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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…

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.

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.

Two-Stroke Glory: Reflecting On The Golden Age Of The 125

by Mark Swart

 

Why do racers who came up in the 80s and 90s get so misty-eyed every time we think about 125s? The answer is simple for this age group; we grew up in a sweet spot of history and technology that could easily be called the Golden Age of The 125.

Of course 125 two strokes were around long before my generation, but by the mid-80s a seismic shift was underway for 125s. This shift was driven in part by Supercross. In the early 80s, riders who wanted to race indoors jumped straight into the deep end of the premier 250 Class. Sensing a need for a better development system, promoters added 125s to the Supercross schedule as two separate regional support series. This is a format that we still follow to this day. Eddie Warren and Todd Campbell became the first East and West 125 Supercross Champions that year, and the stakes went up quickly as factories began to provide more and more emphasis on the class over the next few years.

At the Motocross Des Nations in 1986, Johnny O’Mara made the “statement heard around the world” for 125s: he hunted down 500cc World Champion David Thorpe’s full works RC 500 on a U.S. spec, production based CR 125. Charging the turns and out-braking the world champ, the O’Show ran through the pack to pass every other 500cc rider on the track except his teammate David Bailey. The ride was even more incredible because O’Mara hadn’t raced a 125 full-time for years, and the bike was borrowed from Honda’s 125 National Champion Micky Dymond. This historic ride opened a lot of eyes to what 125’s were capable of in the right hands.

Expanded Supercross exposure for 125’s meant more star power in the class. I’ll stand by the argument that Damon Bradshaw was the first true superstar of 125 Supercross. Groomed by Yamaha from a young age, this phenom skipped the “paying dues” mid-pack seasons when he turned pro and went straight to the front of the 125 SX class. Thanks to the production rule, kids my age got to see Damon and other pros running 125s in the big show that looked like almost like ours. If I had a dollar for every kid on a YZ 125 who wore Fox Zebra pants in 1989, well, let’s just say I could buy a lot of Fox Zebra pants! Money talks and the 125 rider demographic became a true consumer force, due in part to Damon’s star power.

As the 125s achieved a more serious role on the professional scene, they also provided a manageable and natural progression from the 80cc bikes in terms of weight and power, and were more friendly for beginners. A new 125 in 1990 cost right around $3,000. By this point the manufacturers’ priority on their development was on par with 250’s, sharing many of the same components and appearance.

The 125s rise to glory became unstoppable with the demise of Open Class bikes in professional racing. Suzuki pulled the plug on their RM 500 in 1984 and Yamaha essentially ceased development of the air cooled 490 in the late 80’s. That left Kawasaki and Honda with legitimate 500cc race bikes, but in an effort to play nice with all of the manufacturers (and also mirroring changing consumer preferences of the time), the AMA killed the National 500cc MX class after the 1993 season.

The transition was complete and 1994-2004 became the true golden age of the 125. For the next 10 years they provided a platform for up-and-coming stars such as Ricky Carmichael, Kevin Windham, Travis Pastrana and James Stewart. Iconic images of 125s such as Bubba’s first scrub, Brian Deegan’s ghost ride after a SX win, or even Pastrana jumping into San Francisco bay at the X Games will never be forgotten.

However, the writing was on the wall for these exceptional machines in the early 2,000s when manufacturers developed 250 four strokes to run in the 125cc National class. Given a 100% displacement advantage it only took a few years of development before the 250F took over. Fittingly, the true swan song of the 125 came in 2004, as James Stewart (possibly the best 125 rider to ever live), decimated a field made up mostly of 250Fs. A 125 would never win another professional championship after 2004.

The author at 23 on his RM 125, and then reliving his youth (with a slightly larger waistline) on the same bike in 2018.

 

My Generation of racers lived through all of this, and on top of it we cut our teeth riding and watching these “angry bumblebee sounding” machines ourselves. No wonder we still love them, and our ears perk up when we hear one to this day. It is no wonder that two-stroke classes, vintage racing and “Dream Races” have popped up. Today’s fuel injected, electric start, four-stroke machinery is amazing, but I feel bad for the young racers of today who will never experience 125 life. Coaxing a 125 out of a turn and over a big jump is an art and an entirely different riding experience than ‘point and shoot’ four stroke power delivery. They are lighter and easy to control when they get out of shape on the track. Anyone who can ride a 125 without smiling even a little may not have a soul!

But this isn’t about the debate between two-stroke versus four-stroke. All I know is that when I ride a 125 nowadays it makes me feel young again. I move around a lot on the bike and hang off the back looking for more speed and traction, charge into turns faster and let off later, and often hear myself laughing out loud at some of the stuff it lets me get away with. Kids might see an old guy on a slow bike making a lot of noise and going nowhere, but for me and most other racers my age, the 125 is a two wheeled time portal to my youth. I may have newer and faster bikes today, but if I have it my way, there will always be a little 125 in my garage for the days I want a reminder of what pure joy on a track really feels like.

 

(Author’s note: As of 2018, the Pacific NW Vintage Motocross club added multiple 125 classes for years 1982 and up. This should help preserve older 125s in our region as race bikes for years to come. It also provides an inexpensive gateway to racing for those interested in starting, or returning to, the sport!)

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.

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…

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.

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.

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