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Great Races: Ron Lechien and the 1983 Citrus Bowl Supercross

Like reading about the old school? We do, too, so we’ve set Eric Johnson loose with his notebook and photo archives for a regular feature here at Racer X Online called “Great Races.” The first one features Ronnnie Lechien and the 1983 Orlando SX—check it out!
 

Ron Lechien at Daytona in 1983
For the 1983 season, Team Yamaha hired a 16-year-old kid from El Cajon, California, named Ron Lechien to contest the AMA 125cc National MX Championship Series. Lechien had turned 16 in December of 1982, less than a month before the ’83 season-opening Anaheim Supercross. Back then there was no AMA 125cc East/West Regional Championship—it would arrive in 1985—so Yamaha decided to keep their young rider on the sidelines until he got some supercross practice in.

“Atlanta was my very first supercross,” says Lechien, who today works with his father, Dick Lechien, at Maxima in El Cajon. “We were concentrating on the 125cc Nationals that year and Yamaha kept me out of the first three races. I don’t think they wanted to throw me to the wolves too early!

“Atlanta was just the full-on mudder,” says Lechien, who was affectionately referred to as “Dogger” not for only his laid-back attitude, but also because le chien means “the dog” in French. “I rode the last-chance qualifier and didn’t even qualify. With all the ruts and mud—this was the old Fulton County Stadium, which didn’t have a roof—it was like a slot-car track. I watched the main event from the tunnel. It was raining so hard, I couldn’t even see across the track! Mark Barnett won the main and I thought he was an animal.”

Lechien would compete at Daytona, Dallas, Pontiac, Kansas City, and Washington, D.C., steadily gaining confidence and working on the fundamentals of riding 250cc supercross against the likes of David Bailey, Broc Glover, Jeff Ward, Johnny O’Mara, and (before he got hurt) Rick Johnson. Then, on Saturday morning, June 11, Lechien idled out onto Orlando Citrus Bowl supercross track for practice.

“I was gaining confidence and felt better with each supercross I rode,” Lechien explains. “When I first turned pro, my dad stopped going to the races with me. As an amateur, I had spent so much time with my dad that the way our relationship was, it was like I always wanted to do good for my dad. Orlando was the first supercross he actually went to with me my rookie season.”

Along with such fierce competitors as Bob Hannah, Mark Barnett, and Mike Bell (plus all those other guys mentioned above), Lechien took his time learning the Citrus Bowl circuit. “The way the track was configured, there was a start, a chicane, some whoops, then three or four pretty good-size jumps,” he remembers. “In practice, I doubled one of them. After I did, I noticed that nobody else was doing it, so I decided right then and there not to do it again.

“Back then the teams weren’t filming practice and stuff like they do now, so guys like Johnny O’ and David [Bailey] didn’t even know that I had that double down,” Lechien laughs. “In fact, I didn’t even do the double in my heat races. I saved it for the main event!”

Later that evening came the 20-lap main. “I got a pretty good start—I think I was in about fourth,” the Dogger says. “When we came up to the double jump, I hit it, flew by a bunch of guys, and landed right next to O’Mara, who was leading the race. Johnny lost the front end in the next turn and I was in the lead.

“After that, I put my head down and took off,” Lechien continues. “It didn’t take long for me to build up a 15- to 20-second lead. I rode conservatively, watched my lines, made sure I stayed up, and the rest was history.”

The 16 year-old Californian on the #224 black-and-yellow Yamaha YZ250 had won his first professional AMA event. Shockingly, it came in a 250cc supercross—Lechien would win his first 125 National eight days later at Lake Whitney, Texas. “I was ecstatic with the wins,” he says. “I was like, ‘I did it!’ I proved to myself that I could run with those guys. What was weird, though, was that it was so easy. It was mind-boggling to me that it was so easy to win that race. I guess it was always like that for me. All of my best races were when I felt like it was so easy to win. Whenever I would ride my hardest and give it all I had, I’d finish in fifth or sixth.”

Lechien would go on to win 25 more AMA events (10 125cc Nationals, six 250cc Nationals, two 500cc Nationals, and seven 250cc supercrosses), as well as the 1985 AMA 125cc National Championship before retiring in the late 1980s. Despite some ups and downs in his personal life (which you can read about in the definitive piece on Lechien, “What the Hell Happened to Ron Lechien?” in the April/May 2000 issue of Racer X), Lechien remains one of the most charismatic figures in American motocross history.


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