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Moates Remembered

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I was on the San Diego Freeway headed south, halfway between San Clemente and Carlsbad this morning, when the phone rang: Marty Moates had taken his own life. As is probably instinct in such tragic matters, one is left to ask, why would a man who lived such a great life, choose to do such a thing?

Off the highway and up onto Palomar Airport Road driving through Carlsbad, one looks down at a massive work-in-progress: a championship golf course, with its dirt patches and shades of green. But under a small part of that golf course is Carlsbad Raceway. On Sunday, June 22, 1980, Carlsbad Raceway and Marty Moates would become synonymous with one another. On that bright and sunny afternoon, Moates, the consummate underdog as an empty-pocketed privateer, rode his LOP Yamaha to victory at the 500cc United States Grand Prix of Motocross, being the then-dominant European stars. It was the one race every American rider dreamed of winning, though no one had pulled it off to that point. But in Cinderella fashion, Moates, born and raised in nearby San Diego, pulled off what remains arguably the single biggest upset in motocross history. It was Marty’s finest moment, as well as Carlsbad’s.

“This was the first race I ever came to as a kid,” Marty would tell a reporter a few minutes after the final moto that day. “While I was out there I just thought, I can’t believe this is happening. It was great! I’ve dreamed about this race every year and now it’s happened.”

photo: Dick Miller Archives

On an office wall at No Fear headquarters, also in Carlsbad, rests a photo of Moates, his #23 Bel-Ray bib over his back, crossing the finish line, his right hand in the air. Hanging over the banners on the side of the track is a young man dressed in yellow corduroy shorts, clapping his hands and cheering. It’s Mark Simo. Ten years after that historic Grand Prix win, Mark Simo, his brother Brian, and Marty Moates would start No Fear together.

“I’ve known him since I first started racing motocross,” said Mark Simo this morning. “When Marty used to ride the Nationals [in the late 1970s], I was his mechanic, his driver, and I followed him around the country. To the fans, Marty was the underdog, the working-class guy, the hero loved by the regular, everyday people because they could relate to him. Marty was the guy who rode all the junk and made the best of it. He fought his way through to make the name he did.

“Marty was with us the first day we started No Fear,” added Simo. “He and my brother Brian and I lived in a warehouse in Las Palmas in 1990 and ‘91. Marty has always been with us. Not long ago, he became the president of FMF International, the apparel division of FMF that we’re also involved in. FMF was Marty’s project — it was his baby. Marty, along with Don Emler, took it and ran with it and made it a huge success.

“All of us here at No Fear, and all of us who raced motocross, like Greg Theiss and Boris Said and Jeff Surwall, are deeply saddened by Marty’s death. We’ve lost a friend. We’ve lost a brother.”

Marty Moates loved the sport of motocross. Whether it was racing the 250cc Grand Prix World Championship series aboard off-song Ossa motorcycles, living hand-to-mouth as part of the storied privateer LOP Yamaha team, or just riding as a vet at local races in Southern California, Moates was always in it because he loved it. He didn’t get rich racing motocross, but that never bothered Moates and he was all too happy to see this generation of professional racers make the millions of dollars that they do. To all, Marty Moates was friendly, approachable, and willing to do anything to help his sport or a friend out. The waters ran deep with Marty Moates.

In late February 2003, this writer was standing in the FMF booth at the 2003 Indianapolis Trade Show watching a videotape of that famous race from 1980 with Marty Moates himself. We both smiled as we watched the film of him navigating that big yellow YZ around the baked adobe of Carlsbad Raceway. When it ended, I looked over and said, “Marty, I’ll never forget the day my little brother and I watched that race on TV. We couldn’t believe it.”

“Neither could I,” he smiled. It really was a beautiful day for Marty Moates.

Eric Johnson
Carlsbad, California

If you wish to provide help to the Moates’ family — his wife Heather and son Dakota — in their time of need, donations can be sent to:

The Marty Moates Memorial Fund C/O No Fear
2251 Faraday Avenue
Carlsbad, CA  92008

 

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