This is the second installment of our 14-part Racer X Online series “Before Loretta’s: The Old AMA Amateur National Championships.” The opening installment was about the first standalone AMA Amateur National, held in Baldwin, Kansas, in 1975. The following year, the event, which was reserved for three classes of 125cc, 250cc, and Open expert riders, moved west for its 1976 event to the most famous motocross track in America (at the time, anyway).
If you missed our first installment last week that covered the 1975 AMA/Can-Am Amateur National Motocross Championships, give it a read.
And if you have any information, memories, or photos to add, please send them directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The second AMA/Can-Am Amateur National Motocross Championship took place at Carlsbad Raceway, just above San Diego. It was organized by Butch Lee of Dirt Bike Promotions, and a total of 129 riders came from all over the country to race on the third Sunday of October 1976. Lee would not only promote the event; he would also be the flagman at the finish line—a position that almost got him run over as one title went down to the very last turn.
Carlsbad Raceway was the most famous motocross track in America at the time, featured annually on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. The 500cc U.S. Grand Prix was the one race of the year that always aired on TV, and that had aspiring young amateur racers from all over the country glued to their TVs. One of them was Beltsville, Maryland’s Ferrell McCollough. He had qualified second in the Atlantic Regional at Castle Point near Cadiz, Kentucky, behind West Virginia’s Jeff Nida.
“Carlsbad was the one track that I identified with as a ‘professional’ track,” McCollough remembers. “It was massive compared to the tracks I was used to back in AMA District 7. The length of it, the width of it—it was all pretty impressive, and also a little intimidating. They had a downhill—the Carlsbad Freeway—that seemed like it went on for a couple hundred yards. It was really hard-packed too. It was quite an experience.”
Ironically, the dominant rider from the ’75 AMA Amateur National, Illinois’ Mark Barnett, had problems in qualifying for Carlsbad.
“I broke my aluminum swingarm at the regional, so I didn’t qualify,” says Barnett, who would go on to an AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame career. “I wasn’t too upset, though. People were calling me and I was ready to turn pro. And it was a long drive to Carlsbad anyway!” The other dominant star in 1975, Open-class winner Kenny Adams from Pennsylvania, had already turned pro and would not return for the ’76 race at Carlsbad.
Back to Ferrell McCollough. By coincidence, he would wear #5 on his Honda, the same number Barnett wore in winning the title the year before. He had just graduated from high school, and the race was in October, so he decided to road-trip across the country for the race.
“I had a little covered trailer and a van and we all drove out there,” he recalls of the long journey out west. “The first thing we did, a guy from FMF named Mack told us to bring the bike there. He wanted to go over the bike, and he decided to bore it out and put in the biggest oversized piston that he could, re-jetted it, put a pipe on it, and when he was done he said it was the fastest 125 he had ever ridden! I rode it, and it really was fast, so I had that going into the race.”
McCollough’s primary competition came from SoCal hotshoe Steve Bartley, who hailed from Santee. They would battle in both of their 30-minutes-plus-two-laps motos, with Bartley narrowly taking the first. People still talk about that second moto to this day. It was one of the closest finishes ever.
“We got to the drop-off jump just before the finish that went into a large, banked left-handed turn,” McCollough recalls. “We went off the drop-off side-by-side, and we both hit a lapped rider. He went to the low side on the left and I went to the right and we both knocked him over! I was higher up on the berm so I could keep more speed, and he was low and slid a little bit. It was just enough for me to get maybe half a wheel on him. He went wide open to the finish, a little out of control, and actually ended up going behind the checkered flagman’s back. The guy was standing down on the track on the outside of the last corner berm!”
In their coverage, Motorcyclist magazine described the two frontrunners as “two crazed prize fighters. McCollough led most of the race until the very last corner when Bartley snuck up on his rear knobby and decided to race for the title the last ten yards. A lapped rider also happened to be in the corner and proceeded to get literally run over—knowing that whoever got to the finish line first would take the overall win turned them both into unstoppable locomotives. McCollough took the usual line to the right of a flag-waving Butch Lee while Bartley, blinded by a piece of dirt, simply pointed his Honda in the general direction and left it wide open. Butch (wearing red Carrera overalls) missed getting centerpunched by inches and Bartley ended up running head-on into a five-foot embankment with the throttle twisted to the stops. He survived the crash, but when he learned that McCollough had edged him out by seconds for the win, he could have passed out.”
There was an immediate huddle of race officials, scorers, and the flagman to determine who had won. It took 15 minutes before they finally reached the conclusion that McCollough got to the line before Bartley.
“I knew I had won,” recalls McCollough, who had stopped immediately, dropped his bike, and ran to check on Bartley after his crash into the embankment. “There was no question that I got there first, but they just wanted to make sure, I guess.”
It was a big part of East Coast motocross lore that Ferrell McCollough went out to Southern California and beat all of those fast guys for the AMA Amateur National Championship.
“I remember being so proud of Ferrell for going out west and beating all of those guys,” offers his racing neighbor from Virginia, David Bailey, who did not go to Carlsbad. “I remember thinking, Man, that’s a guy I know—that’s a guy I see at the races—and he went to California and won. That’s a guy from our world, a completely different world, and won.”
As for Steve Bartley, who came oh-so-close to winning that 125cc championship, he showed grace and dignity in accepting the referee’s decision. As a result, he would later be named the AMA’s Sportsman of the Year.
In the 250 class, one rider whose name popped up in the results would go on to great career in supercross, but not as a racer. New Jersey’s Rich Winkler became the architect of supercross through the company he founded, Dirt Wurx. But back in 1976, he was a Maico rider looking to make it big at the AMA/Can-Am Amateur National Championship.
“There was a lot of local buildup to the race in ’76 because the first one was a decent-sized and the guys who did well were getting support to turn pro,” Winkler recalls. “I remember qualifying at the regional, which was fun. It was a pretty serious deal back then. It was before the whole Loretta Lynn’s thing, and it was only open to expert [or A class] riders. Local stuff could be hit or miss, but the regional at Castle Point, Kentucky, was a big deal, with a lot of name guys there. I remember battling a guy from the South in both motos, a Bultaco rider named Troy Bradshaw.”
“I was a lot more confident heading out to Carlsbad,” says Bradshaw, a Bultaco factory support rider back then who hailed from Virginia and had finished tenth in the 250 class the year before at Baldwin, Kansas. “I was in my groove. Seventy-six was the year when everything was clicking. I battled with a guy from Ohio named Tod Perkins throughout the Atlantic series. The regional was in Kentucky, and Tod and I battled back and forth but I ended up winning it. So heading out to California, I was really in the zone. I didn’t worry about any other riders—I was just focused on doing my best.
“It was a really big deal, if you grew up at that time, to go out to Carlsbad,” Bradshaw continues. “Fortunately, I got to go to California and ride on that track for a week. It was 1973 and I was accepted to the Rolf Tibblin Riding School, which was based there at Carlsbad.” (Tibblin was a multi-time FIM 500cc World Champion from Sweden who was a training pioneer. Husqvarna sponsored his school and even supplied motorcycles for some students.) “But I was a 125cc rider at the time, and they didn’t have a 125, so I had to ride a 250 Husky—and I was only 12 years old! People who were close could bring their own bikes, but I had to ride this 250.
“But think about this—I was 12 going on 13, and I got on an airplane by myself, flew to L.A., and from the airport there I got a taxi to a bus stop, then rode the bus two hours south to Carlsbad, then I got another taxi from the bus station that got me to the hotel by the track. I had come in a day early for the school, so I had to check myself into the hotel—remember, I was only 12—and then I just spent the day there by myself in this room before the school started.
“A week later, when the school finished, I had to repeat that whole process backwards to get home,” Bradshaw says. (And remember, this was pre-cell phone, pre-ATM, pre-internet, pre-social, so he was truly on his own!) “When I got ready to go, Rolf Tibblin himself said, ‘No, you’re not going to do that again,’ and he took me to his house. I stayed at his house that afternoon after the school, and then that night he had one of his instructors take me back up to the airport in L.A. That was quite an adventure for a kid back then.”
For Rich Winkler and friends, the trip to the ’76 Amateur National at Carlsbad was as adventure as well.
“My buddy worked at a Suzuki shop, so we called them out in California to ask someone in their amateur support program if they could hook us up with finding a hotel room or whatever,” Winkler says. “I was standing right next to my buddy at the shop when he called, and the lady on the phone says, ‘Okay, do you want a cheap place, somewhere a little nicer, or do you want to stay at the place, or do you want to stay where Roger De Coster stays when he comes to town?’ We were like, ‘We want to stay where Roger stays!’ It was this beautiful place down on the beach. It was me and a couple of other long-haired Led Zeppelin listeners. We thought we were living the life.”
At the time, De Coster was the most famous motocross racer in the world, and Carlsbad Raceway was the best-known track in the country—it hosted Roger and the rest of the 500cc Grand Prix racers every summer for the USGP. When Winkler rolled in through the front gate after driving all the way across the country, he was impressed.
“Carlsbad was a big deal for us,” he says. “It was legendary even then. It was big and fast and had these scary up- and downhills. It was just awesome.”
“Like all riders back then, I had that track memorized by all of the pictures and articles in the magazines, we all as the TV coverage,” says Bradshaw of the legendary Carlsbad Raceway. “In my brain, I rode that track so many times before I got there. It was eerie because when I got there and out onto the track it was like I already knew the lines and where I was. I was better prepared for that race track than any other one I had ever ridden. It’s probably like that now for a lot of kids and Loretta Lynn’s!
“The first moto was fantastic,” Bradshaw adds. “A whole bunch of us were battling really hard. I actually got knocked down in the bowl turn at the bottom of the big downhill. It was a guy on a KTM—he centerpunched me coming out the corner. I really don’t know where he came from.”
Apparently, Rich Winkler may have been in the same crash, only he got hit harder.
“I got a good start, maybe in the top six, and I felt good being right there rather than leading the beginning of a race,” he says. “We went up what they called the Carlsbad Freeway and made the turn at the top, then went down that crazy downhill. It had a big banked turn at the bottom, and some guy behind me, just completely out of control, like he had no intention of braking or even make the turn, slammed into me. I don’t know if he had hit some bumps and lost control or whiskey-throttled or maybe just forgot that the turn was there, but he just cleaned a group of us out.”
Winkler wasn’t hurt, but when he got up and got going again, it was clear that something was wrong with his bike.
“The Maico had two petcocks then, one on either side, and I had broken one off and gasoline was just pouring out of the bike,” he says. “I shut it off and I finished the moto, but I was soaked with gas from the waist down.” Winkler finished near the back of the field. The second moto would not go much better, and he ended up 35th overall.
“If I hadn’t broke my petcock off, I might have been more famous,” he laughs. “And I still have my bib—I was #35.”
Winkler shouldn’t have felt too bad. Finishing three spots behind him was a kid from South Haven, Michigan, named Mark Hinkle, riding a Spanish-made Montesa. No one realized at the time that he would emerge over the next few years as the most successful amateur motocross racer of that era.
As for Bradshaw and that early crash that seems to have included Winkler, “I was able to get back up and still salvage second behind Tod Perkins,” Bradshaw recounts, “and a second is as good as a first when it’s only two motos.”
Bradshaw got another good start in the second and final moto; Perkins did not. Bradshaw was holding second behind California Suzuki rider Tim Welker, which would have given him the overall, as Welker was only seventh the first time. The Bultaco rider was three laps from the AMA 250cc National Championship when disaster struck.
“There was a big jump in the middle of the downhill, and you would really land hard off it, then it drops off even more going into the off-camber at the bottom,” he explains. “I had been jumping pretty far, pretty deep, the whole day. But this time I jumped too far and landed at too high of an angle and it broke my front wheel.”
Bradshaw babied the bike the best he could until the checkered flag, trying to keep more spokes from busting out and the wheel from completely collapsing. That meant no jumping at all. And even though there were only a few jumps on the track, it cost him eight spots. He crossed the line tenth, which was only good for fifth overall.
Up front, Welker led with Monte Anderson of Texas second and Reno’s Allen Berluti (the brother of longtime factory mechanic Tony) third. Perkins, meanwhile, worked his way up to fourth. The title was his the moment he passed the hamstrung Bradshaw.
“Tod Perkins was smoking fast, and he definitely deserved the title,” Bradshaw says of the Ohio rider, who would turn pro the next year. Two years later, while racing as a privateer on the Pro Motocross circuit, Perkins would tie for tenth place in the final 125cc National standings with none other than Mark Barnett of the Suzuki factory team.
If you look closely at these results, you’ll see that even though the Japanese OEMs had most of the top talent in professional motocross under contract, the majority of the riders still preferred European brands when it came to the 250cc and, particularly, the Open class, where boutique brands like Maico, Montesa, Bultaco, CZ, Ossa, Can-Am, KTM, and the original Husqvarna were prevalent. Not so in the 125cc class, where the vast majority lined up on either Hondas or Suzukis.
“This was just about the time where Maico went from the old-style motorcycle with the low suspension and the early moved-up shock thing, like an Adolf Weil replica, to a legit 9 or 10 inches of travel, and it really worked,” Winkler says. “And if you had a CZ, there was some really trick stuff available from East Coast shops like Ghost. European bikes were still really good back then.”
And yet, the winner in the Open class would be aboard a Yamaha. But the win by Clarksville, Tennessee’s Steve Appleton did not come without controversy.
The day started out with Lucerne Valley’s Chuck Pettigrew blowing everyone away in the first moto on his German-made Maico, with California Suzuki rider Ken Frost second and Appleton third. But in the second moto Pettigrew fell off the start, and someone had helped him pick up his bike and get back on the track. Appleton was out front and winning, probably thinking he had it in the bag, but at the 29-minute mark Pettigrew reached second place and was closing. He almost caught and passed Appleton, even though he didn’t have to—his 1-2 would beat Appleton’s 3-1 for the title—though he ended up a bike-length short.
But then Appleton protested Pettigrew for getting outside assistance when he’d crashed off the start. After much deliberation, referee Butch Lee decided to dock Pettigrew one lap for getting outside help. That knocked him back to 20th overall and gave the title to the Yamaha rider Appleton. Wrote Cycle News of the whole brouhaha, “It was a sad way to lose for Pettigrew and a sad way to win for Appleton.”
Pettigrew later appealed, and the case went all the way to the AMA’s offices in Ohio, where they ultimately upheld Lee’s decision. Steve Appleton was named the 1976 AMA 500cc Amateur National Champion.
The 1976 AMA/Can-Am Amateur National Motocross Championship at Carlsbad Raceway was a success by all accounts, with two of the three wins coming down to the very last corner, and the other being decided by a dramatic broken wheel. And all of this happened on the most famous track in that era of American motocross.
“It was a really cool deal,” Rich Winkler says, despite his unfortunate result. “It gave you a chance to race against all of the fast guys from other parts of the country, just like the Loretta’s thing does today. But because it was restricted only to expert riders, it added a real prestige to it. Being part of that in 1976 was a really big deal to us.”
1976 Mid Atlantic Regional Championship race winners.
125 Ferrell McCollough, 250 Troy Bradshaw, 500 Steve Appleton
New Castle KY was the place
California here we come...
1976 AMA/Can-Am Amateur National Motocross Championships
October 17, 1976 - Carlsbad Raceway - Carlsbad, CA
|Position||Rider||Machine||Hometown, ST||Moto Finishes|
|1||Steve Appleton||YAM||Clarksville, TN||3-1|
|2||Jeff Heaston||MAI||Fort Wayne, IN||4-3|
|3||Ken Frost||SUZ||LaMesa, CA||2-7|
|4||Kenny Sisler||MAI||Sacramento, CA||6-5|
|5||Delno Becker||KTM||Oroville, CA||8-4|
|6||Gary Slack||HUS||Canton, IL||5-8|
|7||Scott Edelstein||BUL||Vineland, NJ||9-6|
|8||Carl Nelson||SUZ||Hanford, CA||7-10|
|9||John Kluesing||SUZ||Grand Rapids, MI||10-9|
|10||Burton Deltz||YAM||Kingston, NY||13-11|
|11||Barry Palmer||MAI||Thomasville, NC|
|12||Douglas Bowman||SUZ||Lawrenceville, IL|
|13||David Czerwinski||MAI||Lowpoc, CA|
|14||Mark Miller||SUZ||Algona, IA|
|15||Dale Parlin||MAI||Athens, MI|
|16||Mike Treadway||SUZ||Athens, MI|
|17||David Sissler||HUS||Mukwonago, WI|
|18||Tim Barlow||HUS||Santee, CA|
|19||Doug Karkow||MON||Long Lake, MN|
|20||Chuck Pettigrew||MAI||Luecerne Valley, CA|
|21||Bruce Bartlett||CZ||Coolidge, AX|
|22||Jerry Schaefer||HUS||Cedar Springs, MI|
|23||Stanley Greer||MAI||Gladwin, MI|
|24||Terry Lee Hicks||SUZ||Somerset, CA|
|25||Jim Breiding||CZ||Mogadore, OH|
|26||Frank Piasecki Jr.||PEN||Toledo, OH|
|27||Cliff Knudsen||HUS||Livonia, MI|
|28||Russell Joe Hibbs||YAM||Sterling Heights, MO|
|29||William Boucher Jr.||BUL||Springfield, VA|
|30||Jim Burkley||HUS||Louisville, KY|
|31||Thomas Wings Jr.||SUZ||Tuscon, AZ|
|32||Bobby Kelly||SUZ||Albert Lea, MN|
|33||Keith Parmely||MAI||Casper, WY|
|34||Scott Neel||MAI||Louisville, KY|
|35||Thomas Berry||MAI||Colorado Springs, CO|
|36||Todd Olson||YAM||Blaine, MN|
|37||Kevin Van Pfluger||YAM||Aurora, CO|
|38||Wayne Allen||YAM||Bakersfield, CA|
|39||Randy Wilson||HUS||Rockford, MI|
|40||Wade Summers||SUZ||Louisville, KY|
|41||Dave Megie||SUZ||Loveland, OH|
|42||Jay Denham||HUS||Louisville, KY|
|43||Joe Duncan||KTM||Woodland, CA|
|44||Steve Lewis||---||Mason, OH|
|45||Robert Bittner||---||Kenvil, NJ|
|Position||Rider||Machine||Hometown, ST||Moto Finishes|
|1||Tod Perkins||SUZ||Duncan Falls, OH||1-4|
|2||Allen Berluti||HUS||Reno, NV||4-3|
|3||Tim Welker||SUZ||Barstow, CA||7-1|
|4||Monte Anderson||PEN||Midlothian, TX||9-2|
|5||Troy Bradshaw||BUL||Middlesburg, VA||2-10|
|6||John Korte||C-A||Lowell, MI||11-5|
|7||Barrett Bender||SUZ||Effingham, IL||6-11|
|8||Blaine Elledge||C-A||Woodinville, WA||3-15|
|9||Arnold Plant||SUZ||Sacramento, CA||13-7|
|10||Layne Hanna||MAI||Tuscon, AZ||16-9|
|11||Bob Bremm||SUZ||Louisville, KY|
|12||Eugene McKenzie||HUS||Sacramento, CA|
|13||Jimmy Marlow||SUZ||Mason, OH|
|14||Mark Lyons||SUZ||Indianapolis, IN|
|15||Eddie Gonzalez||SUZ||Barstow, CA|
|16||James Pigg Jr.||YAM||Richmond, VA|
|17||Dale Alan Oglesbee||YAM||Mt. Morris, MI|
|18||David Morris||KAW||Poway, CA|
|19||Larry Skaggs||SUZ||Brooks, KY|
|20||John Michael Kerkowitz||YAM||Pontiac, MI|
|21||Ronald Powell||SUZ||North Bend, OH|
|22||Fred Griego||SUZ||Barstow, CA|
|23||Randy Johnson||SUZ||Richardson, TX|
|24||Tad Richards||BUL||Shelton, WA|
|25||Michael Cooke||PEN||Indianapolis, IN|
|26||Bruce Casteel||YAM||Bradley, IL|
|27||Carl Blentlinger||SUZ||Tuscon, AZ|
|28||Jack Todd||SUZ||Littleton, CO|
|29||Phil Taylor||KTM||Bakersfield, CA|
|30||Chuck Partridge||OSSA||St. Paul, MN|
|31||David Lahey||PEN||Moscow, KS|
|32||Kevin Piasecki||PEN||Toledo, OH|
|33||Jeff Sanders||MAI||Ridgeville, IN|
|34||Steve Becker||SUZ||Cameron, WI|
|35||Rich Winkler||MAI||Ramsey, NJ|
|36||James Martin||CZ||Spring Valley, CA|
|37||Terry Martz||KAW||East Stroudsburg, PA|
|38||Mark Hinkle||MON||South Haven, MI|
|39||Arthur Kenner||HUS||McDonald, OH|
|40||L. Stephen Germano||MAI||Hyde Park, NY|
|41||Dale Page||MAI||Birch Run, MI|
|42||Jim Lesniewski||HUS||Sacramento, CA|
|43||Douglas Bergman||---||Marlton, NJ|
|44||Jonathan Weiss||---||Rumson, NJ|
|45||Rick Lundy||---||Jacksonville, FL|
|Position||Rider||Machine||Hometown, ST||Moto Finishes|
|1||Ferrell McCollough||HON||Beltsville, MD||2-1|
|2||Steve Bartley||HON||Santee, CA||1-2|
|3||Dicky Turnbo||YAM||Whitney, TX||5-3|
|4||Gary Taft||SUZ||Monmouth Junction, NJ||4-9|
|5||Mike Loeffler||SUZ||Denver, CO||6-10|
|6||Kevin Arnold||HON||Louisville, KY||13-4|
|7||Daniel Leonard||HUS||Monroe, MI||15-7|
|8||Jeff Nida||HON||Charleston, WV||22-5|
|9||Dave Hollis||YAM||Oxford, CA||10-18|
|10||Jerry Brown||YAM||West Sacramento, CA||12-17|
|11||Gerald Stewart||YAM||San Diego, CA|
|12||Randy Ayala||HON||Fort Dodge, IA|
|13||Sean O’Brien||SUZ||Irving, TX|
|14||Don Bettis||HON||Green Bay, WI|
|15||Edward Brazina||HON||Bridgewater, NJ|
|16||Allen Pope||SUZ||Wylie, TX|
|17||Bill Sundstrom||SUZ||Barstow, CA|
|18||J. Greenway||HON||Clearfield, UT|
|19||Al Hall||HON||Truckee, CA|
|20||Gary Haynes||SUZ||St. Joseph, MI|
|21||eff Callihan||YAM||Warrenton, VA|
|22||Anthony Masciarelli||SUZ||Binghamton, NY|
|23||David Lee Mohr||HON||Fairborn, OH|
|24||Jay Rice||SUZ||Aurora, CO|
|25||Timmy Walker||YAM||Penhook, VA|
|26||David Lynn Witter||YAM||Waldorf, MD|
|27||Chappy Blose||HON||Phoenix, AZ|
|28||Charles Walter II||HON||Kendallville, IN|
|29||Mike Winecke||HON||Burnsville, MN|
|30||Butch Darling||HON||Barstow, CA|
|31||Bob Allison||YAM||Clearwater, FL|
|32||Robert Hyde||SUZ||Hideawayhills, OH|
|33||Kevin McGinty||HON||Harrison, MI|
|34||Nick Cordova||HON||Dallas, TX|
|35||Chalma Roberts||HON||Citrus Heights, CA|
|36||Gary Gengel||HON||Minnetonka, MN|
|37||Todd Phillips||SUZ||Tuscon, AZ|
|38||Mike Park||HON||Pekin, IL|
|39||George Symonds||YAM||Port Angeles, WA|
|40||Kris Bigelow||YAM||Rochester, MI|
|41||Chuck Hetrick||HON||Worthington, OH|
|42||Tom Tinkham||SUZ||Port Angeles, WA|
|43||Tom Gaicomarro||SUZ||Dassiac, NJ|
|44||Jim West Jr.||HUS||Port Angeles, WA|
|45||David Jennings||---||Hadonfield, NJ|
Photos courtesy of Troy Bradshaw