In order to count down the days until the start of the 2019 Rocky Mountain ATV/MC AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship at Loretta Lynn Ranch, we’re asking some of the top graduates from yesteryear to tell us about their favorite moto from the Ranch. Since the race was founded in 1982, we’ve got a bunch of fast folks to choose from.
Before we even ask Jeff Stanton about his favorite moto at Loretta Lynn’s AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship, he sends in two shots. The first is him cresting a jump in the 1983 version of the race, the second is the tally sheet for the 100cc Amateur class that same year. We already know where this is going…
In 1983, there was a class showdown that might be described as “the best race never seen,” because there is no video that we know of, Loretta Lynn’s was only in its second year, and who might have thought that a 100cc amateur class with exactly 40 Yamahas in it would be settled by four teenagers with very bright and long racing careers ahead of them? In fact, two of them would become AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famers. And it all went down to the last turn of the third and final moto, with three of them together and going for the title.
“I have been reading this My Favorite [Loretta Lynn’s] Moto deal and so I went down to the trophy room and got out my scrapbooks from back then and snap a few pictures and send them in,” said Stanton, who still lives in his beloved Sherwood, Michigan. “What strikes me most about the picture over the jump is the fact that I was a big kid, so my dad took a YZ125 that year, took the motor out, and put the YZ100 into the chassis just so I would have some suspension, because the actual YZ100 was a smaller bike. He was so proud of that bike—he still talks about it all the time; you know how dads are! But every time I see this bike, I think about him.”
For those of you too young to remember, in the early ‘80s 100cc motorcycles were a thing. They were not Superminis bored out to 105cc, but rather an actual class that both Yamaha and Suzuki made bikes for. But then Suzuki stopped, and Yamaha was left with that narrow market to themselves. And the AMA rules back then allowed for using 125 frames, so long as they had actual YZ100 engines, nothing sleeved down.
Stanton qualified the bike for the 100cc class at Loretta Lynn’s. Among the others in the class were Minnesota’s Donny Schmit, New Jersey’s Barry Carsten and Jim McIlvaine, Ohio’s Fred Andrews, and the fastest girl in the country at the time, Lisa Akin.
“Out of all you guys, I remember thinking back then that Lisa was the one with the most potential,” I said as a jab to Jeff of the legendary pioneer, now Lisa Akin-Wagner.
“Right! Lisa beat me plenty of times on that YZ100,” he admitted. “It was the perfect size for her and she could ride for sure!
“That whole year was pretty incredible, even at our regional,” he continued. “Donny was there and I never expected to beat him but then his bike broke. I remember my dad helping him get his bike together between motos and helping him just get to Loretta’s by using some of our parts, and then battling him down there. That’s the way it worked, just like we were all in one big motocross family.”
In the end, as you can see by someone in the Stanton family’s scribbled scorecard, going into the last moto it was Jeff with a 1-3, Schmit with a 2-1, and Andrews with a 3-2. When Andrews got out in front in the last moto and Stanton was second and Schmit third, the race was literally in a three-way tie, and it would stay like that all the way to the last corner, which is one part of the track that over the years has never changed.
“It was anybody’s ball game,” recalled Stanton. “Whoever is going to take it is going to take it.”
What happened next is up for debate, as Stanton shrugs, “There’s been so much water under the bridge since then that I don’t really remember how it went down.”
What did happen was that Andrews hit some kind of last-gasp pass attempt that saw the leader Andrews go down, the championship slipping out of his fingers. Then Stanton held off Schmit in a sprint to the finish line to win the title by a tiebreaker—both have five total points but Stanton got the nod as winner of the final moto. Andrews went from champion to third-place in the blink of an eye.
Stanton would return in 1984 and ’85, but never on a 125, let alone another 100. Instead, he rode the 250 and Open classes.
“I wanted to ride 125s but how it played out was that even though I won Loretta’s in something of a surprise, Yamaha had already given out all of their 125 support already,” he recalled. “They said all they had was 250s and 500s and we said, ‘Hey, no problem, if that’s what you’ve got, that’s what we’re taking!’”
Stanton would win more amateur titles at Loretta Lynn’s, and when it was time to turn pro, he went straight to the Washougal 500cc National, skipping the new 125cc regional supercross class all together. His ability to ride big bikes allowed him more support, and eventually a factory Yamaha contract, and then in 1989 a factory Honda deal. And when team leader Rick Johnson went down with a broken wrist in March of that season, Stanton was ready and able to take the reins for the team, winning both the AMA Supercross and 250 Pro Motocross Championship titles. He would repeat that double championship season in 1990, and then again in 1992.
Stanton also became something of an anchor for Team USA at the Motocross des Nations (as it was called then), and when he needed to put Belgian rider Dirk Guekens on the ground in order to salvage a win, Jeff did it—apparently, he had some practice at doing something like that as a kid!
While that’s not something we want to see at Loretta Lynn Ranch, we asked Stanton if he had any advice for kids going to Loretta Lynn’s next week.
“It’s an awesome week, so just make sure you take it all in,” said the man affectionately known as “Six Time.” “Like Ricky [Carmichael] said, ‘You set yourself up for success, so mentally focus on getting starts, because if you get starts, that makes your life so much easier.’ Then just be smart and put in good laps. And prepare yourself for the heat and humidity, and just go down there and enjoy the whole experience.”