Trampas Parker Interview | SIDEWAYS

This interview with former World Motocross Champion Trampas Parker appears in the August 2016 issue of Dirt Rider magazine. There wasn’t enough room for everything in the magazine pages, so here is the interview, in full.

Trampas Parker made history by becoming the first American to win two World Motocross Championships, claiming the 125cc title in '89 on a KTM, and the 250cc title in 1991 on a Honda. He was later inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame for his efforts.

This interview appears in the August 2016 issue of Dirt Rider magazine. There wasn’t enough room for everything in the magazine pages, so here is the interview, in full.

Q: First off, tell us what you're doing these days.

A: My wife and I run a training facility here in Oklahoma. We do things a little bit different than some of the other facilities. I don't believe in housing these kids 10 months out of the year, so we train them two weeks out of each month. We do five days on and then they get to go home and be with their family, and then they'll come back and we'll do five more days. That way you can actually see how hard somebody wants it, because if they come back and they're starting over from scratch then you know they didn't go home and do their homework. So the way I look at it, if a kid's really hungry, when he comes here for five days he's going to go home and work on what we taught him, so you see the kids who really want it.

Trampas Parker Interview | SIDEWAYS
Trampas Parker and wife.Photo by Shan Moore
Trampas Parker, 1989 & 1991 World Motocross Champion
Trampas Parker archive photoDR Archives

Q: You're a two-time world MX champ. Let's talk about how this all got started.

A: I started out racing Supercross here in America. I did my first Supercross in California in 1985 and I finished third… At the second race, I came out of the gate in third and unfortunately in the first turn, the two riders in front of me messed up. When I put my foot down to keep from going down, the rider behind me hit me in the leg and it shattered my ankle. They put it back together with screws but the doctors told me I'd never race again. Well, three months later when they took it out of the cast I started rehab and I found out that rehab back then was a joke. You would go in and they would massage for five minutes and say, "Okay, that's good," and charge you a couple hundred dollars. So my dad decided he was going to rehab my ankle, and he would make me jog with him down in my granddad's pasture, through the woods and down in the creeks and everything. In the beginning my ankle didn't move, but he told me, "If you want to do this you're going to suffer, that's the only way you're going to get movement back." And finally we got the movement back.

Then after Danny “Magoo” Chandler got paralyzed I ended up going to Italy to do a benefit race for him, and actually got to spend quite a bit of time with Magoo over there. That was something I’ll remember and treasure for the rest of my life, because I really respected him. So I ended up doing a deal to ride the world championships in ’87, but it didn’t turn out exactly the way I wanted it, and I ended up working as a mechanic for Phil Larson and I got to see the way things worked over there.

I eventually got a ride with Kawasaki and I think I did two or three GP’s that year in the 500 class. It was just a stock bike and we actually could run up there with the front guys. That’s back when you had Dave Thorpe and Kurt Nicoll, and you had some of the coolest works bikes anybody could ever dream of.

I knew I had the speed. I demonstrated it on a stock bike. But we didn’t have the organization. So I talked with my mechanic and we decided there’s no sense in wasting time doing the 500 GPs because with one bike, and never getting to practice, we don’t stand a chance. I decided we might as well do all the internationals and get as much recognition as possible. So we did every race we could do, and ended up winning about 70% of everything we raced and KTM offered me a ride at the end of the year to do some of the Italian championships. It was a 250 deal and they also had Heinz Kinigadner in the class. We showed up at the first race in Spain, and the reeds in my bike broke so I didn’t get to qualify. But Heinz ended up breaking his ankle. I went over to KTM and told them, “If you let me ride one of those factory bikes I’ll put it on the box next week in Ibiza,” which is an island off of Spain. The guy looked at me and goes, “You didn’t even qualify.” I told him I didn’t qualify because my bike broke, but give me one of the factory bikes and I’ll put it on the box next week. They just kind of laughed about it. Well, I think it was Wednesday, we were down there getting our bikes ready and the factory mechanic came over and he said, “Mr. Trunkenpolz said you can ride the bike.”

We showed up at the racetrack and we put it third in qualifying on Sunday morning. And in the first moto I was gone. I would have won the race easy but the whole linkage broke off the bike. I get the bike back over to the mechanics and they’re freaking out. “Oh my gosh, you were winning!”

Then the next moto they put a new rear end on it and I’m coming through the pack catching the leaders and the whole subframe breaks off. So they said, “Well, would you race it in Italy?” I said, “Yeah, no problem.”

In Italy I was battling for the lead and the frame breaks in half. After that I decided that really wasn’t any fun. So I decided I’d just stay in Italy and ride some races, because we didn’t stand a chance. The bike wasn’t ready. The motor was super fast, but the frames were breaking. It had some issues back then. So I stayed in Italy and won a bunch of races. At the end of the year they asked me to come in and ride the Italian championship on a 125.

I told them I hadn’t been on a 125 since I left America. It had been two years. So, they gave me this stock KTM to ride in ’88. When we got to the Italian championship at the end of the year, the World Championships were over and I think you had probably six or seven guys in the top 10 of the World Championship [racing that Italian round]. They gave me Alessandro Puzar’s practice bike, not even one of his racing bikes, and in the first practice I went out and rode a couple laps and I came in and told the KTM guys, “Man, if your riders can’t win the world championship with this bike there’s something wrong.” I said, “I’ll win all three motos tomorrow, this thing’s the fastest 125 I’ve ever ridden.”

The next day I went out and smoked the first moto, smoked the second moto, and then the mechanic starts telling me in the third moto, he goes, “The bike’s not going to finish the race.” He goes, “You’re going to have to back it down a little bit to finish the moto. You’ve got the championship won even if you finish fourth.” So I backed down a little bit and got second and won the championship. After that, they asked me if I would consider riding the 125. I said, “Man, if we rebuild these practice bikes we can win the title next year.”

Well, KTM had already signed their factory riders, so we started out the year with stuff from the year before. Which actually worked out to our favor because we got to do what we wanted. We didn’t have to use the factory suspension, and we didn’t have to use the Keihin carburetors. It was unbelievable because we had the bikes dialed in, and I was able to win the title.

Q: What do you think is the main difference between GP racing back then? How different is it now from back then?

A: Right now the GP racing, they've done a good job with it. They've brought in the television. They've done some good things. Now, there are some things I totally disagree with, because if GP racing would have been like it is now back in the day I wouldn't have gotten to win my world championship because the team selects the riders nowadays. There are only a certain number of rides. Back then if you had the opportunity to make it to the races you got to try to qualify. Nowadays it's not that way and I'm starting to see some of the same things play out here in the US, where a lot of the parents are buying rides. That's one thing I hate to see happen because when I left Europe there were a lot of riders who deserved rides, and there were a lot of riders who had rides because their parents bought the second spot on the team. When I left Europe a second spot on a team was going for $100,000 and there were parents paying it. It's happening all over, but not just in motocross. It's happening in just about every motorsport.

Q: So you finished up the GPs in the 500 class.

A: Yes. In '04 I was already up there in age, but I gave it one last shot and I was sitting third in the world championships trying to win that title that I never got. I ended up breaking my wrist, just as I was starting to come into form.

Q: So you wanted a 125, a 250 and a 500?

A: Well truthfully I feel like I have it, because Joel Smets didn't really win the title in '95. If you go back and look at it every race that I lost, my bike broke. I had the only KTM that broke. Every time my bike broke my mechanic would tell me, be careful today. Every time I'd get in the lead and be walking away with a title, my bike would break. So I feel like I really won the title that year.

Trampas Parker on cover of Cross Magazine in 1989.
Trampas Parker on cover of Cross Magazine in 1989.DR Archives

Q: You were kind of ahead of your time because you were one of the first ones that really paid attention to physical condition. How did you know to do that? What was your motivation for getting in such good shape?

A: My motivation comes back to a guy who actually lives here in Oklahoma right now. When I first moved up to the A class after I won Loretta's in '84 in the B class, there was a guy named Dennis Hawthorne, who has five Arenacross championships. At the local races, Dennis was the guy winning all the races. One day my dad and I sat down and he goes, do you know why Dennis beats you guys every single weekend? And I said, because he's in shape. He said, exactly. He said, he's older than you guys. He's not as fast as you are, but he kicks your butt every single weekend because he's the only guy who can do every moto wide open until the end. That's when I started really changing the way I did things.

Dennis had these just off-the-wall tracks down there. Back then he lived on the outskirts of Dallas and they weren’t real motocross tracks. That’s when I came to the conclusion you don’t need a real motocross track to have a great practice track. When I went down and rode with Dennis, these were some places that were just unbelievable. You couldn’t get a tractor in there. But it was some of the best practicing I’d ever seen and I ever got to do. I thought, I don’t need a motocross track, I just need one gnarly, rough place to ride. So when I went over to Europe most of my practice tracks weren’t tracks at all. They were places that I just rode and rode and rode. There might be places where it wasn’t but five foot wide. But it was so rough that when I would invite people over to ride and train with me, they were like, no way, this is stupid. But when I would get to the rough tracks it actually felt easy.

Q: You rode some pretty legendary tracks.

A: I got to ride Namur. The only track that I ever dreamed about riding that I never got to ride was Farley Castle, and I went back and rode it this year. Went over and did the big Vet Trophy des Nations race.

Q: How was the travel?

A: When you got to a border crossing back then and they found out, here's a guy that's coming into our country to beat our racers, it wasn't nothing for them to keep you at the border for five hours, even 10 hours. Nowadays it's easy, with the European community, but back then it was still really hard. Going from border to border to border, and when you left Italy and you were going over to Belgium you had to cross several borders. Or if you went into the old Czechoslovakia back in the day you sat there. When you went into Czecho it was mandatory you bought so much of their currency, but you couldn't leave with their money. You either spent it or they took it from you when you come back through the border. But it was an experience of a lifetime.

The riders that go over there today will never get that experience the way it was because it’s changed. The open borders definitely have made things great. What they’re doing with motocross as far as TV coverage and everything has made things great. But some of the things they’re doing, like limiting the number of riders, letting the teams pick the riders, I don’t agree with that. I’m glad my time has come and gone, my days are over with. One of the other things I thought was really sad was watching the way Ryan Villopoto ended his career. I really thought that Ryan was one of the only guys that we had here in the US that could have went over there and win it. I think if we would have seen the real Ryan Villopoto over there he would have won it. But I don’t think we saw the real Ryan. I think Ryan was done with racing. I don’t think he really wanted to race anymore. He was burnt out. He had put in so many years.

Q: What's your most memorable race?

A: My most memorable race would have been the Trophy Des Nations in 1989. I ended up riding for Italy. America picked their three-rider team. But the way I looked at racing is all I ever wanted to do was line up on the starting gate with the best riders in the world. And for me, to line up on the starting gate with all the best riders in the world, the only way to do it was at the Des Nations. And when Italy asked me to ride it, I jumped on it, because I was going to ride against three of the best Americans (Jeff Ward, Jeff Stanton, Mike Kiedrowski), three of the best Belgians, three of the best from every country. So that was the one race I wanted to win. And Italy didn't let me ride a 125, which I'd won the world championship on that year. They made me ride the 500.

The first moto didn’t go good, and the second moto I actually had to start on the second row. Back then you had a first row and a second row and you started behind your teammate. I started on the second row and I come through and I passed all the 500 riders. I passed Dave Thorpe, and Jeff Stanton ended up winning the moto that day, but I’d come from the back of the pack and run everybody down. I caught Jeff but I just got the checkered flag. I ended up winning my class and another lap or two I could have passed Jeff.