The List: Strangest  Championship Endings

The List Strangest Championship Endings

April 26, 2012 4:00pm

We now know that 2012 Monster Energy Supercross Champion Ryan Villopoto won’t be racing the final two rounds of the season due to a knee injury suffered on Saturday night in Seattle. Injuries are certainly part of this sport, but rare is it that a series’ champion doesn’t actually compete in the final round of the tour. So that got us to thinking about some other strange circumstances surrounding the final round of a series. Here are some highlights for The List.

10. Ricky Carmichael's last-ever outdoor national as a full-time rider -- Glen Helen '06 -- marks the first and only time he would not score a point in an AMA National MX race. He had already clinched the championship, but crashed while battling with James Stewart, and exited with a shoulder injury. To avenge himself, he came back in 2007 as a part-time rider and won all six races in a walk-off for the ages.

9. With the FIM running a one-moto format in the 2003 GPs, Stefan Everts decided to ride two classes through much of the season, often winning both MX1 and MX2 on his YZFs. But at the last round of the series in Ernee, France, the King of Motocross decided to ride all three classes, and did the unthinkable: He won three GPs in one day! With that the FIM scrapped the one-moto format. It will never happen again.

8. Jeremy McGrath looked to have the 1991 West Region 125 SX Championship on lock, until he crashed at the High Point National and broke his leg. This put him in jeapordy of missing the final two SX rounds and losing the title, but he had a custom-made cast put on his leg, which allowed him to ride and finish ninth at the next-to-last race in San Jose, Ca. That was enough for him to clinch the title, so he skipped the final round. Jeff Emig won the last two races and finished second in points.

McGrath fought through the pain of a broken leg to capture the 1991 West Region title.
Chris Hultner photo

7. At the last national of Jean-Michel Bayle's mercurial career, the '92 Budds Creek 500 National, he was asked to maybe help teammate Jeff Stanton, whom he disliked, in a bid to beat Mike Kiedrowski for the 500 title. But instead of helping, JMB decided to actually slow down at the end and let some other guys pass him, just to make sure Honda and Stanton received his message loud and clear. Jean-Michel always did march to the beat of a different drummer...

6. And while we are on the subject of JMB, a similar situation unfolded in the wild 1992 AMA Supercross finale in Los Angeles. First, the race was delayed a month due to the Rodney King verdict-inspired L.A. riots, which gave points leader Damon Bradshaw extra time to deal with the pressure. And then he tore his ACL at RedBud just before the race. Bayle was expected to help his teammate Stanton overcome Bradshaw in points, but JMB famously declared in a TV interview that he would not help, because, “If he [Stanton] wants to be champion, he has to win the races.” Bradshaw choked, and Stanton won the race and the crown. But along the way, Bayle actually tried to help Bradshaw!

5. At the end of the 1988 Belgian GP at the Citadel in Namur, Hakan Carlqvist was way out front and leading his last race when he famously stopped on the cobblestone road that was part of the track and grabbed a fan's beer, chugged it, and then rode on to the win! The same maneuver was pulled by Stefan Everts a generation later as a nod to not only the great rider, but to the great track as well. Here’s a clip of Carla’s beer stop.

Stanton and Bradshaw prepare for battle.
MotoVerte photo

4. The 1984 125cc world championship came down to the final race and a battle between a pair of Italians, Cagiva's Corrado Maddii and Suzuki's Michele Rinaldi. During practice, as Maddii was coming around, a rider practicing his starts ran into the points leader, breaking his leg in the process. Maddii could not race the next day, and a somber Rinaldi took enough points to take away the title. It marked the 10th straight title for Suzuki in the 125cc World Championships.

3. The Las Vegas AMA Supercross final in 1995 was stranger than strange. There was already an undercurrent of unhappiness from the riders regarding the kind of scatter-shot nature of the series (back then, multiple promoters ran the events, so things weren’t as organized as they are today). Then the lights inside Sam Boyd Stadium went out! Temporary lighting was set up, but most of the star riders chose not to compete, including ’95 Champion Jeremy McGrath (who had already clinched). Jeff Emig won the race. Aside from RV missing the Vegas race in two weeks, we can’t think of another time the SX Champ didn’t race in the final round. But the good news is that the series streamlined things significantly after this 1995 race, paving the way to huge growth for the sport and the riders that continues today.

2. August 25, 1985 will go down as a strange day in motocross history. Washougal MX Park hosted the final round of the 1985 national season. The 125 and 500 titles were locked up at previous races by Ron Lechien and Broc Glover, but the 250 title was a going down to the wire, and was ferocious battle between Jeff Ward, Rick Johnson, Johnny O’Mara and Bob Hannah. Both Team Honda and Yamaha decided to stack the deck so as to help their respective riders win the title. Lechien (the 125 Champ), Glover (the 500 Champ) and David Bailey (Second in 500 points) all switched into the 250 class for the one race deal. The net result? The 125 and 500 classes lost the big guns, and the history books show that both Eric Eaton (500) and AJ Whiting (125) got the wins. Jeff Ward went onto win the 250 title, and the season was over. Here’s a link to the results from one strange day.

After Brown locked up the title in 2001, he let Branden Jesseman by allowing RC to capture the overall.
Simon Cudby photo

1. The 2001 AMA National finale at Steel City was one of the wildest ever, with Grant Langston and Mike Brown squaring off for the 125 Championship. Langston had it in the bag until his rear wheel broke, allowing Brown to sail past and steal the title in all-time dramatic fashion. But just as strange, 250cc Champion Carmichael decided to drop into the 125s that day to get one more win and break a tie on the all-time 125 win list with Mark Barnett. RC started almost last in the first moto and charged back to third. In the second moto, after Langston went out and Brown knew he had the title, Brown actually slowed down to let Factory Connection Honda's Branden Jesseman pass him, which gave him 1-3 scores, and allowed Carmichael's 3-1 to get the 125 overall win (and the record, which would later be broken by James Stewart). Meanwhile, in a 250 class absent of its champ, Kevin Windham took the win on a Suzuki. Here are the 125 and 250 results.

And finally, a bonus Strange Race: The 1974 FIM 250cc World Championship finals, the Grand Prix of Switzerland at Wohlen. Czech rider Jaroslav Falta was battling with the Soviet Union's Gennady Moiseev, who had injured his knee. Falta had a clear shot at the title on his CZ, but then Moiseev's fellow countrymen, on both KTMs like him and CZs like Falta, began ramming and blocking Falta, trying to keep him from winning. Supposedly even the mechanics were hitting Falta with their chalk boards! With help from guys like Jim Pomeroy and Harry Everts, Falta persevered and took the title... Or so he thought. After the race an official claimed that Falta jumped the starting gate in the second moto, so he was disqualified. The title was given to Moiseev -- his first of three 250cc world titles -- while Falta became a genuine motocross folk hero. Over the years there have been attempts at overturning the result, but to no avail. That's maybe as strange as it gets!

One of the Russians rams Jaroslav Falta at the 1974 Swiss 250cc Grand Prix.
Racer X Archives photo