By Jody Weisel
Jody in 1972.
There is something to be said for “collective intelligence,” which is a nice way of referring to the wisdom of the mob majority. In the new information age, everyone can know what you know—whether you know anything or not. In a society where every person can have a voice, via a blog, zine, forum or chat room, the knowledge base might as well be the product of a million monkeys with typewriters.
The Saddleback starting line and its forward falling gate. Yes, that is a Montesa.
And so it goes with motocross history. Luckily, these stenographic chimpanzees spend the majority of their time parsing the details of Chad Reed’s latest perm, or the oft-touted “Perfect Storm.” Thankfully, they can’t turn their attention to the past, because they weren’t there (and Wikipedia’s fictionalized version of the world doesn’t cover it). Yet, there are barbarians at the gates of our illustrious history; revisionist writers who make heroes out of villains, get the facts wrong out of ignorance, romanticize the gritty, and grit up the romantic. They want to seem astute in spite of their callowness, and they damage history without knowing it.
Do I think that these bloviators are dangerous? Yes. The collective output of the internet mavens, newbie magazine writers, pseudo historians, wannabe been there's, YouTubers and miscellaneous misguided idiots has the potential of becoming a dictatorship of dullards. Perhaps the cream will rise to the top and the half-witted will sink into their lonely bedroom media centers—but I’m not counting on it. I’m not here to defend the good old days; I’m not one of those people who harks back to bygone eras with moist eyes. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I know the good old days better than almost anyone. I started racing motorcycles in 1968.
Billy Grossi and Marty Smith.
Adolf "Paul Newman" Weil.
As an eyewitness to history, I too am self-editing. Memories can be faulty, revisionist and inaccurate. But it might be important to future generations to understand the past, not through the words of people interpreting it secondhand, but through the narrative of someone who was there. Hopefully I’m not viewing motocross history through rose-colored glasses—just the Ray-Bans of the day.
This is my story—of other peoples’ stories (broken down into bite-sized moments of glory, disgrace and dedication).
ONE OF THE BEST DAYS OF MY LIFE WAS AT THE 1973 TRANS-AMA EVENT AT RIO BRAVO. AS A RACER, I LIKED RIO BRAVO. I LOVED THE WOODSY SETTING AND WAS ENAMORED BY A GIANT TREE LOCATED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TRACK.
Perhaps one of the best days of my life was at the 1973 Trans-AMA event at Rio Bravo Cycle Park, just north of Houston. As a racer, I liked Rio Bravo. I loved the woodsy setting and was enamored by a giant tree located in the middle of the back straight. Okay, the tree wasn’t in the center of the straight, but there was room to go on either side of it. I was a chicken and almost always went to the wider left side up the hill.
John DeSoto on a CZ with Jimmy Weinert in pursuit.
By the time the 1973 Trans-AMA circus had settled into Rio Bravo, the rain had started to fall. Not a heavy “frog strangler,” as they say in Texas, but a steady drizzle producing deep puddles and an oozy surface that made riding like roller skating.
All the big guns of the sport had come to Rio Bravo, and all the big guns in 1973 were Europeans. The American riders were pea shooters compared to Roger DeCoster, Adolf Weil, Arne Kring, Willy Bauer, Gerrit Wolsink, Sylvain Geboers and Pierre Karsmakers (not yet a Dutch émigré). The Euros had never been beaten in a Trans-AMA event...ever. The score was Euros 35, Americans 0. Rio Bravo was about to change that.
Arne Kring at Rio Bravo.
Although Jammin’ Jimmy Weinert was a bona fide American star, he had never won a Trans-AMA event (and would only win one more in his lifetime). Whatever possessed Jimmy in the Texas mud, it was a powerful force. Jimmy holeshot the first moto and led until Maico’s Adolf Weil ran him down. I admit that I, and every other drenched fan, expected Jimmy to get passed, and when he did, there was a collective sigh (with a Texas twang). But, Jimmy passed Adolf back! Texan and American hopes rose, but then Jimmy fell in the mud, letting Weil and Kring by. Hey, third isn’t bad.
If you’ve ever raced in the swampy land near Houston, you know that whenever the rain lets up, the earth steams like a British tea kettle. Between motos, Rio Bravo steamed, and so did Jammin’ Jimmy. He couldn’t believe that he lost the first good chance he ever had to win a Trans-AMA.
Rio Bravo in the rain.
A fourth-place start in moto two soon resulted in Jimmy chasing German Willy Bauer for the lead. Bauer broke, Weil broke and the guy who finished behind Jimmy in moto one was behind him again. Weinert did some quick math and let Pierre Karsmakers by on the last lap (Karsmakers had DNF’ed moto one).
Weinert’s 3-2 gave him the first American win on American soil. It was about time, but it wasn’t the start of an American dynasty. No American would win again for two years (when Marty Smith, Jim Pomeroy, Tony Distefano and Jim Weinert would beat the Euros in six out of ten races).
When I drove the three hours home through the rain, from Houston to Denton, I had a smile on my face that rarely comes from the success of someone else. But, on that day, Weinert’s victory was a victory for all of us.
IT TOOK ME 25 YEARS TO FORGIVE EDISON DYE, AND AS HEARTLESS AS IT MAY SOUND, I ONLY CUT HIM SOME SLACK BECAUSE WHEN I SAW HIM DECADES LATER, HE WAS A FRAIL, TOTTERING OLD MAN.
Edison Dye (far right) with the Husqvarna team.
It took me 25 years to forgive Edison Dye, and as heartless as it may sound, I only cut him some slack because when I saw him decades later, he was a frail, tottering old man. I’ll be one some day also (and the way things are going, it will be sooner rather than later), and I hope that my enemies show me the same courtesy that I showed Edison. That’s a lie. In 2004, when Tom White told me that he had found Edison Dye living in an old folk’s home in San Diego and wanted to give him a lifetime achievement award, my immediate response was, “You know that Edison Dye was a crook, don’t you?”
Edison Dye talking to Roger DeCoster and Joel Robert.
My anger with Edison Dye should not detract from his place in motocross history. Without Edison Dye, there would be no motocross in America. He made the sport possible, imported the first bikes, held the first race series and single-handedly put motocross on the American map. I don’t begrudge him his place in history, but I was at the 1974 St. Louis Trans-AMA. I drove in a 1963 VW microbus all the way from Dallas to St. Louis (more accurately, to suburban St. Charles).
Here is what happened that made me hate Edison Dye. First, on Saturday night in St. Louis, it started raining. No big deal. This was a Trans-AMA. The race poster said “Rain or Shine.” The crowd was small, but they were dedicated (as all motocross crowds were in the early ’70s). I’d seen muddier tracks and had waded across pits with bigger puddles (and America’s greatest Trans-AMA victory had come in the mud at Rio Bravo just one year earlier). At 10 o’clock on Sunday morning, it was obvious that something was amiss. AMA referee Lightbrown Lancione went to Edison Dye, the race promoter, and asked for the $15,000 purse money. Dye showed Lightbrown the cash, but tucked it back into his pocket and said, “I’ll lose $20,000 if I hold the race, but only $10,000 if I cancel it.”
Edison and the bikes he imported to America.
I should have had a clue that this could happen, because my friend Steve Wise had raced an Edison Dye-promoted 125 World Cup at the St. Louis track the year before and the track was pitiful (and Dye was unresponsive to complaints). Now, as we stood in the mud, we were all going to be sent home without a race. I had driven 650 miles from Texas, the Euros had come from Brussels, and the vast majority of the riders had trekked from Atlanta the week before. I was angry with Dye, but, in truth, I knew that the AMA was to blame. How so? They gave a race to a shifty promoter at a bad track...for a second time. How many times have I seen this scenario played out since then? Isn't it still happening today—where a track owner with money and a questionable track gets a big event, while a great tracks gets passed over. In fact, the AMA handed a 2007 AMA 250/450 National to a track that doesn’t even exist in my home state of Texas, while the FIM awarded the 2002 MXDN to a field in San Jacinto, California (a bare field).
Bengt Hooperton at the Coliseum.
It turns out that Edison Dye had only invested $2500 in sanction/insurance money with the AMA. Since he hadn’t given the AMA the purse money, he was free to walk away, losing only his sanction money and advertising costs. I, on the other hand, was out the cost of four days of my life, hotel rooms and gas (at 25 cents a gallon).
So, 25 years later I forgave the old man...but I didn’t mean it.
WHAT WERE WE THINKING BACK IN THE ’70S? AT THE 1975 LAKE WHITNEY NATIONAL, BILLY GROSSI AND I DECIDED TO TEAM UP TO WIN THE NATIONAL CORN-O-CROSS CHAMPIONSHIP.
The scoreboard at the 1975 National Corn-O-Cross Championship.
What were we thinking back in the ’70s? At the 1975 Lake Whitney National, Billy Grossi and I decided to team up to win the National Corn-O-Cross Championship. Held the day before the National, the lighthearted event consisted of two-man teams trying to eat the most corn on the cob over three 20-minute motos. We weren’t World Hotdog Eating Champis, like Takeru Kobayashi, by any means, and we had work to do the next day, but that didn’t stop us from going for the gold.
Jody (in the foreground) munches corn, while Jimmy Weinert and Billy Grossi (in background with curly hair) prep the cobs.
Grossi was the handler. His job was to reach into a burning drum and grab ears of scalding hot corn, butter them and pass them to me. My job was to eat them as fast as I could. We faced tough competition, mostly in the form of Jimmy Weinert and his trainer Gordy Meutz. Steve Stackable was paired with the wife of Motocross Cat and Zap Comix artist Tony Bell. The field was narrowed through the heats (those who threw up were disqualified), until the Sugar Bear’s and my competition was whittled down to the major players (including Bobby Pickard, Weinert/Meutz, John Wooley, Lightbrown Lancione, Chuck Burris and Gil Brown).
In the end, Grossi and I finished third. Our moto score was 3-3-1, but my late charge was not enough to overcome Weinert’s and Meutz’s cheating. They went 2-1-2. Let me just say that eating 34 ears of corn on Saturday does not make for a good Sunday.
The Sugar Bear and The D.
THE 1975 BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS WAS A REAL KNOCK-DOWN-DRAG-OUT MOTOCROSS RACE. IT INVOLVED EVIL INTENTIONS, AMA PROTESTS, THREATENED LAWSUITS AND PERSONAL RIVALRIES.
No offense to the current crop of race fans and pit pundits, but the racing action of the last 15 years hasn't always been top-notch. There have been years when only two guys were actually trying to win, and a good race is when one of them passes the other. And then there were the Ricky Carmichael years—when no one was racing for first because it belonges to RC. This isn’t the way it used to be.
Let me set the scene. Six riders came to New Orleans with a chance of winning the 1975 AMA 500 National Championship. Going into the Labor Day event, Billy Grossi (Suzuki) was leading by 15 points over Jimmy Weinert (Yamaha), who had five points on Steve Stackable (Maico), who had 10 points on Pierre Karsmakers (Honda), who had 39 points on Kent Howerton (Husqvarna). Brad Lackey was also a long-shot. Now, you may be saying to yourself that the points don’t sound all that close, but back in 1975 the AMA paid 150 points to win a National, 120 for second and so on (there were no points paid for moto finishes, only for overalls). As long as a rider was within 150 points going into the last race, he had a shot. And so it was at New Orleans in ’75.
New Orleans was one of my favorite tracks. It was laid out between two levees (as in “I took my Chevy to the levee...”) and alligators could be seen by the water’s edge (if you could see them through the mosquitoes). It was hot, humid and sweaty. As you would expect from a former swamp, the dirt was moist and loamy at the start of the day. And crowd control was a joke (as people darted from one side to the other to get a better view).
There were darkhorses in New Orleans. Brad Lackey had come home from the GP wars, and everyone knew that while he probably couldn’t win the title, he didn’t want Pierre Karsmakers to win it either. In Europe, Karsmakers was considered a carpetbagger and traitor for cherry picking in America instead of racing in Europe. Marty Tripes was there. He showed up on his eight-ball Bultaco. He wasn’t in shape due to a shoulder injury, but he came to race. Tony DiStefano was not in the title chase either, but he was blazing fast in his first year as a Suzuki rider (having already clinched the 250 National Championship).
Everyone came loaded for bear, but for some reason, the race never seemed to get started. It wasn’t until four o’clock that the first 500 moto lined up. The track had dried out, and the six contenders were hyped to the max—anxious, nervous and edgy.
The first title contender to suffer problems was Billy Grossi. While the other four title chasers were in the top ten at the start of the first moto, Billy was mired in 19th place. Brad Lackey won the first moto, Weinert was second, Karsmakers third and Gary Semics fourth. Grossi had recovered to fifth, Howerton was sixth, and Steve Stackable hung on with broken spokes for seventh.
In moto one, the heat had taken its toll on Marty Tripes. He was the fastest rider on the track, but heat exhaustion got him and he pulled off like a drunken sailor at the 20-minute mark of the then-40-minute moto.
Before the start of the second moto, the team managers counted the points. Although everyone still had a mathematical chance, the points were awarded based on the overall finishes and if everybody finished, only Weinert, Karsmakers and Grossi had a chance.
The stage was set for one of the greatest and most emotional races in motocross history. Lackey grabbed the lead with Karsmakers on his tail. I knew that this was a grudge match that would equal anything I had ever seen. Lackey started to play with Karsmakers. Brad would brake test Pierre in the tight corners. Pierre was stunned. He didn’t want to crash into Lackey, because Husqvarna-mounted Brad wasn’t a contender for the title (and all Pierre had to do was beat Jimmy Weinert to take the crown). But Lackey’s goal was obvious to everyone watching. He wanted to slow Karsmakers down until the rest of the field caught up. It was weird. It was wild. It was wonderful (because it was what the fans wanted).
Suddenly Brad Lackey got his wish, as Tony DiStefano came flying up from the field to join the lead duo. Tony didn’t know what was going on between Partly and Pepe. He assumed that Lackey and Karsmakers were racing hard, so over a blind jump Tony D went for it, but Karsmakers was slowed by Lackey and Tony landed on top of him. Both riders went down hard.
Meanwhile, my National Corn-O-Cross teammate Billy Grossi had hit a downed rider on lap one, crashed through a snow fence and center-punched a van parked in the pits. The van wasn't any worse for the wear and Grossi’s Suzuki was still running (if only he could pry it out from under the front spoiler). Grossi’s title hopes were dashed by a Dodge. He finished 12th for the day.
Weinert passed Karsmakers when Pierre was forced to fix a disconnected brake cable caused by his crash with Tony D. Then, with Karsmakers out of the championship, Brad Lackey pulled off the track, too (with claimed engine trouble). The second moto was actually won by Steve Stackable, but his 7-1 couldn’t best Weinert’s 2-4.
At day’s end, Tony D and I were hanging out in the Team Suzuki box van when Pierre Karsmakers stormed up. Pierre, in his Dutch accent, accused Tony of taking him out on purpose. Tony told Pierre that he was the one hurt in the crash and that perhaps Pierre shouldn’t have been going so slow. Pierre stormed off to the AMA truck to file a protest against Lackey and DiStefano. He came back later to say that he was going to sue them in court for conspiring against him. Tony laughed, but Pierre and Tony didn’t speak for years.
There are those who say that the 1975 Battle of New Orleans was the day that the business of racing overshadowed the sport. Maybe that was true, but for those of us who were there, it was an awesome day of racing. Oh, yeah; Bob Hannah raced his first 125 National that day, wearing National number 525. He suffered heat stroke and didn’t finish.
AND ALTHOUGH THERE HAVE BEEN MANY GREAT TRANS-AMA MOMENTS, ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE WAS LINCHPINNED TO FAULTY ENGINEERING. IT WAS THE 1975 LIVERMORE, CALIFORNIA, TRANS-AMA.
Stackable (4), DiStefano (3), Weinert (1) and Howerton (15) jockey for position at Livermore. Brad Lackey (25) chases.
Although long gone from the talking points of modern motocrossers, the Trans-AMA series and its tracks (Puyallup, Honda Hills, Livermore, Saddleback, Rio Bravo, etc.) were integral players in the development of the sport as we know it today. And although there have been many great Trans-AMA moments, one of the most memorable was linchpinned to faulty engineering. It was the 1975 Livermore, California, Trans-AMA.
Livermore was an interesting Trans-AMA. First, because the promoters wouldn’t let you get to it. Everyone had to park on one side of a rolling mountain, while the track was on the other side. You either walked (a long walk) or waited for a rickety bus to drive you over into the lettuce fields below. Second, some moron on the top of one of the hills rolled a 16-inch truck tire (and wheel) down into the crowd. It bounced 50 feet in the air, gobbled up massive stretches of ground, pulverized three spectators, covered a half-mile of distance and rolled harmlessly to a stop in the middle of the starting line. The ambulances for the race left carrying injured spectators. Third, although we all remember the Trans-AMA’s as a European cakewalk, it wasn’t so at Livermore. Tony DiStefano was winning every Trans-AMA by the end of the ’75 series...and he would do so at Livermore.
Roger DeCoster and Jimmy Weinert on the jump before the jump that broke RD's forks off.
Finally, after all the delays, the race was nearing its end. I was sitting on the edge of the track with my buddy Jim Gianatsis. We had shot up most of our film, and in the fading light (caused by the delays for the injured spectators), we were content to watch Tony D and Roger DeCoster circulate. Roger had DNF’ed the first moto with a broken spark plug wire, so there was no drama or tension. Just a long day coming to an end.
From my vantage point, I could see the big jump and long straight that went by the left side of the starting line. Tony D jumped the jump and whooshed away up the next hill. Next was Roger DeCoster, but the good line over the jump was blocked by two lappers. Roger moved over a little and left the ground at 60 plus. The normally flawless Roger flat landed and, in what to my eyes looked like slow motion, his works Suzuki splayed out. The wheelbase grew longer and longer, and in a split second that seemed to last for 30 seconds, Roger face-planted, and virtually nose-wheelied his body for 50 feet. He came to rest in a heap and lay motionless as the mechanics, who were all standing next to the straight, ran out and dragged RD’s Suzuki off the track—its forks and front wheel tethered like a tarpon on a deep sea fishing reel.
The aftermath. The front of Roger's Suzuki is only held on by the brake cable.
Roger’s triple clamps had snapped when he landed. Amazingly, although DeCoster’s face looked like ground round, apart from the need for stitches and a couple weeks off, Roger had survived a brutal crash. He was, in retrospect, better off than the three spectators, some of whom never fully recovered. It was a bad day for motocross.
The next time I saw Roger he was wearing a Bell Moto Star helmet. It was the sport’s first full-face helmet. It turns out that Roger had been testing it before Livermore, but elected not to wear it. He never raced in an open-face helmet again.
A WEEK AFTER DECOSTER’S CRASH AT LIVERMORE, THE TRANS-AMA CIRCUS MOVED TO THE TRACK THAT WE LOVINGLY CALLED “SAD.” LITTLE DID WE KNOW THAT IT WAS GOING TO BE A SAD DAY FOR ALL OF US.
Jim West at the Superbowl of Motocross.
A week after DeCoster’s crash at Livermore's Carnegie Cycle Park, the Trans-AMA circus moved to the track that we lovingly called “Sad.” Little did we know that it was going to be a sad day for all of us.
I loved Saddleback. I lived there. I went down Chapman Avenue virtually every day of the week to test bikes, and weekends to race with AME, CMC or Jim Beltnick’s Saddleback Saturday organization. I knew every inch of the 900-acre park (and Robbie Gordon, Lance Moorewood and I often explored the 400-acre buffer zone that was considered no-man’s land). I was a Saddleback Specialist—a rare breed of racer who could find traction on linoleum-like rock-hard surfaces.
That day, Tony DiStefano continued his hot streak, winning his third Trans-AMA in a row at Saddleback, and even though we knew that Jim West had crashed, we had no idea that the day would end in tragedy.
Jim West had led his first-ever Trans-AMA the week before at Livermore. Although his lead was short-lived, it was the highlight of the Maico privateer’s life. He came to Saddleback with hopes of the best finish of his career. It was not to be. While running seventh in the first 500 Trans-AMA moto, Jim West crashed over a jump. Revisionist historians claim that he crashed down Saddleback’s imposing Banzai Hill, but this is not true. Jim crashed over a small jump that led up the relatively simple climb to the top of Banzai.
The late Jim West.
To my way of thinking, it wasn’t much of a crash. I thought that Jim had broken his arm, as he held it close to his body when they wheeled him away. Jim was taken to Chapman General Hospital. Chapman General had a bad reputation among Saddleback Specialists, because that was the place that all of us went when we made a mistake.
Jim West died there. He didn’t die from a broken arm, but because, reportedly, the doctors at Chapman General failed to monitor his blood pressure. West died from internal injuries. He was the first professional motocross racer to be killed in competition.
STEVE WISE AND I WERE STANDING BY THE SIDE OF THE TRACK WATCHING 250 PRACTICE WHEN KENT HOWERTON CAME BY ON HIS HUSQVARNA 250CR. STEVE AND I LOOKED AT EACH OTHER AND SAID IN UNISON, “DID YOU SEE THAT?”
Texan Danny Doss lets it all hang out.
I’ll never forget June 1, 1975. I was in Herman, Nebraska, for a 125/250 National. Steve Wise and I were standing by the side of the track watching 250 practice when Kent Howerton came by on his Eric Crippa-tuned Husqvarna 250CR. I don’t know whether I visually saw what Kent was doing or I heard it, but Steve and I looked at each other and said in unison, “Did you see that?”
As Texans, Kent Howerton, Steve Stackable, Danny Doss, Dewitt Knox, Wyman Priddy, Jody Foust and I watched out for each other, and it wasn’t unusual for the Texas gang to watch the races and practices of the others. But what Howerton did shocked both Steve and I. We waited for him to come around the corner again. He did it again! But, what did he do? We didn’t know, but whatever it was you could see that he was the fastest rider out of the corner. And, you could hear the difference. Wise and I both walked closer to the corner and vowed to find out what Howerton had up his sleeve.
Kent would rocket down the straight towards us, enter the corner at an amazingly high rate of speed and rocket out of the turn with no wheelspin, no wheelie and no wiggle—just a surging vibrato that we had never heard before (remember, this was 1975).
The Rhinestone Cowboy rolled his socks down farther than anyone.
By the end of the fifth lap, one of us spotted Kent’s clutch hand. Kent Howerton, unlike every other rider in the sport, was using his clutch instead of his throttle to stay a gear taller. For the other 39 riders in the field, it was a second-gear turn. For Kent, it was third gear all the way. He slipped his clutch like a banshee, the engine wailing with a moanful sound. His speed was undeniable.
Steve Wise went back to his pit—he was riding a Kawasaki KX125 that year—and I headed for Team Husqvarna’s pits. Sure enough, when I got there, Eric Crippa, Kent’s mechanic, had the side cover off Kent’s bike and was busy changing the clutch. Eric told me that he had to change the clutch every time Kent rode the bike.
Clutching it, and I don't mean using the clutch to start or shift gears, but using it to maintain momentum and rpm, was invented that day in Herman, Nebraska.
IN 1976, TONY DISTEFANO, KEITH MCCARTY, JIM GIANATSIS AND I WERE INSEPARABLE ON THE AMA CIRCUIT. BY THE END OF THE ’76 SEASON, ALL OF US MOVED INTO KEITH MCCARTY’S MOTHER’S HOUSE. WE WORE OUT OUR WELCOME IN SHORT ORDER.
Tony D and a few close friends at the Carlsbad GP.
In 1976, Tony DiStefano, Keith McCarty, photographer Jim Gianatsis and I were inseparable on the AMA circuit. Tony skipped flying in and out of the races so that we could drive around in Team Suzuki’s box vans and wreak havoc on restaurants across the country. Gianatsis, known as The Greek, was a phenomenal freelance photographer, while the rest of us were on expense accounts, so the Greek piggybacked along with us. We always had a place for him to stay, food for him to eat and jokes to tell. By the end of the ’76 season, all of us moved into Keith McCarty’s mother’s house in Seal Beach. We wore out our welcome in short order.
Tony DiStefano on his intact Suzuki works bike.
Tony was hot in 1976. He came off of the end of the ’75 season with three consecutive Trans-AMA wins and followed that up with a win at the 1976 Daytona Supercross.
Dallas was a two-night event with two motos on each night. On Friday night, Tony D was leading the second moto when he landed from a jump and his front fork separated from his bike over a big double. Tony was a big strong boy, and he rode the front fork all the way into the ground. It was a replay of Roger DeCoster’s Livermore accident of four months before. Worse yet, Suzuki teammate Danny Laporte had suffered the same failure at the Florida Winter Series a scant two months earlier. Tony D’s crash was the third serious incident where the works Suzuki’s steering stem had broken.
Jody (left) and Tony D (right) blew a tire while doing e-brake turns in the Houston Astrodome's parking lot.
Tony looks down at his broken Suzuki as Keith McCarty picks up some of it.
But, Suzuki incompetence is not what this tale is about. The ambulance was parked over by the tunnel, and by the time I got there Tony was pretty chipper. He had a deep gash in his face (probably caused by the snaps on his Jofa), but other than that he was unhurt. The ambulance guys wanted to take Tony to Parkland Hospital (of JFK infamy), but Tony said he wanted to stay and watch the race. Amazingly, while Tony watched from the floor of Texas Stadium, the doctor stitched his face up. It’s unlikely that any modern motocrosser would have stitches put in without anesthetic at the track today. Of course, a week later Tony removed the stitches himself with a pair of nail clippers.
I DON’T SUPPOSE THAT THERE IS A SINGLE MOTOCROSSER OVER THE AGE OF 40 WHO DOESN’T KNOW ABOUT THE “LET BROCK BYE” INCIDENT. I KNOW IT BETTER THAN ANYONE.
Steve Wise (12), mechanic Jim Felt (yellow shirt) and Broc Glover (17) on the line in San Antonio.
I don’t suppose that there is a single motocrosser over the age of 30 who doesn’t know about the “Let Brock Bye” incident. I know it better than anyone. Not just because I was at the final 125 National of the 1977 season at the Cyclerama track in San Antonio, Texas, but because I shot the famous photo, interviewed the participants immediately following the race, was in contact with the AMA for weeks afterwards and have had to listen to Broc Glover complain for the last 35 years.
First and foremost, Broc Glover and Danny LaPorte were separated by ten points going to San Antonio. Broc’s teammate Bob Hannah was 17 points back (by this time the AMA was paying 25 points for a moto win). Team Yamaha manager Kenny Clark wanted the title, so much so that he pulled all of the Team Yamaha riders out of the other classes and entered all five of them in the San Antonio 125 class. It was obvious that Clark wanted Pierre Karsmakers, Rick Burgett, Mike Bell and Bob Hannah to run interference between Glover and points leader LaPorte.
1970's star Pat Richter is Ryan Villopoto's uncle.
Intelligently, the three ringers (Burgett, Karsmakers and Bell) wanted no part of the contretemps, so by the time AMA manager Mike DiPrete lectured them on blocking, it was unnecessary.
The AMA's Mike Diprete lays down the law in San Antonio.
Here is my chronology of what happened in San Antonio.
(1) The Cyclerama track was not very good. It was dusty and the day was muggy.
(2) In the first moto, the Moto-X Fox team of Steve Wise and Pat Richter went one-two into the first turn. It was all for naught, as DiPrete penalized both of them a lap for jumping the gate.
(3) Broc Glover won the first moto, with Hannah second and LaPorte third. The points margin going into the second moto was five points between leader LaPorte and Glover, with Hannah 15 points adrift.
(4) Bob Hannah left the field for dead in moto two. He was 25 seconds ahead of Glover, who had 20 seconds on LaPorte. Everyone else in the race was trying to stay out of the way.
(5) With three laps to go, Hannah’s mechanic, Keith McCarty, held out a pit board that said, “Let Brock Bye, 1 lap.” And Hannah did. Bob lost his 25-second lead within two laps, giving Glover, whom Bob Hannah personally hated, the points he needed to win the 125 National Championship. In fact, LaPorte and Glover tied on points, but Glover had the most wins (actually Hannah had the most wins, but not the most points).
(6) When the checkered flag flew, Bob Hannah pulled off the track and, never slowing down, rode straight through the pits and out into the woods. He didn’t come back for 30 minutes. When he did come back, he hid in the cab of the Team Yamaha box van and refused to come out. It was obvious that he had been crying.
(7) I went to Team Yamaha manager Kenny Clark and asked, “How does it feel to win the 125 National Championship?”
“I have nothing to say,” said Kenny.
“Is that a no comment?” I asked.
“No comment,” said Kenny. This is not the kind of answer you would expect from a team that had just won a title.
(8) Broc Glover seemed oblivious to what had happened—and maybe he didn’t know. He was smiling and jovial. Just a 17-year-old kid, it was a moment that Broc would relive to this day.
(9) When the AMA was informed that it was illegal under AMA rules 3b, 3h and 3j to fix the outcome of a race, knowingly engage in a prearranged outcome, or conspire to violate these rules, the AMA said that “it was a stupid rule and shouldn’t be in the rule book.” Paradoxically, the rule is still in the AMA rule book (and all sports have such a rule, to avoid losing the faith of the fans by hosting fixed events).
(10) In the end, the then Czar of AMA Racing, Douglas A. Mockett, ruled that Team Yamaha had not violated the rules. It took him almost four weeks to issue a decision on Suzuki’s inquiry.
As for me, I never expected the AMA to do anything. These weren’t privateers, whom the AMA would have cracked down on instantly (a la Wise and Richter). They were power players, and in the face of power, AMA Pro Racing always melts under scrutiny. The AMA’s best action is always no action.
Jody's famous "Let Brock Bye" photo.
Broc has complained to me for the last 35 years about the photo, and at one point I told him that I would never let anyone else run the photo (except MXA), but after Broc decided to do “The Motocross Files” TV show to tell his side of the story, I lent the photo to them so that the public could see it.
THE MEMORIES OF THE 1980 USGP AT CARLSBAD CAME ROARING BACK WHEN MARTY MOATES COMMITTED SUICIDE. IT WAS A STRANGE MIX OF HAPPINESS AND SADNESS.
The memories of the 1980 USGP at Carlsbad came roaring back when Marty Moates committed suicide in 2006. It was a strange mix of happiness and sadness. Here is what I remember about that blur of a day in May.
At the time, the big L.A. dailies (Times and Herald) called Moates an unknown, but he wasn’t. Marty had been a Suzuki test rider (with Bob Hannah and Bob Elliott), he had raced two years on the 250 GP circuit for Ossa, he had ridden all three AMA Championship classes and, most of all, he was a Carlsbad local. American presence at the USGP in 1980 was weak, because the AMA refused to accept the entry of any 250cc or 125cc National rider.
Most people believed that this was a move by the promoter to avoid having to pay the $450 GP start money. Kent Howerton, Mike Bell, Steve Wise, Warren Reid, Jeff Ward, Broc Glover and Marty Tripes were not allowed to race. Chuck Sun was dominating the 1980 AMA 500 Nationals leading into the USGP, but most of the fans at Carlsbad were rooting for GP regular Brad Lackey. Brad was no angel. Brad had signed a reported $50,000 deal to wear an AGV helmet in 1980, but he was really wearing a Bell helmet with AGV stickers. At tech inspection, Bell confiscated their helmets. Brad ran out to a local shop and bought more Bell helmets to put AGV stickers on for the race.
Marty Moates (23) winning the 1980 USGP.
Andre Malherbe was the GP points leader coming into Carlsbad, but broke his foot in the first moto. Amazingly, he went to the starting line for moto two only to discover that his works Honda wouldn’t go into gear. So, the Belgian revved the engine and stomped on the shift lever. His RC500 went into gear, but the gears shattered into a zillion parts. So much for Malherbe.
Moates’ LOP Yamaha YZ465 failed tech when it came in ten pounds under the FIM’s 224-pound limit. He had to go back and add weight. The promoters had handed out thousands of little American flags for the fans to wave for Brad Lackey. Marty Moates won the first moto, even taking time to throw in a crash (losing two places to Danny LaPorte and Hakan Carlqvist) before getting the lead back before the flag. Moates holeshot the second moto with Lackey in second.
Announcer Larry Huffman told the crowd that if Lackey could pass Moates he would take over the 500 World Championship points lead. The fans were torn between two Americans. They couldn’t decide who to root for. Then, Lackey passed Moates and the crowd made their choice—they started cheering and, paradoxically, waving their little flags for Marty Moates instead of Brad Lackey. With the crowd 100 percent behind him, Moates zapped Lackey on the corner before “The Ledge.” Lackey was shocked and ran off the track into the snow fence at the bottom of the big downhill. Lackey was cool enough to give Marty Moates a thumbs up the next time Marty came by. After the race, the FIM put Marty’s Yamaha back on the scales again to try and catch the LOP privateer cheating. It passed, but it didn’t matter, because eight of the top ten riders were Americans.
SUICIDE MOUNTAIN AND THE MAGOO DOUBLE JUMP WERE WORTHY ADDITIONS TO SADDLEBACK, BUT IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT THE MAGOO DOUBLE JUMP WAS NEITHER A DOUBLE NOR A JUMP.
Hannah and Howerton at Saddleback in 1981.
MXA test rider Lance Moorewood’s father was the promoter of the Saddleback National. Lance and I reveled in this because his dad let us make suggestions about track design. We like to think that some of our ideas, like Suicide Mountain and the Magoo Double Jump, were worthy additions to Saddleback, but it should be noted that the Magoo Double Jump was neither a double nor a jump. In its first iteration, it was little more than a rolling depression in the side of a steep hillside. Somehow, Danny Chandler found a way to fly his Maico over it. This was in 1980. By the time the National returned for 1981, the Magoo Double had been built up to epic proportions (and Magoo, now in the 125 class, was still jumping it), but so was everybody else. That’s how it goes with obstacles that become famous—the longer they are there, the more people master them.
The moment after the first impact...there was a second.
What burned the Magoo Double into the minds of American motocross fans wasn’t just that Magoo jumped something that wasn’t there, but that Bob Hannah used it to drill Kent Howerton a year later. Hannah, back from a one-year hiatus for a broken leg, didn’t like that Kent Howerton had become the darling of the circuit. Hannah hated to be upstaged and, as was Bob’s modus operandi, he transferred that into hatred for Kent Howerton. As they dueled in moto one, Hannah, on a water-cooled Yamaha linker, couldn’t do anything against Kent’s omnipotent Suzuki RH250. Finally, in frustration, the Hurricane shook his fist on the way up to the built-up Magoo Double Jump. Following Howerton’s Suzuki closely, Bob waited for Kent to clear the double and enter the hairpin turn at the top before T-boning the Suzuki amidships.
Hannah & Howerton with Suicide Mountain in the background.
Howerton, to his credit, skidded across the rock-hard Saddleback surface before losing the wheels and going down. He remounted by bump starting his bike (he did receive an unneeded push from a beer-drinking fan who had jumped the fence). Hannah, perhaps feeling guilty, didn’t pour the coal to his YZ, and in a few laps Howerton went by to win the moto.
Hannah would go on to win the second moto and take the overall at Saddleback, his first National win in two years, but Howerton would win the Championship.
I REMEMBER VERY LITTLE ABOUT THE DAY THAT DANNY LAPORTE WON THE 250 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP IN 1982. DON’T GET ME WRONG, I WASN’T HUNG OVER OR SLEEPING IN MY HOTEL ROOM; INSTEAD, I WAS IN SENSORY OVERLOAD.
Danny LaPorte and the champagne.
LaPorte at Unadilla.
I remember very little about the day that Danny LaPorte won the 250 World Championship in 1982. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't hung over or sleeping in my hotel room; instead I was in sensory overload. I had been in Europe for about a month before the Vimmerby, Sweden, final. I had gone to Finland to ride a Finnish race at the Ruskesanta airport track. Next, I jetted down to Austria to visit the KTM factory and test the all-new water-cooled 1983 bikes. After Austria. I flew to the Husqvarna factory in Husqvarna, Sweden, for a chance to ride Bo Edberg's 500cc automatic GP bike. From Husqvarna I drove to Vimmerby for the last GP of the year (before taking a thrill ride back to Stockholm with two Finnish riders that I had met earlier at the California Winter Series).
From Stockholm, I hopped a ferry for a boat ride to Finland. I hung around Finland for a couple days before heading to the Helsinki airport to catch a plane to the 1982 Motocross des Nations. Except that when I got to the airport with my ticket to Frankfurt, I canceled my flight to Germany and flew home to SoCal. I was tired and burned out. I didn’t want to be in Europe one minute longer..and I didn’t want to ever go back to Europe again. I was like a guy who rides a roller coaster 100 times in a row. I didn’t ever want to ride that nine-hour flight again.
Danny on his way to winning the 1982 250 World Championship at Vimmerby.
Oh yeah, what about LaPorte at Vimmerby? All Danny had to do was finish seventh or better in the second moto. He was second. Meanwhile, Donny Hansen showed up in Sweden as a warmup for the MXDN. Donnie won both motos in Sweden, but unfortunately suffered a closed-head injury three days later that would end his racing career.
Donnie Hansen (14) gets the holeshot in Sweden.
SOMETIMES IN THE HEAT OF BATTLE, THINGS HAPPEN THAT YOU HAVE NO CONTROL OVER. WITH THIS IN MIND, I FEEL CONFLICTED ABOUT THE INJURY TO DAVID BAILEY IN 1987.
Sometimes in the heat of battle, things happen that you have no control over. If, in these high-anxiety moments, disaster strikes, you can rationalize the injuries as a bad outcome from a risky endeavor. With this in mind, I feel conflicted about the injury to David Bailey in 1987.
Jody and David Bailey at Hondaland.
In retrospect, we always assume that our heroes, be they fighter pilots, gunfighters or soldiers, are gunned down at the highest level of their game. In Bailey’s case, this isn’t true. All of us in the traveling circus had gone to Central California to race a local series. The series was meaningless, in that winning it meant nothing beyond the fact that you won and, to this day, I have no clue who won or lost on the day David was hurt. But I do know that his injury was not a racing accident. It was a foolish ego stroke that ended badly.
The Huron race track was built in an abandoned water control basin, used to supply water for the abundant farm fields of California. Originally a sand track, the weather, wind and dryness had blown the sand away over the years at Huron. It was basically a giant square of land surrounded by a dike. The land was perfectly flat, so the track meandered around inside the former pond and got its contours from man-made jumps and humps. On the far side of the track, there was a hard right hand corner that led down a short straight. About 40 feet out of the corner was a small, three-foot jump. No big deal. It was just a braking bump to slow the riders down. A reasonable distance from the first jump was another three-foot jump. No one could clear the two jumps in one leap, so we simply jumped the first one, landed and jumped the second one. That was the way it was.
The always stylish David Bailey.
Not for David. For some reason, he wanted to double the two molehills. Why? I don’t know, because you would never be able to get up enough speed in a race to clear them without exposing yourself to being passed. Late in practice, David swung way wide, almost off the track, and took a big run at the two jumps. He wanted to jump them...largely for the Edmund Hillary reason (because they were there). He almost made it. His Honda cased the second jump and kaboinged into a lazy cartwheel. David was thrown over the bars into the hard Huron dirt, and his bike tomahawked him as he lay prone on the ground.
We knew it was bad, but in true motocross fashion, the racers left the gawking to the spectators. We walked back into our own pits...and I’m sad to say, we raced that day without a second thought. Bailey was cut down in his prime, not in a bare knuckles brawl with a fierce competitor, but by a meaningless practice crash that would, in the long run, prove devastating in its consequences.
I COULD TELL YOU TALES OF MY ARGUMENTS WITH SUPERCROSS PROMOTER AND NOW CONVICTED MURDERER MIKE GOODWIN, OR ABOUT THE DAY THAT CZECH CZ RIDER OSCAR HAMMERSCHMIDT HELD HIS BROKEN LIMB UP AND SAID “KAPUT.”
During my days on this planet, most of them spent racing motorcycles, I have met and seen fabulous people, places and things. I could tell you tales of my arguments with Supercross promoter and now convicted murderer Mike Goodwin, or about the day that Czech CZ rider Oscar Hammerschmidt broke his arm at an Inter-AMA and held up the broken limb to show me and said “Kaput,” or the time I raced at Ruskesanta in Finland and wondered why every Finnish rider was lined up on the far right, while I was the only guy taking the short line up the left side to the first turn (I found out when they hit the big sand whoops on the outside line two gears higher than my brake-sliding Saddleback-style), or the time Billy Grossi lost control of his renta-car and submerged in a drainage ditch under five feet of water (and Suzuki team manager Saku Ishibashi drove Billy back to the submerged car and made him dive into the water, open the trunk under water and get his gear out), or...well I could go on, but you get the picture.
It’s a shame that I haven’t mentioned the Oakland paddle tire race, or the time that the ambulance driver took Tony D to the wrong entrance at a hospital and he was left yelling “Let me in!” at the door of the mental ward.
History, like memory, is selective. In time, those with actual memories will be replaced by those with imaginations. There is no one left alive to tell us what it was like to fight the Civil War, so modern historians extrapolate about what it was like. In the future, motocross history will not be written by those who were there, but from the threads of experience of those who spun yarns.