Great Races: The 1990 Motocross des Nations

July 21, 2006 8:04am

The streak had reached nine races and the Europeans, all so very weary of it all, had marshaled their forces and were closing in on Squirrel Valley, a circuit located on the outskirts of the Vimmerby, Sweden. The date was Sunday, September 16, 1990 and cheery little Vimmerby was playing host to the 44th running of the Motocross des Nations.

Sunday, race day, was bright and sunny, some 10,000 fans flocking to the sand track which was laid out in a thicket of tall evergreen trees. During opening ceremonies, Team USA—Damon Bradshaw (125cc), Jeff Stanton (250cc), and Jeff Ward (500cc)—stood in the back of a small Jeep, waving an American flag and their hands to the enthusiasts who filled the narrow valley. The American team looked quite confident, but deep down all three riders knew they had a fight on their hands. This time, the Grand Prix riders who made up the World Championship circuit were serious. The day before in Saturday practice, Belgian big-bike rider Dirk Geukens had taken it upon himself to taunt both Ward and Stanton, often pulling in behind them and shadowing the American duo to the point that they wondered just what he was up to. In fact, Geukens nearly landed upon Ward in one session.

The first moto on Sunday was the combined 500cc/125cc classification. When the gate dropped, there were some strange glances exchanged when home-team rider Stefan Larsson pulled an amazing holeshot. "We always use the same gate for the GPs throughout Sweden," Larsson would say sheepishly after the moto. Larsson led the first eight circuits of what would be a 17-lap affair before Ward flashed past. Following the American past the Swede was Team Luxembourg's Jacky Martens (who was actually from Belgium, but that’s another story). One of the world's premier sand specialists at the time, Martens would soon blitz Ward and race away to win the moto over the Kawasaki pilot. Dane Soren Mortenson was third and Belgian Geukens was an impressive fourth.

Back in the 125cc ranks, Belgian MXdN rookie Stefan Everts had a hell of a race, guiding his RM125 across the finish line with the class moto win. For the Americans, Damon Bradshaw, who struggled to find his form all moto, placed fourth in the 125cc class. "I was riding the bike as hard as it could go, wide open, and just trying to stay on two wheels," Bradshaw said after the race.

When the gate dropped to start the 250cc/125cc moto, once again it was a Swede at the sharp end of the field, Peter Johansson leading the band of bees out into the dark forest. Just behind stalked Jeff Stanton. Bradshaw was way back in 16th and looking for any sort of daylight he could find. By the end of lap two, Stanton, who had shaken loose Johansson and Italian Alex Puzar , was in front and pulling away.

"I was up there at the start where I wanted to be," Stanton said. "I knew they'd be fast at first, but once I got by I just kept pulling away, riding my race." Stanton would never be messed with. For Bradshaw, though, the race had turned into a nightmare. At the halfway point, Alan Morrison of the Irish team and a hard-charging Bradshaw collided and tumbled into the sand. Their race was run. "I had been behind Morrison a ways and caught up to him," Bradshaw lamented. "I went one way to pass him, and he didn't make the tabletop. I didn't even have time to think."

Added Morrison, gouged back and all, "I was riding my normal line, and Bradshaw came from nowhere."

With Belgium and Sweden too close for comfort, it was nervous time in the American pit area prior to the last moto of the day: the 500cc/250cc moto. Australian rider Jeff Leisk holeshot the pack; way back and wobbling out of the first turn was Stanton, who had narrowly escaped a major crash coming out of the starting gate. "A Russian rider just got all squirrelly and hit me, and there was nothing I could do," he explained to Cycle News journalist Nate Rauba. "I was way back, and in the first corner I was off my bike, running beside it, after I got rammed. I got back on and knew I had to ride and do the best I could."

Up front, Ward ran in fifth before the shock on his big KX packed in and called it a day. "The rebound went on the third or fourth lap and it was just a pogo stick," Ward said after the race.

Italian Alex Puzar led the moto aboard his works Suzuki 250. Behind him were 500cc riders Leisk and Geukens. Stanton, meanwhile, rode like a man possessed, slashing and burning his way toward the front. At the halfway mark he was up to fifth, and soon thereafter zapped Johansson and Finn Pekka Vehkonnen. Next up was the Belgian Geukens. The duo exited into the track's back section, but when he came back into view, Stanton was all alone. Where was Geukens? Stanton knew the answer. "In practice, Geukens follows you, passes you back and forth,” he explained of the Belgian’s Saturday practice antics. “It's stupid and I got tired of his BS all day. So I put him down in the back. I parked him. He screwed with us too many times and I got tired of it.”

"He hit me in front, he went inside," said Geukens. "It's not a nice way to pass."

Stanton went on to pass Leisk, and at the finish line was just a few seconds adrift of the winning Puzar. Largely due to Stanton's heroic riding, Team USA had won the Motocross des Nations for the 10th consecutive time. And what became of Dirk Geukens? After the race, he came looking for Stanton. "Congratulations," he told him, shaking his hand. "But I'll remember it for next year."

There was no next year for Geukens, as one year later, Stanton showed up in deep brown sand of Valkenswaard, Holland, aboard a 500cc Honda and once again gave the Grand Prix riders a serious schooling, leading Team USA to Motocross des Nations victory number 11.