By Davey Coombs
Photos by Gary VanVoorhis
The 40th Annual Lucas Oil AMA Motocross Championship is only 39 days away, so Racer X Online and AlliSports.com are counting down the days to the May 21 opener—the Hangtown Motocross Classic—by taking a look back at the world's biggest and most competitive motocross championship. Our countdown goes back 39 years ago with the 1973 version of the AMA Motocross tour, which was only the second year for the fledgling championship.
If you missed the first day of the countdown, check it out right here.
Holland’s Pierre Karsmakers came to America in 1973 as a hired gun for Yamaha and won the 500cc national title
The second year of the AMA Motocross Championships was a big step forward from the genesis of the tour. The motorcycle factories of Japan were realizing that the vast U.S. market offered a huge new group of buyers, as motocross in America was growing rapidly, spurred on in large part by the 1971 Bruce Brown film On Any Sunday. All four of the major Japanese brands—Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha and Suzuki—had full factory efforts, with Honda coming on strong in '73 with the release of its Elsinore. (The first 250cc round was still won by a Sweden-made Husqvarna, ridden by Bob Grossi.)
Bob Grossi, a native of Santa Cruz, CA, won the first 250cc National of 1973, which happened to be at Daytona International Speedway
The U.S. market was still taking shape, and the AMA Motocross tour was growing rapidly, especially in one area of the country. Check out the location of the first five rounds, as well as the last three: all in the Southeast. But that was in part because the bigger tracks out west—Saddleback, Livermore, Puyallup—were part of the still mighty Trans-AMA. The Southeast was also anchored by Bill West's popular Winter-Am tour, which was arguably bigger than the actual national tour until the late-seventies. As it turns out, only one of the tracks on the '73 schedule remained on the schedule today, as you will soon read.
It was in '73 that “The Jammer,” Jimmy Weinert, broke through the Europeans' stranglehold on the Trans-AMA tour with a win in the mud at Rio Bravo in Texas. But the biggest upset win came from Jim Pomeroy at the opening round of the 1973 FIM World Championships in Sabadell, Spain. Based on his results on the young AMA tour, Pomeroy had accepted a ride to race in the 250cc Grand Prix Series in Europe, which at the time was much more prestigious than the infant AMA tour. Defending AMA 500cc National Champion Brad Lackey had also decamped to Europe, but his first win would take more time in the big boys' class. (It should be mentioned that Lackey and Pomeroy followed globetrotters U.S. pioneers like Bud Ekins, Stu Peters, John DeSoto, Bill Silevrthorne, Billy Clements, Mark Blackwell and more across the Atlantic Ocean to learn from the Europeans, but they never had the success that would visit both Pomeroy and future 500c world champ Brad Lackey.)
“Jammin'” Jimmy Weinert on his factory Kawasaki
But while two of the top Americans were focused on Europe, they would be replaced here by hired guns from Europe like Pierre Karsmaker, “the Flying Dutchman,” a pioneer in training and racecraft technique. Riding for Yamaha (which were yellow back then), Karsmakers dominated the '73 500cc Nationals, but in doing so he taught the Americans how to be professional motocross racers like Europe's finest. Unfortunately, the AMA would deal Pierre a bitter card in 1974—which you will read about tomorrow.
In the 250 Class, defending champ Gary Jones switched brands, moving from Yamaha to Honda, but not before a brief ride on Maico equipment—albeit while wearing a Honda jersey (he raced the Trans-AMAs on Maico because Honda had yet to build an open-class bike). This would mark the second of Jones' three official AMA titles, making him the first repeat champ in the young series' history.
Gary Jones won the official AMA 250cc title for the second year in a year, this time about the new Honda Elsinore
Here is something a little extra. A YouTube video to a young Scott Wallenberg's Super 8mm footage from the 1973 Daytona event.
You can clearly see Gary Jones sporting the #1 plate on the AMA pro debut of the 250cc Elsinore. And Gary Bailey is wearing a helmet cam in practice on his Bultaco, while Karsmakers rides his yellow YZ. And Brad Lackey is also wearing his #1 plate and debuting the Kawasaki green color scheme in motocross.
Meanwhile, the Inter-Am series was starting to fade away, as it was down to five races in '73 and the title was won by Finland's Heikki Mikkola. But the biggest round—the Superbowl of Motocross at the Los Angeles Coliseum—was the biggest draw of all. That was a sign of things to come for the sport in general. And you might notice that the first AMA National on the '73 schedule took place at a place that's now regarded as the oldest AMA Supercross of all, at the venerable Daytona International Speedway. One year later, Daytona would be off the outdoor national schedule, but it would be part of a new deal called the AMA Yamaha Super Series.... The “Cross” was yet to come.
1973 AMA 500cc Motocross Championship Series
|3/10||Daytona Beach, FL||Pierre Karsmakers||Holland||Yam|
|5/6||Opelousas, LA||Mike Hartwig||Hadley, MI||Hus|
|5/13||Hialeah, FL||Pierre Karsmakers||Holland||Yam|
|5/20||Memphis, TN||Mike Runyard||Whittier, CA||Suz|
|6/2||Gainesville, GA||Pierre Karsmakers||Holland||Yam|
|6/10||Laurelville, OH||Pierre Karsmakers||Holland||Yam|
|7/17||Houston, TX||Brad Lackey||Pinole, CA||Kaw|
|8/12||Lake Whitney, TX||Pierre Karsmakers||Holland||Yam|
|8/18||Pocono, PA||Mike Runyard||Whittier, CA||Suz|
|8/26||Sligo, KY||Pierre Karsmakers||Holland||Yam|
|9/1||Talladega, AL||Pierre Karsmakers||Holland||Yam|
|9/9||New Orleans, LA||Brad Lackey||Pinole, CA||Kaw|
1973 AMA 500c National Standings
|2.||Mike Runyard||Whittier, CA||1427|
|4.||Gary Semics||Lisbon, OH||1079|
|5.||Brad Lackey||Pinole, CA||999|
|6.||Tim Hart||Torrance, CA||888|
|7.||Rich Thorwaldson||Cerritos, CA||769|
|8.||Mike Hartwig||Hadley, MI||756|
|9.||Tony DiStefano||Bristol, PA||566|
|10.||Wyman Priddy||Ft. Worth, TX||539|
Mike Runyard was a factory Suzuki rider who finished second to Karsmakers in the final standings
1973 AMA 250cc Motocross Championship Series
|3/10||Daytona Beach, FL||Bob Grossi||Santa Cruz, CA||Hus|
|5/6||Opelousas, LA||Jim Weinert||Middletown, NY||Kaw|
|5/13||Hialeah, FL||Gary Jones||Hacienda Heights, CA||Hon|
|5/20||Memphis, TN||Jim Weinert||Middletown, NY||Kaw|
|6/2||Gainesville, GA||Marty Tripes||Santee, CA||Hon|
|6/10||Laurelville, OH||Gary Jones||Hacienda Heights, CA||Hon|
|7/17||Houston, TX||Gary Jones||Hacienda Heights, CA||Hon|
|8/12||Lake Whitney, TX||Tim Hart||Torrance, CA||Yam|
|8/18||Pocono, PA||Rich Thorwaldson||Cerritos, CA||Suz|
|8/26||Sligo, KY||Gary Jones||Hacienda Heights, CA||Hon|
|9/1||Talladega, AL||Gary Jones||Hacienda Heights, CA||Hon|
|9/9||New Orleans, LA||Gary Jones||Hacienda Heights, CA||Hon|
1973 AMA 250cc National Standings
|1.||Gary Jones||Hacienda Heights, CA||1445|
|2.||Rich Thorwaldson||Cerritos, CA||1086|
|3.||Bob Grossi||Santa Cruz, CA||900|
|4.||Jim Weinert||Middletown, NY||878|
|5.||Tim Hart||Torrance, CA||710|
|6.||Marty Tripes||Santee, CA||603|
|8.||Gary Chaplin||Cayucos, CA||486|
|9.||DeWayne Jones||Hacienda Heights, CA||485|
|10.||Jim Pomeroy||Yakima, WA||465|