almost blew through a few corners.

Over 20 motos of Vintage, Revolution, and Evolution classes made for some great racing, as you would expect. It blew my mind watching all this amazing “old” equipment getting put to use as it was intended (and sometimes not intended) to be. To see a twin shock bike with minimal suspension travel and a down pipe railing corners and getting hucked is so bad ass!!!

I love this vintage racing and I love this community. Every event seems to be full of surprises, good friends, and great experiences. Now, back to that bike. I have been racing that 1981 YZ 465 Yamaha and feel very comfortable on it. Well, the #22 Yamaha was made available for me to buy! Of course, I jumped right on it. I am in! I just bought a 37 year old dirt bike. Like me, it may have some years on it, but it is still full of life and ready to go. Looking forward to more great experiences on that bike, and in the community. Life is good. See you at the track!

photos by KATHY PATTERSON and STEVE COLLEEN MILES

The Definitive Guide to “Vintage Motocross”

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends…

Much about what is defined as Vintage Motocross is about drawing a line in the sand. No, not a line for a rubber band starting gate, but a line to determine what IS and what ISN’T Vintage Motocross. This can be a cause of controversy and division, as some people hold to an immovable definition which excludes certain technological advances. Makes sense. At a certain point it’s not Vintage motocross anymore, it’s just motocross. On the other hand, club sizes and race attendance tends to drop over time as there are fewer of these 40+ year old motorcycles available to race, not to mention fewer old-timers who remember racing these bikes. Nostalgia often limits itself to ones youthful personal experiences. As the baby boom generation ages there will be fewer and fewer people who remember racing these old bikes. This causes some to want to continue moving the line to attract more racers. But more on that later. Let’s first review the different eras of motocross technology as they relate to generally established vintage motocross classes.


PREMIER CLASS – When Dinosaurs Roamed The Earth  [Pre-1968]

Different organizations may call this different things. The America Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) calls it Premier and limits it to pre-1965 bikes. Cal Vet MX calls it Premier and it is pre-1968. Pacific Northwest Vintage MX (PNWVMX), as well as other clubs, does not have a designated class here. So for some clubs most of these racers will just race in the Vintage Class. However clubs will often have some special class, such as four-stroke 150cc, to attract a broader range of motorcycles.

During this era the Open Class was completely dominated by four-stroke bikes made by BSA, Monarch, Husqvarna, Crescent, and Lito. The 250cc Class was where the two-stroke revolution started with lightweight and powerful bikes from European manufacturers Maico, Jawa, CZ, Husqvarna, and Greeves. This two-stroke fever would spread to the Open Class over the course of the late 60’s. The Premier Class is distinguished from the others by a dearth of Japanese machinery. This is before the Japanese Big Four started building dedicated MX bikes, so any Japanese bikes here will be converted trail bikes like the Yamaha DT series.


INTER-AM CLASS – Two-Stroke Comets = Four-Stroke Extinction  [Pre-1972]

Not all vintage racing organizations have this class, and some call it something else. PNWVMX calls it Inter-Am. Cal Vet MX calls it Classic, which is somewhat confusing as that term is in some places being adopted for the larger overall sport, since “Vintage” is a specific class. It is for bikes that were manufactured before 1972, or sometime just before the traditional cut-off for the “Vintage” class of 1974. The bikes here are primarily European brands like Husqvarna, Monarch, CZ, and Maico, but this is the time when the Japanese MX motorcycles first emerged. In 1968 the Suzuki TM250 was the first Japanese purpose-built MX bike for sale to the public, although only 50 were shipped to the USA. That same year Penton bikes started production. By 1970 a new TM250 would make Suzuki the first of the Big Four to the mass market with a MX bike. Yamaha came out with an MX250 and MX360 in 1972, predecessors to the YZ series. It wasn’t until 1973 that Honda introduced the Elsinore 250.

This time also marks the transition from large displacement four-strokes weighing in excess of 320 pounds to nimble and light two-strokes a hundred pounds lighter. From 1957 to 1964 the 500cc FIM World Championship was dominated exclusively by four-stroke bikes from BSA, Monark, Crescent, Matchless, Husqvarna, and Lito. In 1965 CZ cracked the top 3 in the 500cc class with a 360cc two-stroke machine. Paul Friedrichs would go on to win three consecutive championships in 1966-1968 on that bike. By 1970 two-strokes would take the top three spots in the 500cc class for the first time. The 250cc class was dominated by two-strokes from the beginning in 1962. The players were CZ, Husqvarna, Jawa, and Greeves. BSA 250cc four-strokes were still competitive that first year, with Jeff Smith and Arthur Lampkin taking 2nd and 3rd place. But after that it is all two-stroke.


VINTAGE CLASS – From Europe to the USA  [Pre-1974]

This class is where it all began. This is the time when the top European motocross racers came to the USA to compete against the Americans and the sport exploded in popularity. The AHRMA calls this “Classic” and the years are a little different. Most other clubs have this class, although the years may vary slightly. Some use pre-1975 as the cutoff. Also, many modern motocross series will schedule a Vintage exhibition race to attract more riders and spectators. This class is the meat of the Vintage/Classic/Historic Motocross scene.

If you look at motocross bikes through 1973/1974 you see the peak of European brands such as CZ, Maico, Bultaco, Montessa, and others. By the time the mid-80’s come around most of these brands are all but dead, or alive in name only. You also see the full involvement of the Japanese brands with iconic bikes that were very well-received. Kawasaki was the last of the Japanese brands to release a dedicated motocross bike, but they had a lot of success prior to that with the Green Streak and Centurion. With the Kawasaki KX, first released in 1974, all four of the Big Four now had purpose-built MX bikes. So in the Vintage Class you generally see Maico, CZ, Husqvarna, Bultaco, Ossa, Penton, Hodaka, and more going against the first generation of the Suzuki TM, Yamaha MX/YZ, Honda Elsinore, and Kawasaki KX. If you started racing in the early 70’s, like I did, these are the bikes you remember seeing at the track when you were young.

So why is the cutoff for the Vintage Class held hard at 1973-1975? As I mentioned earlier, this was the first generation of Japanese MX bikes going up against the established European brands. The primary technology distinguishing factors are air-cooled motors, drum brakes, no shock linkage, and limited suspension. Some clubs require rear shock travel to be no more than 4″ and fork travel to be no more than 7″. Although bikes would continue with air-cooling and drum brakes after 1974, suspension travel and power increased exponentially from 1975 on.


TRANS-AM CLASS – Filling the Gap  [1975-1976]

Again, not all clubs have this class. However, many do have some type of class here as this allows a filler between the Vintage and Evolution classes. Vintage generally ends at 1973/1974 and Evolution doesn’t start until 1977 or so. The qualifications tend to be the same as Vintage Class, as far as brakes, air-cooling, no linkage. The difference being no suspension travel limitations. This is a time when suspension travel increased greatly, but most other technology was still evolving.


EVOLUTION CLASS – The Evolution of Modern Motocross  [pre-1981]

The Vintage, Evolution, and Revolution are the big three classes in historic motocross racing. Many clubs/series will just focus on these three. The main distinguishing factor is the elimination of suspension travel limits, just as with the Trans-Am class. Some clubs call this “Post Vintage” and this is the limit of how far they will go in regards to classic motocross. The cutoff is generally 1981.

The very first water-cooled motocross bike was released at the end of this time period. This bike was the Yamaha 1981 YZ125. By separating classes into pre-1974 and pre-1981 you end up with competitive racing and a fairly level playing field. While the changes in technology from 1974 to 1981 are limited primarily to suspension travel and handling, radical changes would come post 1981. At this time we still have drum brakes and air-cooling. But it was longer and more sophisticated suspension that would make a big impact to race speed and track development.

This class is dominated by Honda CRs, Yamaha YZs, Kawasaki KXs, and Suzuki RMs. This is true of the 125cc, 250cc, and Open classes. But Husqvarna, Maico, and KTM were producing some excellent bikes into 1981 which are capable of winning Evolution Class races.


REVOLUTION 1 (REVO) CLASS – You Say You Want a Revolution…  [pre-1987]

The Revolution Class is so named due to the radical changes in motocross technology that occurred in this time. Water-cooled engines, disc brakes, shock linkage, and power-valves propelled this revolution. By now the European brands, with the very notable exception of KTM, had all but disappeared from the scene. KTM started gaining momentum during this time and helped fill some of the holes in the Euro offerings, but the Japanese Big Four ruled the off-road motorcycle racing world.

During this time Supercross had grown to the point of eclipsing the outdoor Nationals. This is when the high-flying aerobatics that are a huge part of modern motocross became prevalent. With water-cooling engines could become more powerful. Radical suspension technology using complicated valving, inverted forks, shock linkage, and even air allowed motocross racers to do things that were previously impossible. This truly was a revolutionary time.


REVOLUTION 2 CLASS – Where do we go from here?  [pre-1997]

So after the revolution, now what? Well things didn’t stand still in the MX world, that’s for sure. Bikes continued to develop and improve. Yet in the ten years from 1987 to 1997 the changes were much more evolutionary than revolutionary. Suspension travel can only get so long. It’s hard to ride a bike that sits four feet in the air. Engine power can only improve so much. Ever hear a KX500 owner wish he had MORE power? Of course not. A 1987 motocross bike could be raced competitively against a 1997 motocross bike. But the gap from 1997 to today is very significant.

A 1997 YZ 250 would not do well against modern 250cc bikes. So this class exists to offer bikes of that era an opportunity to compete on a level field. There are those in the Vintage MX community who are very against the idea of opening up the sport to this modern of a bike. Like I said earlier, at a certain point it isn’t Vintage anymore. But this isn’t Vintage, it Revo 2. Here we introduce the idea of coming up with new terminology to describe this subset of motocross this sport we love so well. The entire umbrella under which everything sits under should be either “Classic” or “Historic” Motocross. This would be a difficult change for most. Vintage describes it better and sounds better, but if time periods are going to continue to expand the Vintage Class, pre-1974, needs to be preserved. If you have Classic Motocross, with Vintage, Evolution, and Revolution racing classes you would have most of the bases covered and it would all be easily explainable. Classic Motocross is old mx racing with different classes. Vintage Class is the really old stuff, Evolution Class is the kind-of old stuff, and Revolution Class is the newer stuff. Very simple. We’ll see how far that goes. And we’ll have to see where we go from here…

PNW Vintage MX – Northwest Challenge 2018

VINTAGE MX @ WASHOUGAL
August 18th-19th, 2018

Where can you find more smoke than at a Portland, Oregon cannabis festival? Where will you hear more missed shifts than at a 60’s Volkswagen Beetle parade? Where can you distinctly smell the assorted brands of two-stroke pre-mix oils wafting by you and recognize them, all while amazing yourself that these things still exist in your memory? And where can you have more fun than a barrel full of Maico’s? It must be Vintage Motocross at Washougal, Washington!

This is an annual event hosted and managed by the PACIFIC NORTHWEST VINTAGE MOTOCROSS club. Each year they host a series of seven races in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The Washougal event is two days packed full of an amazing number and variety of classes all celebrating “the good old days”, whenever those days may have occurred. While the first day is focused on the older bikes, especially the Vintage classes, the second day is mostly the Evo and Revo classes. If you can name the brand and model of motocross bike from just about any era it was there on full display. CZ, Maico, Husqvarna (the Swedish/real one), Bultaco, Montessa, Penton, Hodaka, Monarch, and others all joined in with the Japanese Big Four and KTM’s. I especially enjoyed those racers who went all out and outfitted themselves with leathers, Jofa face guards, and vintage jerseys. Very cool.

While the races used to be held on a grass field, fire danger has prevented that from happening the past few years. Now it is on the world-famous motocross track. The first day saw significant changes to the track that most of us know from racing there or watching the Nationals. Horsepower Hill was cut off about a third of the way up and sent off to the left. The part of the track way up the top, and to the left, was removed. The infamous Washougal Whoops were also left out on day one. However, everything except the top left part of the track was added back in on day two. This made for some great passing opportunities and exciting races. There was definitely something for everyone. An impressive eighteen classes on day one and twenty on day two went as smoothly as can be expected, though the whoops did claim their fair share of victims.

A very big part of the weekend was raising funds for a charity to support JAN BABENDERERDE, an important and beloved member of the classic MX community who suffered severe injuries while racing. Jan had old friends, seldom seen acquaintances, and perfect strangers coming up to him all throughout the two days. Some just wanted to say hi and to see how he was doing. Most of them wanted to give him a hug. Some weren’t sure if they should, while others just jumped right in. I am sure he appreciated the sincere outpouring of love that was evident. The track announcers did an excellent job of reminding everyone of the charity, even though they did it with varying pronunciations of Jan’s last name. All kidding aside, it’s always good to hear Brian Barnes’ voice and see him out there doing what he does best.

If you want to know who “The Man” was over the course of the weekend, it was definitely Tommy Weeck. He rode a variety of bikes in several classes, including a Husqvarna CR125 from way back in the day. He rode that Husky to a 1-1 finish in the Pomeroy Cup race. He pulled ahead of the pack in each of his races and squeezed every last ounce of motocross capability out of his various well-aged bikes. It was a sight to behold. There were other local legends in attendance as well. Ryan Huffman won the 250 Vintage Expert class on a Husqvarna. Warren Reid and Scott Burnworth were other recognizable names lining up to do battle on Ryan’s Washougal course.

As much as I enjoyed watching the Pros, there was joy in seeing all these old bikes, and old riders, out there doing things that bring back good memories. Maybe those memories were from the late 60’s. Maybe they were from the 70’s, like mine are. For some maybe even the 80’s and 90’s. This was a place to relive ALL those memories, as well as make NEW ONES. However, the TRULY AMAZING THING that struck me is that this racing and these bikes appeal to YOUNG PEOPLE as well! Something about the simplicity of the bikes and the ease of repair engages them. Something about the atmosphere, that is more mellow and inviting than a modern-day motocross race, welcomes them. Something about their fellow racers who aren’t just out to win, but there to have fun together as a larger group, appeals to them. They are able to latch on to the NOSTAGIA of vintage motocross without ever having lived through it! Think about that for a second. In the same way that classic rock and roll has spanned and bridged generations, classic motocross is doing that as well. This bodes well for the future of the sport and is a very good sign for those of us who know and love the mx bikes and mx culture of our youth. WHENEVER that may have been.

CLICK HERE TO SEE EVENT PHOTOS

HEROES: JIMMY WEINERT

Like Tony Distefano, one of his primary rivals, Mitchell Nelson Weinert was the son of a motorcycle dealer and started racing from a young age. Also like Distefano, he got his start on a CZ before signing with a Japanese brand. Early in his career he split time his time between dirt track oval racing and motocross, just like another rival of that era Jim Pomeroy. But don’t confuse “Jammin’ Jimmy” Weinert with any other racer. He was a breed all his own.

His nickname, “Jammin’ Jimmy,” or “The Jammer,” came from then-editor of Cycle News Gary Van Voorhis. During a Florida winter national race, Weinert got a bad start and quickly moved up in the field. As Van Voorhis described it, “He jammed his way to the front.” The next week’s headline read “Jammin’ Jimmy” and the nickname stuck. A serious crash on the dirt track convinced him to stick to motocross. Good decision. Jimmy Weinert is a larger than life personality, one of many that arose in the burgeoning motocross scene of the 70’s. Never one to back down from a challenge, he had a reputation as a tenacious and intelligent racer. Off the track he was the life of the party and always went out of his to make people laugh. He was well-known in the pits for his guitar playing and singing and prank-playing.

In an eleven year career he racked up an impressive total of 22 AMA National Motocross race wins and three AMA National championships. Weinert became the first American to beat the international riders in the Trans-AMA Motocross Series in 1973. That victory marked one of the turning points that brought American motocross up to par with the then-dominant Europeans. For that reason alone he is an American Motocross Hero and deserves all the respect due.

I took this picture at Sears Point in 1977.

Marty Smith – Hangtown 1976

I took these two photos at Hangtown in 1976. If you know your moto history this was a pivotal moment in the lives of two legends.

Marty Smith was all but crowned 125 National Champion before the season even started in 1976. He was the James Dean of American MX in the mid-70’s, a star unlike any other. Marty was the two-time 125cc defending champion and wasn’t expected to have much competition, but some guy named Bob Hannah came along and turned everything upside down. In the first moto Hannah, coming from last place, rode an absolutely insane race, and was on the verge of disaster the whole time. When he passed Smith nine laps later the mantle had been passed, and Marty would never win another 125 National.

I took these now historical photos during the second moto. Hannah got a much better start and they had a great battle for quite a few laps until Hannah started to pull away. This is the moment on the back straightaway where Smith’s Honda, and any hopes of being as fast as Hannah that year, went up in smoke. Well, make that steam. After several futile jabs at his kick-start lever he walked slowly back to the pits all alone. Remember it like it was yesterday.

HEROES: TONY DISTEFANO

I was never a fan of the CZ. I can’t dent that they were very fast. But they just seemed poorly made and the transmissions were crap. Plus, who could ride a bike made by “commies”? Also, being a native Californian, I trusted no one east of the Mason/Dixon line. My favorite racers were either West Coast guys like Lackey, Pomeroy, “Magoo” Chandler, Smith, and LaPorte or Texans like Howerton, Wise, and Stackable. So how did I become a huge fan of a CZ rider from Pennsylvania? To know the answer to that question is to learn about the life and times of the one and only “Tony D”.

Tony was a racers racer, if you know what I mean. His father owned a motorcycle shop and Tony grew up around bikes. He not only raced, but he always worked on his own bikes, even after he turned pro. After rising through the local ranks as an amateur he began his pro career on a CZ as a privateer in 1973 at the tender age of 16. In only his second year he would lead the 1974 500cc AMA National MX Championship for most of the season while living in the back of his van and welding his CZ frame back together with coat hangars. A late season injury allowed factory Kawasaki rider Jimmy Weinert to win that title instead. Although this would be just a short setback it was a foreshadowing of the extraordinary bad luck that would strike him at various points in his career and life. But not before he dominated American motocross like few before or since. In 1975 Tony would change to factory Suzuki and would go on to win three consecutive 250cc National Championships. His dominance in the golden age of American motocross was something to behold. He would also win the Inter-AMA series in 1975 against the best Europeans.

I always liked racers with style. Brad Lackey and Jim Pomery were the head-down, hard-charging type, who would always hit stuff head-on and fast. Bob Hannah and Danny “Magoo” Chandler were the crazy, feet-off-the-pegs guys, who always rode on the edge. Then there were guys like Danny LaPorte, Marty Smith, and Kent Howerton who just had style for miles and always looked good. Tony Distefano was none of those. Although he was incredibly fast, he had no style whatsoever. Bob Hannah would say “Tony rode a bike, basically like a sack of potatoes”. He gained what he earned through sheer hard work and determination. Something about that spirit made him quite endearing. I was an immediate fan.

I would follow Tony’s every move through issues of Motocross Action Magazine and Dirt Bike Magazine. He always seemed to be smiling or laughing in photos. His humility, down-to-earth personality, and sense of humor contrasted greatly against the backdrop of his dominance for those few short years. On the track he was a bulldog who wouldn’t let go. He was the very first racer to come out with his own line of motocross gear. “Full House” it was called. As Marty Smith would later say, “no, that was some pretty dorky clothing”. Jody Weisel just called it “horrid”. And yes, everyone knew it didn’t look good. However, there was nothing like it, just like Tony. It was also not very form fitting, which only made him look fatter than he actually was. And he didn’t really look like a motocrosser to begin with.

And that bad luck I was talking about earlier? He left team Suzuki after becoming disillusioned with the life of a professional motocross racer. In an epic case of stupidity Suzuki engineers allowed Tony to race Supercross with a known defect in the factory triple-clamps. In a well-known crash at the Dallas Supercross these triple-clamps would break off as he landed from a double. It was a bad crash. He had the track doctor sew up the gash in his face so he could watch the rest of the race from behind the starting line. A knee injury later that year made it look like his best years were behind him.

After a brief stint at Can Am he would attempt a comeback in 1979 on a Pro Circuit Husqvarna at the Anaheim Supercross. One week after an excellent outing at Anaheim, while working in his shop, he would injure and lose sight in one eye. Several surgeries later he did his best to come back and race again. He even got into the top 10 in the 500cc Nationals on a privateer Maico. He then started a motocross school and had a great reputation as a teacher.  Tragically while out practicing, he hit a tree root on the side of the track and was paralyzed in the ensuing crash. Amazingly, one year later, he was back teaching his motocross schools from the seat of an ATV. Never one to feel sorry for himself he always takes things in stride and makes the best of what life has given him.

But above all that, Tony is just a guy. Just a guy who would gladly talk to you from the back of his van in the pits, as long as you had something interesting to say and he wasn’t too busy. Just a guy who wanted nothing more than to beat everyone else at the game of motocross, and have fun doing it. Just a guy, who would rather do his celebrating at the bank than at the track. Just a guy who was as nice and funny and down-to-earth honest as they come, but who would tear your heart out if you dared line up against him on Sunday. And that’s why I will always love Tony D…

Jan Babenderede Charity Race video

Some sights and sounds from the recent charity race at Pacific Raceways to support a great fellow racer and brother…

Hangover Scramble 2017

“Not enough tear-offs in the world”

The 2017 Hangover Scramble at Washougal MX Park was an event to remember for all time. No words to describe the carnage, pain, and misery. And to think I was going to sign-up and ride, before I came to my senses and went to watch. Good Lord! Some incredibly talented and brave souls made the best of what was a brutal course.

Motorcycle Maintenance = Life

When I was 15 years old the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” came out. Having spent the majority of my high school daze in the garage working on any one of a large number of motorcycles, the title appealed to me. Maybe there was something meditative about working on bikes. Maybe all that pain and suffering at the hands of foreign-built machinery had some higher purpose in my spiritual evolution. But then again something about it seemed pretentious so I never read it. As we get older we lose our ability to spot pretentiousness. This skill is at its most refined in our teenage years. One reason why teenagers hate everything. I know I did.

To me motorcycle maintenance is an opportunity to experience the extremes of every emotion and physical reaction that we possess in a compact amount of time. There’s the obvious ones; patience, perseverance, creativity, and problem solving. There there’s the physical; busted knuckles, thrown objects, broken stuff, and cussing. Lots and lots of cussing. We can experience the very best AND the very worst of ourselves while fixing a motorcycle. So, it is not really a spiritual journey, but simply a reflection of our varied lives.

Working on a motorcycle is not art either. Unless you are some rich bastard just slapping a bunch of primo parts onto a frame that someone else powder-coated and someone else built the motor for. I am about as far away from that as possible. My goal, whether forced upon me or not, has always been to spend as little money as necessary. I guess that’s a big reason I still ride a two-stroke. One of the unwritten agreements I have with my wife is that I can have a dirt bike, as long as I don’t spend money on it. That suits me fine as I get satisfaction out of fixing things and doing my own work.

If motorcycle maintenance is neither a religious experience nor art, what is it? Motorcycle maintenance is life itself. Every single lesson of any value in life can be learned while wrenching. And what you do, or don’t do, in the garage is a reflection of the rest of your life. It is a mirror to your soul. Think of all the garage motorcycle mechanics you have known. They vary from meticulous, clean, neat, and thorough to lazy, sloppy, and careless. These descriptions apply not just to their mechanical skills, or lack thereof, but to all aspects of their life. Some people prefer to be alone. Others need company to keep them going. And, let’s admit it, some of us are just smarter than others. All these things play out on the garage floor the day before a big race trying to figure out a major problem.

So, the next time you are evaluating your friendships, or considering expanding your friends list, spend a little time with them working on their bike. You will learn everything you need to know in a fairly short period of time. Just remember though, your friends might be doing the same thing with you.

Memories, of the way it used to be…

Everyone who has raced motocross started out somewhere, and by somewhere I am referring to a specific track. By necessity this usually turns out to be the closest track to your home. For me this was a place called Argyll Raceway, otherwise known as Campbell’s Ranch, just outside the metropolis of Dixon, California. After graduating from high school in Vacaville I went to live and work in Dixon on an egg ranch with 30,000 chickens. And by “metropolis” I mean there was nothing there. Nothing. Well, 30,000 chickens anyway. Then if you went a little outside of Nothing you would find Argyll, on the way to the dump. Countless hours of my youth were spent driving to and from the track, racing there on weekends, and practicing during the week.

I cannot possibly tell you how many times I was there, from the time I was 15 on a brand new Suzuki TM125, to the late 70’s on my Husky CR360. My Dad was friends with old man Campbell and I went out many times on weekdays after school in my ’66 Chevy stepside. It has been over 40 years since I have been there, but I can still remember the rubber-band start, that first turn, the super tall tabletop, the long back straight, and especially the Matterhorn. Amazing that after all this time I can remember the whole track turn for turn.

It was usually hot and dry. And by hot I mean really hot. They had rice husks mixed in the dirt to loosen it up make it manageable, but it was always very windy out there and that rice husk was constantly blowing in your face. I raced the 100 class on my step brothers RM100, 125 class on my Suzuki TM, 250 class on my CR250 Mag Husky, and Open class on my CR360 Husky. The two Huskys I purchased from a good friend, Ted Rogers, who was one of the top CMC Pros. I saw so many legendary racers there. Danny “Magoo” Chandler stands out. There was always an electricity in the air when he raced, a feeling of impending doom. When he didn’t win he usually crashed. And nobody crashed like Magoo. So many races. So many years. So many memories.

I can understand why local pros, who are experts at a particular track, will often do well against established stars at that track. There is something to knowing every turn, every jump, every single little bump that gives you an advantage. I was able to turn this knowledge to my advantage from time to time, allowing faster riders to make mistakes that I avoided by taking a different line. I never did all that well, but I would guess Open Class was the best for me. That 360 hooked up so well. It had narrow gear ratios and I knew how to dump the clutch in second and launch straight as an arrow. That was the best part about that bike, as Husqvarna’s never were known for their cornering prowess.

Even after ALL THESE YEARS, in my dreams I still go back to that track. It is still there, here. I know it’s not the same. It may not have even been exactly as I remember it. Those memories are colored with my mind’s paintbrush, no one else’s. But those are memories that will stay with me forever. Nothing could take them away.

RYAN VILLOPOTO

Mark Simpson, June 4th, 2017

Went to Grays Harbor ORV today. The place is owned by 4 time Supercross champion and 5 time Motocross Champion, Ryan Villopoto. I printed some of my photos of him last night, hoping I might get to see him. He pulled up in a Kawasaki Mule and after waiting a minute I presented him with the photos and talked to him about his races at Washougal. For a world champion he is one of the most unassuming people you will ever meet. Usually when you meet someone of his stature they are aloof and have their noses in the air. Not Ryan. We all had a laugh because Mike went up to talk to him about the track, having no clue who he was, and Ryan was just as nice and humble as can be. As he left he thanked me for the photos. Pretty cool. Here are some of my best photos of RV…

Heroes: “BAD” BRAD LACKEY

Perhaps the first American motocrosser to rise up to the level of skill and dedication that the European riders had. Brad was always different, always going against the grain. Very charismatic and intelligent, he was once referred to as the James Dean of American motocross. A fierce competitor, he was the first American to head to Europe and take on the world’s best on their terms. Through a series of extreme challenges he would eventually become the first American World Champion. He gave all us American motocrossers hope and pride. He was just a bad-ass with the heart of a lion. Only saw him race twice. This photo is at the Sears Point Trans-AMA in 1977.

Great video about his amazing career here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPWikyxaW14

WASHOUGAL 2017, A PERSONAL ACCOUNT

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE…

By Mark Simpson

 

The Times They Are a-Changin’. These words, written and sung by a Nobel Poet Laureate named Bob, are a cautionary tale, a warning of what’s coming in the very near future. This was the theme in my head as I looked forward to the Washougal National of 2017. I have a lot of questions about the future of motocross, and dirt bikes in general, just as you do. With fuel injected two-strokes, increased regulations, and electric bikes coming along many changes are surely coming to the sport we love. Although I last raced seriously in the ‘70’s, which definitely qualifies me as old, I am not rigid in my thinking. I know that change is necessary, and just because something is old doesn’t make it better. It just makes it old.

I was away from the sport of motocross, and dirt bikes in general for over 30 years, but have come back in the past five years. Washougal is twenty minutes down the road from me and I have been to a few Nationals there. Since Washougal is the 9th race of a 12-race series things often seem scripted at this point. Not too many surprises this late in the season, as injuries have taken their toll and the front-runner pulls away. Yet this year hasn’t exactly played to script. No one single racer has stepped up to dominate, as the heir apparent at Kawasaki continues his trend of being his own worst enemy. The recent retirement of past dominant stars like Dungey, Villapoto and others, and the disappearance of the sensational James Stewart, has opened the doors for a new cast of heroes. So where exactly is the sport at now and what is happening with this new class of stars?

In order to get a gauge on how much motocross has changed since I attended Hangtown in 1976, I would need some kind of back-stage access. This is where my old buddy Ron Lawson would come in handy. Yes, THAT Ron Lawson, editor of this very fine website. Ron and I were part of small gang of dangerous (only to ourselves) but well-meaning moto misfits in the mid-’70s. When we weren’t riding or racing we were usually involved in all-night Risk (“the game of global domination”) battles, rafting down the Russian River, hanging out at the local cycle center, or playing pranks on each other. I re-connected with Ron recently on Facebook. Betting on the chance that he has finally forgiven me for the time I convinced him that WD-40 was the best thing to clean the bug-encrusted windshield on his beloved van, I hoped to attend this year’s event as a media member for the first time. This behind the scenes access would give me the answers I seek. And sure enough, Ron came through and off I went!

As I arrived on Friday, the day before the races, I first headed to the paddock. The team big-rigs were arrayed in all their glory. Tomac’s Kawasaki was one of the few bikes on display. It was extremely hot, but winds of change were blowing through the pits. The RCH Suzuki team had announced they were shutting down for good. The KTM tent was emblazoned with photos of their three riders, two of whom have recently retired. In general there was a lot of talk about next season and what changes might lay ahead. Amidst all this talk of change, this experience taught me some other things as well. The MX community is still very tight-knit and welcoming. The fans are as crazy as I remember them, evidenced by shotgun blasts at 3am and golf carts laden with young people racing through the campground area at breakneck speeds. And, of course, the obligatory monster truck burn-outs. I also see that it still rings true that 1st and 3rd place are smiling, while 2nd is pretty pissed off underneath the campaign-popping façade.

My heroes weren’t there racing on Saturday. Decoster, Howerton, Distefano, and Lackey are all just memories now. Yet as I watched the long lines of people queuing up for an autograph and selfie with Tomac, Musquin, and Cianciarulo I saw new a generation of stars worthy of moderated hero worship. I see a lot of good things in today’s MX stars and I am sure they are very good people in general, more so than many of the flawed heroes of yesterday. The throngs gathered around Trey Canard moved me. Although he has retired, his interaction with his fans was exemplary and I could see they truly loved and appreciated him. And, of course, the racing was just fantastic. Especially from my viewpoint on the other side of the fence.

So, my conclusion? Motocross will continue to evolve and change. But whether it’s electric bikes or hovercraft, or back to two-strokes, motocross will survive and thrive well into the future. And we will still go watch and be amazed by some the best racing events on the planet. As long as there are outdoor Nationals at legendary tracks like Washougal, Unadilla, and Hangtown motocross will go on. I look forward to another 30 years of Washougal, if I live that long. Motocross may not be exactly what it used to be, but it is alive and well. In summation, to quote another old rocker, “Rock is dead, long live rock!”.

 

Now what is going on with flat track?! I see that is making a comeback. Might have to go investigate…

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