Jeff Ward flies his factory SR125 at the 1984 Gainesville national. He won the day over Johnny O’Mara and went on to win the 125 Championship, his first of seven AMA titles (and Kawasaki’s first 125cc national title).
THE EVENT: “I won both motos that day, that was my first championship [that year], I won eight out of ten races that year… Gainesvelle, I always liked the track. It was a lot of that off-camber stuff and a little sandy for my liking, but I always seemed to run pretty well at that track. At this point I’d already had my first supercross win that year, too, so I was pretty confident going into nationals in my strength and training and everything… I don’t remember how close it was, I think I did pretty well that day. Johnny was always really good in the first moto, he beat me quite a few times, but I’d always come back in the second moto. I can’t remember the gaps I had but I think I did pretty good that day… [re: Johnny O’Mara] We kept our distance back then. We’d had some pretty heated battles, and the year before it was even more intense, so we never really did anything together at that time. [It wasn’t dirty riding ] It was just hard racing. We had a lot of competition in our class and we always seemed to get together. The next race after this one, at Saddleback, I cleaned him out there in the first moto. It wasn’t intentional. I came down the inside, hit a braking bump, and I was going in. He kinda squared up and came across. I was almost already in front of him and he hit my backwheel coming back the other way and went down; I stayed up. He was pretty pissed off about that and then he beat me in the second moto. That was one of the few races he won that year. From there on it was pretty much, I was pretty much on that whole time.”
THE BIKE: “I don’t know if I felt I had [my competitors] covered, but our bike was really good the year before when I got second behind O’Show, it was real competitive that year and I think Johnny beat me by nine points or something, so I felt like I maybe could’ve gotten it that year but maybe I was just a little underprepared. The next year the bike was even better. I was pretty confident in my training… It took five, six years to get it to there. Lot of struggles early on with the bike being heavy, just not handling right with the Uni-Trak system, just all that stuff. It was a struggle to get the bike where it needed to be and I, at the time, I wasn’t probably where I needed to be so it was just a work in progress. I think in ‘82 it started coming around for my first national win. In ‘83 I won some more, the bike was good, then in ‘84 [it improved more], it was just fast, light, handled well, just everything was great, it was a perfect bike. It was a rocket ship. When it all comes together it makes it a little easier [to win]…. It handled well. You could just hold it wide open, hit anything, and it just handed super well. It was very well balanced… I never touched [a different brand] bike from the day I got on a Kawasaki to the day I got off one. I never wanted to know, I didn’t care, only needed to know what I could do with mine, not what somebody elsehad. I always had to figure my bike was the best, that’s the only way you can go out and beat somebody.”TODAY: Jeff heads up Jeff Ward Racing. “We just started a team late last year with Mike Kranyak. I was looking to do something more involved than just working with Troy Lee. So we went out looking for things with investors. I ran across Mike and made a call. And within an hour we had a handshake and a ‘let’s move forward.’ We put something together and my name and Kawasaki, of course, it’s a natural. We got around 12 or 13 bikes. We bought a couple right away so we could start working on tearing the motors down and getting that going and then we got the bikes through Kawasaki and worked with them on stuff we needed to know right away. They never gave us anything [factory parts], they just gave us ‘heads up’ on what we needed to do and we put that all together. With the riders that were left we were happy to get [Josh] Grant. He was coming off of injuries. But he’s a solid guy that could get us up to the front right away and get in the game. It’s been going really cool. The biggest part of racing is sponsorship, so that’s what I’ve been trying to do, get things lined up with the right people. It’s looking good how we’ve started, especially with Josh getting a second [at the new Orleans Supercross last weekend], and we’re looking forward to the outdoors.PHOTOGRAPHER PAUL BUCKLEY ON THE SHOT: “This is Gainesville in 1984, judging by the light this is practice on race day morning and Wardy’s coming out of the quarry. I think he wore white that whole year and must of had a new set of gear for every moto because he always looked perfect. Shot with a Canon F1 and a 50mm lens on Kodak Kodachrome 64. I think Mike McAndrews (Wardy’s mechanic) still has that 125.” To order prints of many of Paul Buckley’s classic motocross photos (more are being added all the time), check out www.buckleyphotos.com