By the time the 1995 season rolled around Jeremy McGrath was in complete and utter control of AMA Supercross. Riding his 1-800-COLLECT Honda CR250, wrenched on by Skip Norfolk, the man now known as “Showtime” seemed like he was able to put supercross on his back and carry it into the mainstream. The TV shows were getting better times, the coverage had been in a constant state of evolution, and his agents were making in-roads in all sorts of general media outlets. McGrath had also switched from Sinisalo to Fox Racing, which had a bigger war chest and some new ideas of how to market their athletes through home videos. And with the fledgling free-riding movement just starting to take shape—in some part as a result of McGrath’s nac-nac trick—Jeremy was the perfect front man. He was a rock star in the same line as a Bob Hannah or a Rick Johnson, only his wattage was much, much brighter. The 1-800-COLLECT commercials definitely helped.
McGrath was suddenly earning more money than anyone else ever had as a racer, and he did it by not only dominating on the biggest stage of all—AMA Supercross—but by also barnstorming across Europe and participating in high-paying off-season events like the Paris-Bercy SX, Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, and Italy’s Genoa race in the Palazzetto dello Sport. Supercross was spreading all over the world, not only thanks to Jean-Michel Bayle’s participation a few years earlier, but because the reach of ESPN was showing the rest of the world what was going on in the States, and the rest of the world wanted in on the fun—and that meant having Jeremy “Showtime” McGrath as your primary guest.
This was the beginning of a golden age of TV, as former champion David Bailey joined Art Eckman in the broadcasting booth after the great Dave Despain went into auto racing pretty much full time. Every race was finally on TV and easy to find, and the voices of Art and David were the soundtrack (along with those sweet two-strokes).
With that attention came added responsibility for the champ. Not all was great between the sundry promoters—PACE, SRO, AIR, MTEG, Super Sports, etc.—and the paddock. There were all kinds of issues that were simmering below the surface, from those traditional complaints (not enough practice time or prize money) to new ones (merchandise sales and the lack of a points fund after RJ Reynolds was forced to pull their Camel brand out as title sponsor). That would all soon boil into a loud whisper among a few privateers and factory-rider fathers to start a union, and they would all in time go to McGrath for his singularly huge vote. It would all come to a head in Las Vegas at the last round of the series.
But first there was the beginning, and just like 1994, McGrath got a head of steam up in January and freight-trained his way across the country, winning in Orlando and then taking the next four in Minneapolis, Anaheim, Seattle, and San Diego to start out 5-0, which was one better than he did the previous year.
“They had a little hope, but I shut then down,” McGrath told Cycle News’ Paul Carruthers, who wrote on the cover of the paper “Here We Go Again!” McGrath led for all but a little bit of the first lap, using a pile-up that included Jeff Emig on the outside to get away from most of the pack. He easily won, with Kawasaki’s Mike Kiedrowski second and a surprising Larry Ward third on his semi-privateer Noleen/Sizzler Steakhouse Yamaha YZ250. Here’s the main event.
The race included two newcomers to the AMA circuit: three-time FIM World Motocross Champion Greg Albertyn and Frenchman Mickael Pichon. Albertyn, who moved to the States to race for Roger DeCoster’s Suzuki team, injured his wrist soon upon arrival. With only a little bit of seat time in supercross under his belt (and the arena-kind in Europe, not the big stadiums of the US), Albertyn promptly crashed on the fourth lap of his heat race and dislocated his shoulder. Then, to make matters worse, because a spectator’s car was the stadium exit for the ambulance, blocking it in, Albertyn had to walk out of the stadium and across the street to a baseball field to wait fifteen minutes for another ambulance to take him to the hospital!
Mickael Pichon, the other newcomer, had raced (and won) the 1993 San Diego 125 Supercross on a Honda CR125 with help from Mitch Payton and Pro Circuit. Pichon liked the trip so much he signed up with Payton’s team as soon as he could, and he ended up second in the opener to a first-time winner from Florida named Tim Ferry. (Place your own Matthes joke here.)
Next came the Metrodome in Minneapolis, and it was more of the same for McGrath: holeshot, gone. Kawasaki’s Mike LaRocco was second this time, Larry Ward again third. The 125 class winner in what was basically an East/West race was Suzuki’s Damon Huffman, the defending 125 West Region Champion, over Pichon and Yamaha’s rookie sensation Kevin Windham. You can watch both main events here.
Jeremy finally got a bad start at the third round of the series. But it was at Anaheim, and back then McGrath simply didn’t lose what used to be a one-time-only Anaheim race. With Larry Ward surprising everyone by running up front for more than half the race, McGrath came through and made an overhead pass for the lead on the thirteenth lap. Yamaha factory rider Jeff Emig finally reached the podium with a third-place finish. Here’s the 250 main event.
The cool thing is that Jeremy showed up with tail-lights on his custom-designed helmet, wired up and painted by Troy Lee himself. And check out how spot-on Bailey is at the 1:00 mark: “I don’t like where McGrath is starting; he’s too far on the outside. With a short starting line he could get pinched off—he could get pushed wide.” Seconds later, he did!
In the 125 class Huffman was once again the winner, with Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Ryan Hughes second and Suzuki factory rider Craig Decker third.
The Seattle Kingdome marked Round 4, and McGrath basically led from start to finish. LaRocco was second after a bad start, passing local hero Larry Ward at the end. Ward was now firmly second in points, the only consistent rider besides the consistently superb McGrath. The 125 class was the exact same as Anaheim: Huffman, Hughes, Decker. Here’s the full show featuring both classes.
The funny thing here is that this was the debut of the “Honda Cam,” a remote POV camera that was mounted on Rich Taylor’s helmet. It pops up around the 12:20 mark, and Art says it will make its “more permanent” debut at the upcoming Atlanta SX.
Going to San Diego was like going to Anaheim for McGrath—he was living in Murrieta, somewhere in between the two. The cover of Cycle News said it all: “Same Old Song and Dance in San Diego.” McGrath won, even after a surprising early pass by now Honda of Troy-backed Mike Craig. McGrath won—his fifth in a row—and Ward was once again second, with LaRocco third. At this point in the series, one third of the way through, McGrath had a 21-point lead on Larry Ward.
Huffman won the 125 class again, Decker was second this time, and Hughes was third. And finishing fourth was none other than David Pingree, riding a KX125. Here’s the San Diego show, which appeared on ESPN’s Speed World.
Now, Bailey admits that he wouldn’t be surprised to see Jeremy win every round. By this point, he was tied with Hannah and McGrath for most consecutive wins; counting his 1994 finale win, McGrath was at six in a row.
McGrath went into Atlanta feeling good enough about his situation to okay the TV crew putting the new “Honda Cam” on his helmet. But then he went out and nearly crashed in the heat race—a sign of things to come. In the main event McGrath got a decent start but then rushed the issue and made his first real mistake of 1995—he double-doubled through a section into a hairpin right and came down practically on top of Mike Craig!
“Craig just stopped in the corner, but it was my fault,” said McGrath afterwards. “It was just one of those things—I wasn’t thinking. You can’t win them all! As much as I would’ve liked to win them all, you just can’t.” No, but he would come a hell of a lot closer the next year! Here’s the Atlanta main event. Watch it from the start and the crash comes quickly.
McGrath shrugged off the crash, but the impact would have a lasting effect. Jeremy decided that he never wanted to wear the helmet cam again, thinking it was bad luck. And soon TV producer Scott McLemore found out that the vibes spread through the rest of the pits—every top rider seemed to think it was bad luck (and maybe a little heavy too, as it came with a battery pack). It would be years before the weight came down to something much more manageable and the quality improved. (Think, GoPro!)
The series took a week off for the start of the outdoor nationals, and McGrath, maybe still bummed about his Atlanta crash, shocked many with his first-ever 250 national win at Gatorback—helped in part by the broken hub for LaRocco and a flat tire for Greg Albertyn.
Daytona was next, and once again Kiedrowski picked that race as his place to break out and win a supercross. The “MX Kied” took the win ahead of his teammate LaRocco and Honda factory rider Doug Henry. They were helped by a first-turn crash by the leader John Dowd, who in turn took McGrath out. (The day started lousy for Jeremy—he crashed on the parade lap too.) Watch the Daytona race here, and the Dowd/McGrath comes at the start, right after the 57:50 mark.
McGrath, who could only finish seventh after his start crash at Daytona, got back on track in Indianapolis with a win, then followed it up with a win at Houston. At the Indy race 125 West Region rider Ryan Hughes posted a shocking runner-up finish to McGrath, with hometown hero LaRocco third. At Houston it was Emig and LaRocco second and third.
By this point the series championship was a foregone conclusion. McGrath was exactly 25 points ahead of LaRocco and 20 more over Kiedrowski and Larry Ward.
Among the highlights in the waning races was a first-ever AMA Supercross win for Doug Henry at the Dallas SX and a total of ten wins in the series for McGrath, giving him the all-time record for wins, which he clinched with two rounds to go in Cleveland.
And that was one of the lowlights: the old Cleveland Stadium was a big, vast building—more like polo grounds than a football stadium—and it was downright empty for the one and only Cleveland SX. And the starting gate was looking empty, too, as LaRocco, Steve Lamson, Kevin Windham, Robbie Reynard, and Todd DeHoop were all out with injuries. It was a somewhat forgettable race, though they all looked the same when McGrath was out front by himself.
Which brings us to the real lowlight: the nights the lights went out in Las Vegas. In one of the strangest races the sport has ever known, a breaker went out near the stadium that put the track in the dark just as the main events were getting ready to go off. There was already a lot of talk in the pits about maybe forming a union or some kind of show of the power of the paddock, but it didn’t quite materialize until the lights went out. Every rider waited while the promoter scrambled to bring in auxiliary lights. That delayed the race well into the night, and once there were enough lights to continue racing, a shortened 125 race (ten laps) went off and was won by Ryan Hughes over Damon Huffman.
But when it was time for the 250 main, McGrath decided he was not going to the race. And neither was his Honda teammate Henry, nor Kawasaki’s Kiedrowski, nor Honda of Troy’s Mike Craig and Brian Swink, and privateer Mike Jones. They had either decided that the track was too dark, or that now was a good time to make a show of unity. But not everyone joined. The other fourteen qualifiers for the 250 main event all lined up and raced, including Yamaha’s Emig and Dowd, Suzuki’s Albertyn, Noleen Yamaha’s Ward and Kyle Lewis, and more.
“This is not how I thought it would be,” said Emig, who did race after his Yamaha team manager reminded him that the people in the stands were there to see a race, not a labor strike, admitting, “The top guys didn’t race.” Here’s the whole show.
Whatever it was, it got everyone’s attention, and soon the series would begin a makeover of sorts, with PACE/SRO’s Gary Becker and Charlie Mancuso taking on the task of unifying all of the events and making it better for the riders and fans. By the start of the 1996 AMA Supercross Championship improvements had been made and the peace was back, and so was the King of Supercross. He was about to begin work on a masterpiece.
But he did do one more thing that summer that deserves mention: After being a decent but no way dominant motocrosser to that point, McGrath went out and won seven 250 nationals to earn his one and only AMA Motocross title. Supercross was always his strength, but his performance that summer showed that his strength stretched into the daytime too. And to think Jeremy was still was just coming up in 1995 and ’96.
1995 AMA Supercross Championship
- Jeremy McGrath Honda 320
- Larry Ward Yamaha 270
- Jeff Emig Yamaha 251
- Mike Kiedrowski Kawasaki 240
- Doug Henry Honda 211
- Mike LaRocco Kawasaki 208
- John Dowd Yamaha 188
- Brian Swink Honda 166
- Steve Lamson Honda 138
- Mike Craig Honda 133
125 East Region
- Mickael Pichon Kawasaki 213
- Mike Brown Honda 149
- Davey Yezek Suzuki 147
- Tim Ferry Suzuki 129
- Kevin Windham Yamaha 120
125 West Region
- Damon Huffman Suzuki 194
- Ryan Hughes Kawasaki 167
- David Pingree Kawasaki 135
- Craig Decker Suzuki 126
- Chad Pederson Honda 115
For previous years in the 40 Years of Supercross countdown, click here.