Main Image: Marty Smith, Photo by Mike Rosso
For once, sadly, we won’t start with the pandemic. The motocross world lost one of its all-time heroes earlier this week when Marty Smith and his wife, Nancy, were killed in a dune buggy accident out in the Imperial Sand Dunes. The Smiths, enjoying retirement together, were riding with their friends Lee and Tammi Ramage when they suffered a rollover accident. Ramage, Smith’s best friend, posted this message the day after the accident:
It’s with the heaviest, grieving heart that I have to tell you Marty and Nancy Smith we’re killed yesterday in a rollover accident in his dune buggy at the imperial sand dunes. This is a photo of his last few hours.
My wife, Tammi and I were in the buggy and were unhurt. We spent at least an hour trying to save their lives before first responders arrived. Marty took his last breath while I was holding his head, keeping his airway clear.
Marty was my best friend and I tried with everything in me to save him while Tammi tried to save Nancy.
More details to come. There is so much to know about this man and how he wanted to leave this earth when God called him him.
Please keep his children, Jillyin, Brooke and Tyler and all his grandkids in your prayers.
This is the photo that Ramage posted of Smith driving the buggy, Nancy behind him, and Tammi Ramage behind Lee, just a few hours before their tragic accident.
For a generation of motocross enthusiasts, Marty Smith was the epitome of a golden era of American motocross, the 1970s. He grew up in a motorcycling family in San Diego and quickly showed promise as a young rider. While racing for the boutique Swedish brand Monark, the 15-year-old Smith caught the attention of American Honda, which was developing a brand-new CR125 Elsinore for the first AMA 125 National Motocross Championship, set to take place in 1974. It was on that bike that Smith won the first pro race he entered, the ’74 Hangtown 125 National opener, and eventually the 1974 title. Those successes were the first of many that Smith and Honda would enjoy together, cementing the early legacy of both the rider and the brand.
Smith would dominate in his 1975 title defense, leading Motocross Action to name the then-17-year-old their Rider of the Year. That honor came with an iconic centerfold poster of Smith with cyborg parts in his arm and stomach and referred to him as “The Bionic Motocrosser,” a nod to a popular television show of the time, The Six Million Dollar Man. With his good looks, polite demeanor, and sheer talent and charisma, Smith became the first true superstar of American motocross.
The next year, he and Honda would try an unprecedented challenge: competing for both a third AMA 125 National title and the FIM 125cc World Championship, which meant going back and forth to Europe every other weekend. It was a grind for Marty and Nancy, compounded by the fact that he would mostly be racing two different bikes—a works one in Europe but an unreliable and not-so-works one here, because Honda was afraid its most exotic bike would be claimed by another rider. There was also the fact that two of history’s very best riders would be on the attack that year, the ascendant Bob Hannah here in the U.S. and the Belgian legend Gaston Rahier in Europe. Smith did not succeed in winning either title, but he did get his first AMA Supercross win and his second 125 U.S. Grand Prix win.
The next year, Smith stayed in America and took the fight to Hannah, this time in the 500 class. Seventy-seven was a weird year where the three AMA championships—125, 250, and 500—all ran standalone nationals, except for the opener at Hangtown, which was 125 and 250, so guys could race in two different championships that year: either 125/500 or 250/500. Hannah chose the former, as Yamaha wanted him to defend his #1 plate; Smith and Honda chose 250 and 500, so he only met Hannah on the big bikes. Smith ended up winning the title after Hannah suffered a broken throttle cable at the last round. Smith also nearly won the 250 title but ended up losing out to Suzuki’s Tony DiStefano, the three-time champion.
The 1977 AMA 500 National Championship would mark the last great success of Marty Smith’s career; one year later, he would go down in a first-turn crash at the Houston Astrodome that also knocked out DiStefano and Marty’s Honda teammate Jimmy Ellis. DiStefano tore up his knee, Ellis his shoulder, and Smith suffered a fractured hip. None of the three would ever be the same.
For Smith, the injury was the first in a series of misfortunes that would rob him of the twilight of his career. He would finally part ways with Honda before the 1980 season, signing with Suzuki. He would be there for two seasons and then end his career with a brief partnership with the Italian brand Cagiva, for which he was paid lots of money but forced to race a 125 bored out to a 190 because they didn’t make a 250.
While the number of wins and titles weren’t the same as the records that would come for guys like Hannah and later Rick Johnson, Jeremy McGrath, Ricky Carmichael, and the Ryans, what Smith had in spades was charisma, and he had it right at a time when the sport needed it. In Honda’s statement about Marty’s passing, his old mechanic Dave Arnold really nailed what Smith was all about: "It was an era of rebellion for a lot of kids. Marty was a baby boomer, and when those kids' parents looked at motocross and saw that it was kind of an athletic sport—or at least healthier than sex, drugs and rock and roll—they were more inclined to fund the purchase of an Elsinore or whatever. Marty epitomized that; he had teen-idol looks, wore a red, white and blue Honda jersey and was on book covers and lunch pails. You could say he took the 'You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda' tagline and turned it to 'You beat the fastest people with a Honda.' The relationship between Marty and Honda was very family-like and loyal. When he flew to Japan, they put out a red carpet for him, and Mr. Honda was there to meet him on the runway."
Smith was also a pioneer—he literally invented the idea of double jumping when he was the first rider to begin launching a downhill double of at the 1975 U.S. 125cc Grand Prix at Mid-Ohio. To that point, riders took every jump as singles, in part because promoters had to yet to think of building them close enough together, even in those early days of supercross. But Smith did it that day in 1975, and the exact moment he did was caught on film by none other than Wally Wallenberg, the late father of our man Scott Wallenberg. You can see it happen at the 1:15 mark of this home movie:
Every kid who grew up a motocross fan in the 1970s and early ’80s probably has a favorite Marty Smith story. He was just so cool and stylish and kind that you couldn’t help but look up to the man, on and off the track.
In the summer of 1980, after many believed that Marty was on the downside of his career, he pulled off a solid second-place finish at the Daytona Supercross. Motocross Action thought enough of the feat to put him on their next cover, the July 1980 issue. It came to our mailbox in late May, right before the High Point National.
Turns out that my dad, who was friends with then-Suzuki team manager Mark Blackwell, had invited Team Suzuki to come out to High Point Raceway early and get a little riding in, as team riders Smith, Danny Laporte, and Kent Howerton were all traveling together with their mechanics in a caravan of box vans. Dad told me I could come out and watch after school, but I needed to find my own ride—I was too young to drive. Fortunately, my slightly older buddy Scott Sepkovic was also a huge Marty Smith fan, and I called him and told him he could go with me, but he had to drive!
By the time we showed up out at the track, the guys were unfortunately done riding, but LaPorte and Smith and a couple of mechanics (Pat Alexander and I think Greg Arnette) were hitting golf balls in the grass of the pit area. Scott and I wandered over and just watched, and the guys were kind enough to talk to us two random teenaged motocross fans. At one point I got up the courage to congratulate Marty on getting the front cover of the new Motocross Action. His eyes lit up. “I did? Are you serious?” He asked if I had it with me, but I didn’t—it was at home on my desk! I was bummed to tell him that, but I said I could bring it to the race that weekend. That wouldn’t do—Marty wanted to see it right away. He said he was staying in Morgantown, out by some lake at a golf club, and asked if I lived far from there. Turns out Lakeview Resort in Cheat Lake was about two miles from my house! Marty said, “Great, I’m in room 214, maybe you could bring it by in a couple hours?” Scott and I were stunned, and we immediately took off back to the house.
Two hours later, Marty Smith answered the door of his hotel room in Cheat Lake, grabbed the magazine with him on the cover, and sat down on his bed and started thumbing through, just as excited as I was when I first got any motocross magazine in my hands. Scott and I just stood there and watched the biggest motocross star on the planet—yes, even bigger in our minds than Roger De Coster or his rival Hannah or anyone else to that point—reading about the Daytona Supercross and his comeback ride. Pretty soon we were talking, bench-racing, and hanging out with Marty for a good half-hour. And when it was time for him to go meet the rest of the team for dinner, he opened up a gear bag and gave us each a pair of his new Oakley goggles and some stickers. He then asked if he could keep the magazine. How could I say no?
That’s my favorite Marty Smith memory, the first time I really ever got to meet him, and it was to give him my Motocross Action magazine with him on the cover. Godspeed, Marty, and thanks for taking time for all of us. And Godspeed to Nancy Smith as well. I suppose there is some comfort in knowing that these childhood sweethearts went out of this world together.
Steve Matthes did this podcast with Smith back in 2009, that he redid the intro too and let us post earlier this week. Listen to it below:
And our pals Ping and Grant Langston had Marty as a guest on their Whiskey Throttle show:
We went into more depth about Marty’s actually racing career when we did out countdown of the 30 Greatest AMA Motocrossers ever.
Even TMZ.com reported on the tragic accident and Marty's career.
Marty Smith’s Records (Andras Hegyi)
In the wake of the tragic deaths of Marty Smith and his wife, Nancy, here are some of the records and statistics he accomplished in his motocross career
He is the only one Honda motocrosser to win a race in the AMA's 125, 250, and 500 National Motocross Championships, in AMA Supercross, in the old Trans-AMA Series, and in the FIM World Motocross Championship.
He is the only American rider on a Honda to win a race in the AMA 125, 250, and 500 motocross championships. (Frenchman Jean Michel Bayle also did it.)
He was the very first winner and champion in the 125/250 class, as he won the first AMA 125 National held at Hangtown in 1974, as well as that inaugural series.
He is the first rider to ever win six AMA outdoor nationals in a row (1975).
He is the first Honda rider to win a round of the AMA Supercross Championship, at the 1976 Pontiac SX. (Marty Tripes won the 1973 Superbowl of Motocross, but it was part of the Inter-Am Series.)
In the history of the AMA 500 National Motocross Championship, he is the very first to win with Honda (1977 St. Peters, Missouri) and claim the title.
He is the very first American 125cc Grand Prix winner. In 1975 he won the 125cc USGP of the USA held in Lexington, Ohio.
He is the very first American to win both in the FIM World Motocross Championship and the AMA series in the same year (1975).
He is the first American to win at least two Grand Prix victories in the same year. In 1976 he won both the 125cc GP of Denmark and the 125cc USGP.
DOUBLE TAKE? (DC)
We received this letter and the accompanying photos from our old friend Randy Nagel of Pro-Vu Prescription Goggles.
I was just looking at the Marty Smith Photo Gallery you put up, and I realized that one of Dick Miller's photos looked really familiar to me... Remember years ago when I bought that first turn photo of Marty / Bob Hannah from a guy at a vintage race in Michigan? Well, Dick Miller was standing on the inside of that corner - check it out - same positioning, Rokon Don #255 on the outside, and #645 right there! (Unfortunately, Scott Wallenberg #613, you were a little late to get in Dick's photo hahahaha!)
Also, hate to correct you guys, but, being the trivia master that I am, I have to tell you that the #12 photo on the 250 Elsinore with the blue/yellow Hallman leathers is not Marty, pretty sure it's Gaylon Mosier.
I was lucky enough to meet Nancy and Marty at vintage races and they were both great people. Nancy still watched and cheered for "Martin" every lap, on a Maico in a vintage race, even after watching him 35+ years earlier winning Nationals and GP motos, which I thought was really cool.
Here's the photo Randy mentioned, but we haven't come up with anything concrete as to whether it's Smith or Gaylon Mosier, who passed back in 1980. Anyone have any extra evidence?
STINKIN’ RULES… (DC)
Switching gears, MX Sports Pro Racing, which runs the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, put out the 2020 rulebook earlier this week with a few tweaks in it.
Among the changes for 2020 are the fact that to compete in the 450 class you must be a minimum of 18 years of age, and starting next year you will have to have either a high-school diploma or its equivalent (a GED), or be actively enrolled in a high school graduate program. Riders who already have an AMA Pro Racing license will be exempt. The series is also reshaping its anti-doping penalties with USADA so they are more in line with the career length of our professional motocross racers. And there is a new Code of Conduct, much like other professional sports have. (My son had to read and sign a Code of Conduct with his high school just to be eligible to try out for lacrosse.)
Those all seemed to me like fairly simple, common-sense changes and policies. But that last one ruffled a few feathers the wrong way, maybe because of the way it was worded: “remarks made by any credential holder that unreasonably or excessively publicly criticizes and/or disparages AMA Pro Motocross, MX Sports Pro Racing, AMA Pro Racing or its Officials may be considered to be acting in an unsportsmanlike manner prejudicial or detrimental to the sport in violation of these rules.”
That doesn’t mean riders and mechanics can’t criticize a decision or complain about the track conditions or a referee’s decision or anything like that. We’re all fair game when we don’t do our jobs or make mistakes or have disagreements. What it does mean is that if you go on TV or internet show and make outrageous comments about the series like “It’s a drug ring!” you might get called into the trailer and possibly even penalized. It says, “unreasonably or excessively,” which doesn’t mean riders and cardholders can’t complain, it just means to keep it civil and on the rails. NASCAR just fired a driver for using a racial slur in a live eSports race, which violates their Code of Conduct, along with many, many other things. We are all in this together when it comes to motocross, trying to grow the sport and gain some mainstream respect and a bigger audience, especially now that we have such a big health crisis on our hands that it threatens to wipe out the rest of the season. This new Code of Conduct is simply meant to help us all put our best boot forward when we do get back to racing.
The Racer’s Edge (Jason Weigandt)
Ricky Carmichael is the Greatest of All Time, and his hard-training ways made everyone think he’d accept only that type of spirit from any other racer. But post-racing, Ricky has always maintained that every rider is different, and what worked for him wasn’t always the best plan for others. This week I got better insight into this whole idea concept I interviewed Carmichael, and he explained that he was motivated by the fear of losing.
“I raced scared,” he told me. “I was scared to death to get beat. It’s so crazy when I tell this story now. I never said this when I was racing. But I was scared to death to get beat, every single weekend. I hated it. I hated that pressure. I’m like, ‘Crap, man. I hope this isn’t the weekend.’ Just scared to death and the fear of finally getting overtaken, forever. That’s what kept me motivated and kept me working hard. It was a hell of a journey for sure, but that’s what worked for me. I never underestimated my competition.”
Carmichael explained that much of the training and work he put in was for his own mind. He had to convince himself he had taken every possible step toward winning the race on the weekend. That’s what gave him confidence.
In contrast, a few days later I spoke with defending Monster Energy AMA Supercross Champion Cooper Webb. I’ve been asking all the current racers if this break in the action has driven them crazy. Aren’t they worried they aren’t training enough? Worried they’re training too much? Aren’t they unsettled working against an uncertain calendar? How hard has it been on him?
“Honestly, for me it hasn’t been that hard,” Webb said.
The champion then explained that he’s never sweated the during-the-week routine. Yes, he’s working harder and bringing more intensity now that he works with Aldon Baker, but he always plans to really come alive on race day.
“When I’m at the track on race day, I worry about that, but everyday life, I’m not much worried about racing at all,” he says. “At the end of the day I know if I went to the track and gave it my all, that’s a solid day. You’re not going to have good days every day. I get some slack actually for not caring enough about practice! But I live for Saturday, main event time. Yeah, you definitely have to put in the effort during the week to compete, but when I’m at home, there’s no dirt bike talk.”
There you go. Two different pathways to success. One rider who had to kill it all week to feel he was ready for the weekend, and another doesn’t let the week impact his feelings on the weekend. If you really start to think about the racers on the gate each weekend, you can probably figure out which category each rider would fall into. Which ones have built-in confidence and which ones have to build it through hard work? I think we all probably have our guesses.
GasGas (Kris Keefer)
GasGas North America announced their TXT Racing model trials range today, but my son and I have been smiling for over a week now. Why? Well, we’ve had the GasGas TXT 250 trials bike in our possession for a while and have been having a blast. I have always been a fan of trials riding and have done it on more than a few occasions, but every time I ride one, I always wonder why I don’t have this type of machine in my garage. When my son Aden first started to learn how to ride at around age six, I put him on a trials bike, just so he could get the feel of balancing a motorcycle, weighting the footpegs as well as use the brakes properly. As motocross or off-road riders, we have a tendency to try to rush through sections in order to get to the checkered flag first, but with trials riding it’s the exact opposite. While we are under some weird times in our country right now with this pandemic, I wanted to be able to get outside but also try to be a little safer while getting my two-wheel fix in. Trials riding is a much safer two-wheeled sport than motocross, but it still can give you those nervous butterflies in your stomach when you have to go up and over a rock that you may think is not possible. This is the kind of feeling that is hard to replicate when you remove yourself from moto, so having that kind of sensation without having to jump a huge double was awesome.
Aden and I have spent the days recently on some rocks near my home in Hesperia, California, and created some makeshift courses around our backyard (while Mom was at work, of course). What is cool is that the GasGas TXT 250 is so quiet that it doesn't piss off my 75-year-old crotchety neighbor only a few hundred feet away. Getting to ride with my son side by side while still being able to laugh and talk to him is priceless. Not to mention being able to teach him proper balancing technique as well as opening his creative mind to perceive new obstacles only helps his motocross riding. Riding trials can also break up the monotony of just doing lap after lap of motocross riding and can keep that fire burning maybe once he feels like he’s done riding moto. I have ridden motocross/off-road for so long it’s actually really fun to suck at something so badly. Riding trials is one of the most fun two-wheeled sports that you may have never tried, so maybe don’t have so much tunnel vision when it comes to off-road two-wheeled motorcycles. Check out the complete line of TXT trials bikes at www.gasgas.com.
Another 50 (Andras Hegyi)
One week after Larry Ward’s 50th birthday, one of his main rivals, Jeff "Chicken" Matiasevich, also turned 50. His birthday was last Sunday, April 26. Matiasevich was a graduate of the Kawasaki Team Green amateur program who went on to win a couple of 125cc supercross titles while also scoring victories and podium results for the Kawasaki factory team. He was an early star in 125cc supercross, and later on he would be a star on the Japanese motocross circuit. But Chicken was one of those stars like Steve Lamson, Mike Brown, and Stephane Roncada who could not repeat his 125 successes in the premier 250 class. So far, 73 motocross racers have become champions in small-bore SX/MX, but only 19 went on to become champions in the premier class.
Matiasevich, born in 1970, was one of the most promising young motocrossers of the 1980s, making a name for himself quickly in big amateur events. He won three titles on his KX125s at Loretta Lynn's and debuted as a pro-am in 1986 in the 125SX West Region. Matiasevich went on to take 11 wins and two titles. In fact, he was the very first rider to become a two-time champion in 125SX class, winning titles in both in 1988 and '89. He was successful also in the 125 outdoor motocross series, as he was able to win and get podium results. Matiasevich moved to the premier 250 class in 1990 and immediately made a splash. As a rookie he was a title contender, he led the overall point standing, and also won a main event in Las Vegas where he defeated Jean Michel Bayle and Jeff Stanton, two stars of that era. He finished third overall in the series—the same finish he earned in the 125 motocross title.
Over the course of the next two years, Matiasevich's rise started too slowly, as he complained of bike setup issues and a lack of confidence. He would part ways with Kawasaki before the '93 season and entered into the service of the factory Suzuki team but he had some problems with the bike there as well.
In 1994, Matiasevich was not given any factory opportunities, so he kept racing as a semi-privateer Yamaha rider. Despite not taking any podiums, he had some decent performances fighting for podiums in some motocross and supercross races. At the end of that season, Matiasevich received a special offer from Kawasaki: he was offered a return to the factory Kawasaki rider, but only if he moved to race in the Japanese Motocross Championship. He agreed, and Jeff soon became the most successful American motocrosser ever in the Japanese series, in existence since 1967. Between 1995 and 1997 he got three consecutive 250cc titles, and in '95 and '96 he defeated Suzuki’s Ron Tichenor for the title; in 1997 he beat another imported Suzuki star, Kyle Lewis.
At the end of 1998 season, Matiasevich decided to retire. Later on, like some other former motocrossers, Matiasevich also went to try racing in the AMA Supermoto. He rode also for the Pro Circuit Kawasaki team in semi-retirement, but without much success.
Jeff Matiasevich is still remembered as one of the best 125cc supercross riders ever. He is also the only rider to win four different season openers in the 125/250 SX class. He is also one of just 21 riders who could win both in the 125/250 and the 250/450 supercross, and both in the 125/250 and the 250/450 motocross. Happy 50th, Chicken!
The june 2020 ISSUE OF RACER X MAGAZINE IS NOW AVAILABLE
The June 2020 issue of Racer X magazine is coming to newsstands and mailboxes soon. Subscribe to the print and/or award-winning digital edition today. And if you're already a digital subscriber head to digital.racerxonline.com to login and read the issue in full right now.
Inside the JUNE issue of Racer X magazine
- Bike Week and the 50th Daytona Supercross marked the end of normal moto life—for now, at least.
- The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic shut down the sport and the world. Here’s what it could mean for our sport.
- Midway through his career, Kevin Windham was at his lowest point—and nearly stopped racing altogether.
- Brothers Grant and Stu Baylor look to take the off-road world by storm on their FactoryOne Shercos.
2020 Behind the Bars Episode 7 - 2009 Big Buck ATVs
LISTEN TO THIS
We lost a motocross icon and someone that Steve Matthes knew pretty well also. Marty Smith and his wife Nancy are gone now and in his honor, here’s our podcast we did back in 2009 about his championship years at Honda, racing the GP’s and AMA motocross in the same year, going to Suzuki, him and Matthes hanging out, and more.
This week on The Fly Racing Racer X Podcast, Matthes call up Nuclear Blast Rockwell Yamaha Racing team manager Ryan Clark to talk about the team this year before the shut-down, his own racing career, starting Team Solitaire, his decision to hang it up, career racing highlights, writing for Racer X, and more.
Today, Ricky Carmichael is seen weekly on NBCSN television analyzing the sport's top riders, but he rarely reflects too deeply on his own career, which spanned from 1997 to 2007 and led to the "Greatest of All Time" status. Jason Weigandt digs in with RC in this podcast, getting some thoughts on the current pause in racing due to COVID-19, but also the atmosphere, mentality, and approach of racing that defined his era. "The tension in those days, it was so thick you could cut it with a knife," Carmichael says of his days spent battling James Stewart and Chad Reed.
Jason Weigandt chats with former 450SX race winner and factory Honda rider Cole Seely in this edition of the Racer X Exhaust Podcast. Seely finds himself in a unique position compared to his old racing peers: while they're pulling their hair out trying to stay fit and focused during this coronavirus break, Seely is well past that pressure, having retired after the 2019 season. Now he's working on his YouTube channel with bike builds, including a recent move to purchase a KTM after spending most of his racing career on Hondas.
This week on the Main Event Moto Podcast, Daniel Blair, super agent Lucas Mirtl, and Producer Joe talk about how Lucas started his career.
And if you haven’t already, check out the first few Racer X Read Alouds, where our staff read their Racer X Magazine feature out loud.
“BITTEN BY BUG Leader of anti-coronavirus lockdown group that organized protests tests positive for COVID-19”—The Sun U.S.
“Britney Spears says she accidentally burned down her home gym – oops”—CNN
Jordan Jarvis Giving Back To Female Motocross Community
Enter to win $500 scholarship to On Track School. Read the full press release for more details.
Pretty amazing story about a bike that was stolen and then returned to its rightful owner... 27 years later!
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!