Now that the off-season is here, one of our favorite things to do is get busy with some bench-racing, arguing about the best and worst of this rider or that state or any decade. And one of our favorite decades for motocross is the '80s, when guys like Rick Johnson, Jeff Ward, David Bailey, Broc Glover, and Johnny O'Mara ruled. But the rider who best epitomizes the 1980s for us is "The Dogger" himself, Ron Lechien.
A member of the El Cajon Zone, his ups and downs were extreme in both directions—when he was up he was one of the best ever, but when he was down, it was downright ugly. This list is about Ronnie's ups, as in, his greatest hits from the '80s.
1981 Mammoth Mountain Motocross: At the ripe, old age of 14, Ron Lechien puts himself on the national motocross map by winning the one 125cc pro race he's allowed to enter, the non-sanctioned Mammoth Mountain Classic. Riding a Yamaha YZ125, Lechien tops a field of veterans that includes USGP winner Marty Moates, SoCal legend "Radical" Ron Turner, Mike Tripes (Marty's brother), and more.
1982 Loretta Lynn's: Lechien's father Dick never had a problem driving Ronnie across the country to find competition, and they found a bunch of it—as well as soon wet weather—at the very first Loretta Lynn's AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships in 1982. Lechien won two 125cc Expert classes, becoming the first graduate star of the event, as he already has a factory Yamaha contract lined up to turn pro as soon as he turned 16. Yup, this stuff was happening back in 1982!
1983 Orlando Supercross: With no 125cc class in AMA Supercross, Yamaha wanted to wait for as long as possible before letting their talented teenaged prodigy loose on a real supercross track. They waited until March and the motocross-like Daytona Supercross track to send him out, and he responded with a ninth-place finish in his first professional race. By June, when the 125 Nationals were up and running and AMA Supercross overlapped from time to time, he was often getting top tens in SX. Then at the Orlando Citrus Bowl on June 11, 1983, Lechien had the first epic race of his professional career, winning the main event on his Keith McCarty-tuned Yamaha over a couple of guys he was getting used to racing with outdoors, fellow 125cc specialists Johnny O'Mara of Team Honda and three-time 125 National Champ Mark Barnett of Team Suzuki. In doing so, he became the second-youngest premier-class winner ever in AMA Supercross, with Marty Tripes the one to ever win at a younger age. And here's thing: he was 23 seconds ahead of runner-up O'Mara.
Lake Whitney 125 National 1983: Just eight days after winning the Orlando SX, Lechien then went to Texas and won the first outdoor national of his career, topping a star-packed 125 class that included O'Mara, Barnett, Kawasaki's Jeff Ward, future champ George Holland, and the star-crossed Brian Myerscough aboard the #224 Yamaha.
1983 Colorado and Millville: Lechien would close his rookie season with two more back-to-back wins, this time in the season-ending 125 Nationals in Colorado and Spring Creek in Millville, Minnesota. In doing so he would help play the foil to Suzuki's Barnett, who was battling Team Honda's David Bailey for the Wrangler Grand National Championship, which counted up everyone's points from AMA Supercross and each of the three national classes, 125, 250, and Open. While Barnett was losing the last two 125 Nationals to Lechien, Bailey was getting the better of his Honda teammate Bob "Hurricane" Hannah in the 250 Nationals, and the combined points tilted Bailey's way after Lechien's double wins to close the series.
1984 Saddleback: In what turns out to be the last-ever pro race at the mecca of Southern California motocross, Lechien wins the 250 class at the April 1, 1984, Saddleback National. Having switched to Honda during the off-season, Lechien was dispatched to the 250 class since the team already had defending champion Johnny O'Mara in the 125 class. Honda would end up sweeping that last Saddleback National, as O'Mara won the 125 class and David Bailey topped the 500s. This would be the first of Lechien's three 250 National wins that summer, but the title would fall to his rival and former Yamaha teammate Rick Johnson.
1984 Unadilla 250 U.S. Grand Prix: Still just 17 years old, Lechien rides into the FIM record books as the youngest winner ever in the 250cc FIM World Motocross Championships, winning the U.S. Grand Prix at Unadilla. It was Lechien's first visit ever to Unadilla in Upstate New York, as well as his first Grand Prix.
1985 Seattle: After crashing himself out of contention at each of the first two rounds of the 1985 AMA Supercross Championship, Lechien pulls himself together at the Seattle doubleheader and dominates both nights. Lechien won three of the four main events in Seattle, as 1985 was the year with the funky two-moto format in SX. The weekend catapulted “The Dogger” back up into title contention.
1985 AMA 125 Nationals: Lechien's most dominant summer of all was 1985 when Lechien, armed with a potent HRC Honda RC125, ruled the 125 Nationals. He lost two races to bad luck—a seized engine at the Gatorback opener and a flat front tire at High Point—but then won every other race he entered. It wasn't really a fair fight as Lechien was the only rider in the class with truly works equipment, as the AMA was in the process of introducing their Production Rule for 1986. By that point, Lechien would no longer be with Honda, but the bike he helped develop would win the next four AMA 125 National Championships with riders who were not quite as talented as Lechien: Micky Dymond ('86-'87), George Holland ('88), and rookie Mike Kiedrowski ('89). It's also worth noting that Lechien also missed the last 125 National of 1985 as he had already clinched the title and the Honda brass moved him up into the 250 class for the Washougal finale in a vain effort to try to help Johnny O'Mara beat Kawasaki's Jeff Ward.
1985 Motocross des Nations: In one of the all-time great performances in Motocross des Nations history, Lechien rides the wheels off his works HRC Honda in the first-ever MXdN that features three riders per country on three different-sized motorcycles. Lechien teams with Kawasaki's Ward (250) and Honda's Bailey (500) to get a Team USA win, and despite starting in the second row of each of the three 60-rider motos, Lechien goes 12-5-4 as top 125cc rider.
1987 Broome-Tioga 500 National: Now aboard a Kawasaki, Lechien completes a personal grand slam by adding his first 500 National win at Broome-Tioga, giving him a victory in all three classes as well as AMA Supercross wins. Lechien also had a GP win and a Motocross of Nations win.
Motocross des Nations 1988: Team USA manager Roger De Coster invites Lechien back on the team, albeit this time on a 500 for the race in France. The wild child is considered the weak link on a team that boasts Rick Johnson in the 250 class and Jeff Ward on the 125. But Lechien goes out and does his job, and then some, sweeping both 500 motos and anchoring a Team USA victory, the eighth straight for the Americans.
1989 Kenworthy's 250 National: In what will turn out to be the last win of his career, Lechien wins the series-ending 250 National at Kenworthy's in Troy, Ohio, leading his Kawasaki teammate Jeff Ward. A little over a month later Lechien will crash at the Steel City 500 National and suffer a broken femur, the first major injury of his career. He will be out for a year, returning on a privateer TUF Racing Kawasaki.
1994 San Diego SX:Ron Lechien's last entry in the Racer X Vault is for a 13th place finish in the 1994 San Diego Supercross. Having gone through a myriad of off-track problems, he pulled himself together for his hometown supercross, went out and got a stock Kawasaki KX250, and then made the main in a race won by Team Honda's Jeremy McGrath. It was three years past his previous appearance in the AMA results.
Inside the October issue of Racer X Illustrated: How top riders deal with heat in Lucas Oil Pro Motocross, behind the scenes of the film Bennett’s War, exploring Unadilla history, and a trip to Wheels & Waves in the south of France. All these features and much more inside the October issue.