But could he do it? Windham, the 1997 and 1996 125 West Champion, had ridden well in his rookie season but had yet to take a win by the time the tour rolled into the Superdome for round ten. In fact, some competitors were left commenting that KW had the speed, but didn’t have the fitness to go 20 laps. Plus, many felt that once pressure was applied, the rookie would crack.
Windham won his heat race to the roar of the crowd. They got even louder in the main event when he grabbed the holeshot. Then came the pressure, first from Team Suzuki’s Larry Ward. Big Bird was all over Windham for the first three laps, but then he began to lose the pace, and yielded to series’ points leader Jeremy McGrath, who was on a rail coming from the back.
A 20-year-old Kevin Windham won in New Orleans in 1998.
McGrath was back to his usual dominant self in 1998, and by the time he was into second, just five seconds separated him from Windham. With MC applying the heat, could the 20-year-old Windham hang tough?
During the race, ESPN reporter Marty Reid made his way over to Windham’s mechanic, Alley Semar, and said, “Some of the riders have said Kevin can’t do 20 laps.” To which Alley replied: “We are proving them wrong tonight.”
Indeed. McGrath pushed and pushed, but couldn’t make a dent in Windham’s lead. By the final few laps, it was clear no one could stop the local favorite, and McGrath packed it in and collected his second-place points. Windham was on fire, and he crossed the finish line on his Yamaha YZ250 and drowned in the cheers of the partisan fans.
New Orleans has drifted on and off of the SX schedule ever since, but Windham’s win marks the only time a Louisiana native has snagged the victory. You think some people were getting crazy on Bourbon street that night?
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