This Week in Yamaha History:  Button Takes Washougal

This Week in Yamaha History: Button Takes Washougal

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The summer of 1999 was a big one in the life of Steve Matthes, I was a mechanic for Noleen Yamaha’s Tim Ferry and because Ferry was doing so well (and clearly overcoming the handicap that he had by me wrenching for him) we had gotten a promotion to the Chaparral Yamaha squad after two rounds of The Nationals. You know, the same team that had multi-time supercross champion Jeremy McGrath on it.

Well, kind of. MC wasn’t racing The Nationals at this point in his career, but he did come out for round nine of that summer’s 250 Nationals at Washougal. And I remember that the team was a complete nuthouse with The King back making an appearance for his fans. The weather was beautiful, the crowd rabid with McGrath-fever (the only prescription was to be an Ezra Lusk fan) and speculation swirled about how MC would do and would he get in the way of a championship battle going on between Suzuki’s Greg Albertyn and Honda’s Kevin Windham.

In the first moto it was Yamaha’s retiring Doug Henry who took off with the lead. Henry, on the YZ400, was sort of kicking back and had no designs on really defending his title but was talked into coming back by Yamaha for one more farewell tour. He was supposed to be on a cruise, but, Henry being Henry, he was also coming off a dominating 1-1 performance the week before at Troy, Ohio!

At Washougal, Henry was once again out front and cruising when Windham caught and passed Doug. This got the juices flowing for the #19 and he passed Windham back with one lap remaining to win the moto. It was his third straight moto win. Now that’s a farewell tour!

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Jimmy Button won his first National at Washougal.
Simon Cudby photo

Meanwhile back in the pack, McGrath worked toward the front and was in third at one point before coming under fire from a few more-in-shape riders like Jimmy Button (also on the Yamaha thumper) and Albertyn. MC would settle for fifth in the first moto which gave Yamaha three out of the top five spots. The Matthes/Ferry super team would get an eighth in case you were wondering.

The second moto was another all-Yamaha show where Suzuki’s Larry Ward grabbed the holeshot but right behind him was Henry, Button and Ferry. Ward was riding the wave of Washington fan power, and the Suzuki rider stretched it out a bit while behind him a battle waged. Button was backing up his first moto third with a slick pass on Henry and he chased after the leader. Henry found himself under fire from Ferry, Windham and Albertyn and eventually all of those riders got by.

Out front, though, Button was using the tractability of the four-stroke on the slick Washougal track and the horsepower of the bike up, well, Horsepower Hill to catch Ward. Button made a nice move on Ward going into the tree section (same place he passed McGrath in the first moto) and took off in first. The last couple of laps saw Ward all over Button but he was unable to make the pass. The margin of victory for Button was less than a second but the wait for his one and only National win was a lot longer.

When the scores were tabulated, Button had won Washougal with a 3-1 in a great ride. Henry won the other moto, McGrath would go 5-9 and Ferry would go 8-5 on this day—making it a superb day for the boys in blue. I remember it for a few reasons, the absolute craziness around the pits, the fact that Ferry and I had again beaten McGrath (a few weeks before this was the Summercross race where Ferry won) and the fact that Button, a guy that everyone in the pits liked, finally broke through for his first National win. Over a dozen years later, it’s still a memorable event!

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