A quick look through the AMA record books show Michigan’s Todd DeHoop as the 1988 125cc East Region Supercross Champion. Despite hanging a number one plate in his trophy collection, DeHoop is perhaps best known for his longevity and being a very dedicated and tough privateer. A secondary browse through the Racer X Vault shows that DeHoop had his first pro race in 1986 and his last in 2001. That’s sixteen years of finishing well inside the top twenty in the world’s most competitive motocross series.
I caught up with DeHoop on a late Friday afternoon just as he was about to dig into the motor on his KX450. DeHoop still rides on a regular basis and has some ambitious goals for 2015.
Racer X: Todd, thanks for speaking with us. Looking over your results before we spoke, I was surprised at how many years you put in, and with so many consistent finishes.
Todd DeHoop: Yeah, my career, I guess you could say, it lasted quite a while. Nineteen eighty-six was my first pro race, and it was in Pontiac, Michigan, at the Silverdome. I won at Loretta’s in 1985. Then I started doing some pro-am stuff. But by 1986, Donny Schmidt and I were battling hard. He beat me at the ranch in the summer of 1986, and then I moved up to pro full time. I did Pontiac that year and a handful of nationals after Loretta’s.
You got a fifth at your first ever supercross, something that seems nearly impossible today for an absolute rookie. How did you manage that?
Well, for me, I really liked to jump. I guess I was a little crazy, and back then I was really good at jumping. I wouldn’t hesitate to do any section and just go for it. But I showed up at Pontiac and had no formal supercross experience. It’s not like today where you can find a supercross practice track at these specialized training facilities. I think that was the first time I actually rode one! But I was lucky growing up. I had a few local gravel pits near my house, and I did a lot of jumping at those places. They always had these piles of dirt and gravel that were being moved around. I used to make jumps out of them and picked up a lot of timing and experience doing that.
It seems like you were a perennial privateer, but you did have a factory ride, right?
Yes—for one season. It was with Suzuki in 1988, and that was the year I won the championship. But then at the end of the year, they [Suzuki] had some big budget cuts. At the time, I didn’t know what I was doing and had a weak contract, so I got cut. I wish I had known to put a clause in there that I would have an automatic renewal if I won, but I didn’t know or think about that. In 1988, we had seven guys on the team, but then they cut back down to four for 1989. Donny Schmidt, Keith Turpin, Willie Surratt, and myself all lost our rides. I think that’s what ended it for Turpin—and in addition to his femur injury at Pontiac that year. He just quit cold turkey. Those cuts really hurt a couple of us.
On a side note, I think both Turpin and Surratt’s kids are racing now, right?
Yeah, and it seems like they are going pretty good! I have seen Willie’s kid ride and he looks like he will be mixing it up like his dad.
What are some of the best memories of your career?
Well, I think winning the 1988 AMA Supercross Championship was technically the best highlight, as there are only, what, twenty-five or thirty guys who have won that? I also won the 1993 and 1995 Fall Classic series that the AMA used to promote. That was a lot of fun. I beat Mike Brown at those events, and he was really tough. But outside of the wins, I think helping Phil Alderton put together the original Honda of Troy racing program was awesome. That was for the 1992 and 1993 season. To then see the success that they had and watching how that program grew was awesome. And for me, just having the longevity to be successful for so long is something that sticks out. A lot of guys who make it to the top go out pretty quick, but I stuck around for a while.
What do you attribute the rapid turnover to?
Well, the sport has really changed a lot, probably because today there are a lot more [fast] riders involved. It is a lot more cutthroat. If you don’t perform right away, it’s a real pressure cooker. You get one or two of these guys that go three-four weekends with bad results, then it domino effects from there. Back in my day, we had twenty-five-to-thirty really good riders. Now there is probably sixty-seventy that are exceptionally good and that go really fast. Having consistent and good results is good, but it is still hard to stand out. But the guys that are doing it are getting the good contracts. But on the flip side, if you look at guys Mike LaRocco and Larry Ward and myself, all guys who stuck around, well, it takes a toll on your body and mind. And now the social media, a guy gets banged up and all the haters come out. It can make it hard to stay focused and easy to get bummed out on racing once you are at the top. And I think that's because the sport is so hard.
And what about your specific longevity? What do you attribute that to?
For me, it was the love of riding and my competitive nature. I still ride at least every other weekend, if not more. I still enjoy it, and I still love the competition. Riding on a well-prepped track—that always keeps me going. I don’t like being behind people, and I just want to get around them if they are in front of me. For me, there was a few years, maybe around 1990 or 1991, that were hard. I was on the TUF Racing Suzuki, and the way forward was not clear. I was thinking about quitting and hanging it up, but then two steps later, Phil Alderton basically revitalized my career. He came in and kept me focused; that helped my career stay on the path. He was a great motivator and he put the fun back into it.
I know you were pretty much the first Honda of Troy rider, but I didn't realize Phil had such an impact for you.
Yeah, for sure. It was a shame what happened with Phil; he was a great mentor and a lot of fun to be around. He knew that if you kept the fun involved, everyone did well. But then things got away from him, and, well, we know what happened. For me, I always just enjoyed the sport and found my motivation in different places. Also one other thing was that my wife traveled with me as well. We had the hauler and we were together all the time, and I could make enough money where it all worked out for us. We traveled the country and had a great life while I was racing.
Well, that brings me to the one question I ask most of the guys: How was the money for you?
It was good with Suzuki that one year. I made good money there, with the win bonus and the salary. But then I struggled a bit with the support rides. It wasn’t great, but over the years I was able to put some in the bank, though not much. The Honda of Troy ride was good from an emotional side, but it wasn’t great money. I make a lot more money today working as a general salesman than I did as a motorcycle racer. But, you know, for me it wasn’t about the money; it was about the results, the traveling and making my own legacy in the sport. I wouldn’t change a thing about any of it.
Tell me about your job now? I understand it is not moto related?
I'm in sales. I work for a company called Western Michigan Fleet Parts. Basically, we sell parts for big rigs. So I travel a lot, but it's very fulfilling. I spend a lot of time trying to keep my customers happy, and I get a good reward out of that. But, you know, I have been riding a lot. I never really stopped. But this year I want to try and race Loretta’s. I have lost around twenty pounds and I'm trying to ride twice a week and get my 46-year-old body back in racing shape.
Do you think you can win your classes?
Yeah—yes I do. As far as I know, my main competition down there will be John Grewe, who is also from Michigan. I'm very competitive with him, and we're very close in speed. However, he's in very good shape and trains a lot, so I need to get that going. I know that I have the skill, but I will need the endurance. But I have no other ideas than to go for the win. I wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. It should be fun and a good challenge for me.
What about your family and personal life?
I am married to my wife Robyn; she was there for my career. We got married in 1992 and now we have two girls who are growing up fast. Mariah is 15 and a sophomore in high school. She has the brains in the family and wants to go to a top college. Kennedy, my younger girl, is 13 and in the eighth grade. She wants to be professional dancer. We all live in Hudsonville, which is just west of Grand Rapids. We used to have a house with a track, but we moved closer to town to be around the schools and programs that the kids were doing.
Do you still keep in touch with some of your old friends from the racing world?
Yes, I stay in touch with some. I actually just reconnected with my old mechanic from 1988, Mark Johnson. Some people might remember him by his nickname,
“The Caveman”. He looked like a mountain man and was from Moses Lake, Washington [Ed. Note: Not the same Mark Johnson that managed the Team Green program]. I hadn't spoken to him in well over twenty years, so it was good to catch up. He kind of lives off the grid, so it was tough to find the guy. But I'm also still close with Mark Schaaf; he was my mechanic at Honda of Troy and lives back in New Jersey, as well as a few others.
Your career was spent racing two strokes, but you did have some four-stroke experience there at the end. What do you think about the direction that things have gone as for the motors today?
I think the guys at the top are riding at a level that is much more intense. They are training and trying to put themselves above and beyond the next guy. The intensity is just much higher than it was for my era.
But as far as two-strokes versus four-strokes, I am still a two-stroke guy at heart. When the four-strokes first came out, I was doing some testing for Yamaha and through Yamaha of Troy. I worked on that first YZ400 and struggled on it. But that bike was heavy and a lot of work to ride. But now, they have come so far and today are easier to ride fast than a two-stroke. But I ride both; I have a 250 two-stroke Yamaha and a 450 Kawasaki. Truth be told, I try to not put time on the 450, as they are just so expensive. But I know I can win on both, but it’s a little easier to ride the 450 fast. You have to be really aggressive on the 250 two-stroke, and sometimes that can cause you to go down. On the four-strokes, you can carry so much momentum. There are some great things and negative things with the four-strokes, as there are with the two-strokes.
You were on the road for years—you must have a ton of stories. Any stick out that you care to share?
Oh, man, I don’t even know where to start—there are a ton of them! I think the best are probably not appropriate for your publication. I would say that back in 1987 and 1988, and hanging out with Bob Hannah and Johnny O’Mara. The things that those guys could pull off and get away with, well, they blew my mind.
Well, Todd, thanks for chatting. Good luck on your quest for a win at the ranch next year.
Thank you, its not going to be easy, but I'm going for it.