40 Day Countdown To AMA Motocross Opener: 1979

40 Day Countdown To AMA Motocross Opener: 1979

April 19, 2011 6:45pm

The countdown to the opening motos of the 40th year for Lucas Oil AMA Motocross continues, and today Racer X looks back at the 1979 season.

(Click here for previous years.)

But we have to start 1979 with an apology for a mistake in yesterday's 1978 review. The 250cc AMA Motocross Champion Bob Hannah was back in California for the last rounds with an injury after clinching the title early with his dominant rides through the first seven rounds of the tour. He was working on getting healthy for the upcoming Trans-AMA tour, which he also won in what was surely one of the most impressive seasons in motocross history.  I also should have mentioned that the famous Dick Miller photo of Hannah coming out of Gravity Cavity was shot in 1978 at the Unadilla 250cc U.S. Grand Prix, the rare race that Bob did not actually win in 1978. Our apologies for the oversight on both counts.

Bob Hannah kept rolling right into 1979 on his Yamahas, winning another AMA Supercross title as well as another AMA Motocross title.

By 1978, AMA Supercross had grown to the point where it began to antiquate not only Trans-USA racing, but the 500cc class, as the top riders seemed to gravitate mostly to the 250cc class. This was also a time when privateer teams began to grow, as Fox Racing's team was joined by the likes of LOP Yamaha and FMF, Keystone and DG Racing in the pits. Meanwhile, brands such as Can-Am, Maico and Bultaco were disappearing from the ranks, as factory riders for those brands were being replaced by privately-backed and modified Japanese bikes that were technically superior—let alone the works bikes of the Japanese teams.


Danny LaPorte would take the AMA 500cc Motocross crown and earn another MXA cover.

Saddleback, arguably the hub of the motocross world at the time, finally joined the AMA Motocross tour, taking the place of nearby Escape Country, which was on the schedule for a single year in 1978 before being sold for housing. And a track just below Denver in Lakewood was added to the schedule, though it was not on the same spot of what is now Thunder Valley, which is on the 2011 Lucas Oil AMA Motocross Championship schedule.

The legendary Saddleback became part of the AMA Motocross tour in 1979.

After Bob Hannah won another AMA Supercross title—his third straight—it had become obvious that he was the best motocross rider this country had yet to produce. He also hammered out another AMA 250cc Motocross title, beating Kent Howerton of Team Suzuki by some 50 points. It appeared certain that Hannah's reign might continue for several more years, but then a freak accident while water-skiing behind a boat driven by his friendly rival Marty Tripes left Hannah with a badly broken leg that autumn. It was a stunning blow to American motocross as a whole, as Hannah would miss the entire 1980 season to come.

"In 1979 the game plan was for Keith McCarty and I to continue to hand out ass whippings – and we did,” Hannah told Racer X Online. “That was, until I went water skiing with the competition. Then the Colorado River gave me an ass whipping for next year and a half!”

Marty Tripes' works Honda was claimed by a privateer and then tore down by a magazine.

Tripes was involved in another wild story from '79 when his works Honda was “claimed” by a privateer named John Roeder at the opening round of the outdoor nationals. It was the first time a factory bike had been snatched like that, and the bike ended up in the hands of Cycle Magazine, which then tore it down to see just what Honda had put under the hood of Tripes' machine. To learn more about the bike, check this out from MX Works Bike.

Hannah's younger teammate Broc Glover was once again the class of the 125cc class, winning the title there for the third time in a row in what was shaping up as a legendary motocross career. But Glover did find new competition in the form of Suzuki's super-fast newcomer Mark “Bomber” Barnett, as well as Brian Myerscough.

After after losing the 1977 AMA 125cc National title to Glover on a tie-breaker, Suzuki's Danny LaPorte avenged himself with a championship effort in the 500cc class in '79, narrowly beating Yamaha's Mike Bell by just three points in the closest title bout of the season.

And in what was now called the Trans-USA Series, Howerton topped the almost-all-American field on his Suzuki. The highest-placing European in the five-race series was future world champ Andre Malherbe, who finished ninth in an abbreviated tour.

That's Mike Bell at the '79 Trans-USA race at Sears Point in Sonoma, California.

1979 250cc AMA Motocross

3/25          Sacramento, CA         Bob Hannah, Whittier,CA             Yam

4/1            Irvine, CA  Bob Hannah, Whittier, CA            Yam

4/8            Phoenix, AZ               Bob Hannah, Whittier, CA            Yam

4/22          Herman, NE               Bob Hannah, Whittier, CA            Yam

5/20          Southwick, MA            Kent Howerton, San Antonio, TX    Suz

5/27          Atlanta, GA                Bob Hannah, Whittier, CA            Yam

6/17          Sonoma, CA              Marty Tripes, Santee, CA             Hon

6/24          Lakewood, CO            Bob Hannah, Whittier, CA            Yam

7/1            Buchanan, MI             Marty Tripes, Santee, TX              Hon

7/8            Mt. Morris, PA             Kent Howerton, San Antonio, TX    Suz

1979 250cc National Point Standings

1.) Bob Hannah, Whittier, CA       454

2.) Kent Howerton, San Antonio, TX408

3.) Marty Tripes, Santee, CA        315

4.) Jim Weinert, Middletown, NY   253

5.) Mark Gregson, Salem, OR       226

6.) Larry Wosick, San Jose, CA   208

7.) Mike Guerra, Bolton, CT          205

8.) John Savitski, Atlas, PA          190

9.) Steve Wise, Pharr, TX            188

10.)   Ron Sun, Sherwood, OR              148

1979 500cc National Motocross

5/20          Southwick, MA            Danny LaPorte, Yucca Valley, CA Suz

5/27          Atlanta, GA                Danny LaPorte, Yucca Valley, CA Suz

6/17          Sonoma, CA              Gaylon Mosier, Huntington Beach, CA           Kaw

6/24          Lakewood, CO            Mike Bell, Lakewood, CA              Yam

7/1            Buchanan, MI             Danny LaPorte, Yucca Valley, CA Suz

7/8            Mt. Morris, PA             Gaylon Mosier, Huntington Beach, CA           Kaw

8/5            Houston, TX               Rex Staten, Fontana, CA             Yam

8/12          Center Isle, NY          Mike Bell, Lakewood, CA              Yam

8/19          Charlotte, NC             Mike Bell, Lakewood, CA              Yam

8/26          St. Petersburg, FL      Mike Bell, Lakewood, CA              Yam


1979 500cc National Point Standings

1.) Danny LaPorte, Yucca Valley, CA            399

2.) Mike Bell, Lakewood, CA         396

3.) Gary Semics, Huntington Beach, CA        233

4.) Arlo Englund, Denver, CO       219

5.) Rex Staten, Fontana, CA        217

6.) Gaylon Mosier, Huntington Beach, CA      213

7.) Darrell Schultz, Orangevale, CA               205

8.) Mickey Kessler, Framingdale, NJ             201

9.) Marty Moates, Waukegan, IL   188

10.) Greg Thiess, Omaha, NE       161

1979 125cc National Motocross

3/25          Sacramento, CA         Brian Myerscough, Calimesa, CA  Suz

4/1            Irvine, CA  Broc Glover, El Cajon, CA           Yam

4/8            Phoenix, AZ               Broc Glover, El Cajon, CA           Yam

4/22          Herman, NE               Broc Glover, El Cajon, CA           Yam

8/5            Houston, TX               Broc Glover, El Cajon, CA           Yam

8/12          Center Isle, NY          Mark Barnett, Bridgeview, IL         Suz

8/19          Charlotte, NC             Mark Barnett, Bridgeview, IL         Suz

8/26          St. Petersburg, FL      Mark Barnett, Bridgeview, IL         Suz

1979 125cc National Point Standings

1.) Broc Glover, El Cajon, CA       369

2.) Mark Barnett, Bridgeview, IL    299

3.) Brian Myerscough, Calimesa, CA             269

4.) Warren Reid, Westminster, CA                244

5.) Donnie Cantaloupi, Stockton, CA             225

6.) Jeff Ward, Mission Viejo, CA   210

7.) Jim Gibson, Orange, CA         172

8.) Ron Turner, Whittier, CA         149

9.) Pat Moroney, Newburgh, NY    146

10.)   David Taylor, Glendora, CA          124


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