When you take a step backward and look at the machines the guys are riding today, it's pretty crazy. I remember the first time I walked up to the back of the factory Suzuki box van and drooled over Guy Cooper and Brian Swink's 1993 RM250s. When Marshal Plumb fired Swinkster's to life, the crackle and snarl of the bike sent some major chills up my back. Once they took to the track, I couldn't get over how different they sounded. I had marveled over the grunt the factory bikes had at the supercross races I had attended. But as I stood along Bradshaw Boulevard and heard Mike Kiedrowski's KX250 come by at full song it was like I had never really, really heard a motocross bike before. DAA!!!!!RRRRRHHAAAAPP!!!! Was the sound as he dumped the clutch and started shifting.
Then came the buzz bombs of the 125s. There is still nothing like the sound of the old factory 125s – especially the HRC machines. No further message.
I was at Glen Helen for the first charge of the YZ400F in 1997. That thing was the sickest bike anyone had ever seen. The first full works bike on track since the 1985 season, and boy was she something. Now, a dozen years later, look at what Broc Hepler will push to the line. Holy crap. The few and the proud that have held a box-stock 450 wide open in third gear have a greater appreciation for a higher being. Now, imagine riding one that is 10 pounds lighter and has 10 more horsepower. Now, imagine taking off the starting line with 40 of them.
All two-stroke/four-stroke debates aside, hearing a full gate of 450s go to the throttle when the gate drops is the most awesome spectacle in motocross history.
Sure, more than a few tears have been shed over the death of 125, but look at how insane the racing action has been since the advent of the 250F! Ivan Tedesco was the first rider to win the tiddler-class title on one back in 2005, and the racing has been intense ever since.
Look at this class for 2009!
I can't wait to hear the four-stokes thunder up the hills this summer. Bogging? Yeah, right!
Bob Hannah was the first rider I fell in love with. My 1982 Y-Zinger had lightning bolts on it, as did my helmet, and jersey. I was only five years old, but I knew exactly who he was. I wore out the VHS tape of the 1986 Unadilla USGP that he won after O'Show ran out of gas. He rode hard, talked smack, and had style. Who can you compare him to? Nobody, really.
Then came Jeff Ward and Ricky Johnson as the perennial outdoor badasses. When you were a 60cc or 80cc rider in 1987, there was nothing cooler than wearing a Ricky Johnson-replica helmet with the Mad Dog sticker on top. I still remember what mine smelled like when I took it out of the helmet bag the first time. He dominated the outdoors in '87, and then lost it in '88 when his bike blew up.
Then came Stanton, Bradshaw, and Bayle. Stanton pretty much revolutionized the way riders looked at a 30-minute-plus-two-lap moto. His titles in '89 and '90 were won with brute force. Meanwhile, guys like Micky Dymond, Jeff Leisk, Ron Lechien, Doug Dubach, and Mike Fisher stood out to me.
They were all glad to see JMB leave in 1993.
How about the tiddler-class champions through the years? Barnett, Lechien, Dymond, Holland, Kiedrowski, Cooper, and Emig were my first 125 heroes. Then the Doug Henry, Ezra Lusk, Robbie Reynard show of the mid ‘90s was some of the best racing ever. Then came Steve Lamson, who really killed it in the outdoor nationals. McGrath was winning everything in Supercross during his era, but MXKIED and "Iron" Mike LaRocco led a Mean Green Machine that owned the nationals. "Serpico" Lamson is the last Honda rider to win the 125 title.
Then along came a spider from Tallahassee, Florida. From 1997 until 2006, Ricky Carmichael never came close to losing an outdoor title. One memory sticks out and I'll never forget it: Hangtown, 2002. He came around on the first lap of the moto and the corner before the finish line was icy slick and freshly watered. When the guys chasing him got on the brakes and set up in hesitation, he buried his throttle arm at his rib cage and straight-legged it all the way around. His rear tire left a perfect black mark through the chatter bumps, and just like that (poof) - he was gone.
"The outdoor nationals are dying." "Save High Point." "Youthstream is here." Any of that ring a bell? I was sitting in bed last night watching Predator 2 when King Willie said, "There's no stopping what can't be stopped; no killing what can't be killed." That is way, way over the top, but it rang true to me.
They've reinvented the steel. All the history and lore is still there, but the outdoor nationals are a new, unique animal.
And they're on Saturday. How bitchin is that? Pre-race party Friday night, all-day moto on Saturday, then sleep it off Sunday or head to church. Me, I get to watch NASCAR undistracted. Hey, it's the not-so-little things.
Whatever you love about the nationals – the speed, the respect for stamina, or the tracks – it’s all within your grasp.
We're a week away from Glen Helen. A week away from sunny Saturday afternoons with ice-cold beer and hot chicks by the hundreds.