By: David Pingree, Photos courtesy of Aguirre and Racer X Archives
Johnny O is a living legend in the sport of motocross. If you are too young to remember his racing days you probably remember him as Ricky Carmichael’s trainer and mentor in the past decade. Either way, Johnny has influenced this sport and many people involved in it.
Johnny’s first ride was on a Taco minibike that his dad got him in 1966. His father was a desert racer and when the whole family would go out into the desert and go riding and camping, little Johnny would tear around the campfire on his Taco. He started racing in 1971 on a Suzuki 100. Although he rode a Honda 90cc at one point, O’Mara says he was a Suzuki guy for most of his amateur career. “I rode for a local Suzuki shop and Tosh would even slip me parts and bikes out of the back of the race shop.”
In 1980 O’Mara rode the infamous white Mugan Honda. If you don’t remember the bike you might remember the boot gators that Johnny always wore. The following season O’Mara was signed to the factory Honda squad where he would spend the next five years of his career. The O’Show was always a threat to win races and always one of the most physically fit riders on the track. He won the 125 national motocross championship in 1983 and added the AMA 250 Supercross Championship in 1984.
Suzuki came calling in 1987 and O’Mara signed with “Yellow Magic” through the 1989 season. Johnny didn’t win any races during that time but he was instrumental in the development of their motorcycles. His last full season as a professional motorcycle racer was 1990 as a member of Team Kawasaki. Johnny had become known as a meticulous test rider and Kawasaki took advantage of that to help Jeff Ward and Jeff Matiasevich over the next several years.
In 1991 Johnny had a factory ride lined up but it wasn’t in the sport of motocross.
“I had always been a good mountain bike rider,” explains O’Mara. Adding, “A guy by the name of John Parker was the owner of Yeti Mountain Cycles and he sponsored me through much of my motorcycle career. Before I even quit he told me that he wanted me to race for him when I was done. So, when the time came, I called him and told him that I wanted to do it.”
For five years Johnny raced mens cross country in the NORBA national series. He was always a top twenty rider and one of the most respected riders in the sport. By 1997, Johnny backed his racing down a little and began racing at a semi-professional level. He also took a job as the Oakley rider rep at the motocross races. One of his riders was Ricky Carmichael and the two of them hit it off immediately.
“Ricky was always an amazing rider,” says O’Mara. He continued, “I just sat down with him and his family and we structured a plan for his career. I think that was the only thing they didn’t have was a plan as a professional. We started working very closely on his training, riding, diet, sleep and all the other things that go along with it. I worked with him for the first several years and then we kind of got to a point where he needed someone to be down in Florida with him all the time. Aldon Baker is a good cycling buddy of mine and he was at a crossroads with his career. They seemed like a good fit and, obviously, things have worked out well between them. I still work very closely with Ricky but it’s behind the scenes stuff. If he has a question about his riding or training or whatever, he calls me up.”
Today, Johnny still competes in the Masters division at most of the NORBA events. His training schedule hasn’t left him much time to ride in the past fifteen years but we did manage to drag him off his bicycle long enough to be a test rider in our Racer X tested 250F shootout. The O’Show still has skills. He also has a two year-old girl, Shelby, and a son that is due in February; they are going to call him J.J. (Johnny Junior). Johnny and his wife have been married ten years as of this Thanksgiving. Happy Anniversary!