The 2013 Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations is rapidly approaching, and our countdown of the Top 25 Team USA riders of all time is coming to its conclusion as well. We are basing the rankings on the success of the team, as well as individual performances and, ultimately, each rider's contribution. Today we reach #6 and another all-time American motocross hero, Ricky Johnson.
Ricky Johnson raced for Team USA on five different occasions, and all five were wins. He was also a part of the single most dominant team in the history of the race, the 1986 version of Team USA that blew minds on the steep hills of Maggiora, Italy. And he was the top performer in 1987 when the Motocross des Nations finally took place in the United States, at Unadilla.
Ricky Johnson was part of the historic 1986 version of Team USA, which dominated in Maggoria, Italy.
Johnson's time with Team USA began in 1984, when he was still riding yellow Yamahas. RJ won that year's AMA 250cc National Motocross title and joined Honda's David Bailey and Johnny O'Mara and Kawasaki's Jeff Ward for the Motocross and Trophee des Nations, which were to take place in Finland and Sweden, respectively. Team USA won both, but RJ's best motos were a pair of seventh-place finishes. The 500cc race was RJ's first on an Open-class bike. Here (500 class moto 1, 500 class moto 2) is Italian-language TV coverage from the races in Finland, including a bizarre faulty start in the first moto!
Johnson did not attend the race in 1985, when the Motocross and Trophee des Nations were combined, but he joined his Honda teammates Bailey and O'Mara in 1986 at Maggiora. Bailey rode the 500, O'Mara the 125, and Johnson the 250. There was tension on the team because it was known that Honda would not be bringing O'Mara back to the team in 1987. He wanted to prove a point, and he did, beating everyone in the race on his 125 in his two motos, except for RJ and Bailey. And when it came to the last race, Bailey and Johnson rode across the finish line arm-in-arm to end the rout.
RJ shared the Maggoria podium as the 250 class winner alongside 500 class winner David Bailey and 125cc winner Johnny O'Mara.
When Team USA lined up at home the following year, the rains came with the visiting European teams, and Johnson was the man in the mud. He won both of his motos outright as Team USA's 250 rider, with Jeff Ward finishing third on his KX500 and Bob Hannah topping the 125 class in the second moto. Here's some video of the race, voiced by Larry Maiers.
Johnson's final tour with Team USA came in 1988 in France, where he again rode the 250, with Ward now on the 125 and Ron Lechien on the 500. Lechien stole the show with his 1-1 in his motos, while Johnson won the middle moto and then placed third in the finale behind Lechien and Great Britain's Rob Herring.
RJ in practice at the '87 Motocross des Nations before it got really, really muddy.
All told, Johnson was on five winning teams, and he won his class three times, including that epic individual overall in 1987 where he established himself as the world's best rider. He's part of the long red-white-and-blue line of legends who have represented Team USA well in the Motocross des Nations.
Johnson's last tour of duty for Team USA was yet another win, this time in France alongside Ron Lechien and Jeff Ward.
#8 Ricky Carmichael
#9 Jeff Emig
#10 Ryan Dungey
#11 Broc Glover
#12 Mike Kiedrowski
#13 Ron Lechien
#14 Ivan Tedesco
#15 Jeremy McGrath