Welcome to something we’re calling the Number Cruncher, brought to
you by Shift MX here at Racer X Online. I hope you will find this new
weekly feature highly entertaining, with its juxtaposition of
new-school and old-school flavors. I know a lot of you out there will
share my attachment to not only your own racing number, but also all
racing numbers in general. For instance, have you ever spotted the #259
on an exit sign or a mile marker and thought, Hey, that’s Bubba’s
A number can be so much more than a means to differentiate competitors. I know when I was a kid, my beloved #77 was very special to me. I would always put my number beside my name at the top of my homework papers in school; if I went to a local car race, I would root for the 77 ball.
Professional motocross used to use numbers as a ranking system, and each off-season we’d wait to see who would earn what digit when the new numbers came out, or we'd even go so far as to do the math ourselves, adding up all of the points to figure out that Jeff Stanton would wear #2 in 1993, the MX Kied was #3, the headed-to-road racing JMB earned but never wore #4, and Mike LaRocco would wear #5 as a precursor of things to come.
But then, six years ago, the AMA established its semi-permanent number system (and Europe soon followed), modeled after other larger, more popular and successful sports with a mindset for advantages in marketing and rider/fan awareness. This system has worked very well for almost every number out there. The idea was to have a constant number work like the way the #23 did for Nike and Michael Jordan, or the good old #3 for NASCAR and Dale Earnhardt’s legacy. The thinking was, the riders could market themselves better if they didn’t switch numbers every year like, say, Doug Henry, who until the permanent system was in place, wore such digits as #19, #8, #16, #4, #15, #20, and even #1.
And that’s where the rub was: Ricky Carmichael earned the #1 ten times since 2001 but only wore it for select events. And ’04 AMA Supercross Champ Chad Reed never wore it, and the one time James Stewart did (Las Vegas ’03 with the #1W), well, it ended badly. But that may change in 2007.
Last Saturday night, there were but three numbers on everyone’s minds: RC’s #4, Reed’s #22, and the first number we’re going to serve up through the Shift MX Number Cruncher, James Stewart’s #7. When James decided he needed a change in his life and wanted start a “New Beginning” and a new number other than the #259 he’s worn for his entire pro career, he could not have chosen a number richer in heritage and history. In fact, Lucky Number Seven may be one of the most recognizable motocross numbers of all time, even though it’s been mostly absent the last few years. The original bad boy of American motocross, “Bad” Brad Lackey, wore that number as he chased the Europeans around the 1972 Trans-AMA circuits on his Kawasaki, earning “Top American” honors and a ticket to Europe to start racing the 500cc Grand Prix circuit. Next came “Jammin’” Jimmy Weinert, who wore that number into history in Charlie Morey’s motocross-work-of-art photo that has won him acclaim since he shot it in 1974 in Ohio. We’ll pick up it up with photos right there.
Got a number you want us to crunch? Letters@racerxill.com.