Jeff Stanton really doesn’t need an introduction. His Instagram handle is @6time, and there are six reasons why the native of Coldwater, Michigan, chose the moniker: three AMA Supercross Championships, three AMA 250cc Motocross Championships. But as you’re about to read, there were three races in his career that mean more to him than anything else he accomplished out on the racetrack. In 1989 in Gaildorf, Germany, Stanton led Team USA to victory in his first appearance in the FIM Motocross of Nations. One year later at Vimmerby, Sweden, Stanton put in an epic last-moto, last-gasp charge to keep our then-ten-year winning streak alive. Finally, in 1991, in the deep brown sand of Valkenswaard, Holland, Stanton blitzed through the field to win the MXoN for Uncle Sam on the last lap.
With the 2018 Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations being held in his native Michigan, Stanton decided to step up big and cobble together a Team USA-themed fundraiser at RedBud. Less than 40 miles away from his hometown, RedBud is Stanton’s home track, and to his way of seeing things, the MXoN is his race. We caught up with Stanton as he was making things happen for an event and a race that is rapidly shaping up to be almost biblical in size. Here’s what the former Team Honda ace had to say about his MXoN experience.
Racer X: Jeff, what’s happening up in Michigan?
Jeff Stanton: I’m actually out doing something for myself instead of talking on the damn phone for this project I’ve got going on! I’m just checking some deer cameras and out riding the four-wheeler in the woods right now.
Is it starting to cool down back there in that part of the Midwest?
No, dude, it’s hotter than hell. It’s absolutely crazy. We’ve been way above normal. We’re almost at 90 degrees today.
Imagine if they got a day like that on Sunday, October 7…
Well, yeah, they could only wish that that would happen, but it’s supposed to cool off here next week. With that date, let’s just hope that we get 60-degree weather and no rain. We’ll be okay.
Tell us exactly what you have going on for the race.
It’s been a lot of work. It all started this time last year. Amy Ritchie at RedBud called me and said, “Hey, you think you could call ten of your buddies and past MXoN guys and can do a parade lap?” I said sure, I’ll try. So I kind of blew it off, and about five months ago Amy called me and said, “Hey, how many guys do you have for the parade lap?” I said, “Well, Amy, I never called anybody!” You know how that works. So I started calling a couple of guys. I called Wardy [Jeff Ward] and he said, “Yeah, count me in!” I called RJ and I called [Johnny] O’Mara—everyone was into it. So then I got to thinking, If I’m going to get 20 guys to come back here, why don’t I raise some money? Why don’t I do something cool and raise some money for Road 2 Recovery. Let’s help some people out. So then I started the next phase and started calling more people.
Once I got 25 guys, I thought, Wow, I think people would love to come hang out for a night with all these guys. We should sell seats to this gathering for $500 apiece. Then someone said to me, “Dude, why don’t you auction seats off? Instead of having 40 guys at the head table, why don’t you have one champion at a table with his wife and sell eight seats around his table? The sky is the limit. One thousand dollars a seat, $1,500 a seat? Who knows what people would pay?”
So I hooked up with Lori [Amstutz] at Road 2 Recovery. Thank God, because I didn’t want to handle money and organizing the auction and donations and all that. They helped with everything. Lori has been the difference between me making this project succeed and not succeeding, quite honestly. She has run all the auction stuff for me and it has been going super good. Really, really great. The response has been great. The riders have been super good. I’ve got a who’s who of motocross coming to this dinner.
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Where will all this take place?
We’re going to do it right there at the track. I own a wedding venue and we do weddings every weekend, so putting this together is no big deal. I am using all my own people, my own tent and the catering company we use almost every weekend. I’m just putting the thing together myself. I didn’t have to bug Giuseppe [Luongo] or Amy about it—they have too much to do as it is! And we’re doing it right at the track. I’ve got a big tent, 45 tables, a stage. It’s going to be epic.
How many past champions and motocross legends do you have rolling in for this deal?
I’ve got 38 coming. We’re selling 250 tickets to this whole deal, and we only have 60 tickets left.
So if anyone out there is reading this and they want to buy a ticket to your event, what do they do?
Go to the Road 2 Recovery website and purchase your ticket. Simple as that. Your ticket will come in the mail. Road 2 Recovery is handling all that for me.
So you have 60 tickets left to sell and that’s it?
Yep. My goal is raise $150,000 dollars. People have been super generous and have been donating stuff. My goal is for everybody that purchases a ticket, there will be a backpack full of goodies worth $500 waiting for them when they go to sit down in their chair. Fly stepped up, 100% stepped up, Fox Racing stepped up, Parts Unlimited has stepped up, Racer X… Dude, it’s going to be nothing but first class.
It’s just fantastic that you’re bringing this whole thing to life. I know the MXoN means a lot to you.
Right. I want to bring back that love for the Motocross of Nations. We’ve lost that in America over the last five years. It’s just been kind of lackluster. I want to put the enthusiasm back in it for this race and for our three riders and to get these three guys pumped up to win this thing back. Man, when I was racing, that’s what I looked forward to. Sure, you win things throughout the year, but dude, this is the Olympics. You honor your country and you lay it down, you know what I’m saying? I want these guys to feel that. I don’t want to hear, “Oh, I can only go 80 percent because I’ve got the supercross in Vegas next weekend…” That’s bullshit. You go out there and win it for America.
During the past couple of weeks, I’ve been able to speak with quite a few racers who rode on victorious U.S.A. Motocross of Nations teams. Virtually every one of them essentially says the same thing: The Motocross of Nations victories they participated in mean as much or more than the championships they won during their careers. What’s your take on that?
Yes, sir. With the three races I won and in the way I won them by coming from the back and passing guys on the last lap, you don’t forget that. Ever. That’s what I want the 450 people under that tent at RedBud to feel. I want to hear stories from Billy Liles from the 1992 Motocross of Nations in Australia. Billy just called me and he wouldn’t shut up about the race! “Dude, what I did at that race was to…” I cut him off and said, “Billy, that’s awesome and I want to hear about it, but I want you to tell that story to 450 people who are at my banquet!” That’s the kind of thing I want people to get out of this whole deal. I want them to hear the stories from Billy and Ronnie Lechien and Johnny O. Yeah, I had some great races, but my iconic Team USA is Johnny and David [Bailey] and RJ in Maggiora in ’86. To me, that’s when I was just first breaking the threshold of coming into professional racing. That was the stuff that I looked up to. That’s where you set your bar for that. But we don’t have that now. That’s gone.
To that end, in 1992 both you and Damon Bradshaw backed out of racing for Team USA in Australia. You mentioned to me in the past that it was one of the dumbest moves you ever made. Do you want to talk about that?
I just talked to Billy Liles about that for ten minutes [Note: Liles rode in Stanton’s place at Manjimup and performed brilliantly]. I said, “I’m proud that you went and won, but that was the dumbest thing I ever did. No doubt, 100 percent. Back then, it was different because the Motocross of Nations was in the middle of our championship. To fly to Australia to race, I thought, that’s dumb. I’ve got to win a title. Yeah, I should have went to the des Nations. It was dumb, but today, I’m proud of Billy and Mike LaRocco and Jeff Emig for going and doing it in 1992.
I’m going to ask you to recollect on the three Motocross of Nations where you led Team USA to victory. 1989 was your first year on the team, and you went there not only as a rookie, but as the team leader.
Yeah, that one sticks out in my head. That was David Thorpe’s last race with Honda. I was a young kid, and I was like, Man, if I could just beat David Thorpe, that would be so cool. He’s been a world champ and Wardy is on the big bike, so we can both battle him. In the last moto, I remember starting behind Wardy in the second row because that’s how they did the start. I remember coming out of the first turn in third, getting into the lead and just pulling away from everybody. Same thing happened in my other moto. I went 1-1. It was awesome. That race went really smooth. It was awesome—and I beat Dave!
1990 was Vimmerby in Sweden, and with it, a near-miss for Team USA.
Yeah, it was that next year where is started to get a little hairy. It didn’t go great and guys were crashing, and I had a bad start the second moto. We knew who we had to beat. I just kept plucking away in the last and final moto, and I knew that I had to pass this Dirk Guekens guy from Belgium at the very end of the race. I had to pass him. I followed him for a lap. And then, not going to lie, I put him off the track with a lap to go and we won!
What I remember the most about that was going back to the pits. I was still pretty young then and this guy comes racing back into the pits. He had a full beard and was this 40-year-old guy, and he was ready to lay me out! He was going through the roof. I remember Roger [DeCoster] and Dan [Bentley] staying in front of the guy. You do what it takes to win the race, and that’s just what I did there. Yeah, I probably got a little too aggressive and put him off the track, but you’re there to win, right?
And the 1991 Motocross of Nations at Valkenswaard, Holland?
Talk about stories… I just told Rob Buydos this story. For my third des Nations, what I remember most about that was that a couple of our guys crashed in the motos. We were neck-and-neck with Belgium and we had to beat them. I had fallen on the first lap of the last moto and was way in the back. It was a tight track and I was working through the sand, and what I remember most about that moto is that I had a father figure that went to every one of my races. So did my dad, but he didn’t go to a lot of races. I had a father figure my whole career, and I still do, and it was Bevo Forti. He went to every race I ever attended. I remember Bevo standing on the side of the track, and halfway through the moto he was giving me the arm pump and yelling, “Let’s go! Let’s go!” Three-quarters of the way through, I could see Bevo getting a little more excited and I thought, I wonder if I’m catching these guys? With three laps to go, Bevo was jumping up and down on the side of the track. I got more excited watching him and he made me more excited, and I kept pushing further. My handlebars were bent and my levers were tweaked, and I can tell you Bevo is the sole reason why I did what I did that day because his energy level went so far up and it pumped me up, and I passed that guy on the last lap to take the victory. That race was 100-percent Bevo.
Are your Motocross of Nations wins your most treasured?
Oh, for sure they are. I mean, it’s cool to win AMA titles, but those three trophies and those three sets of clothes in my trophy room are some of the most important to me ever.
How cool is it that Roger DeCoster is still so involved and will manage Team USA come RedBud?
Yeah, it’s really cool. It’s awesome. He’s been around forever and was always a huge help and knows everybody and has traveled the world. It’s really cool that he’s so passionate still.
What’s going to happen come race day? Are we going to win?
I’ve been watching the MXGPs and [Jeffrey] Herlings is a badass. He is. But I do think America will be the toughest team. In America at RedBud, it’s going to come down to the starts and who is going to lay it down. Yeah, for our three riders, I believe we have them covered, but if any one of our three guys think it’s going to be easy, they’re going to have another thing coming. I mean, Justin [Barcia] is going to have to get a start, Eli [Tomac] is going to have to get a start, and hope that Herlings doesn’t and has to work his way through the field. Aaron [Plessinger] just needs to do his thing. So yeah, I’m 100-percent in that we’re going to win, but it’s never is a cakewalk.