Welcome to the Shift Number Cruncher. This is one of the biggest
weeks of the year for motocross. With this in mind we decided to drop
back into the shotgun position and go for a big play. I think it is
time for the Number Cruncher to hit a climax and really get to the core
of what racing numbers are all about.
When Ricky Carmichael won the 1999 AMA 125cc Motocross Championship for the third straight time, he was faced with a fairly strange predicament. The sport was changing and was scratching and clawing its way into the mainstream. A marketing mindset swept over the industry and we began looking at different sports genres for clues. Stick and ball sports learned a long time ago about the revenue possibilities of using numbers to I.D. their athletes. Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, for instance, the #23 was synonymous with Michael Jordan. The same could be said for #80 for Jerry Rice or any other top player. Millions upon millions were made by merchandising companies. Other motorsports had also heavily invested into the concept of attaching a permanent number to their drivers, like the #43 with Richard Petty or the #3 of Dale Earnhardt.
The AMA decided to bring that thinking to SX/MX. With more titles than any still-active rider, Jeremy McGrath chose first, taking #2 (when he wasn’t wearing #1, which was reserved for the current champion). Jeff Emig was next with four titles, and he took #3. RC chose #4, the digit he would wear to win his first 250 SX, at Daytona in 2000. Coincidentally, it was also the first number he had ever raced with.
Now, #4 is calling it quits, more or less, with fifteen championships, two perfect seasons, and more than 140 wins. The MX world will forever recognize this number as the one the GOAT wore; it is doubtful they will ever allow an AMA pro motocrosser to wear it again. But while Carmichael will always be known as # 4, there were also some incredible men who wore it before him.
Andre Vromans, 1981 Swedish 500cc Grand Prix…. Wow, the Dick Miller Archives go deep!
Respect the 4.