During the 1980s and early ‘90s (up to 1997) AMA Motocross held what MXA’s Jody Weisel referred to as “the orphan national.” The Gatorback National was the one motocross race that was held before SX ended, on the edge of Bike Week in Daytona. Here’s how the race looked in 1990 when I was shooting photos for Cycle News, Dirt Rider, and The Racing Paper (what is now Racer X Illustrated). But first, let's take a look at the results from that race.
Gatorback Cycle Park - 125MX
Gatorback Cycle Park - Gainesville, FL
|1||Mike Kiedrowski||Canyon Country, CA||Honda|
|2||Jean Michel Bayle||France||Honda|
|3||Jeff Matiasevich||La Habra Heights, CA||Kawasaki|
|4||Guy Cooper||Stillwater, OK||Suzuki|
|5||Erik Kehoe||Granada Hills, CA||Honda|
|6||Jeff Emig||Independence, MO||Kawasaki|
|7||Steve Lamson||Orangevale, CA||Suzuki|
|8||Ty Davis||Hesperia, CA||Honda|
|9||Denny Stephenson||Omaha, NE||Suzuki|
|10||Barry Carsten||Bayville, NJ||Suzuki|
|11||Jeromy Buehl||London, OH||Suzuki|
|12||Billy Whitley||Lufkin, TX||Suzuki|
|13||Jim Chester||Lenoir, NC||Suzuki|
|14||Chris Coleman||Skaneateles, NY||Kawasaki|
|15||Michael Treadwell||Rumford, ME||Kawasaki|
|16||Bobby Jay Mann||Jacksonville, FL||Kawasaki|
|17||David Beckington||Saline, MI||Suzuki|
|18||Justin Jackson||Ocala, FL||Suzuki|
|19||Jeff Beckington||Saline, MI||Suzuki|
|20||Chris Neal||Hollister, CA||Suzuki|
Gatorback Cycle Park - 250MX
Gatorback Cycle Park - Gainesville, FL
|1||Rick Johnson||El Cajon, CA||1 - 1||Honda|
|2||Jeff Stanton||Sherwood, MI||2 - 2||Honda|
|3||Ron Tichenor||Palm Harbor, FL||4 - 3||Suzuki|
|4||Mike LaRocco||La Porte, IN||6 - 4||Suzuki|
|5||Doug Dubach||Costa Mesa, CA||5 - 5||Yamaha|
|6||Damon Bradshaw||Charlotte, NC||3 - 11||Yamaha|
|7||Johnny O'Mara||Van Nuys, CA||7 - 8||Kawasaki|
|8||Fred Andrews||North Canton, OH||9 - 10||Suzuki|
|9||Larry Ward||Woodinville, WA||15 - 7||Suzuki|
|10||Brian McElroy||Brooksville, FL||10 - 13||Suzuki|
|11||Roland Diepold||Germany||13 - 12||Kawasaki|
|12||Keith S Johnson||Pembroke, MA||11 - 14||KTM|
|13||Jeff Ward||Mission Viejo, CA||36 - 6||Kawasaki|
|14||John Dowd||Chicopee, MA||19 - 9||Kawasaki|
|15||Mike Fisher||Santee, CA||8 - 33||Kawasaki|
|16||Carl Vaillancourt||Drummondville, QC||12 - 19||Honda|
|17||Dan Jannette||Lake Orion, MI||17 - 16||Suzuki|
|18||Joe Waddington||South Windham, CT||20 - 15||Honda|
|19||Tommy Martin||Convers, GA||14 - 21||Kawasaki|
|20||Dean Matson||Felton, CA||16 - 35||Suzuki|
Jean-Michel Bayle, winner of the 1988 FIM 125cc World Championship and the ’89 FIM 250cc title, was the pre-race favorite in the 125 Class going into the season. He also won the Gatorback 250cc National and a pair of 500cc Nationals in America when he wasn’t racing in Europe in 1989.
Team Suzuki’s Guy Cooper (4) put in a courageous effort to go from 37th to fourth in the first 125 moto—with a broken rear fender and banners caught in his wheel. Six months later he would edge out defending champion Mike Kiedrowski of Team Honda for the crown by a single point.
Jeff Matiasevich (20) was yet another title contender in the 125 Class aboard a Kawasaki factory KX125. He ran 3-3 in the two motos at Gatorback for third overall. At the time of the 1990 Gatorback National he was actually the points leader in the 250 Class in AMA Camel Supercross.
The “MX Kied” Mike Kiedrowski (1) put himself on everyone’s radar the previous year in the 125 Class at Gatorback, then went on to win the title wearing #762 as a rookie. One year later he won Gatorback again, going 2-1 to Bayle’s 1-2 to start his title defense with a solid win.
Riding for a new independent team called Honda of Troy, Erik Kehoe (19) was a top-five threat against the factory boys, and he finished fifth on a Honda CR125.
Bayle’s near-perfect form had everyone thinking he would be the 1990 125 National champion, but he would break his arm in the whoops that summer in Washougal and his sizable points lead and his shot at the title went away. One year later, he would avenge himself, winning the AMA Camel Supercross title and both the 250 and 500 Motocross Championships.
Sign of the Times: In the days before the internet, live TV, and social media, 1-900-INF-MOTO was a pay-per-call where a man named Glenn Wales would read off the results after a national or supercross. It was the quickest way to get the results on a Sunday night!
Jeff “Chicken” Matiasevich grabs a big holeshot in his first 125 race of the year, but he was no match for the feuding Honda teammates Kiedrowski and Bayle.
Mike LaRocco might have been a 125cc title favorite, but he was already racing a 250cc motorcycle full-time for Suzuki in 1990. Two years later, he would move to Kawasaki and go back to the 125s, but lose the title to Jeff Emig after two late-season DNFs. Luckily, 250 and 500 National Championships would follow for the The Rock, now the manager of GEICO Honda.
Jeff Ward (3) was the veteran on the racetrack by 1990, having been a pro for more than a decade. But he had a problem in the first 250 moto at Gatorback and didn’t score any points. He rebounded for sixth in the second moto.
Jeff Stanton (1) was the defending AMA 250 MX and SX Champion in 1990 for Team Honda, having taken over the captaincy of the team from the injured Johnson. Gatorback 1990 would prove to be their last big battle together, and the nod would go to RJ. Then injuries caught up to RJ again and Stanton again emerged victorious both indoors and outdoors.
RJ working on his JT Racing chest protector. You don’t see much of that in this age of gear guys, man-friends, and personal assistants.
Ty Davis did “Bust A Move” in 1990, but it was in 125 West Region SX, where the California privateer and future off-road legend beat a young Jeremy McGrath for the title.
Mike Kiedrowkski (1), Jeff Matiasevich (20), JMB (22), Jeff Emig (36), Jeff Beckington (68), Guy Cooper (4), and Steve Childress (39) on a 125 start.
The fastest pro motocrosser ever out of West Virginia, Steve Childress, raced for Team Suzuki in 1990 and had some excellent 125 SX finishes. Childress is now a dentist back in his home state.
Mike Kiedrowski (1) works through a corner while trying to track down JMB. Like his fellow Honda teammate Stanton, Mike did not have a lot of love for JMB.
Bayle works his way out of a choppy corner at the limestone quarry that Gatorback mostly used for short up-and-down runs.
Mike Andrews won the first 125 Consi that day in Gainesville.
Kiedrowski takes some roost. He would not repeat his 1989 title run in 1990 [Cooper edged him by a single point] and would soon move to Kawasaki, where he rebounded for the 1991 125 National Championship, and later added 500 and 250 National Championships.
Nebraska’s Denny Stephenson was killing it in the 125cc East Region, but outdoors proved tough for the Team Suzuki factory rider. He finished ninth at Gatorback, one spot ahead of Suzuki support rider Barry Carsten.
Damon Bradshaw (8) airs out his Yamaha YZ250 over the old finish-line jump. He finished sixth in what was his first outdoor national on a big bike.
Another look at the big finish line jump, which would become notorious three years later when Erik Kehoe launched it wide open to beat Jeremy McGrath in the second 125 moto.
Rick Johnson had not won a supercross yet in 1990, as his wrist was still bothering him. It was even a problem in practice.
Local hero Ronnie Tichenor rode a 250 in 1990 for Team Suzuki. He finished third overall on a day in which everyone was overshadowed by the Hondas of RJ and Stanton.
Ohio’s David Hand (61) was a top privateer on the national circuit back in the day.
Ty Davis (26) tries to hold off Jean-Michel Bayle on the long sand straight after the whoops.
Jeff Stanton (1) battles with the “Beast from the East” himself, Damon Bradshaw, in their first-ever 250 National together. Their AMA Supercross Championship battle to come two years later was one of the most dramatic and intense in the sport’s history.
The second moto battle between Stanton (1) and Johnson (13) was a race for the ages.
Johnson (13) and Tichenor (6) dice in the second 250 moto as RJ moves towards the front.
One year earlier at the Gatorback National, Honda’s Ricky Johnson suffered a broken wrist that cost him the last best years of his AMA Hall of Fame career. He returned in 1990 with a bad wrist, but showed his younger teammate Jeff Stanton and everyone else that he still had the chops to win big races. On a personal note, I really thought I was going to get the cover of Cycle News with this image, but as you can see below, my esteemed colleague Ken Faught got a better photo of the same moto and made page one of what was then called America’s weekly motorcycling bible.
Johnson (13) just barely held off Stanton in the second moto to win in a nearly dead heat.
Johnson and Stanton congratulate one another after an epic second-moto duel that saw RJ take his last 250 National win as a professional. At the end of the year, he would add a 500 National win at Unadilla in what would turn out to be the last AMA Motocross race of his career.