Last week, in anticipation of the ultra-close season finale of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, we ran through the closest title runs (after 11 rounds) in the 250 two-stroke/450 four-stroke class. Some of you lamented we didn't include every close title fight ever, but it's a lot easier for a six-round series to be close than a 12-round series. The math holds up: in a long series, no two riders were closer in this class coming into the finale than Tomac and Sexton.
Now it's over and Tomac emerged with a seven-point final victory margin over Sexton. How close is that compared to history? Once again stat man Clinton Fowler went through the data. Here's what we found, but to make sure we cover them all, we included all series, even in the short ones, in this class.
The 125s and 500s have had plenty of legendary battles, too. Maybe those will make some other lists for another day...but here are the best 250 two-stroke/450 four-stroke battles.
Smallest 250/450 Championship Gaps
1982 Hansen over Johnson: Three Points
A famous one for many reasons, but mostly known as “The year RJ broke his wheel.” This was a medium-length series (eight rounds, four less than 2022) that came down to a nail-biter at the finale in Colorado. After seven rounds, Rick Johnson held a 20-point lead over Donnie Hansen heading into the final round. We’ll let Cycle News’ Larry Lawrence explain what happened in the first moto that day:
“On the second lap Johnson overshot a drop-away jump and smashed his front wheel into a hole, collapsing the wheel. Johnson was dazed by the crash, but got his bike restarted and then ran beside it to the mechanics area. Bob Oliver put on a new wheel and Johnson darted off hoping to gain some precious points, but he finished out of the points in 23rd.
Suddenly both Hansen and Glover knew they now had a good shot at the title and what followed was one of the hardest-fought motos in series history. The two went at each other, swapping the lead several times in the second half of the moto. On the final lap Glover made the pass for the lead with two turns to go. The crowd was going wild. Hansen didn’t give up though and dove deeper into the final turn than he had all weekend and miraculously repassed for the win by a bike length. Glover later said when he flicked into the last-turn rut, his shifter hit the ground and popped the bike into neutral. 'By the time I got my foot back down there and shifted my bike, Hansen got back by me,' Glover explained.”
Lawrence's account of this entire '82 season is very compelling.
With Hansen scoring that moto win, he now had the points lead by five over Johnson. In the second moto Glover took off with the win while Johnson tried to pressure Hansen into a mistake. Hansen didn’t flinch, so Johnson went around him to take second in the moto. He made up two points, and lost the title by three. Glover finished just three points behind Johnson, six points behind Hansen. Glover has mentioned many times that if he had won the first moto, the trio would have finished in a three-way tie for the points lead. If that happened, Hansen still would have won the title via the most moto wins.
This was the closest finish ever. This is a cautionary tale of how pushing in the final race can cost a title. It’s also the only time a rider has ever led the points in this class going into the final round and not won the title.
2022: Tomac over Sexton: Seven Points
The closest margin over a 12-round series, Eli Tomac and Chase Sexton battled all summer long. Tomac held a one-point gap coming into the finale at Fox Raceway in California, and he bested Sexton in a big first-moto battle. Sexton crashed a few times in the second moto and Tomac won again, giving him a six-point edge on the day and a seven-point lead in the final standings.
1988 Ward over Johnson: Seven Points
Ricky Johnson versus Jeff Ward was a rivalry that defined the 1980s, and the ’88 250 Nationals were a big part of that. This was just a six round series, because back then the schedule split the 12 rounds into six 250 Nationals and six 500 Nationals. In the 250s, Johnson suffered an early DNF via a problem with his cooling system at the Gatorback National opener. He tried to claw those points back, but the ever-tough-and-consistent Ward held him off, despite breaking his ankle during supercross. Ward rode Southwick a week after the injury and won the overall! These dudes were tough!
1990 Stanton over Ward: Seven Points
This was a seven-round series. Johnson’s run at the top ended with his wrist injury in 1989, but new Honda teammate Jeff Stanton was there to keep the battles going with Ward. Stanton and Ward battled for the title in both ’89 and ’90, Stanton edged ahead both years (in ’89 Stanton bested Ward by 16 points in a seven-round series).
1984 Johnson over Lechien: Eight Points
This was an eight-round championship. El Cajon, California neighbors and rivals Ron Lechien and Johnson went at it, Johnson on a production-based Yamaha and Lechien on one of those ultra-trick works Hondas. Johnson held on, getting that title he has lost two years earlier.
2001 Carmichael over Windham * : Eight Points
The numbers say this counts as a close championship, but it actually wasn’t. Carmichael wrapped the championship a week early and then raced the 125 class at the final round of the season. Carmichael wanted to get one more 125 win so he could take the all-time wins record in that class. Windham went 1-1 on his Suzuki RM250 at the Steel City finale to chop the final 250 margin to eight points.
1996 Emig over McGrath: 10 Points
We wrote and talked about this one last week, because it was the last winner-take-all showdown in this class. McGrath won tons of races early and built a points lead, he smashed himself trying a crazy jump at Millville, and then Emig went on his usual second-half-of-the-season hot streak. McGrath went 1-1 at the next-to-last round in Binghamton, New York to close Emig’s points lead down to just two heading into the final round. There, they battled in moto one and Emig came out on top. McGrath suffered a bad start in moto two and finished third. Emig’s 1-1 left him with a 10 point final margin of victory.
Those are the closest ever in this class. We’ll drop the rest of the (relatively) close seasons below.
2011 Villopoto over Dungey: 12 pts
2020 Osborne over Cianciarulo: 12 pts (9 rounds)
2014 Roczen over Dungey: 14 pts
1989 Stanton over Ward: 16 pts (7 rounds)
2007 Langston over Alessi: 16 pts
2018 Tomac over Musquin: 16 pts
2017 Tomac over Musquin: 17 pts
1985 Ward over O'Mara: 18 pts
1991 Bayle over Stanton: 26 pts (7 rounds)
1999 Albertyn over Windham: 29 pts
Main photo: Emig leads McGrath at Steel City in 1996. Image by Fran Kuhn