Photo By Paul Buckley
This shot is of Jeff Ward in 1985 on his Factory Kawasaki 250 at the Gainesville, FL national. It was his first full year on the 250 – in 1984 he raced the 250 in supercross and the 125 outdoors. On this day he won over Hannah, O’Mara and Johnson and went on to claim the 250 Outdoor Title that first year in the class.
THE EVENT: “Those years the indoors were mixed up with the outdoor nationals, which made it difficult [to prepare for both]. I believe this year at Gainesville I won both motos for the opening of the outdoor season. I won the supercross and the outdoor title that same year on that same bike. I [nearly won] Daytona the week before, then I won Gainesville, so I was really hitting it that year on that bike… I expected to be competitive in the 250 class outdoors just because the year before I had been [competitive outdoors in the 125 class] and I rode the 250 indoors. My strength was up and the bike was good. There was good competition. I didn’t expect to win six out of the ten nationals, but I knew I’d be in the mix, I knew how to win championships, and I knew I’d be there at the end. I didn’t lock it up until the last moto of the season, the same as the 125s. I did win six but it wasn’t a dominating thing were I just reeled off motos after motos after motos and pulled a huge points lead. Maybe the first moto I’d win but get second in the second but get the overall and pull three points or I’d break even and Johnny would get second. There were a lot of times where I’d win the overall but we’d split motos and pull no points, so it was super close all year. But just that bike combination with myself that year was strong, and I think they knew it, so I think I had a pretty good advantage there.”
THE BIKE: [Note: You may have already read about this bike in one of Ward’s previous interviews talking about this 1985 SX/MX race bike. That’s because this one bike won Ward and Kawasaki the 250 indoor and outdoor title that year. Ward still has this bike, and it lives at Troy Lee’s office/shop.] “That was a great bike… I won supercross and the outdoors that same year on that same bike. I was really hitting it that year on that bike. It was the last year of the works bike… It was the best bike I rode for sure at Kawasaki… The package was good, I was in great form, I’d hired Jeff Spencer that year for training and I was in pretty good shape the year before but he just brought my level up with some Olympic lifts, some heavy weight lifting / strength training that I needed for that bike, for 250 [class]. So I was just at a super high confidence in my shape and the bike. When you get on that roll and you feel like you can’t do anything wrong and you just like the bike, anyway you want it, it just works. I had no injuries, I was in perfect health. Those two years where I got three championships, I was feeling good… Those years we’d be over in Japan testing, we’d be over there in November for a month weeding out all the stuff we don’t like, what we want, so all that comes over. And we’d do supercross testing, we’d make changes with clamps, whatever. They were hand made, we’d send ‘em back and they’d ship ‘em over. It took a little longer back then because there was no internet, so things moved pretty slow, but we pretty much knew what we wanted over there [in Japan] and [then once back in the U.S.] give them a heads up for different clamps, different pipes, they’d make ‘em all and send a big shipment over here that we’d try. And we’d come pretty close, then have ‘em make more. The bikes were all hand-built and it was pretty cool. It was a fun era of trying stuff that you could do whatever you wanted. But there were a lot of trying times where you were breaking triple clamps off and bikes were just dropping to the ground when you’d land, so it was a time of being scared testing some stuff, and they’d break pretty bad. It took a little while [in the process] until we started doing the testing. The Japanese used to do it and send it over, and they weren’t hard on the bikes like we were, so we had to go do it… [re: what he was testing toward] I was the type of rider where if the bike didn’t bottom out one or two times per lap then it was too stiff. A lot of guys, when the bike would bottom out they’d freak out and want to go stiffer for that one bump, and it would kind of hurt them the other way around. But I liked a bike that was pretty plush, not too stiff. My riding style was I like to miss the bumps, picking lines rather than hammering through stuff like Stanton or Johnson… It kinda helped me in some stuff, like when the tracks were a little slippery, getting the power to the ground… [re: power set-up] I was a bottom end kind of guy. I would short shift it. Even on 125s I had a pretty big pipe on it, a bottom end pipe. I just kind of used the higher gears, like fifth and sixth on the 125, because I was more [about] picking lines and being smooth. I think that’s why I adapted to the 500 real well.”
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.” Check out the team’s website at www.jeffwardracing.com for more on Ward and his racers.
PHOTOGRAPHER PAUL BUCKLEY’S SHOT: To order prints of many of Paul Buckley’s classic motocross photos (more are being added all the time), check out www.buckleyphotos.com