30 Greatest AMA Motocrossers: #4 Jeff WardWednesday, May 15, 2013 | 3:25 PM
Jeff Ward was always destined for greatness. He made his entry into motorcycle racing lore on the biggest stage of all at the time, the film On Any Sunday, where he rode a seemingly endless wheelie for Bruce Brown’s cameras. He was just a kid then, but it was obvious that he was something special. By then, “The Flying Freckle” was a terror on the West Coast minicycle circuits, battling the likes of fellow can't-miss kids Brian Myerscough, A.J. Whiting, Jim Holley, “Flying” Mike Brown, and more. A full factory Honda XR75 rider, he was featured often on the cover of Minicycle Action magazine. The battles he and Myerscough in particular had at events like Saddleback Park’s World Mini GP were the stuff of legend. But it's what he would do as a professional over a long and triumphant career that would land him at #4 on our Monster Energy 30 Greatest AMA Motocrossers list.
Possibly due to his stature, success took some time when Ward turned pro. He rode a Suzuki in his first races, then seemed to have a deal signed with Team Honda before Kawasaki turned up at the bargaining table with a solid offer. Ward took it, and he would stay green throughout his pro motocross career.
After a stint with Suzuki, Ward signed with Kawasaki and remained there for the rest of his career.
Dick Miller Archives photo
He raced with the giants, too, from Hannah to Jeff Stanton, along with David Bailey, Broc Gover, Johnny O'Mara, Mark Barnett, Ron Lechien, Rick Johnson, Mike Kiedrowski, and Jean-Michel Bayle. The nine of those men, plus Wardy himself, make up one-third of the riders on this list.
His first real pro rivalry bloomed with fellow Californian O'Mara, as the two went after three-time 125 National Champ Mark Barnett in 1983. In a four-way tilt that included young Ronnie Lechien, O'Mara would end up on top for his one and only outdoor championship.
Ward would have to wait until the next year to avenge himself against Johnny, winning the lion's share of the 125 Nationals, often in a split decision; O'Mara often took the first moto on his sleek Honda, and Wardy would rebound the second time out. It was more than enough to earn his first major title, and Ward would back it up next year by taking the AMA Supercross title from O'Mara and beating him out for the 250 Motocross title as well, taking five of ten wins in a series that included Johnson and Bob “Hurricane” Hannah.
In 1986 a huge change was made on the AMA circuit: The “production rule” went into effect, getting rid of the works bikes that were driving up the costs of racing. (It also ended one of the coolest eras for race fans here.) But there were still races to race, and Ward, the defending SX and MX champ, did not have a great season on his new production bike. He didn’t even qualify for the Anaheim '86 opener, which really set the tone for the season that Honda riders David Bailey and Rick Johnson would dominate. Ward would finish fourth in the 250 MX series behind RJ, Bailey, and O'Mara, and then third in the 500 class behind Bailey and Johnson.
Ward (1) was the first rider in history to win a title in all three major divisions as well as a supercross title.
Thom Veety photo
Wardy got even with a great run through the '87 supercross series, earning his second #1 plate there. But he came up short in his bid to regain that #1 plate in the 250 class, as RJ once again had his number. But in '88, Ward again got even, sticking his Kawasaki up front and keeping it there for another 250 MX title.
In 1989, Ward became the first rider in AMA Motocross history to have won a title in all three major divisions as well as AMA Supercross when he topped rising star Jeff Stanton for the 1989 500cc National Motocross Championship (and he only finished 16 points off Stanton’s winning total in the 250 class). Ward and Mike Kiedrowski are the only riders with titles in all three AMA Motocross classes, and Ward’s 250 SX titles make him the only rider ever to win a championship in every major division. In 1990, with Johnson still suffering a wrist injury, Stanton again barely beat Ward out for the 250 title, but Ward again got the better of Stanton for another 500 title—his fifth in AMA Motocross.
His amazing career would finally come to an end in 1992, with Wardy—still a Kawasaki factory rider—winning his second-to-last outdoor national with a win at Steel City.
Ward collected five titles during his career.
Thom Veety photo
His SX success and two titles aside, Jeff Ward would spread his outdoor wins across three classes like this: 11 (125cc), 13 (250cc), 12 (500cc). That's the most diverse winning record in motocross, showing that he just might have been the best all-around rider of all time.
It should be noted that Ward's diverse talents also paid off in the annual Motocross and Trophee des Nations. He stepped up and rode for his country every time he was called, and he never lost, riding at one point or another in the 125, 250, and 500 classes. Those races don’t technically count in these rankings—we will save a greatest-ever Team USA list for this fall—but it does add to his star power and his reputation as a competitor who was unafraid of anyone, on any bike.
(Racer X Contributors to this list: Davey Coombs, Jason Weigandt, Eric Johnson, Steve Matthes, Jason Thomas, Andrew Fredrickson, Chase Stallo and David Pingree)
Share this article:
Did you like this article?
Check out 10,000 MILES FROM HOMEin our Latest issue of Racer X available now.
Australian Dean Ferris hopes to follow in the footsteps of some of his legendary countrymen. Now contesting the FIM Grand Prix series, he made a huge impression at the Motocross of Nations. Page 138.