Last weekend Taylor Robert, Kailub Russell, Thad Duvall, and Layne Michael made motorcycle racing history by becoming the first American team to win the International Six Days Enduro, an event that’s been going on for 91 years (not including a break for World War II). In honor of that achievement, we wondered what were some other "first American" moments in motorcycle racing?
Bud Ekins scored the first FIM World Motocross Championship point for an American with a 10th-place moto finish at the 1952 British Grand Prix. Ekins was there to ride some enduro events and entered on a whim. He would later gain fame for making the Tijuana-to-La Paz Baja trip in under 40 hours with his brother Dave, a huge moment in the development of Honda motorcycles. They would both ride with Steve McQueen on the 1964 Silver Vase team in what used to be called the ISDT (International Six Days Trial, which is now referred to as an enduro, as in the ISDE.) But he’s most famous for being the stunt double for McQueen in the climactic scene in the Hollywood blockbuster film, The Great Escape, where he jumped a barbed wire border fence on a stolen motorcycle while trying to escape the Germans.
On July 4, 1969, Gary Bailey beat Arne Kring and Alan Clough to win the first round of Edison Dye's 250cc Viking Series, giving an American the first win in a major race over European competition. Bailey is a true pioneer in American motocross and has taught generations of riders along the way, helping shape champions that ranged from his stepson, David Bailey, in the ‘80s to Cooper Webb’s formative years, via the Gary Bailey Motocross School.
In 1972 Gary Jones won the 250cc Inter-AMA event at the OMC (Owyhee Motorcycle Club) track in Boise, Idaho, against an even stronger lineup of top European talent. America’s first multi-time AMA Motocross Champion beat Torsten Hallman, Dave Bickers, Arne Kring, Arne Lindfors, Torleif Hansen, Stuart Nunn, and Hakan Andersson in a huge breakthrough for American motocross.
Jim Pomeroy's win at the opening round of the 1973 FIM 250cc World Motocross Championship was significant in many ways, maybe the most important "first American" win of all. Pomeroy had never even entered a GP before, and his win was the first for Bultaco, or any Spanish brand. Two-years later, Pomeroy would became the first American to win a moto in the annual Trophee des Nations.
Kawasaki rider Jimmy Weinert became the first American to win in the Trans-AMA Series when he won the 1973 Rio Bravo round on a muddy day in Texas. The next American win in this series wouldn’t come until 1975.
Marty, Marty, and Marty
While not as significant as Weinert's win in 1973, Marty Smith, Marty Tripes, and Marty Moates—yes, all three were named Marty in a wild coincidence—each became "First Americans" when they became the first homegrown riders to win U.S. Grand Prix events. San Diego's Smith won the 1975 125cc USGP at Mid-Ohio. Santee, California’s Tripes won the 1978 250cc USGP at Unadilla, and Marty Moates, also from San Diego, won the 1980 U.S. 500cc Grand Prix at Carlsbad Raceway.
Laporte, Hansen, O'Mara, Sun
The quartet of Danny LaPorte, Donnie Hansen, Johnny O'Mara, and Chuck Sun became the first American team to win the Motocross and Trophee des Nations, back when each country entered four riders on the same-sized motorcycles: 250cc bikes for the Trophee des Nations, 500cc for the Motocross des Nations. That Team USA win was the start of a 13-year winning streak, after a decade of frustration.
America's first Motocross World Champion was "Bad" Brad Lackey, who was a 10-year crusade to become the 500cc World Champion, and he finally closed the deal in 1982 at the last round in Luxembourg. And then just two weeks later Danny LaPorte, a rookie in Europe, won the '82 250cc World Championship at the final round in Finland. LaPorte would later on become the first American to win a stage of the infamous Paris-Dakar Rally in Africa.
1982 was also the year that Danny “Magoo” Chandler became the first American to win the individual overall in both the Motocross and Trophee des Nations, sweeping all four motos in stunning fashion, in what were arguably two of the most shocking wins in motocross history.
America's first two-time FIM World Motocross Champion is Trampas Parker of Shreveport, Louisiana. Parker won the 125cc Grand Prix title in 1989 and then followed up with the 250cc title in 1991. Coincidentally, Minneapolis-born Donny Schmit would be right behind Parker, winning the '90 125cc title and the '92 250cc world title.
Last fall, former pro motocrosser and 250 Supercross main event winner Ryan Sipes became the first American to win the individual overall in the International Six Days Enduro, something countless American off-road legends—the Ekins brothers, Bill Baird, Dick Burleson, Eddie Lojak, Jeff Fredette, Larry Roeseler, Rodney Smith, Scott Summers, the late Kurt Caselli—have tried to do, but always came up short. Ironically, Sipes was set to be on this year’s U.S. World Trophy team, only to break his arm the day before he left for Spain in a freak accident warming up before a GNCC in Ohio. Even without Sipes, Team USA finally had the stuff needed to come out on top.