The World Returns: Motocross of Nations - Dirt Rider Magazine

No one knows when a defining moment will occur. So we create traditions-annual events that set the pieces together-and try to narrow down the when and the where of significant happenings. The Motocross of Nations (formerly called the Motocross des Nations) has marked motocross history since 1947. Back then, bikes were air-cooled, a double jump was when a bike pogoed on landing, and the Europeans ruled the MX world. An event was created to pit the top riders from all nations against one another. An individual sport became a team effort for one day each year, and riders would proudly don their country's flag and colors and do battle.In the beginning, Great Britain and Belgium dominated. Legends such as Roger DeCoster, Joel Robert, Gaston Rahier, Stefan Everts, Andre Malherbe, Georges Jobe and Andr Vromans gave the two countries the majority of the early years' wins. America was not a factor. The Europeans had speed that the Yanks could not match.But the Americans kept at it, got better and got close. When '81 came around, the team of Danny LaPorte, Johnny O'Mara, Chuck Sun and Donnie Hansen had two second-place finishes ('74 and '77) for Team USA to live up to. They took the victory that day by a single point. It was a turning point in motocross history.Team USA had won six straight when the event rolled around to Unadilla, New York, in '87. It was the first time the Motocross des Nations would touch down on U.S. soil, and the AMA put Bob Hannah on a 125 (he hadn't ridden one for 5 years), Rick Johnson on a 250 and Jeff Ward on a 500. Of all the tracks in America, Unadilla was one of the riskier choices to host the Motocross des Nations. It was a wide-open, natural-terrain track, the type more common to the World GPs, on which the European racers had more experience. And to set favor even further toward the Europeans, it rained for two days prior to the race. It would be a muddy mess.The first moto lined the 125s with the 500s and the gate dropped. Ward had his goggles blown off in the first turn, and Hannah got hit twice by 500s attempting to scream his 125 up a steep hill. Team USA riders seemed to have everything turning against them-but they still had one advantage: Nearly 20,000 spectators, pushing in against the fences, cheered the Americans back into contention. Ward managed to hang with Jobe's and Kees Van der Ven's mud- and rock-spitting 500s. And Hannah-in the deep mud, on a hilly track, on an unfamiliar bike, against the best in the world-started picking off riders each lap, many on bikes quadruple the displacement of his. When the checkered flag dropped, Ward finished third in the 500 class, and Hannah had managed an amazing fourth in the 125s. Team USA sat in third overall.In the second of three motos, Johnson walked away from Europe's best mud riders. Those who were there say he made it look easy. Hannah had a midpack start but charged. He passed all but Johnson and Eric Geboers that day, taking the 125 class victory, and incredibly was the third rider across the finish line.Johnson and Ward went out for the final moto of the day and wrapped up the overall victory for Team USA. A moment in history was made, and the people who were there have no vague memories of it.The Motocross of Nations is coming back to America. Jonathan Beasley, who has held the Budd's Creek AMA National since '89, will realize his dream of hosting the Motocross of Nations. Facilities are being improved specifically for this event, and the track will be getting some major revisions. With wins in 2005 and '06, Team USA stands at the beginning of what could be another long victory streak. Team USA is sure to field strong riders to represent the nation. Ricky Carmichael didn't get to compete last year because of an injury. He loves this race and plans to use it to take his final laps in competition. But the best from countries all over the world will be coming to start a winning streak of their own.Team USA holds the home field advantage. History will be made September 22-23, 2007, at Budds Creek, Maryland, and you have a chance to participate. The race is in our backyard this year. The world is bringing the fight to us. What part will you play?PP: You were not the obvious choice to be selected for the team and especially to be the 125 rider. What happened to get you the spot?BH: That's the AMA. It was a stupid choice. Nobody else wanted to ride it. Johnson obviously couldn't because he wasn't a 125 rider, and Wardy turned it down. He wanted to ride the 500. So they put me on a 125, which is pretty stupid. They should have put Ward on it, me on a 250 and Johnson on a 500, I would have thought, since I hadn't been on one for years.PP: So how did you prepare for the race?BH: I actually took a 125 to Ketchum, Idaho, and rode it for 30 days straight. I told Suzuki: "If I'm gonna ride it, I'm gonna take a mechanic and a bike to Idaho, and I'm gonna have my guy, Randy Bruniga, work on the race bike." I had two works 125s, and I said, "You can work on the race bike and get it ready. I'm just gonna train." Bruniga really did a hell of a job that day . Because for that bike to finish was just a miracle. I had to run the sh** out of it. That's the only way you could get around the track. It just had to perform perfectly, and I can't believe it didn't blow up.PP: What was the big motivator? Pride or patriotism?BH: You know, I'll be truthful with you, the patriotism... When I was in Europe when I was a kid, I guess that meant something, but that really wasn't what that was. It was just another race for me and not getting my ass whipped. Basically, I figured I was going to be the scapegoat who's going to let America down. And I was kinda pissed about it.PP: In the first moto, first lap, you got stuck at the bottom of that hill. It took you three tries to get up...BH: Well, what happened was we were riding with 500s, and two times a 500 whacked me going up that hill and just stopped me. I couldn't believe it. So it took me the third time to get up. I was a long way back and had to ride my ass off. Wide open. Nothing but wide open that whole day for me.PP: How did you get around the 500s on the little 125?BH: I ate a lot of dirt-a lot of dirt. I had a hard moto the first moto. The second moto, things went better. I got in the groove in the second moto, and I was clicking along pretty good. I came through the pack that time. The 250s were easier to ride with. If I could just keep up on the uphill halfway decent, I knew I could catch 'em on the downhill. I'd stay wide and go down the inside and just stop the b*$#*%ds. I'd try to get a guy every lap.PP: Did you know when you'd reached the first-place 125 position?BH: Oh, yeah.PP: And you kept pushing?BH: Oh, yeah. I actually thought, "I'm gonna see if I can catch Johnson on this deal," but obviously he'd have been too hard to catch.PP: This was your third Motocross des Nations ride. In 1976, the team got fifth, and in '78, the team reached fourth. What was it like to finally come through and win it?BH: It was good, but in the old days fifth and fourth were good, too, because they were different days. When I was in Holland in '76, man, I'm riding with guys-Harry Everts and Roger DeCoster and Gaston Rahier-and guys like that on the Belgium team; those guys were unreal. As long ago as that was, 31 years ago, I remember watching Gaston on a 500, and he was a little dude, 5 feet 3 inches or something and 120 pounds, on a 500, and that sucker was so good. I mean, he wasn't as good as Roger on that 500, but that sucker could ride anything. And to watch a guy like that then would amaze you how fast they were on a GP-type natural-terrain track. I mean, it would still stun people.PP: That says a lot coming from you.BH: They were impressive. On a real, real GP track, a natural-terrain track, on my best day, I would not bet the farm that I could beat Roger DeCoster, if it was his best day and my best day. I would much rather race, say, Ricky Johnson on his best day. Those Europeans are not remembered now, but anyone who's ever seen them-those top dogs in those days-they were badass dudes. Heikki Mikkola, Roger, Gaston, any of 'em. There were about 20 of them who were just sick. Really, really good riders. We put our best guys over there-Tony D. , or someone who was really on his game, and he'd get his ass kicked. You know, 10th place was good over there.PP: What was it like, then, 10 years later, in '87, to line up with guys from Europe whom you hadn't raced with before, on American soil, with everything on the line?BH: With their helmets on, I didn't know who they were anyway. It didn't really matter. I could smell 'em. The Belgians and the French you could smell; the rest of 'em you couldn't tell who they were. You want to line up upwind of the Frogs. 'Cause if you gotta sit there 10 minutes downwind, you could get nauseous.PP: How did the Unadilla crowd at the des Nations race compare to the crowd at the regular National at Unadilla?BH: They're kinda nuts all the time, but the Unadilla crowd on Trophy des Nations day are overbonkers because it's a big, big pro-American deal, and they are pro-American, and it's Crazy American Day. You don't want to be a European there that day. Fall down on the edge of the track and they'll stomp you to death. It's a lonely feeling if you're a Frog in Unadilla on the side of the track. John Honda and the Open Bikers, they'll stomp you there.PP: How did you change your approach to riding on a team compared to what you normally do, where you're just out for your-BH: I didn't. They were mad at me because I didn't, but here's the point: I've been doing it for years, haven't I? I know how to get prepared for a race. I didn't need Roger-I like Roger. When I was at Honda, he helped me dearly. But I did not need somebody...they wanted me to go ride in Philadelphia or somewhere back there the week before, and I said, "No, I'm not coming. I'm gonna stay home, do my job and I'll be there ready." And that's the ultimate goal. Johnson and Ward bad-mouthed me for it, but wasn't the ultimate deal to win?PP: Right.BH: OK, I don't need somebody to hold my hand. That's the problem. So they were pissed at me, but we rode to win each class. And I don't know that I was there for a team. Sure, we were a team there, but really, all we had to do was beat our other guys and we'd win the race. It wasn't like we gotta block for each other or any of that. They were a little pissed because I wouldn't come and eat with 'em and talk with 'em and then ride with 'em and blah, blah, blah. But it was gonna disrupt my program. And I felt it was more in my program to stay at home and train instead of socialize and hold hands. You know? I don't want to hold hands with those b*&@*$ds anyway.PP: What was the most memorable moment from that day?BH: Finish flag. Absolutely. I said, "This is over, Wardy. You got one more moto. If you win, fine, you lose, fine, but you're not blaming my ass for it."PP: In the first moto, right off the bat, you got your goggles blown off.JW: They got knocked off in the first turn, and I just dropped back to about 10th, then I caught back up. Actually, I took the lead (for a while), I think, from Geboers or Jobe. But I had a ton of mud in my eyes, kind of a nightmare for the second moto, but it still worked out.PP: This was your fourth Motocross des Nations ride and your fourth win. How was it different being on American soil?JW: It was cool. It was nice to have friendly applause the whole time instead of... We didn't get the best reception after a while when we started winning. No one wanted us to win. They'd throw stuff; they'd be on the track. The practice tracks we were supposed to go ride were never there. So it was tough to get there and win.PP: You're saying that at the races in Europe you'd have practice tracks lined up and they wouldn't be available to you?JW: Yeah, we'd have stuff set up, and people would screw with us. Like the gas we were supposed to have-we went to get the right gas. I blew up a couple of bikes over there because they gave us the wrong gas. Even though Roger had all the connections, there were still people who did not want us to win.PP: What were the fans over there like once you were at the track?JW: They were never cheering for us, that's for sure. But there were a lot of Americans over there, overseas, and it was nice to see people cheering for you and coming over and congratulating you. It was a tough atmosphere. Nowadays, maybe it's changed a little bit and they accept our challenge more because now we're kinda the power of motocross, but back then, they were considered the power. And we were coming and taking that away, so they really didn't like us. Now it's kinda turned around, where they really enjoy seeing American riders. So that's changed a bit.PP: What were the fans like at the American race compared to those at a regular National?JW: It's different because it's a team event. For spectators, it's a lot different because maybe they'd normally be cheering for Ward or Johnson or whatever, but they were cheering for you that day. It made it pretty cool because no matter where you were at, you had fans leaning over the fence with a flag and cheering. At this race, every corner, everywhere, you could just hear them yelling.PP: How much does it affect you to have people cheering you on?JW: It's extremely motivating to have that. We always give it 100 percent effort, but it's nice to have that as you're doing it; it just makes you feel good.PP: If this became the race you were remembered for, will you be happy?JW: Yeah, it was a big day. I mean, I have a lot of other things to be proud of, but all the wins are equally important as the one over here. That was a good day for American motocross.PP: What was it like to watch your team during the second moto?JW: It's different. It's nerve-wracking. And it's tough to cheer for the guys you're used to racing against. It's nerve-wracking because Hannah was having some struggles in the mud, and when you see somebody crash, you're just hoping they're gonna get up and their bike's gonna start. It was probably more pressure watching the race than when you're in it.PP: Anything else you want to say to the motocross community out there?JW: Just to come out and support that race. It's a big one, not just for us, but to see the support the American fans can give. Also, it's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the best rider from every country in one place. It's a real special event.PP: How did you prepare for the MXdN?RJ: Jeff Ward and I had gotten together, like we'd done at the other des Nations, the week previous to ride together and bury the hatchet of wanting to kill each other all year long so that we could come together and fight for our country. Bevo Forte set up a track for us down in Pennsylvania. We didn't know it was going to be muddy, so we just rode on similar terrain and then headed in to do business as usual at Unadilla.PP: Did you, in fact, bury the hatchet?RJ: Oh, yeah. That's one thing about Jeff Ward. When it came to representing our country, we always helped each other.Drop all of the anger and animosity that you have toward your competitor, which is healthy. That's the fight that helped us both win, and with that, we were there to help each other. We walked the track together. I showed him the lines that I used, where I was thinking of going. He did the same with me, and then there was Hannah.PP: What was your big motivator for that race. Was it pride, patriotism or something else?RJ: It was total pride and patriotism. We won so many races, and I think that race would have put us to where we would've beaten England for number of straight wins. And it being the first time on American soil, we couldn't let our country down.PP: How long had it been since you'd raced in the mud?RJ: It had been a long time. But anytime it rained in California, I'd go out and ride all day in the mud. I didn't want to be considered a hardpack rider or this and that. Whatever the case may be, it's just a piece of dirt. I gotta be better than anyone else. So if it's humanly possible, I felt like I could do it. It's kinda arrogant, but it's what got me through the day.PP: You had to sit out for the first moto and watch your teammates go out there. And they rode well, but they came out in third place overall...RJ: We were very lucky with that. I see Wardy go around the first turn, and he gets roosted so hard it blows his goggles off, so he comes around, I think, in fifth the first lap with no goggles on, and we have Belgium, Holland, France and England all in front of us. We have all the main players in front of us. Hannah gets stuck in the "Screw You," so he's damn near last, but both those guys being tough, tenacious guys, they just kept plugging their way through.But I knew without a doubt when I saw that result that I had to win both motos. And that's a tough deal when it's a mud race, but I had to perform. That's what I just kept telling myself. That's what men are made of. You can turn and run or look for an excuse, or you can just go fight as hard as you can and kick everyone's ass.PP: People have described your two motos as easy wins. Were they that easy?RJ: I was on top of my game. I had a good day. I holeshotted the 250 moto, and I fell down once. Then Geboers got close to me, and then I pulled back away from him. So I won that pretty handily. And then in the 500 moto, I came around the first turn in third and came to the second turn. Kees Van der Ven was in front-an unbelievable mud rider from Holland-and Wardy and I talked before that one of us has to win the moto. We have to have a first place.So we came around into the second turn after the sweeper, and we're coming in side by side. Wardy looks at me. I gave him a nod like, "Go." He gave me a nod like, "No, you go." It was like a comedy: "No, you go," "Aw, no, no, no, you go." And honestly, I think neither of us wanted the pressure of going out there, but now all of a sudden it came down to: We have one guy in front of us, and it's the one guy who can take away the championship. Who's gonna go get him? And so I was like, "Screw it, I'll go." And Wardy just let off, totally gave me the line, and then I went to work on Van der Ven.And in two laps I just kept running into him and trying to push him off line because he was just so smooth and so calculated that I couldn't... There were certain spots that you just couldn't get out of the line; it was just too muddy and too deep. If you tried something stupid or if you went way wide, you'd end up getting stuck in the mud or burning your clutch out. So I got past him, then proceeded to go just fast enough to roost his goggles off of him. You know, just kept looking back, he still had his goggles on...still had his goggles on...still had his goggles on... So I'd slow down, get him stuck behind me in a rut and I'd blast him. And then get stuck down the rut, blast him again, and then once his goggles came off, I gave him a couple more roosts and then took off.PP: This was your third des Nations ride and your third victory. How was it different being on American soil?RJ: God, it's unbelievable. You know who called me yesterday? Jimmy Weinert. Jimmy was always a hero of mine. On that day, we're going up the "Screw You," The Jammer was there, and he's pointing to his eyes, like, "Look, look at me." So I go down the hill, I turn, and he peels up the banner. As he peels it in, I go onto the dry grass-braaap! . All the banners kept going down on the track, and I found out where Geboers was catching me, and he was cutting the whole back corner. So I'm like, "OK, if it's a free-for-all, I'm gonna start moving over here." So the track was sort of free-form.Right after the race, one of the first guys to me was Jimmy. Jimmy struggled when America didn't support the des Nations. He went over there on a complete shoestring against works bikes. They tried to do what we did, and we had all the support in the world.So my point to all this is that I look over as Larry Maiers is interviewing me, and I just see this grown man who's bigger than life to me in the sport, and he's just got streaks down his face from tears. He's bawling. He's so happy because really it's his victory as well. It's not just mine and Wardy's and Hannah's; it's all our mechanics', the AMA's, it's the American people's, it's all the riders' before us who made our country the strongest motocross country in the world, and he played a big part in that. So that's why it meant so much, because, yeah, when you win in Europe, it feels good. But when you can do it in your own backyard and you get people who you looked up to and you made their day, that's what it's all about. To me, Jimmy Weinert was America. And he was so happy for us he was crying.