In honor of Davi Millsaps’ opening round win, Blazier checks in with this list
In honor of Davi Millsaps’ opening round win, Blazier checks in with this list
The Biggest Supercross Upsets Ever
By Tony Blazier
If there is one thing that sports fans can agree on, it is that we all love an upset. Unless you are just a blind homer, watching a rider or team that everyone has written off pull out a shocking victory is one of the greatest moments in sports. It doesn’t matter if it is the 1981 US MXDN team, or the ’68 Jets; America loves an underdog.
Surprisingly, unlike most other major sports, Supercross has traditionally been rather predictable. Most years, there are one or two top riders who hog all the champagne and race wins, while the rest of the pack fights over the scraps. If we are lucky, you might get a third or fourth rider in the mix, but that is usually an anomaly. While every year might start out with a ton of promise, by round three it is usually very clear who the players are. In Supercross, there are rarely any upsets, and seldom any truly shocking results.
Perhaps because Supercross is such an individual sport, major turnarounds are rare. Unlike team sports, you can’t draft a superstar or snag a free agent to reinvent your program. In Supercross, it is all on you. Because of that, there are seldom any Miracle Mets or worst-to-first stories to tell. Whether it is because of injuries, or just the mental strain of getting beat down week after week, in our sport, guys rarely go from getting smoked to kissing trophy girls.
Because of these factors, a true Supercross upset is an event to be savored. Once in a blue moon, the stars align, and a wild card arises from the scrum to grab the golden ring. Sometimes it is Mother Nature throwing things a curve, and sometimes it is the track jumping up to bite the established stars. Regardless of the circumstances, the winner earned the right to write his name in the record books, and with doing so, enter into the bench racing Hall of Fame.
For this list, I am going to break down the eleven victories that I consider the biggest Supercross surprises ever. Why eleven? Well, here at PulpMX, we are planning to take it to the next level in 2013, and that means giving it 111%. While that is not as good as Trey Canard’s patented 120%, it is still better than the 70-80% we usually deliver, so you should just sit back and be thankful.
As for the criteria, I am going to stick to AMA premier class SX races only (sorry Darryl Hurley), and list them from least to most surprising. While I am going to focus mainly on the circumstances that surrounded the victory, some knowledge of the events that followed and their context in the history of the sport will certainly have influence in the rankings.
So with that, let’s grab a beer, put on an AXO gel print and take it to eleven. These are the most shocking Supercross victories of all time.
11TH Place-Charlotte 1997
After taking the 125 West title in ‘96, Yamaha would allow Windham to try his hand at a few 250 East rounds in ’97. It would only take the Ragin’ Cajun four rounds to claim the top step of the podium.
In eleventh place (I know it’s weird, get over it), we have a race that is near and dear to my boy Matthes’ heart, the 1997 Supercross from the Charlotte Motor Speedway. True Moto coinsures will of course remember this night as the one where the great Tim Ferry wrapped up his 125 Supercross title, with another dominating podium performance. Less knowledgeable fans, however, will probably note that this as the night Kevin Windham scored his first 250 main event win.
What makes this race notable is not that Kevin won (he was tapped for greatness from the beginning); it is the fact that he did it while still racing the 125 class full time. In 1997, K-Dub was still a full-time 125 rider, and was just riding a few 250 class events to get his feet wet. This was certainly not unheard of, and many riders from Damon Bradshaw to Jeremy McGrath had done the same thing. What made this case specialwas the fact that Kevin didn’t just get his feet wet, he dominated.
In terms of actual racing, the Charlotte event was a bit of a snoozer. Windham pulled the holeshot and never looked back. Even with riders like Jeremy McGrath on his tail, K-dub never cracked and pulled away to a runaway win. During the race, all the drama took place farther back in the pack, as the series points leader (by a mere two points over MC) Jeff Emig tried to make up for a fourteenth place start. With Emig at the back of the pack and Jeremy McGrath in second, MC looked like a sure bet to take back the series lead. On this night, however, fate would be in Fro’s favor.
The true star of the 1997 Charlotte Supercross
Halfway through the main event, MC would suffer a flat tire on his Suzuki of Troy RM250, leaving him crippled and quickly slipping back through the pack. From his second place start, Jeremy would fade all the way back to an eventual seventh at the finish. Emig, for his part, would pass ten riders, finishing in fourth and picking up valuable points in the championship chase.
Out in front of all this drama would be Windham, who would lead from wire to wire. His win would be the first of many for the Cajun, but few would be as dominant or surprising as his ’97 Charlotte victory. Although many others have come close, his win is still something that no other full-time 125/250F rider has ever been able to achieve.
10th Place-Charlotte 1998
If most fans were asked to name the riders who have won a 250/450F main event, I don’t think many of them would bring up John Dowd. Never a Supercross specialist, the Chicopee, Massachusetts rider was always better known for his outdoor prowess.
If there is one consistent thread that runs through most of this list, it is the unpredictable nature of racing in inclement weather. Anytime you introduce mud to a race, all bets are off and anything is possible. A rider’s chance of having problems goes up ten-fold in the sloppy conditions and even the world’s best can often look very mortal.
Now, when the conditions get really nasty, there are just certain riders that rise to the occasion. John Dowd of Chicopee, Massachusetts is one such guy. A huge hero to old guys everywhere, Dowdy burst into national prominence by taking home the victory in the single muddiest race of all time, Hangtown 1991. Over the years, if the conditions were nasty, the Junkyard Dog was often the guy to beat. In the outdoors, for several seasons in the mid-nineties, he was one of the fastest riders in the country, period. In Supercross, however, he was often more akin to the proverbial bull in a china shop.
In 1998, Yamaha made the head-scratching decision to move the 32-year-old outdoor specialist back down to the 125 class. With Windham moving up to the 250’s and MC coming on board, it was obvious they needed someone to ride the tiddlers, but a vet rider seemed an odd choice. As it turned out, Yamaha actually knew what they were doing, as Dowdy went on to take the 125 West Supercross title.
After the West rounds were run, Yamaha moved Dowd back up to the 250 class in the East. His results were about par for his SX career, mid-pack and nothing spectacular. When the Supercross circus made its yearly stop in Charlotte, however, all bets were off. Whether in the tiny Memorial Coliseum or the huge Motor Speedway, more often than not, Charlotte was full of drama. On this particular chilly April night, mud would once again bring the series a surprise winner.
At the start of the event it would be Yamaha’s 250 rookie Kevin Windham who would bolt into the lead, followed by John Dowd and Larry Ward. Windham looked to be making it two in a row at Charlotte and seemed to be in total control at the front of the pack. In the back, would be the favorite and series leader McGrath, who had been landed on by LaRocco on the first lap and started in twentieth place. At the midway mark, Ward would be forced to throw away his goggles and loose touch with Dowd, who looked to be comfortably in second. Then, the muddy track would jump up and bite the always-smooth Windham. Out front and on cruise control, the Cajun would miss-time a tricky double and go straight over the bars into the next jump face. Knocked cold on impact, K-Dub would be out, leaving 32-year-old vet hero John Dowd in the lead. Amazingly, Windham’s lead was so large and the track so spread out, that Dowd did not initially even know he was in the lead. Once the crowd started going crazy, however, he got the picture.
In the waning laps, Dowd’s former teammate and friend Ezra Lusk would close up the gap and make a race of it. He would pressure the Massachusettsnative to the last turn, but not be able to make the pass. The victory would prove to be Dowd’s only 250 class win, and make him (at the time) the oldest rider ever to win a 250 class main event.
9th Place- LA Coliseum 1998
At the start of night, I’m sure about 90% of the Coliseum crowd was wondering who the hell the triple digit guy in the funny clothes was. By nights end, everyone would know the name Sebastien Tortelli.
In ninth place, we have a race that was not only a surprise at the time, but one that history has shown to be even more remarkable than originally thought. In 1998, the fact that a reigning World Champ had come to America, and road away to victory in his first AMA Supercross was certainly impressive, but not totally mind blowing. JMB had shown that theEuro’s had skills, and many people at the time thought Sebastien Tortelli might be the next Bayle. He had handled the USA’s best 125 rider, Steve Lamson at the MXDN, and beat Europe’s best in Stefan Everts. At the time, America looked to just be the next notch in the belt of the fast Frenchman.
History, of course, would prove otherwise. Amazingly, the LA win would turn out to be the only victory for Tortelli in Supercross. Much like his fellow GP compatriot Greg Albertyn (who we will get to later), Sebastien would struggle on the tight and technical stadium circuits. In his many years racing for both Factory Honda and Factory Suzuki, Tortelli would never again come close to the performance he put on that January night. Perhaps most remarkable of all, Sebastien did not even luck into the win, he earned it.
At the start of the main, it was the booming four-stroke of Doug Henry out in the lead. Doug would be blazing fast on this night, setting the point for the first nineteen laps on the Factory Yamaha YZ400F. Following Henry on the first lap would be four-time champ Jeremy Mcgrath in second and the reigning SX champ Jeff Emig in third. Meanwhile, buried back in the pack and wearing a nondescript #103 on his bike, would be Sebastien Tortelli. Tortelli would start the main event in fifteenth, with all the heavy hitters in front of him.
As Henry clicked off the laps out front, Tortelli would methodically make his way through the pack. On a slippery and rutty track, Sebatien would pick off rider after rider and by the half way mark find himself in sixth and closing on the leaders. While the crowd watched an excellent battle for second between Emig and Pichion, the green #103 would continue to reel in the lead pack a second a lap. By lap 17, Tortelli had the reigning champ in his sights and made the pass in a very aggressive move down the peristyle jump for second. With two laps to go, only the booming four-stroke stood between Tortelli and the win. Sebastien would pull right up to the Yamaha’s fender and apply massive amounts of pressure to Henry. After following for a lap, Tortelli would pull alongside in the tricky rhythm section before the finish and make the pass as the white flag waved. With that, Tortelli had made one of the most remarkable debuts in Supercross history.
When you look back now, you can really see what an amazing win this was. All the players were there, and yes it was a slippery track, but it was not like every time there was a little mud Tortelli waxed the field. He beat all the best riders in the world on equal footing, and came from WAY back to do it. The fact that he was never able to even come close to this performance again just makes it all the more special. In 1998 this was a remarkable win, in hindsight it was downright astounding.
8th Place- Pontiac 2002
RC’s spectacular loop out at the start of the main event would open the door for one of the best races of 2002. TWMX Photo
In eighth place, we have one of the best actual races on my list. Pontiac 2002 is one of those rare events (like Atlanta 1990), where half a dozen riders get a look at the lead and the win is in doubt until the last corner. It is full of crashes, comebacks and more than a few Emig huck-a-bucks™.
The race starts with a holeshot by all of Team Honda. Fonseca, Tortelli, Carmichael, Kyle Lewis (on a MotoXXX Honda) and Nathan Ramsey fill out a sea of red at the front. RC (in the middle of a six race winning streak), quickly moves into the runner up spot and starts putting massive pressure on the always fast-starting Fonseca. At that point, the race looked to be another RC snoozer in the making, but on this night, the Moto Gods had other plans in mind.
On lap two, after landing from the infield triple, RC grabbed a massive handful up the face of the dragon’s back and looped his CR250 like a C-class spode at Chicken Licks Raceway. As Carmichael was doing his best impression of a red headed lawn dart, the rest of the pack blasted by, leaving a dazed and visorless #4 to come from the back of the pack. Seeing RC’s spectacular get-off, the rest of the field put it into overdrive in an attempt to steal an elusive 250 class win. First to crack under the pressure would be David Vuillemin.
After winning the first two races of the year, DV had been the model of consistency, leading the series up until Daytona, where an injury (suffered in a TWMX photo shoot) would cost him the series lead. Still second in points in the series, DV seemed to sense this was his opportunity to take back the lead from RC. While in third place, behind Lusk and Fonseca, Le Cobra tried to force his way to the front in a tight left-hander before the over-under bridge. Lusk, sensing the pressure, shut the door on the Frenchman, pushing him into the tough blocks and off his bike.
With DV left spinning doughnuts, Lusk was left a clear shot to the front. Within two laps, Yogi had caught up to the back wheel of Fonseca’s Honda and in a tricky rhythm section tripled into the lead. From here it should have been clear sailing, but with Lusk being Lusk, things never go that easy. As Yogi was making his pass for the lead, a slow starting Tim Ferry jumped right with him into second place. From there, the ’99 Summercross champion would put the coals to his big YZ426 and rocket into the lead on lap 10.
After a successful year on the revolutionary YZ250F in 2001, Honda would hire away Nathan Ramsey to help develop their all-new CRF450R. Ramsey would reward the team with the first win for Honda’s new thumper. RacerX Photo
Lusk would eventually fall in the whoops on lap 12 (shocker!), handing second place over to a steady Nathan Ramsey on the Factory Honda CRF450R. All the while this drama was playing out at the front, a determined RC was knifing his way through the pack. By lap 13 he was all the way up to eighth, and was turning laps 1.5 seconds faster than the leaders. By lap 16, he was all over McGrath for fourth and coming fast.
On lap 17, the fairy tale ending would come apart for the 1997 125 Supercross Champ (I’m sure Matthes was on suicide watch for a while after this one). Out front and well on his way to his first 250 Supercross victory, Red Dog would bobble in the same whoops that had claimed Lusk and crash out of the lead. This would leave the rider Honda had hired mainly to develop their all-new 450 thumper with a golden opportunity to capture his first premier class victory. Nate-Dog would seize the opportunity, keeping his head down for what must have been the three longest laps of his career. RC would make it uncomfortably close at the checkers, coming all the way back to second and pressuring Ramsey until the very end. Ramsey’s win was all the more remarkable in light of it being the first win by a four-stroke for Honda, and the first SX thumper victory of any kind since Doug Henry’s remarkable ’97 Vegas win. Although he would capture several 125-class victories, the Pontiac race would prove to be the only 250 victory of Ramsey’s career.
7th Place-Anaheim 1 2009
Josh Grant’s remarkable win at the 2009 season opener would be the first for both him and the Joe Gibbs Racing team. MotorcycleUSA.com photo
In seventh place, we have a race that had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Season openers are always exciting. Nothing beats the promise and anticipation of a new season, and when you throw in major shakeups by all the big name players, that anticipation goes through the roof. Coming into 2009, both Chad Reed and James Stewart had switched teams. Reed made the switch to Team Suzuki and Stewart took over Chad’s ride at L&M Yamaha. This meant that more than ever, fans could not be certain of where the pre-season favorites would fall. As the bench racing raged on, the only thing certain was a night of excitement.
Going into A1, JS7 and Reed were not the only riders who had made off-season moves. In an effort to improve their program, the JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) Yamaha squad had hired 450 rookie Josh Grant away from Honda. Grant had shown flashes of brilliance over the years in the 250 class, but had never been able to put things together for a title. For Josh, A1 would be the start of a new career in the big bike class and an opportunity to prove he was one of the premier guys in the sport.
At the start of the main event, it would be the Yamaha YZ450F of Stewart with the holeshot, followed closely by Grant and Reed. Chad would waste no time making his way past Grant and quickly set sail after Stewart. As Reed followed in second, it would become quickly apparent that it was actually the #22 of Reedwho had the advantage. For maybe the first time in their long rivalry, Chad appeared to have the upper hand on James. After following the #7 for a few laps, Reed would jump past Stewart and take over the lead.
Undeterred, James would latch onto the back of Reed and study his lines. The two would follow each other like this for several laps, quickly pulling away from the field. Stewart would eventually pull up on Reed in the whoops and take away the inside in a left hand bowl turn. As the two went to exit the corner, however, JS7 would seem to hit a false neutral and hesitate for a split second. That millisecond of hesitation would cause Reed to clip the back of James’ bike and send the both of them to the Anaheim floor. It would take Reed a few seconds to collect himself, and in the interval the third place rider Josh Grant would take over the lead. For his part, Stewart’s night would be done with a hard blow to the head and a second crash with Windham.
Out front, it would look like smooth sailing for Grant, who would open up a sizeable lead on Andrew Short in second. With two laps to go, however, things would get very exciting for the JGR Team. Grant would clip a tough block and suck the cover directly into his rear wheel. At first, Josh would not notice anything was wrong, but after his bike almost spit him off and his brake went away it would become apparent something was wrong. Within a single lap, Shorty cut Grant’s lead in half, and with one lap to go was gaining fast. Even knowing his bike was wounded, Grant continued to risk serious injury by jumping all the obstacles. With his bike smoking badly, and the crowd going crazy, Grant held it together just long enough to claim his first Supercross victory and the seventh place on my list.
6th Place- Las Vegas 1997
In one night, Yamaha changed the perception of four-stroke dirt bikes forever.
In sixth place, we have a race that holds a special place on the list, not because of who won, but because of what he did it on. In every other race here, the outcome was a surprise because of who was at the controls. No matter if they were long time journeyman, or new kids making a splash, the win was always a surprise. Not so in this case. In the ’97 Las Vegas event, the winner was already an established star, with two 125 Outdoor Motocross titles and several Supercross victories to his name. In this case, it was the bike that was the surprise.
At the end of 1996, rumors began circulating that Yamaha was planning on actually racing a four-stroke motocross bike. This was at a time when thumpers were largely thought of as toys. While some obscure Euro brands had enjoyed success in the GP’s, no self-respecting American rider would be caught dead on one of the big heavy beasts in Supercross. Thumpers were made for blasting sand washes, not blitzing whoops.
Going into 1997 Supercross series, the championship was thrown wide open by the shocking departure of Jeremy McGrath from Team Honda. After looking entirely mortal in the off-season, several riders sensed this might be the year they could finally claim the Supercross title. Early on in the series, it was the #20 of Doug Henry who appeared to be the man to beat. He won two of the first four events and held the points lead up until having his hand broken in a crash with Jimmy Button. After Henry’s exit from the series, it would be Jeff Emig who would step up to the plate and put a challenge to the returning champ.
McGrath would spend the first half of the ’97 season trying to sort out his new Suzuki. Even though it would take until round nine for MC to capture his first win, his consistent podium finishes throughout the series would keep him in the title hunt. Late in the series, things would heat up as MC and Fro battled it out for the title. Unfortunately, the black cloud that had seemed to follow Jeremy all year would strike again in Charlotte, this time in the form of a flat rear tire. The flat would cost the Champ valuable points, and combined with an injured foot (that may or may not have happened in a restaurant ”wink-wink”), would give Emig the cushion he would need to wrap up the title with a ninth place finish in the season finale.
Coming into Vegas, the hype would revolve around more than just the Supercross title fight. After making its debut at the Gatorback National, Yamaha had decided to trot out their ultra-trick YZM400F works thumper for the race. This would mark the first time a true ”works” bike had been raced in American Supercross in over a decade.
The second heat of the night would signal to everyone in Sam Boyd Stadium that this was an all-new kind of four-stroke. Henry would come out of the first turn in second, right behind the series points leader Emig. From there, Henry would use the superior torque of his works thumper to pass and pull away from the #3 Kawasaki. The slick and dry conditions were perfectly suited to the smooth power of the YZM and Henry used it to capture the first ever SX heat race win for a four-stroke.
In the main it would be more of the same, as Henry would rocket out of the gate and snag the 1-900-PRO-RACE holeshot check. From there, he would make it look easy, clicking off one flawless lap after another on the big 400. Behind Henry, Jeff Emig would play it safe and cruise home to a fifth place finish, capturing the title by a fifteen point advantage.
At the checkers, it would be Henry, followed by Ryan Hughes and Damon Bradshaw (in his last ever Supercross). Henry’s win would be made all the more remarkable by the fact that it would be over five years before another four-stroke would capture a Supercross victory. It truly was a case of catching lighting in a bottle. It was the right rider, on the right bike, at the right time, and together they made motocross history.
5th Place- Seattle 2012
Sometimes, nice guys do finish first.
What is so great about this list, is that it is so often the story of a rider finally conquering that ultimate goal of winning a main event in the toughest two wheeled division in motorsports. Any rider who can even qualify for a 250 main event is one bad dude, but to say you actually won takes it to a whole new level.
For Andrew Short, the story of his career has always been Mr. Consistent. Year in and year out, he has always been one of the most dependable riders on the track. For Andrew, the problem has been raw speed. He has always been good for a top five, but has never shown that flash of speed that gets you to the top step of the podium. Never, that is, until April 21st, 2012.
Coming into Seattle, Shorty’s team was in a state of flux. Their title sponsor had stopped sending checks midway through the season and the future of the team was in great doubt. On this April night, Short would be pitting out of a Sprinter van with his practice bike mechanic at the wrenches. If ever there was to be a Cinderella Motocross story, this would be it.
At the start of the main event, it would be the #29 of the Baby-Faced Assassin, up front with the holeshot. Behind Shorty would be his training partner Ken Roczen on the KTM 350. Behind the lead duo would be a coming-back-from-injuryRyan Dungey and newly crowned 2012 SX Champion Ryan Villopoto. RV’s night would last all of four turns, as he would stick his leg into the ground in a left-hander and tear his ACL. With the Champ out and Dungey back in fourth, the stage would be set for one of the all-time feel-goodvictoriesin Supercross history.
After following Short for the first few laps, the blazing fast German started to apply pressure to the veteran from Colorado. Perhaps because of his comfort riding with Kenny, Shorty never flinched and continued to hold off the KTM rider. At the halfway mark, Roczen actually squeezed past Shorty’s Honda for the briefest of moments, but Andrew pulled right back past with a well planned slingshot down the next straight. From there, #29 was not challenged, and rode away to an emotional, first Supercross win.
It was a win that was celebrated by everyone in the pits (except one Cory Moser, who ironically was passed out at this point), regardless of team affiliation. A win, made all the sweeter by the fact that many thought it would probably never come.
4th Place- Anaheim 1 2013
Vindication. It is no secret that Davi Millsaps has endured some pretty tough criticism over the course of his career (much of it, admittedly deserved). Davi’s inspired A1 victory may go a long way toward silencing those critics.
If I were making a list of the most impressive upset wins in Supercross history, this one would definitely be in the running for my number one. I am, however, going for surprise victories with this list, and on that count, a few races beat it out. The fact that Millsaps had actually won a 125 Supercross title and a couple of 450 main events made his win surprising, but not truly shocking., Viewed in that light alone, his upset win might seem less impressive than it actually was. In truth, regardless of Millsaps’ resume, the A1 win was a truly amazing victory.
It is no secret that many people have questioned Millsaps’ desire over the years. Since turning pro, he has had a succession of first tier rides, but done little with them. It was bad enough, that at times his own team managers have joked about his lack of effort in public. With Davi, there seemed to be a rider with all the talent in the world, but none of the heart and fortitude to maximize it.
This year, it seems we may indeed be seeing a new Davi Millsaps. After his high profile parting with JGR in the off-season, Millsaps was largely off the radar. With the help of his trainer Ezra Lusk, Davi has put his nose to the grindstone and came out more ready than ever for the start of the season. At A1 there were no excuses and the guy they call Big Treat was fast from the very beginning.
For those watching carefully, it seemed something might be different for Millsaps on the Rockstar Team. After posting the third fastest time in practice, Davi went out and set the tone by smoking his way to a dominating victory in Heat two. That alone was not completely remarkable. After all, Davi did finish second in the series last year, winning a few heats along the way. The true test for Millsaps would be in the main event, where all the heavy hitters would be looking to start off the series with a bang.
At the beginning of the main, it would be the yellow and black Rockstar (Suzuki?!?) that would roar into the lead ahead of the Honda’s of Justin Barcia and Trey Canard. Behind them, would be all the pre-season favorites, each suffering their own particular difficulties. In forth and fifth were Ryan Dungey and Chad Reed, who would find it difficult to make time on the leaders. Back in ninth, things would be even more trying for a wounded JS7 (suffering from a tweaked right knee), who would be looking to just salvage a few points on the night. The biggest surprise of the night, however, would be the rider back in thirteenth.
At the start of the main, Ryan Villopoto had taken the far inside gate and gotten pinched off in the first turn. As a result, he was buried way back in the pack on lap one and looking at the long haul back to the front. Unfortunately, RV would seem to hit the panic button at this point and begin a long night of spectacular get-offs. First the Champ would case the landing of a rhythm section and fly over the berm and off the track. Then, after catching back up to Stewart, he would try to force a pass and clip a tuff block, sending the big #1 to the ground. RV would continue his crashfest, at one point actually knocking off his gas cap and having to throw away his glove. It was certainly not the night the Champ was looking for, but it did open the door for someone else to steal the glory at A1.
While RV was having his difficulties, Canard was slowly closing on the #18. On lap seventeen, Trey pushed his way past Millsaps and looked to be writing his own surprise victory story. At this point, conventional wisdom should dictate that Millsaps would fade back and settle for a well-earned second. This, however, was going to be no conventional night. With only one lap to go from the checkers, Millsaps would dig deep, reel in Canard and make a spectacular pass for the lead. Canard would try holding it on and preventing the pass, but Davi would not be denied on this night. He would ride a flawless final lap and cement one of the most impressive career resurrections in recent memory.
Davi’s win against such a stacked field was a massive accomplishment for both him and his Rockstar team. Few people (aside from JT$ of course) would have predicted his win, and the fact that he did it on a privateer Suzuki made it even more impressive. Only time will tell if it was a fluke or a true sea change. Either way, it was an amazing victory that will be remembered for years to come.
3rd Place-San Jose 1991
This Yamaha win ad for Doug’s remarkable San Jose victory gives a great view of just how close the two Yamaha riders were at the finish. If the track had been 100 feet longer, Bradshaw would have pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in motocross history.
In third place, we have one of the all time barnburners, the 1991 San Jose Supercross. It is a race that a lot of people probably haven’t seen, but it truly is worth the time to check it out (it is up on my YouTube Channel if you would like to give it a look). In many ways, it is very similar to the number eight race on my list. It starts with a misfortune by the established star, and ends with a mad dash to the finish. In between, however, is one of the most exciting races of the nineties.
The main starts with a holeshot by Team Suzuki’s Larry Ward, closely followed by the #3 Kawasaki of Jeff Ward. Meanwhile, stuck in the gate and a good thirty seconds behind the leaders would be Yamaha’s wild child, Damon Bradshaw. Back upfront, it would be the wily veteran Jeff Ward that would make the first move, passing Big Bird for the lead on lap two. Ward’s lead would last eight laps, as his Kawasaki (and notoriously aggressive) teammate Jeff Matiasevich would put a block pass on the seven-timeNationalChamp and take over the lead at the halfway point.
As Chicken tried to check out up front, all the heavy hitters of ’91 would be buried mid-pack. JMB, Stanton, Kiedrowski and LaRocco would all make little progress moving forward on the night. Bradshaw, on the other hand, was on fire after his horrible start and picking off riders in droves. By the halfway point, he was inside the top ten and coming like a freight train. After Bradshaw, the second fastest rider on the night was certainly Guy “Airtime” Cooper. The popular rider from Stillwater, Oklahoma was ripping through the pack after a slow start and closing in on Matiasevich. With three laps to go, Cooper was all over the leader and looking for a way to get past. The two rivals traded the lead back and forth, neither one wanting to surrender the win (This battle at the front was even more intense than normal, due to the fact that Chicken had taken out Cooper only one week before, in similar circumstances, when it looked like Guy had his first ever win in the bag). As the two crossed the finish line for the last lap, Chicken drifted over into Cooper, tangling their bikes and leaving them both in a heap. This left the most quiet and unassuming of riders in the surprise position of leading the last lap of the San Jose Supercross.
As the carnage had played out around him, Doug Dubach (yes, the 1 trillion times Vet Champ) had kept his cool and road a steady race in third. He had started mid-pack and just kept his head down, as rider after rider pushed to the front, and then blew up or crashed. This was certainly the first time The Doctor (so named for his many injuries early in his career) had held the lead so late in an event, and with the crowd going crazy, his first ever 250 win was less than a lap away. Oh, but what a last lap it was. Incredibly, as Dubach was being handed the lead, Bradshaw was moving into third behind Jeff Stanton. Bradshaw wasted no time blasting past the 1990 Supercross Champ and taking off after the leader. In nineteen laps, Bradshaw had come from dead last to challenge for the win with only half a lap to go. At the checkers, it would be The Doctor by less than a bike length, as the Beast from the East’s charge came up two feet short. It was an incredible ride for Bradshaw, a heartbreaking loss for Cooper (who had come soooo close, so many times before, only to have it come apart at the end), and an awesome surprise victory for one of the nicest guys in the sport, DR. D.
2nd Place–LA Coliseum 1997
While Greg Albertyn was no doubt, one of the greatest outdoor motocross riders ever, his indoor skills left a lot to be desired. After two years of pounding himself into the track with alarming regularity, the likeable South African would put it all together on January 11th, 1997 and run away to one of the most surprising Supercross victories ever.
In terms of shocking outcomes, few races can top the incredible 1997 Supercross season opener from the LA Coliseum. The 1997 season in general was one crazy campaign, featuring over a half-dozen different winners and high drama throughout. Even before the season started, it was pretty obvious this was not going to be the same old McGrath run away.
Coming into the new season, all the drama was focusing on the high profile parting of Jeremy McGrath from the powerful Honda Team. He had left over displeasure with the new alloy framed CR, as well as overly restrictive language that had been written into the contract Honda had offered him. Since MC’s departure had been an eleventh hour affair, he had been left with few options going into the new season. In the end, he would settle on riding a Factory Suzuki through Phil Alderton’s Troy Racing.
Going into the LA event, the buzz would, of course, be all about McGrath and his new team. He would garner the lion’s share of the press and dominate the pit punditry throughout December. Meanwhile, the one person the press was not talking about was McGrath’s Suzuki teammate Greg Albertyn.
Coming into the ’97 Season kickoff, all the buzz would be about McGrath’s 11th hour switch to Suzuki of Troy. For MC, his title defense would start out with a crash in the first turn and only go south from there. By evening’s end, a 15th would be all reigning champ could muster.
Albee had come to America in 1995, fresh off his third World Motocross Title. Wearing the iconic #111, the South African had looked out of sorts in Supercross from the very beginning. At the ’95 season opener in Orlando, Greg had crashed spectacularly in the whoops, separating his shoulder and derailing his inaugural campaign before it could even get started. Even after his return, however, he would continue to struggle on the technical Supercross tracks, often making the highlight reel for the wrong reasons.
In his first two seasons of Supercross racing, Albee’s best finish would be a fourth in the ‘95 Las Vegas event (a race that only half the normal field participated in). Other than that, he would be best known for his many varied motorcycle dismounts. Stiff as a board, and locked at the hips (Ryno may have been onto something), Greg would be a crash waiting to happen in ’95 and ’96.
To his credit, in spite of riding a poor performing machine and hitting the deck more than Josh Hansen groupies’ panties, the multi-time World Champ never let his many trials and tribulations get him down. Each time he would get pounded to the turf, the tough as nails South African would get back up ready for more. Going into ’97, there was little reason not to expect more of the same.
At the start of the main event, it would be the #3 Kawasaki of Jeff Emig (in some of the coolest looking orange and black Shift gear ever) who would rocket out to the lead ahead of Albertyn and Henry. For McGrath, his Suzuki debut would get off to a rocky start with a crash in the first turn. Jeremy would tangle with his former teammate Lamson not once, but twice in the first lap, leaving the two in a heap as the pack raced away.
Factory Kawasaki’s Jeff Emig would come out swinging at the season opener. He would lead the first half of the race, before succumbing to pressure from Albertyn and fading back to sixth at the checkers.
At the halfway point, Emig, who had led from the get-go, would start to show signs of tiring (Havasu hangover?). Remarkably, it would be Albee that would start applying the pressure to the Kawasaki rider. Albertyn would pull alongside off one of the triples and make the pass leading up the first peristyle. From there, Emig would fall into the clutches of a pushing Doug Henry and eventually fade back to a sixth at the checkers. Henry would try to make a charge at Albee, but amazingly, the South African would not crack on this night. In one of the most unlikely displays of riding in Supercross history, Albertyn would ride the perfect race and take home his first 250 Supercross win.
On a night where their superstar faltered, it would be Albee who would save the day for Suzuki. While everyone focused on the King, the #8 put in the ride of his life and forever etched his name in the Supercross record books.
1st Place- Daytona 1987
On March 7th, 1987, Ricky Ryan rode his Honda CR250R into the record books as the first privateer ever to win an AMA Supercross. Even 25 years later, it remains the single biggest upset in Supercross history.
In first place, we have by far the most shocking victory in Supercross history, the 1987 Daytona Supercross. On March 7th, 1987, privateer Ricky Ryan rode into the record books as the most unlikely winner ever to score a Supercross main event victory. Even more remarkably, he did so against one of the most talent-ladenfields in Supercross history, with a leg that could barely support his weight. In the annals of all-time surprise victories, Daytona ’87 reigns as king.
In 1987, Supercross was the domain of two men, Jeff Ward and Rick Johnson. Between 1985 and 1988, the two California hot-shoes would swap the 250 National and Supercross title between them several times. Even with greats like Broc Glover, Johnny O’Mara and Ron Lechien in the field, the two superstars of motocross dominated the sport. Going into Daytona, most fans believed it would be one of these two rivals that would most likely claim victory in the sport’s most prestigious event.
At the opposite end of the scale from these superstars, you had riders like San Jose, California’s Ricky Ryan. Ryan had started his career racing the Nationals in ’82 on a privateer Suzuki RM125. Over the next five years, the journeyman pro raced the MX/SX circuit, often finishing in the top ten, but never quite taking the next step necessary to capture that elusive Factory ride.
Ryan’s amazing victory was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he almost did not ride the race. The week prior to Daytona, Ricky had caught his knee in a rut and tore the ligaments in his left knee. In order to even try to ride the Daytona event, he cobbled together this crude knee-brace which used a bolt drilled through the front of his Fox Comp-2 boot.
Ricky’s real breakthrough would occur the week before the infamous Daytona race, at the season opening Gainseville National. Riding a privateer Honda CR125R, Ryan would pull away from the entire field in the first moto and score his first ever win in dominating fashion. Unfortunately, things would go differently in the second moto for the Honda rider. Ryan would catch his leg in a rut and tear the ligaments in his left knee. Even with the injury, Ryan would solider on to finish the race, but his condition would make riding in the Daytona event a week later a big uncertainly.
Ryan would actually have to rig together a makeshift brace just to try and ride the event. His leg would be so bad that he could barely walk, much less race. His answer would be to drill a hole in his Fox boot and attach it directly to a knee brace, via a bolt in the front. This would lock the knee together with his lower leg and hopefully provide some much needed stability. If Ryan were going to do well in the Daytona event, he would have to do it on one leg.
On the day of the race, Mother Nature would again assert herself and deliver a muddy racetrack. The mud would be so bad that the AMA would cut the laps in the main down to 10 from the normal 20. While that would make surviving the event easier, it also compounded the need for a good start.
At the drop of the gate, Ron “The Dogger” Lechien would rip out of the gate and somehow wheelie his Factory Kawasaki 90% of the way to the first turn. Ronnie’s lead would be short lived, however, because when he finally dropped the front of his SR250 into the black Daytona muck, the front wheel would come to an immediate stop. As Lechien was executing a perfect over-the-bars dismount, Rick Johnson would plow into the back of his Kawasaki and end up in a muddy heap. Taking advantage of all this carnage would be the #12 of Ricky Ryan. Ryan would lead the field into the first turn, followed by Rodney Smith and Keith Bowen. Before the first lap was over, the muddy track would claim the last of the big players. Jeff Ward would suffer a derailed chain, ending his bid for a first Daytona SX victory.
With Johnson, Lechien and Ward out, the door would be opened for Team Yamaha’s Keith “Bones” Bowen to capture his first Supercross win. Bowen, sensing his opportunity, would quickly pass Smith and Ryan for the number one position. Using his extensive mud riding experience to its fullest, the Michigan rider would pull out an early lead, before mistiming a double and flipping over the bars. Bowen would quickly pick himself up and reenter the race in fourth, behind Ryan, Holland and Smith.
Factory Yamaha rider Keith Bowen was on fire at Daytona. Bowen would pull out to an early lead, only to crash back to forth, and then pass everyone a second time. Unfortunately, his incredible ride would come to an end with a rock in the chain, only two laps from the finish.
Remarkably, Bones would run down the leaders a second time on the soupy track and recapture the lead with a few laps to spare. This would relegate Ryan to second and a charging Jeff Stanton to third. Then, with two laps to go, The Daytona track would claim another victim. On lap eight, Bowen’s Yamaha would suck a rock into the chain and bring his wheel to a complete halt. With this little bit of luck, Ricky Ryan would be left a clear path to the biggest upset in Supercross history. He would keep his CR250 on two wheels and ride it in to claim the $5500 winner’s purse and a place in Supercross history. Earning his first podium as well would be Jeff Stanton, a little known privateer from Sherwood, Michigan, followed by Team Suzuki’s George Holland in third.
With an amazing 1-2 privateer finish, the Daytona event cemented its place in Supercross lore. Time would of course prove that Stanton’s finish was no fluke, but Ryan’s victory would be the pinnacle of his career. Even after his remarkable results at Gainesville and Daytona, he would fail to receive major support and turn to international events after the ’87 season. Still, no one can take away his Daytona win and its remarkable place in racing history.