Story By Pete Peterson Photo By Paul Buckley
This shot caught Ricky Johnson at the 1989 United States Grand Prix at Unadilla. He thinks this is coming off Gravity Cavity.
THE EVENT: “In 1989 I had come back – I broke and dislocated my wrist when Danny Storbeck landed on me at the Hangtown national in practice. I struggled to come back; spent a lot of time up in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center with a good friend named Mark Hodges. He was running the program up there and allowed me to come and train with some of the cyclists. I stayed there at the compound and got in great shape cardiovascular-wise, but I still wasn’t as strong as I could be as far as muscle because my hand was so limiting. So the Unadilla race kind of played prefect for me. I went to one national, I think it was the Southwick national, that was my first race back, and it beat the crap out of me. Then I got ready for Unadilla and was fast but nowhere near as fast as [Jean-Michel] Bayle. In practice I was three seconds a lap slower than him and I think I was second or third in time trials, so when the gate dropped for the first moto, Bayle took off, I was in second, after one lap was down three seconds, second lap – six seconds, third lap – nine seconds, fourth lap – 12 seconds, fifth lap – 12 seconds, sixth lap – ten seconds, and so on. Bayle had a style of getting out front, going blistering fast and everyone would give up and then he could run his own race. But I knew that I could maintain my intensity and pace for 45 minutes so I was able to catch him, pass him, and pull away from him. Second moto, I think he was just so damn tired from the first moto, that he wasn’t a threat. John Van Den Berk actually got second in the second moto. John got the holeshot. I caught him, passed him, I think I tipped over once, he might have gotten back by me, then I got back by him again and won both motos. It worked out well for me because Unadilla used to be soft and you were on the gas all the time, so the pulling motion on my hand was never a problem. I could ride the 250 pretty much wide open the whole day and it turned into a great comeback, but it was short lived.”
THE BIKE: “There were question marks about gas and things like that, but the tanks were big enough because they were production-based. We weren’t worried about running out of gas. I just knew that we had to run 40 minutes plus two laps instead of 30 plus two laps, so roughly a 45 minute moto, so that was the thing that was different. A lot of guys paced themselves and I just went out with the attitude, because I trained that way, ‘go 100% the whole time and while you’re pushing 100% find areas on the track where you can relax your hands, relax your body, and take a couple of breaths.’ So I would use the jumps and the neutral spots on the downhills or the uphills when you’re in transition from gassing to braking to use those spots to relax… [This ’89 bike] wasn’t a works bike. I mean, our works bikes consisted of a production frame, it had a works linkage, Pro Circuit pipe, works crank, works porting, and triple clamps and Showa shock and forks, and different magnesium wheels, but other than that it was a production bike through and through… There were some slight differences [from the ‘88 bike] geometry-wise. The ‘88 and ‘89 bikes were great on soft terrain like Daytona and Unadilla and tracks like that, but when it came to the hard, slick it didn’t transfer weight that well. We even tried a heavier skid plate, some things to try to bring more weight to the front wheel because it was very off-balance. The front wheel was light and it was hard to turn [the bike]. [re: a new set up for his injured wrist] No, I just set it up to where I ran my front brake a little low so when I got forward I didn’t have to drop my shoulder too much, but I typically ran everything just exactly the same.”
TODAY: “Right now I’ve been having a great run in the trucks. I’ve been racing for Red Bull for the past four years, in 2010 I was the Pro 2 TORCS series champion and 2011 Pro 4 champion so I’m running that red number one plate in the TORCS series, racing for Menzies Motorsports and Red Bull and defending that title. So watch it on Speed… The best way to catch me is to look me up on Facebook. It’s hard to answer everything but I do read posts on my Facebook page and if you want to follow me you can get all the photos on Instagram, and through www.supercross.com.”
PHOTOGRAPHER PAUL BUCKLEY ON THE SHOT: “This RJ shot is from the 250cc USGP at Unadilla in 1989 and he’s dropping into Gravity Cavity. This was taken during Saturday practice and that’s why the crowd looks so thin. I shot this one with a Canon T90 instead of my usual F1′s because it had a high flash synch speed (1/250th) and that allowed me to brighten up a backlit RJ but not blow out the background. I stayed in this spot for a few laps more than I usually would have and not just because I liked the shot there but also because it was such a hike up and down the hills to get to it.” To order prints of many of Paul Buckley’s classic motocross photos (more are being added all the time), check out www.buckleyphotos.com.