Welcome to the first Racerhead of a brand-new year, coming to you from right under the Big A at Anaheim. Another year of Monster Energy AMA Supercross is upon us. That's right, there's just one more day to the off-season, and this is it.
Is there a town mentioned more in our sport that Anaheim? It's been the site of more SX races than any other town in the world, and as the annual season opener, as well as its multiple stops each year, it gets pretty much all the mentions in the off-season too. And whenever someone gets hurt or makes a big team change, they are almost always trying to be "ready for Anaheim." How exactly did Anaheim, California, and not the actual birthplaces of supercross—Daytona for daytime purposes, Los Angeles for the nighttime version—become the capital of supercross?
For one, it's right in the epicenter of the industry, as all six OEMs have their U.S. headquarters within an hour's drive of the Big A (or at least it will be that way until Yamaha completes its move to the Southeast). Anaheim is also not far from the vast majority of the U.S. motorcycle industry's aftermarket companies, and while the print magazine business may be shrinking, Southern California is where most were, and where a lot of the big websites are too.
There have been lots of supercross host cities in California, from Los Angeles to Oakland, San Diego to San Francisco and San Jose, and then Chavez Ravine (where the LA Dodgers play) and Pasadena…. But Anaheim has outlasted them all. It started later than the Los Angeles Coliseum (1972), and it wasn't really a "supercross" at first, as I will soon explain.
First, Steve Matthes and company have more news from Anaheim….
The excitement of a new season is almost over; the what-ifs and bench racing will all be answered (somewhat) when the checkered flag falls tomorrow night. People ask me all the time which SX race to go to, and my answer is always Anaheim 1. It's got the most hype, the most healthy riders, and you don't know what's going to happen—it's the best thing we got going in supercross.
Speaking of bench racing, one of the greatest what-ifs out there is: what if Johnny O'Mara had been able to hold onto his nice lead at the opener in 1989? O'Mara was coming off two subpar, injury-filled years at Suzuki since leaving Honda but in '89, the RM250 was much improved (thanks to Bob Hannah), and O'Mara was on his way to the win over Rick Johnson at the season opener, which probably would've been the biggest upset in years in the sport—and who knows what it would've done for O'Mara's season.
With three laps to go, O'Mara cased a triple and broke the steering stem on his bike. Who ever heard of that on a new factory machine, right? It was the flukiest deal, and while he slowly rode off to the side of the track, Johnson flew by for the win—his first of five straight to start the '89 season.
"It was starting my third season on the Suzuki factory team since departing Honda at the end of ‘86," O'Mara told me the other day when I asked him to recap that night of agony. “I felt the bike was ready to win from a lot of hard work over a two-year period, and so was I again. I just remember that night being like in 1984 when I won the Anaheim season opener so easily, but with a few laps to go, with a comfortable lead on my old teammate RJ, the magnesium steering stem [a works part] snapped on the landing on a double jump and the night was over in a blink of the eye. I always wondered if I could have won that night if I could have duplicated my SX championship season of 1984."
Who knows what we'll see tomorrow night—the cool thing about A1 is you just never know. Ask Johnny O'Mara about that.
Anaheim History (DC)
Back to the history of the Anaheim Supercross. By the mid-seventies, there was a war brewing for American motocross dates. For the first decade of motocross in the U.S., Edison Dye's Inter-Am Series (1967) and the Trans-AMA Series (1970) were the first and most important series. But then in 1972 the new AMA Pro Motocross series started working its way into the calendar, as did the concept of "stadium motocross" that promoter Mike Goodwin kicked off with his first Superbowl of Motocross, held on July 8, 1972 at the Los Angeles Coliseum. AMA Supercross became the series we now know in 1974, though at the time it was just two cities (Daytona and Houston), with the Los Angeles Coliseum race a part of the Inter-Am. That meant there were four major series—Inter-Am (250), Trans-AMA(500), AMA Pro Motocross, and now AMA Supercross—vying for dates as well and the participation of factory teams. Something had to give. The 1975 calendar listed seven rounds of AMA Supercross, ten rounds of Trans-AMA races, and 15 different dates for AMA Pro Motocross (some were 125/250, some 250/500, some standalone 125 or 500 rounds). There were also two U.S. Grand Prix races: a 500cc USGP at Carlsbad, California, and a 125cc USGP at Mid-Ohio—not to mention the Florida Winter-AMA Series, which was the training hotbed for everyone and, for a time, bigger than AMA Pro Motocross.
It was the Inter-Am Series that fell first. Down to three races in 1975, it was no longer drawing top European talent like it used to, as Edison Dye had become a pariah after the cancellation of a Trans-AMA race the previous year. The last year for the championship that started it all in America had a stop in first Herman, Nebraska, then Delta, Ohio, and it ended (ironically) in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia, at my dad's first national track. Then it was lost to the dustbin of history. And before the lid had even been nailed shut, the ambitious supercross promoter Mike Goodwin had already announced another new race, the American Motocross Finals, which would take place on December 13, 1975 in—you guessed it—Anaheim, California. Goodwin and his company, Stadium Motorsports, billed it as a "wide-open" race, unattached to any series or sanctioning body, so there was really no rulebook. The AMA did not want to sanction it because they felt in part that it was an attempt to overshadow the other championship series. It was also just a week after the Trans-AMA series ended, so not everyone was up for participating, even if it was in the industry's backyard.
No matter, Goodwin and company forged on. They announced that all three sized bikes—125cc, 250cc, 500cc—would race together in one class, "to decide once and for all which machine is really the fastest on a stadium course." (Oh yeah, the term supercross wasn't in vogue yet, so they still referred to this kind of race as stadium motocross.) They also advertised that they would have "the finest contingent of American riders ever to assemble for a stadium motocross race," when in reality the biggest stars of the day—Grand Prix contenders Brad Lackey and Jim Pomeroy—decided to pass on participating, as did 1975 AMA Stadium Motocross Champion Jimmy Ellis. The 500 National Champion, Jimmy Weinert, designed the track but then couldn't come to terms with Goodwin for any guaranteed start money. And Marty Tripes, the first real stadium star in this sport, was in between rides, so he decided to sit out Anaheim as well.
Among the 23 riders who did show up were Team Suzuki's Tony DiStefano, the AMA 250 Motocross and Inter-Am Champion, and he dominated all three motos (the format was what we today call "Triple Crown") with ease. Finishing second was Gaylon Mosier on a Maico, and third went to Tommy Croft on a Honda. The only 125 in the field turned out to be two-time AMA 125 National Champion Marty Smith. He actually turned the fastest lap of the night on it, but it seized on him while he was running second in the final moto. There was also a 250cc support race, won by Don "Killer" Kudalski on a Honda CR250M, as well as a 125cc High School race won by a kid from El Cajon you may have heard of: Broc Glover.
Were the American Motocross Finals a success? Depends on who you ask. Goodwin felt they were, and the teams that attended liked the format, but they didn't like the idea of doing a one-off, non-sanctioned race like the '75 Anaheim MX Finals. So for 1976, Goodwin made a deal with the AMA: The race would be sanctioned but wasn’t a part of what was finally being called the AMA Supercross Championship. And it would still take place in December, nearly five MONTHS after the last round of the SX series. So how did the 1976 AMA schedule look? Supercross was up to nine rounds, AMA Pro Motocross would be a wallet-busting 20 rounds (almost all single-class events), and the Trans-AMA Series would again be ten races, as well as those same two USGP rounds at Carlsbad and Mid-Ohio. All of it would be run after the March season opener at Daytona, just after the Florida Winter-AMA Series ended.
However, by the time calendar pages turned all the way to December 1976, much had changed in American motocross and supercross. Seemingly out of nowhere, Bob "Hurricane" Hannah erupted out of the high desert, winning the Florida Winter-AMA Series on his Yamaha, then toppling Marty Smith to win the AMA 125 National Championship. He even gave Roger De Coster hell in the Trans-AMA Series. When that last series ended and it was time to head back to Anaheim for one last race, Hannah said no. He wanted to be paid up-front start money since the race was not a part of his Yamaha contract. Soon other riders were talking about a boycott. Goodwin had an AMA sanction for the race after all, but it just wasn't an actual part of any AMA series, and Hannah was contracted by Yamaha to ride AMA races. Goodwin thought he'd won, but Hannah still refused to line up. The race went on without him.
There’s another interesting note. The Anaheim '76 race was reformatted to what was the first of what we now see in AMA Supercross: a 20-lap main event after qualifying the field through heats and an LCQ. (They called it a "C Class" format—not sure why.) The total purse? $20,000. Marty Smith showed up this time on a 250 works bike and would end up winning, with his veteran teammate Pierre Karsmakers second in his last race on a Honda. Third went to Husqvarna rider Kent Howerton. The 1976 Anaheim race is in The Vault right here.
But it still did not count in the final tally of points for the 1976 AMA Supercross Championship, just as the 1974 and '75 Los Angeles Coliseum races that Goodwin promoted did not count for AMA series points either (though the '74 race was part of the old Inter-Am Series). Here's what Anaheim '76 looked like in Cycle News—that's the King Kong jump in the middle, made out of scaffolding and plywood!
So for 1977, the frustrated Goodwin finally made a deal with the AMA: all of his races would be sanctioned, and a part of what was finally being called the AMA Supercross Championship, though the Anaheim race, would still take place in the fall (November 11), more than FOUR MONTHS after the second-to-last round of the series. And this time Hannah, already the '77 AMA Supercross and AMA 250 National Champion, showed up and won.
1977 Anaheim AMA Supercross (first official AMA series race):
Here’s Hannah's win ad from 1977, when he finally showed up at Anaheim as it was part of the AMA Supercross Series for the first time. And he rode a practically stock bike and won!
Anaheim had amateur supercross events as far back as 1979, when a blond-haired surfer-looking kid on a funky white bike named Johnny O'Mara showed up and won. Not yet a pro, O'Mara was a year away from his date with destiny—a win at the muddy 1980 Valvoline 125cc USGP at Mid-Ohio on that same white brand, a Mugen Honda—when he landed in Cycle News as the Anaheim SX am-day winner.
It would be five more years before O'Mara would win Anaheim again, this time at the 1984 AMA Supercross season opener. By this point he was with Team Honda, and that first career win in SX would launch his championship run that very same year, just as it had done for David Bailey in 1983 and Donnie Hansen in '82.
An Anaheim cartoon we found in an old press kit by an artist named Dana J. Lamb.
By 1980, AMA Supercross was up to 17 rounds, but Anaheim was not one of them, as the stadium was undergoing construction. It would return in 1981, but rather than being at the end of the schedule, it was moved to January as the opener for the very first time, and Suzuki's Kent Howerton was the winner. AMA Pro Motocross was a more reasonable 11 rounds in '80, and thriving. It was the Trans-AMA Series, by now rebranded as Trans-USA, that was suffering. It was down to just a half-dozen races, and the last big-name European to frequent the series, Roger De Coster, was retiring. He won the last race of his career, the 1980 Luxembourg 500cc Grand Prix, with a 1-1 walk-off. That was just how The Man rolled.
By this point, the promoter Goodwin was convinced that AMA Supercross, and not the old Trans-AMA races, were the future, and by 1982 the Japanese manufacturers all seemed to agree. They all pulled out of the Trans-USA tour and the series dwindled to just three races. The final champion of the once-mighty series was a Michigan Suzuki privateer named Dave Hollis. The AMA was furious that the OEMs all seemed to get together on the point of not participating, and they sued them for collusion and anti-trust, compounded by the fact that while they would not race the Trans-USA, they did participate in a new Trans-Cal Series that was run in the fall and entirely within the Golden State, sanctioned by Stu Peters' CMC. It was a complicated case and made for some bad blood for a long time between the AMA and the OEMs, but that's a different story altogether.
It was Anaheim and the Anaheim SX alone that was featured on television every year, usually on NBC. The Carlsbad 500cc USGP was still featured in the fall (usually several months after it was held in June) on ABC's Wide World of Sports, but it was losing its luster as well, as 500cc motorcycles on a baked adobe track with hardly any jumps wasn't working like it used to. People wanted to see moments like David Bailey winning Anaheim '83 with a no-hander at the finish line, then holding up a Miller Lite 40, helmet still on, and vowing to "drink this whole thing" in celebration.
Now, all these years later, Angel Stadium is thought of by our sport as “The House that Jeremy McGrath Built.” The King of Supercross won his first AMA Supercross here in 1993, as well as his 72nd and final in 2001. It's the place where his usurper, Ricky Carmichael, emerged two weeks later in 2001 to snatch the crown from Jeremy and wear it for the next several years. James Stewart said in the fall of 2004 that "my whole life is about January 8" and the '05 opener, and where the "Perfect Storm" converged in 2005, with Kevin Windham emerging as a wet and unexpected winner. Chad Reed also won his first AMA Supercross here in 2004, and he would engage in some epic battles with Carmichael and Stewart and pretty much everyone else over the next 15 years. Now, he begins the last tour of his epic career here.
Strangely, that streak of first-time winners at the Anaheim opener who went on to win the AMA Supercross title ended at three in a row with O'Mara in 1984. Yes, there would be other first-time winners, but none from then on win that year's title. Damon Bradshaw (1990), Chad Reed (2003), Josh Grant ('09), Ken Roczen ('14), and Jason Anderson ('16) would all win their first SX races at Anaheim 1, but none followed it up with the title as Hansen, Bailey, and O'Mara did from '82 to '84.
This will be the 75th Anaheim Supercross, more than any other venue in the history of the series. Of course Daytona is older, going back to 1971, but Daytona International Speedway has always only hosted a single round, while Anaheim has held as many as three per year. That means more people have witnessed supercross in Angel Stadium than anywhere else, ever.
One last thing: Try the search option above on the right, the little magnifying glass, for searching out articles on Racer X Online. Type in "Daytona" and you’ll get around 4,850 mentions. Type in "RedBud" and you get 4,900. "Southwick" gets 3,950. Even "Motocross of Nations" gets you just a little over 7,000.
Now type in "Anaheim" and see what you get.
That number dwarfs everything else. The entire "MXGP" listings, 20 races per year now, only add up to 19,700. Anaheim is the single word most synonymous with supercross, at least by this simple measure. And that’s why we’re back for the 75th time!
The February 2020 ISSUE OF RACER X MAGAZINE IS NOW AVAILABLE
The February 2020 issue of Racer X magazine is coming to newsstands and mailboxes soon. Sign up now for the print and/or award-winning digital edition. And if you're already a digital subscriber head to digital.racerxonline.com to login and read now.
Inside the February issue of Racer X magazine
- Red Bull KTM’s Cooper Webb is the 2019 Racer X Rider of the Year.
- The legendary Paris Supercross may have lacked some star power, but that may not have been a bad thing.
- Racer X’s Trent Lopez hit the gym, pounded out laps, and entered the brutal Ironman GNCC, just to see if he could do it. (He could.)
- Steve Matthes and Kris Keefer entered the Dubya USA World Vet Motocross Championships at Glen Helen, then sat down for a chat about their weekend.
All these features and much more inside the February issue.
Hey, Watch It!
If you missed our Monster Energy Racer X 2020 Supercross Preview Shows, make sure to check them out here!
LISTEN TO THIS
There might not be another rider on the gate who appreciates his job more than Zach Osborne, but that's what a titanic career journey through Europe and back to the U.S. will do to a man. In this edition of the Racer X Exhaust Podcast, Jason Weigandt asks Zach about his 2020 prospects, then dives deeper into topics like training, motivation, and appreciation. This is a longer version of the text interview posted earlier this week. Why is Zach, now 30, less burned out than riders five years younger than him? You'll find out here.
It's Anaheim 1 week! Jason Weigandt shares his thoughts on the upcoming season and rings up 1997 AMA Supercross Champion Jeff Emig for some of his theories as well. Can Webb execute the same way he did in 2019? Can Tomac or Roczen finally get it done? It's all part of the most exciting time of the year: the run-up to the opener of Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship.
And if you missed the 2020 Supercross preview podcast from last week, make sure to give it a listen!
The Fly Racing Racer X Podcast comes in with Bader Manneh talking about his long career racing over in Europe. Bader talks about what he’s doing now, his reason for leaving the USA, racing GPs in the heyday of American participation, growing up with RJ, and much more.
This week on the Main Event Moto Podcast, Daniel Blair, Andy Gregg, and Producer Joe talk about the upcoming first round of supercross 2020 in Anaheim. Hang out with them as Daniel focuses on the headlines in the sport. Oh yeah, sometimes it goes off the rails.
“LEBRON JAMES HAPPY 35TH BIRTHDAY!!!... Celebrates With Cake And Strippers”—TMZ.com
“The US Army Has Banned Soldiers From Using TikTok”—BuzzFeed News
“Post Malone got a new face tattoo for the new year”—CNN Entertainment
“A Kentucky Woman Was Arrested After Trying To Use Her Dog's Piss For Her Drug Test”—Barstool Sports
“Dan Snyder opened the Redskins' Ron Rivera press conference by saying 'Happy Thanksgiving'"—The Win
For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid’EH Update #1.
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!