This is a photo from the 1985 Daytona supercross. Jeff Ward led from the start, but with just a couple laps to go tipped over in a corner after getting messed up by a lapper and Bob Hannah passed… Well, Bob bumped into Ward’s down bike, then rode right over it for the pass, and Hannah went on to win, with Ward finishing second at a race that he never won. Ward may have lost the battle this year, but he won that war – 1985 was Jeff Ward’s first supercross championship year.
THE EVENT: “I’d never won Daytona and I was leading. I think there was only about two laps to go and a lapper went, I can’t remember if I was going inside, the lapper went inside, I went to go outside and lapper crossed over the rut or something and I hit him. And Hannah was, I think, going to rail the outside and I went down and he ran into me and went down. So it was like a scramble and I think he did get up first… He got up quicker because his bike was on top of mine. It was frustrating because that was probably the best opportunity I had to win Daytona. I got a lot of seconds there, I think four of them; it’s a sand track, I’m not a sand rider, every time I was there, Hannah’s a sand rider, Bailey’s a sand rider, Kiedrowski or Stanton, you know those guys [were] sand riders and I, I could ride the track well but I just never went in with the confidence I needed, to know that, ‘Yeah, this is going the be mine.’ I was trying but those guys were just a little smoother than I was in the sand… [Daytona] was more of an outdoor track. We ran outdoor suspension. The jumps were made out of sand, I don’t even think they brought in clay. I remember they had telephone poles with dirt on ‘em for the hoops. Then they’d dig up big ditches for the straightaway where there was just no way you could go through ‘em because they were just straight curbs. So it was just a full, brutal outdoor race, and it was pretty much 30 minutes, and it was 40 riders, we had 40 riders in a two-row start. The track was just unbelievably rough. One year the laptimes were a minute and thirty seconds, that’s why it was a 30 minute moto. We went across the pavement and over into the other section a few times. It was in the middle of the day, in the heat, so it was a brutal race for the supercross season. Especially because you hadn’t been training for outdoor stuff, you’d been doing all indoor where everything’s timing, and to do [Daytona] in the middle of the season it really threw a big kink into your deal. But back then Hangtown was usually the week after so in those years the outdoors were mixed up with the supercross, which made it difficult.”
THE BIKE: “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.” The team’s website should be up soon, so check in 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