Motocross FAQs

August 27, 2008 12:55pm | by:
If you're new to Lucas Oil AMA Motocross, you’ve probably got a lot of questions. We’ve tried to anticipate most of them and will try to answer them right here. Study hard, and by the end of the day, you’ll be a regular MXpert.

Why are there four motos?
There are two classes, each with two motos. The two classes of racing are AMA Motocross 250 class (250cc four-stroke motorcycles or 125cc two-stroke motorcycles) and the premier AMA 450 class (450cc four-strokes or 250cc two-strokes). Changes in the last five or six years have seen all of the professional racers switch from two-stroke bikes to four-stroke “thumpers,” though two-strokes are still allowed in both classes. Why are there two motos? Well, back when motocross was still very young, the equipment was not nearly as reliable as it is today. Organizers wanted to make sure the fans got to see their favorite riders as much as possible, and having two motos (and even three, at one point) gave them a second opportunity, should something go wrong with the bike.

Why does practice seem so competitive?
Riders are timed and scored electronically each time they are on the track. The AMA attaches a transponder to each motorcycle, and each time riders pass the meter at the finish line, their time is registered to the thousandth of a second. If you want to watch the timing and scoring from other races at home, check out, which will carry all of the AMA’s Live Timing & Scoring. Riders’ practice times are used to seed them into the motos. The fastest rider gets the first gate pick, with second getting the second gate pick, and so on.

What is the gate?
The starting gate is the metal barrier that the riders line up behind at the start of each moto. The gate drops toward the riders, and when it drops, the race starts. If a rider takes off too early, he will get his front wheel caught in the gate, costing him time.

How long is a moto, and how is it scored?
Once the starting gate drops, each moto lasts thirty minutes plus two laps. Both classes race two motos, and the scores from each moto are combined to determine the overall winner. Points are awarded for each moto, starting at twenty-five for first place, twenty-two for second, twenty for third, and so on. In the case of a tie in total points for the day, the rider who finishes higher in the second moto gets the advantage. At the end of the season, the rider with the most points is the Lucas Oil AMA Motocross Champion.

Why are some riders pitted out of big semis and others are pitted out of pickup trucks and vans?
There are two basic types of riders: factory or factory-supported riders and self-supported privateer riders. Factory riders are paid a salary from their race teams, and they have bikes, a mechanic, a team transporter, and all the necessities supplied by the team. Privateers, on the other hand, might get a discount on bikes and maybe parts, but all the expenses involved in getting to the races and maintaining bikes and equipment are the rider’s responsibility.

How does the flag system work in AMA motocross?
There are several flags that you will see waving throughout the day. The green flag signifies the start of the race on the opening lap. The yellow flag is a caution flag to signify a downed rider or obstruction on the course, but unlike in most other racing series, the yellow flag does not mean that riders cannot pass each other. They still can, they just need to exercise caution. The red flag stops the race if there is a problem on the track. The blue flag with a yellow stripe is shown to lapped riders to warn them to move over as they are being overtaken by the leaders. The white flag signifies one lap to go, and the checkered flag, the one every rider wants to see first, means the race is over.

Where did motocross come from?
Motocross got its start in Europe just after World War I, when it was called scrambles. The bikes were rudimentary compared to today’s machinery, but the sport has always provided action for the fans and thrills for the racers. Motocross made its way to the United States by the 1970s in the form of hare scrambles?simple off-road races. The sport grew and was eventually brought to the Los Angeles Coliseum. That race spawned supercross, a form of motocross racing with manmade courses, held inside stadiums.

So if it started in Europe, why is it so big in America?
Europeans dominated the sport until the early 1980s, when the Americans began beating them at the sport they created. Brad Lackey became the first American World MX Champion when he won the 500cc Grand Prix title in 1982; Danny LaPorte became second two weeks later when he won the 250cc Grand Prix title. Since that time, the AMA Toyota Motocross Championship has been the world’s premier series, as most of the world’s top riders migrate to the U.S. to challenge the top Americans.

Why are the two #1 riders--Ryan Dungey and Trey Canard--wearing red plates while everyone else uses a black (250 class) or white (450 class) number-plate background?

The defending Lucas Oil AMA Motocross Champions have the privilege of wearing the red plates so fans can spot them more easily on the track. While simply using the #1 seems like it would do the trick, because longtime champion Ricky Carmichael preferred to stick with his trademark #4, the AMA added a supplemental rule stating that he (or anyone keeping his own number) should at least wear a red plate.

Why do these guys look tired? Doesn’t the motorcycle’s engine do all the work?
Anybody who’s ever taken a lap around a motocross track will tell you that it’s extremely physically demanding. In fact, one famous study claimed that the only sport that required more physical stamina than professional motocross is World Cup soccer. To get an idea of how difficult it really is, try running as fast as you can for thirty minutes. It’s something like that.

How much money do these racers make?
This varies, depending, of course, on success. The top athletes in the sport make millions of dollars a year, which comes from team salaries, purse money, race-win and championship bonuses, and endorsements. Many more racers make very comfortable salaries well into six figures. And then there are also privateers and fast weekend warriors who don’t make a living from racing, but they come out and give it their all anyway.

How modified are the bikes?
The bikes racing on the track here look very similar to the ones you can buy at your local dealership, and that’s done on purpose. Back in 1986, the AMA began enforcing a “production rule,” which requires all race bikes to use the same major components as the bikes sold to the public (frames, transmission/crankcases, and engine cylinders must be the same as production, for example). Beyond that, though, almost anything goes. The top factory race teams spend thousands of dollars reworking engine internals to produce more power. They bolt on high-end front forks and rear shocks, then spend countless hours developing those components to meet rider preferences. Then they bolt on a variety of aluminum, titanium, magnesium, and carbon-fiber parts to make the bike stronger and lighter. The end result is a bike that looks like one anybody could buy but that performs at a much higher level. As always in racing, speed costs money, so the top factory teams generally boast the best equipment.

How do points work?
Riders are awarded points based on how they finish in each moto. The winner of a moto gets twenty-five points, second place gets twenty-two, third gets twenty, fourth gets eighteen, fifth gets sixteen, and then it drops by ones until it reaches zero. At the end of the season, total points determine where a rider finishes in the championship.