Today we turn to 1981 in our forty-day/forty-year countdown to the 2011 American motocross tour. The series begins on May 21 at the Hangtown Classic in Sacramento, then it's on to Freestone in Wortham, Texas, as the 40th Annual AMA Motocross tour rolls on.
The Hurricane returned from his leg injury after a year on the sidelines.
The big news that started 1981 was the fact that Bob Hannah was coming back after missing all of the previous season with the severely broken leg. Hannah started slowly (for him anyway) in AMA Supercross on his #100 Yamaha, but he did manage to get a win at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan, one of his favorite venues.
But the runaway winner for the '81 AMA Supercross title was Mark Barnett on his Suzuki, outpacing defending champ Mike Bell and his own Suzuki teammate Kent Howerton for the title.
Kent Howerton took one on the chin at Saddleback, but he won the title over Hannah nonetheless.
Barnett also laid waste to the 125 class outdoors—marking the only time a rider would win both the AMA Supercross title in the premier class (the 125/Lites SX class did not even exist until 1985) and the 125 AMA Motocross title. Barnett swept all seven of the first eight races but missed his shot at a perfect season when he broke his collarbone and could not ride the last round at Carlsbad. That opened the door for Team Honda's Johnny O'Mara to get his first AMA National win. And a Yamaha-supported teenager named Ricky Johnson won his first moto that day on the #212 YZ125.
The real fireworks in '81 came in the 250 class outdoors between Howerton, the #1 rider, and Hannah, the dominant class leader before breaking his leg. Their battles that summer are the stuff of legend, particularly Saddleback, which turned into a ramfest. There's even a documentary out about that epic day from Todd Huffman and the Motocross Files called The Saddleback Massacre. Here's a preview clip:
The Hannah-Howerton battle was the big storyline for the summer of '81.
You can order the film right here.
Hannah won that battle and two others but Howerton won the war, earning his second straight class title (and third AMA championship) in what was shaping up as an excellent career. Finishing seventh in the class that year was a future star riding for Team Green named David Bailey.
Johnny O'Mara won his first AMA National in 1981, then also joined Team USA with his Honda teammates.
And speaking of epic careers, Yamaha's Broc Glover overcame his defeat the year before to Barnett in the 125 class to take the 500cc title outdoors, winning all but two nationals in the series. Mike Bell, runner-up in AMA Supercross, would finish as runner-up here too.
But the biggest news for American motocross in 1981 came in Europe, after the AMA Motocross season had ended. That's where four American Honda riders—Donnie Hansen, Danny LaPorte, Johnny O'Mara, and Chuck Sun—showed up at the Trophee and Motocross des Nations after most of America's best riders passed on the event (again). They were inspired by Motocross Action editor Dick Miller, Bel-Ray's JJ Hanfield, and Hi-Point Racing Products' Larry Maiers to take on the Europeans. With newly retired five-time 500cc world champ Roger DeCoster helping manage the young Americans at Team Honda, they went to Belgium and West Germany and absolutely crushed the rest of the world in one of the most shocking upsets in the sport's history.
These four young Americans helped changed the balance of global motocross power at the '81 Motocross and Trophee des Nations.
Photo: Jack Burnicle
With those MXoN and Trophee wins—and twelve more consecutive years of wins at the world team championships—the balance of power in global motocross moved from right to left across the Atlantic Ocean. More on that tomorrow when Racer X Online revisits 1982!
1981 250cc AMA Motocross Championships
3/29 Sacramento, CA Kent Howerton, San Antonio, TX Suz
4/5 Irvine, CA Bob Hannah, Whittier, CA Yam
4/12 Lake Whitney, TX Kent Howerton, San Antonio, TX Suz
5/10 Atlanta, GA Kent Howerton, San Antonio, TX Suz
5/17 Southwick, MA Kent Howerton, San Antonio, TX Suz
5/24 Mt. Morris, PA Kent Howerton, San Antonio, TX Suz
6/7 St. Petersburg, FL Bob Hannah, Carson City, NV Yam
6/14 Castle Rock, CO Bob Hannah, Carson City, NV Yam
1981 250cc National Point Standings
1.) Kent Howerton, San Antonio, TX 389
2.) Bob Hannah, Whittier, CA 345
3,) Donnie Hansen, Simi Valley, CA 289
4.) Kris Bigelow, Rochester, MI 200
5.) Warren Reid, Midway City, CA 191
6.) Ron Turner, Whittier, CA 184
7.) David Bailey, Axton, VA 183
8.) Steve Martin, Palm Harbor, FL 163
9.) Gary Semics, Lisbon, CA 143
10.) Rick Burgett, Gresham, OR 131
That's a young David Bailey, riding for Team Green and Fox Racing in the 250 Nationals.
5/17 Southwick, MA Broc Glover, El Cajon, CA Yam
1981 500cc AMA Motocross Championship
5/24 Mt. Morris, PA Broc Glover, El Cajon, CA Yam
6/7 St. Petersburg, FL Broc Glover, El Cajon, CA Yam
6/14 Castle Rock, CO Broc Glover, El Cajon, CA Yam
6/28 Binghamton, NY Chuck Sun, Sherwood, OR Hon
7/5 Buchanan, MI Chuck Sun, Sherwood, OR Hon
8/2 Washougal, WA Broc Glover, El Cajon, CA Yam
8/16 Carlsbad, CA Broc Glover, El Cajon, CA Yam
1981 500cc AMA Motocross Point Standings
1.) Broc Glover, El Cajon, CA Yam 366
2.) Mike Bell, Lakewood, CA Yam 276
3.) Chuck Sun, Sherwood, OR Hon 253
4.) Danny LaPorte, Yucca Valley, CA Hon 227
5.) Goat Breker, Anaheim, CA Kaw 219
6.) Marty Smith, San Diego, CA Suz 205
7.) Bill Grossi, Santa Cruz, CA Husqvarna 184
8.) Alan King, Troy, MI Maico 182
9.) Arlo Englund, Denver, CO Yam 171
10.) Gary Pustelak, Girard, PA Husqvarna 142
1981 125cc AMA Motocross Championships
3/29 Sacramento, CA Mark Barnett, Bridgeview, IL Suz
4/5 Irvine, CA Mark Barnett, Bridgeview, IL Suz
4/12 Lake Whitney, TX Mark Barnett, Bridgeview, IL Suz
5/10 Atlanta, GA Mark Barnett, Bridgeview, IL Suz
6/28 Binghamton, NY Mark Barnett, Bridgeview, IL Suz
7/5 Buchanan, MI Mark Barnett, Bridgeview, IL Suz
8/2 Washougal, WA Mark Barnett, Bridgeview, IL Suz
8/16 Carlsbad, CA Johnny O’Mara, Van Nuys, CA Hon
Mike Bell finished second in both AMA Supercross and the 500 Nationals.
1981 125cc AMA Motocross Point Standings
1.) Mark Barnett, Bridgeview, IL 350
2.) Johnny O’Mara, Van Nuys, CA 284
3.) Jeff Ward, Mission Viejo, CA 280
4.) Jim Gibson, Canyon Lake, CA 251
5.) Tom Benolkin, Minneapolis, MN 225
6.) Scott Burnworth, Jamul, CA 221
7.) Rick Johnson, El Cajon, CA 209
8.) Donnie Cantaloupi, Stockton, CA 188
9.) Danny Chandler, Foresthill, CA 143
10.) Gary Denton, Chino, CA 123
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