Nine days remain until the start of the 2013 Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations, and nine riders are left on our countdown of the Top 25 Team USA riders of all time. Today's legend is another one of the Team USA war horses who raised his hand to go every time his country called on him.
From 1992 through 1997, Jeff Emig carried the flag for Team USA. He rode two different brands of bikes in three different classes and helped guide Team USA to three wins in his record six consecutive visits to the Motocross des Nations. He was part of the last two teams to win as part of Team USA's record thirteen-year winning streak, and he was also on the team that finally lost in 1994. He was also on the one team that was arguably the best American trio ever to take to the same track.
Jeff Emig won the 125 class at the MXdN in 1992 and '93, but was caught off guard in 1994 by a remarkable Paul Malin and the British team. Team USA lost for the first time in 13 years.
Emig's time on Team USA started in 1992, while he was in the midst of a 125cc National title duel with Mike LaRocco. The previous year's team—Jeff Stanton, Mike Kiedrowski, and Damon Bradshaw—all passed on going to race in Manjimup, Australia. Emig and LaRocco, both still very early in their careers, accepted the mission, along with journeyman Grand Prix racer Billy Liles. Even Roger DeCoster sat this one out—Roy Janson, then with the AMA, took on the role of team manager for what came to be called “the B team.” All three riders put in heroic efforts, with Emig on the 125, LaRocco on the 250, and Liles on the 500. Liles went 2-2 on the 500, LaRocco went 2-2 on the 250, and Emig went 1-1 to seal the deal. The B Team won!
One year later, Emig, again on the Yamaha YZ125, was joined by Kiedrowski on a 500 Kawasaki and newly crowned AMA Supercross Champion Jeremy McGrath on the 250 in Schwanenstadt, Austria. Emig again held up his end, going 2-1 in the 125cc ranks. With McGrath fourth in the first moto and Kiedrowski solid, Team USA won again, giving them thirteen straight wins in the Motocross des Nations.
Here's the '93 race, albeit in German.
Emig moved up to the 250 in 1995 and won his class again. But Team USA lost for the second straight year. In this photo, Jeff had just crossed the finish line to win the third moto and was looking back to see how Ryan Hughes fared.
All good things must come to an end, and the winning streak finally did on the steep hills of Roggenburg, Switzerland, in September 1994. Emig was again slotted on the Yamaha YZ125, and he was heavily favored in the class. But he ran into a buzzsaw in the form of Great Britain’s Paul Malin, who put in the ride of a lifetime to go 1-1 and help the Brits shock Team USA and the rest of the world with a win. Emig was still solid at 2-2, LaRocco even better at 2-1 on the 500, but Kiedrowski had a tough day on the 250, going 4-3 against the other men in his group. Here's the day that the Americans finally lost.
In 1995 Emig went again, this time on a YZ250 to the race in Slovakia, and he was the top American with a 2-1 score. Ryan Hughes made his Team USA debut with a 2-2 in the Open class, but Steve Lamson's 3-3 ride behind a 16-year-old Sebastien Tortelli's blistering 1-1 and Stefan Everts' 2-2 cost the team the one point it needed to beat Belgium, and Team USA lost for the second year in a row. Here's the video.
Emig's last best day on Team USA came in 1996, in Jerez, Spain. Now on Kawasaki, Emig rode the big 500 while McGrath returned to race the 250 and Lamson the 125. This was the team that put a whipping on the rest of the world unlike anything we've seen other than Maggiora, Italy, in 1986. All three men went 1-1 in their respective classes, with Lamson becoming the first 125 rider in history to win a moto outright. McGrath was the fastest man there, but Emig was solid in his one and only race—EVER—on a 500cc motorcycle. Check out the highlights here in this old clip from Fox Racing's Terrafirma series, featuring Ricky Johnson as host.
Emig and his teammates Jeremy McGrath and Steve Lamson were literally head and shoulder above everyone else in Spain in 1996. Emig won the 500 class with a 1-1 finish.
And the '96 race footage is here, albeit in Spanish (or maybe Portuguese?):
Emig started the 1997 des Nations in Nismes, Belgium, with a runner-up ride, but fell way back in the last moto on a forgetable day for Team USA.
Emig's sixth and final day with Team USA was a train wreck—for Steve Lamson on the 125, for John Dowd in the 250 class, for Emig as the 500 rider (albeit on a KX250). Emig started strong with a runner-up ride in the first moto, but that would be the only top-ten finish for the Americans the rest of the day. The home team from Belgium won, and it was the beginning of a three-year losing streak for Team USA. Here's the third and final moto, which included Emig and Dowd.Emig was a willing and tough competitor for Team USA. He was a top performer in his class almost every time, but the team itself was an even 3-3 in his years as a member. With just a few breaks in Switzerland '95 and Slovakia '95, he would have been 5-1 and higher up on the list. Regardless, we tip our visors to this American motocross legend, Jeff Emig, #9 on our Team USA Top 25 Countdown.