Last Saturday afternoon in upstate New York, Scottish privateer Shaun Simpson, winner of the previous weekend’s Grand Prix of Belgium at Lommel, lined up on a 2016 KTM 450 SX-F provided by Roger DeCoster and the Red Bull KTM team. Simpson did quite well on the #274 bike, finishing fourth overall with 4-8 moto scores. It was a reminder of not only how fast our friends in Europe are, but how difficult it can be to go from one side of the Atlantic Ocean to the other to compete as a visitor. Simpson’s effort was impressive to say the least, and it led us to look back at some other GP visitors that came across the pond to ride in AMA Motocross. These are in no particular order, though we will start with the gold standard.
Jean-Michel Bayle (Gainesville 1989)
JMB was here on loan for HRC in Europe, trying to get a foothold for a future in America. The reigning 125cc World Champion more than accomplished that, with rapidly improving supercross results as well as an off-the-wall win in the opening round of the 250cc AMA Nationals at Gatorback. He then went back to Europe and won the ’89 FIM 250cc World Championship, and then came back to America and won the last 500 national at Unadilla! Two wins in one season for a full-time Grand Prix rider? Amazing.
Stefan Everts (Unadilla 1997)
After watching his nemesis Greg Albertyn leave the GP scene with three FIM World Championships for a better life in America, Stefan Everts followed him over for one race: the 1997 Unadilla 250 National. Everts rode a great race on his CR250 and was in position to strike for the overall in the second moto before tangling with Yamaha’s John Dowd dropping into Screw-U. Everts went 3-5 for fourth overall, but at least he had the moral victory of being ahead of Albertyn.
Tallon Vohland (Washougal 1994)
Vohland was an American visitor at this point, as he spent several years chasing a GP title in Europe before returning here as a 125 national threat in the late nineties. But on this day at Washougal, he was on a 250 and nearly made the podium, with 3-6 finishes and fourth overall. Good work by the Lone Wolf!
Vohland had this to say about the race: "I believe we were between GPs, and I was heading over to one of the Asian rounds. It was fun, but it's always challenging when you go to another country and you don't have your full race bike. I brought my suspension with me and that was a perfect opportunity to test myself. When you live away from home in a different country for so long it's always nice to come back home, for racing or visiting."
Joel Smets (Southwick 2001)
The five-time 500cc World Champion from Belgium came to Southwick to show what he could do in the sand. He made a bold statement when he led the first lap on his big KTM four-stroke, but then Ricky Carmichael took over. Joel ended up sixth overall, and the relationship he forged on that trip with RC lives on to this day, and Joel is the manager of the Belgian MXoN team!
Gareth Swanepoel (Unadilla 2009)
With help from the Kawasaki factory team, South Africa’s Gareth Swanepoel came across and placed sixth in the 450 Class at Unadilla. He ended up making a career for himself as a trainer in the U.S., with Cooper Webb, Aaron Plessinger, and others.
Clement Desalle (Unadilla 2010)
The most frequent visitor of this generation, Desalle almost beat Ryan Dungey, upstaging James Stewart's “return to the outdoors" race. The previous year, riding a Honda, he finished third in the first moto at Washougal, and in 2013 he finished sixth at both Thunder Valley and Muddy Creek.
Marc de Reuver (Southwick 2008)
“Calimero” can ride the sand as well as just about anyone, and at Southwick he raced to a solid third in the first moto before problems in the second moto ruined his shot at an overall podium.
Trampas Parker (Budds Creek 1989)
The shocking winner of the 1989 125cc World Championship, Parker came to Budds Creek on his way home to Louisiana and rode a borrowed KTM 125 to eleventh in the final results. Parker would return in 1992 as the reigning FIM 250cc World Champion at RedBud, but would have bad luck from the start and not finish.
Trampas Parker was the first two-time World Champion from America; the late Donny Schmit was the second and last. Schmit went abroad in 1990 after a year as a privateer in 1989, his dislike of where SX was at that point weighing on his mind. He would win his world titles in 1990 and ’92, but he had such amazing speed that he could pop up at the occasional AMA Motocross race and do some damage, like in 1990, when he finished second to Mike LaRocco at Millville, or even 1995, when he was already retired from full-time MX, but he still went out and went 5-4 on a borrowed Honda! He would pass within the year due to a rare blood disorder, but his legacy as an all-time badass lives on.
Mike Brown (Unadilla and Kenworthy's 1997)
The Tennessee journeyman went to Europe in a not-so-great 1997 season and came back for two races, finishing tenth and thirteenth respectively. Brownie had better days to come, both in Europe and America. Nearly twenty years later he remains one of the most versatile dirt bike riders of all time. He even won an X Games gold medal!
Bob Moore and Pedro Tragter (Unadilla 1997)
Both 125cc World Champions, California’s Bob Moore and Holland’s Pedro Tragter came across in 1997 to race Unadilla. Tragter finished seventeenth in the 250 Class; Moore finished fourteenth in the 125 Class.
Alessio Chioidi (Steel City 1999, Glen Helen 2000)
The very fast and cool Alessio Chiodi, three-time world champ, came across in 1999 to take on Ricky Carmichael at Steel City aboard his Husqvarna, only to have it break in half in qualifying. Incredibly, RC was nearby watching, and he ended up hauling Chico’s bike back to the pits on the Pro Circuit pit vehicle. He came back a year later at Glen Helen, but his luck didn’t get any better—he finished twenty-ninth overall after problems in both motos.
Ben Townley (Unadilla and Budds Creek in 2002)
This blazing fast Kiwi was setting the stage for a full-time assault in the U.S. back four years before it happened. He raced at Unadilla and Budds Creek in 2002 as a very young prospect, riding a KTM 125 to decent finishes, though not of the level he would show five years later when he won the East Region SX title. BT101, as he was called, was much, much better than his result here showed; he just had rotten luck and too many injuries. But he did win a world title, along with six 125 nationals in 2007 alone. But he lost that title to his friend Ryan Villopoto by just 19 points.
Zach Osborne (Southwick 2008)
Osborne and his sponsor Steve Dixon came to Southwick and he acquitted himself well, only to be DQ'd because he rode the following year's YZ-F model that was not yet homologated. It was a bad deal after a good ride.
Mike Healey (Steel City 1992)
The wild child. Healey barely lost the 1991 FIM 250cc World Championship to fellow American Parker after Jeff Stanton beat them both in Japan. Healey didn’t have such a great 1992 season, so when it was over he decided to get in a minivan and do a couple of nationals in the fall, with help from Cernic’s Racing. He went to Steel City and, with at least thirty pounds on everyone else, somehow won the second 125 moto on a borrowed RM125. It was one of the coolest, strangest successes I think I ever saw!
Ken DeDycker (2010 Hangtown)
When Glen Helen canceled their national in 2010 and replaced it with a GP, it gave all of the European riders the chance to race the Hangtown opener. Only Big Ken De Dycker took up the challenge, and he finished ninth overall. It wasn’t exactly the best result, but the respect he earned in trying was well earned.
Kevin Strijbos (Thunder Valley and Muddy Creek 2013)
Desalle’s Suzuki teammate, he joined him in the fortnight’s trip to America in 2013, scoring top-ten finishes in both races. Very cool, very fast, and very much one of Belgium’s best of this generation.
Josh Coppins (Unadilla 2002)
The New Zealander raced here in 2002 and rode for Planet Honda. The GP star went 5-8 for sixth overall, which was a very good showing. For our dollar, he was one of the fastest men never to win the FIM World Championship.
Shaun Simpson (Unadilla 2015)
Fast, funny, strong, and fearless, Shaun Simpson was the perfect guest. He rode well and hard at Unadilla. His fourth-place finish was impressive, and so was his charisma and enthusiasm—especially since he was coming off a GP win just six days earlier!
So who did we miss? Please let us know in the comments below….