Since the Seattle Supercross did not take place as scheduled over the weekend, Racer X is looking back at past great races in that city. No discussion of Seattle can be complete without looking up Larry Ward, the hometown hero who won the event back in 1990 and 1999.
When you think of the Seattle Supercross you can’t help but think of wet races and wild outcomes. But before today’s Seattle races with open air racing, the Pacific Northwest played host to plenty of crazy races under the closed roof of the Kingdome. Two of the greatest races of that era, hands down, belong to Larry Ward, who won his first (1990) and last (1999) premier class supercross races there. The first win was a raucous affair, with Ward and Jeff Matiasevich trading paint for much of the race before Ward eventually checked out. The second wasn’t as wild, but Ward, the hometown hero, came out of nowhere and delighted the crowd by dominating the main event after dealing with some brief resistance from Kevin Windham. We caught up with Ward to talk about those nights, the current suspended state of racing, and the ranch resort he now runs in Oklahoma.
Racer X: We’re reviewing classic races on the web right now. It’s Seattle week, so obviously we have to talk you. How well do you remember that first win?
Larry Ward: Well I’ve watched that video more than any other race I’ve ever raced [Laughs] so I remember a lot, some of it probably from video. But another thing I remember, in ’89, in the 125SX West, Jeff Matiasevich was really good. He won the first night but not by much. The second night I actually had a huge lead, had it locked up, and was the only one still jumping the triple because it was pretty rutty. We had a titanium steering stem in my Honda 125 and it broke and I crashed. I broke my ankle and didn’t even finish the race. I was so disappointed, and going into ’90 I wanted to do really well. But in all honesty there’s no way in hell I would have dreamed I was going to win. Although, I had gotten a second and a fourth in the two weekends leading up to that so I was riding pretty good and was really comfortable on the bike.
Watch the 1990 Seattle Supercross:
When you were coming up toward the front, at what point did it set in that you might win the thing?
I don’t know how, but Matiasevich and I were a lot faster than anyone that night. In the main we were literally stopping, braking, and waiting to ram each other and we’re still like a whole straightaway ahead of everyone else. I still don’t understand why we were so good that night! When I caught up to him I could tell he was fading a little bit. It might have been nerves, he’d never won in that class either. But by about lap 13 or 14 [of 20], I knew I could win, for sure. I’ve watched that video so many times, and after I got the white flag my front washed pretty good in the next corner and I almost crashed. After that I pretty much rolled the entire last lap.
Does your heart rate still go up when you watch it?
Oh, of course. The ultimate goal in this sport is to win a premier class supercross championship, and a question I ask myself all the time is, would you trade your two Seattle wins for one championship? And of course, yes, I would, but it would be a very hard decision. Growing up in Seattle and going to high school there, and winning in my rookie year and then again late in my career… They also imploded the Kingdome like two months after that last race so to win my very first big bike supercross there, and the last race there, well I’m not a tattoo guy but if I were to ever get a tattoo it’d probably be the Kingdome in shape or form.
Were you sad to see the Kingdome go, or are you happy to be able to say you were the last person to ever win a race there?
I’m definitely not sad to see it go. I like newer, modern stuff and the time had definitely come for that building. There were baseball games where they'd have to evacuate because chunks of the ceiling were falling off. It is pretty cool that I got the last win there, but it doesn’t really matter one way or another. I’m just thankful I got two wins in Seattle.
Going back to the race. You and Matiasevich had an awesome battle. Talk about the brake checking and ramming all that.
There was a whole crowd of us who came into that class that year. [Mike] Kiedrowski, Matiasevich, Damon [Bradshaw], Mike LaRocco, and myself, and we’d all raced against each other for years. We’d all fought and had rivalries and everything. You either had friends or people you didn’t care for too much. We’d all known each other since we were little kids. Chicken [Matiasevich] is the kind of guy you want to like, but I can honestly say I don’t really like him, even after all this time. I don’t hold grudges so I’d love to have a beer with him just to see what he’s up to, but I still think he’s a punk. [Laughs]
Rivalries run deep in this sport. Once there gets to be bad blood in this sport it doesn’t seem to ever totally go away.
Our whole entire life, everything revolved around a dirt bike. And the generation I grew up in, our dads never told us to talk it over and come to a mutual decision. Our dads would say, “Go punch that SOB in the mouth.” Our dads taught us to be a little tougher back then than what’s socially acceptable now.
Yeah, probably. My wife would shoot me if I ever told our son to go punch someone.
[Laughs] Right, there you go. All those guys, Kiedrowski, Matiasevich, Bradshaw, LaRocco, none of them ever took a lot of crap in their day. They were all pretty tough dudes.
When you guys were battling, were you ever close to crashing in that race?
No, I was fully prepared. I knew pretty much at the time I had all the momentum and that was his only chance. I knew I just had to somehow get by him and get the hell away from him. But he did get me pretty good in that berm right there. Somehow I still got by him at the end of the whoop-dee-doos in the next right-hander. That’s where I took the lead, in the very next corner. I think he was gassed a little bit. He was a great rider in great shape, but obviously the crowd was on my side and he knew I’d come from back a little ways and caught him. I got him in the heat race too, and sometimes it’s just one guy’s night, and that night happened to be my night.
It’s probably good he didn’t take you out because I think the crowd probably would have stormed the track.
Yeah, he probably didn’t have anything on the Frenchie [Dylan Ferrandis] who took out Christian Craig! I remember there was an old time racer from the ‘70s, Buck Murphy, and he was up in the bleachers yelling and cussing at Chicken when we were up on the podium. I was over it pretty quick though because I’d won. If all that’d happened and I lost I probably would have wanted to fight, but since I won I didn’t care.
You won there in ’99 too. How do those two wins stack up?
They’re both total opposite ends of the spectrum, but it’s the same feeling. I won it the first time when I was way too young and a rookie and didn’t know any better. And the last time it was so sentimental because I was 29 years old and not a lot of 29-year-olds win supercross races. It’s the same emotions, just on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Watch the 1999 Seattle Supercross:
How much do you follow racing these days?
Honestly the only thing I follow is Racer X on the web. I check it out at least three times a week and scroll through, just to see if someone is hurt or this or that. And I watch and record probably 95 percent of the races on TV. I don’t go back to the races a lot but when I do it’s amazing how many people I still know. I’d say 100 percent of the teams, there are at least one or two guys I know from the past. It was my life for a long time, I just chose to move on and try different stuff. But I’m not going to lie, I like seeing my name from time to time. Online, two of the best races you guys picked from Seattle, my name was all over it. When you’re knocking on the door of 50, that makes you feel good!
What do you think of how this season was playing out? To me it seems like we had more 450 guys maintaining intensity deeper into the season than we’ve seen in a while. What are your thoughts on that?
Well not as many guys have gotten hurt this year as in years past, which has been good. I was never a huge fan of Ken Roczen before all of his injuries and stuff. I thought maybe he was a little arrogant. But whether you like him or not, he’s got my respect. He’s got an unbelievably big heart to come back after everything he’s gone through. I think it’s humbled him and made him a better person, too. After the injuries he’s gone through and come back from, I think he’d been managing his season so he’d have something at the end. I just pray that for him and the whole sport that it doesn’t end with him getting second at Daytona by less than a second. If he’d have known that was maybe the last race of the year he’d have probably had a better chance of closing that out. I think he’s been very smart this season, or he’s being well coached, and he’s better than we think. It seems like he was managing the year so he’d have something at the end.
It’s not necessarily fair or right that there’s going to be a big break. People are going to break their training regimen and all that. [Eli] Tomac seems like he’s a guy who can come on really strong at the end of the year, so is it going to affect him? But it’s just what’s going on in the world and it can’t be helped. It sucks the way this coronavirus has taken over. Roczen and Tomac this year are kind of in the same boat. There’s a lot of pressure on them and they’re both really trying to do everything right, and I’d hate it if it ended like this. Tomac has got to be tired of hearing all the crap about not winning the supercross title yet, and he’s managing his year right, too. And I think Cooper Webb is a pretty cool kid too, but I think Dallas, especially with the shortened series, probably put him out of it.
What are you doing these days?
I run a ranch called The Stonewood Ranch in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. It’s a high end corporate retreat and we’re kind of based around shooting sports. We have a rifle range, pistol bays, shotgun stands, and we do lots of hunting and fishing. And we have tracks for riding. I’m lucky enough to get to run the whole thing and get it ready for the weekends, then dress up and entertain guests on the weekends.
So, kind of like the Tiger King?
[Laughs] No. Nothing like that. That zoo, the G.W. Zoo was actually only eight or nine miles away from my ranch. The Stonewood had a funny Instagram post about that recently. In ’89 I had a big long blond mullet hanging out the back, with zebra stripes, and in the post it said, “The Ranch’s own Larry Ward ran the tiger stripes and blonde mullet before Tiger King made it cool!”
Did you ever run into that guy?
Oh yeah, I’d see him at Wal-Mart or wherever. He’s a joke. He wouldn’t be someone I’d be buddies with.
The Stonewood sounds cool. How would someone book it, just go to the website?
Yeah, they can go to the website. We’re on Facebook and Instagram too. Check it out, we’re an $8 or $9 million facility, it’s badass. There’s a 21,000 square-foot lodge, it’s ridiculous. It’s really nice. It can’t happen this year of course because of the scheduling, but what better place for teams to go at the end of the year? It’s high-end food, amenities, there’s fishing and shooting sports, there’s supercross, motocross, a pit bike track, it’s really cool.
It sounds awesome. Thanks for your time, Larry.
No problem, thank you.