Moto Gear History Part IV: JT Racing - The Nineties and Rebirth
By:
Tony Blazier

For part four of our gear history series, we are going to look at JT Racing in the nineties.

At the start of the decade, JT was still one of the powerhouses in the sport, but the winds of change were blowing. Increased competition from brands like Fox Racing and AXO Sport were quickly whittling away at the mindshare of the once-dominant retailer. JT still had top riders like Ricky Johnson, Ron Lechien and Jean-Michel Bayle in their stable, but injuries, off-track issues and quite frankly, a bit of jingoism, meant the brand no longer had the most desirable talent under their tent. For JT, the nineties would be a decade of frustration and transition, as competition, litigation, and a major change in focus would see the brand that dominated the eighties decline, then eventually abandon the sport completely.

In case you missed part three, where Matthes and I cover JT Racing in the seventies and eighties, you can read it HERE.

Blaze: Ricky Johnson was back with JT for 1990 and ready to rivet up some new gear. His new Cyborg line was the exact opposite of the neon revolution going on at the time with a drab gray color pallet and a Terminator vibe. While I guess this could have appealed to those looking to escape the Day-Glo movement, it was never my cup of tea. 

 

Matthes: We didn’t know it at the time, but RJ wasn’t the same guy as he was pre-wrist injury. If only he would’ve had rivets and metal put in like the pants he wore in ’90. I never, ever saw anyone with the “RJ” pants, but there were a few with “JT” lurking around. JT was the first company (I think) to put the wide spandex-ish material on the side of the leg and it was great.

 

Blaze: If only they could have riveted him up a new wrist…

 

Matthes: I swear I didn’t see Blaze’s joke about the wrist until I scrolled down.

 

Blaze: For 1990, there was a new Super Power Line that included a revised K-9 Dalmatian look, a Bayle replica and an alternate Cyborg design. While none of these were particularly to my liking, I did dig those sweet Alpinestars Tech-4s.

 

Matthes: Yeah, none of these are great but the early 90’s were NOT a great time to be celebrating foreign riders coming to America and taking supercross by storm.

 

Blaze: In 1990, one of the major stories in the sport was the defection of Jean-Michel Bayle from the GPs to the AMA series. The reigning 250 World champ came in with a lot of hype and colossal expectations. Amazingly, his contract with JT Racing would turn out to be the most expensive the brand had ever done (no small feat when you look at the talent that had been under the JT umbrella). While Bayle won plenty on the track, he turned out to be a poor investment for the brand. His signature gear sold in meager numbers and he never really connected with the American fans. Some of this was probably due to a certain level of pro-American bias, but his aloof nature certainly played a part as well. Regardless of the real reason, JMB turned out to be a less-than-stellar product mover in the USA. 

 

Matthes: I mean, I get the whole thing about Americans not wanting to buy gear with a French rider’s initials on it, but who approved that design anyways? Isn’t that kind of obvious? JMB, like so many other French riders and fans of American MX, was a huge JT fan coming over, so John Gregory probably could’ve gotten him cheaper. Take advantage of his desire to go JT.

 

Blaze: JT Racing was always great at pulling together the whole look of their “kits”, right down to Dalmatian spotted boots and RoboCop inspired helmet decals. If you were going to go full Kris Keefer in 1990, you definitely had to get these helmet decals for your ALS-2. Totally “lit” bro…

 

Matthes: I never, ever got the “shapes” motif that JT was trying to push on us. It was like something out of Sesame Street. But yes, I’m still ALL IN on the punk rock bad bone dude.

 

Blaze: Today, David Bailey is remembered mostly for his amazing motocross career, or his TV work with Art Eckman, but few people realize he was also an accomplished artist and designer. After his career-ending injury in 1987, Bailey took an offer by John Gregory to come work for JT in California and helped the brand expand their design and color pallet. Always one with an eye for style, Bailey’s hand can be seen in many of the iconic JT designs of the late eighties and early nineties (including the redesigned JT logo seen above). 

 

Matthes: That top middle helmet is still badass to this day. Bailey was style. In fact his should’ve changed his name to David Style. 

 

Blaze: For 1991, JT toned down the number of JMB logos and put the champ in this much more attractive (to me at least) Pro-Tour jersey and Factory Rider pants. I actually quite liked the style of this stuff and don’t think it would look bad even today. 

 

Matthes: Yeah, I’m with Blaze here, I like this stuff and JMB ran it most of the year in 1991, on his way to sweeping all three titles. The first and only time that had been done in American motocross.

 

Blaze: With RJ’s move to Thor, JMB was by far the biggest name under the JT tent for 1991. Even though the Frenchman was the star, they did still have a semi-retired Ron Lechien and a very young Ryan Hughes in their ads. Even in semi-retirement, the Dogger’s mullet game was strong. 

 

Matthes: Dogger sighting! This was 1991 and Ronnie had been out of the game for a couple of years just racing Anaheim or San Diego SX. 

 

Blaze: Amazingly, the Half-Breed glove (the Political Correctness movement was obviously not yet in full swing) was still a thing in 1991 and the switch back to more minimalist designs heralded the beginning of the end for max protection gloves like the Flexon. 

 

Matthes: Thank god, the Flexon sucked. 

 

Blaze: This helmet and those goggles still look bitchin’ today. Some things never go out of style my friends. 

 

Matthes: Agreed. Great look. The mirrored lenses were introduced by Oakley and pretty much blew everyone’s minds. Then they went away for a long time until, I think, EKS Brand Goggles brought that back because Rich Taylor was around back in this day. The ALS helmet with the recessed goggle groove was a stroke of genius. 

 

Blaze: If any one thing played the largest role in the demise of JT’s motocross empire, it was the explosion in popularity of paintball. In the mid-eighties, former factory rider and JT athlete Marty Tripes approached John Gregory about trying out the new sport. Gregory was instantly hooked and quickly realized there was a market for gear designed specifically for paintball. Within a few years, the paintball business was actually exceeding the revenue of the motocross division. By the early nineties, this discrepancy had grown to the point where the paintball business was essentially the only thing keeping the motocross side in business. With paintball proving incredibly lucrative and an influx of low-cost competition from Asia cutting MX profits, the Gregorys began to lose interest in motocross. 

 

Matthes: You ever played paintball? I did a ton, so much in fact I thought about getting my own gun at one point. Man, it’s fun. A dark warehouse, pallets and forts everywhere, loud music pumping in and you gotta go capture the flag? That’s what I’m talking about! I had a good time back in the day playing.

 

Blaze: In 1992, JT Racing introduced their new Concept line of gear and it featured the bold colors and flashy graphics that were de rigueur for the time. I actually really liked this stuff and purchased the set shown here on the left. While it looked good, its quality was really disappointing. The stitching came apart and the seams busted in no time. Compared to the AXO gear I also had, it felt flimsy and just plain cheap. It was at this point, that I started to wonder if something was going wrong at JT.

 

 

Matthes: Wow. Blaze nailed it. I didn’t have this stuff, but my buddy Darrell did and it did fall apart. He actually had that purple stuff right there on his Suzuki and it didn’t last. I do like the two different logos on the pants though. I think that’s a good look.

 

Blaze:  For those looking for style at a lower price point, JT offered the new Power II pants for 1992. When you see these pants cost $119 twenty-five years ago (and these were the cheap ones, the Concept ones went for $169) and look at what a similar product goes for today, you start to realize the price pressure JT began to find themselves under. The shift to cheap Asian labor meant that the competition could undercut JT and offer a similar product, for less money.  

 

Matthes: Made in Mexico came back to bite John. 

 

Blaze: As crazy as the gear of the early nineties was, it had nothing on the hairdos. 

 

Matthes: Oh wow. That’s A LOT of hair right there chickie. If I owned a gear company, I would NEVER not put a sponsored rider wearing the gear in ads. If I had only sponsored ugly riders I would just run photo of the gear by itself.

 

Blaze: In 1992, Jean-Michel Bayle took his three #1 plates to JT partner RS-Tiachi. RS-Tiachi was the brainchild of Japanese motocross legend Taichi Yoshimura. Yoshimura had been the first man to take Honda’s new two-stroke RC250M prototype to victory in 1972, and parlayed that fame into a Japanese apparel giant. In 1992, RS-Tiachi tried to make a run at the American market by hiring JMB, Larry Ward and Jeff Matiasevich to race in the gear. The experiment would only last one year, with all three in new gear (in JMB’s case, road racing leathers) for 1993. 

 

Matthes: I never, ever got this idea. Probably, it was way cool for the ego of Mr. Yoshimura to see these dudes in the gear, but distribution wasn’t great and again, I’m just not sure how JMB could be your main guy in ads for America. I do remember thinking that lettering on the back was ahead of its time.

 

Blaze: In 1993, the GSX-1 goggle continued to be a strong seller and one of JT’s best products. At $21.95, it was also a good value, but if you wanted that sweet iridium (or “Prism” as JT called it) lens it was going to cost you a cool $52.95 to get it.  

 

Matthes: As I stated last installment, these goggles were solid. 

 

Blaze: In 1993, JT picked up Larry Ward after the failed RS-Tiachi experiment.  With Ward, Jimmy Button and Ryan Hughes in their stable, JT had a solid mixture of veteran and up-and-coming talent. On the product side, the new Halfbreed 3 gloves turned out to be a pretty darn good. Unlike my self-destructing Concept pants, these actually held together and lasted me more than one season.  

 

Matthes: This was Larry’s fifth year as a pro and he’d already worn five different kinds of gear at this point. That was a cool helmet he had though. I question this ad though…you want to sell gear and you make the photo all blurry and kind of hard to see? 

 

Blaze: In 1993, all the gear manufacturers got together and decided buyers wanted logos that snaked around the leg of the pants.  THOR, O’Neal, JT and AXO (a limited edition 151 pant I saw in ads, but never in the wild) all had versions of this peculiar look. Although I didn’t really care for any of them, I will say the JT version was probably the least egregious.

 

Matthes: No thanks. But I do like the new logo.

 

The V-2000 was still in JT’s stable for 1993 and basically unchanged from a decade earlier. The only significant change from 1983 was the addition of a purple colorway, the “it” hue of early 90s moto. 

 

Matthes: Once THE chest pro to have, the V-2000 had been surpassed at this point by the Roost-2 and many others. It was more restrictive, hotter and not that cool anymore. Poor JT.

 

Blaze: A very young-looking Ryan Hughes modeling JT’s new Concept Limited Edition gear in 1993. 

 

Matthes: Ehhhh, whatever.

 

Blaze: The only thing that really surprised me about the 1993 JT Racing lineup was the fact that the Mouthtrap was still in it. In 1981, this thing was badass, but who the heck was still running one of these in 1993? 

 

Matthes: Right Blaze? I’m as shocked as you are! Pat Barton was JT’s guy at this point, I do remember that. 

 

Blaze: By 1994, Ron Lechien was a few years removed from the pro scene, but he was still relevant enough to appear in some of JT’s ads for their new C4 gear. This one pokes a little fun at the Dogger’s notorious partying by stating he is turning over a new leaf…

 

Matthes: DOGGER!!! He rules man, that is all.

 

Blaze: Only to immediately give hope to party people everywhere by stating he was just kidding.

 

Matthes: Ronnie looks like some sort of Wall Street guy in this ad. Why number 180? The mind boggles at the choices he went through to get to 180. Still got that sweet style though. And what’s up with the dog in the ad?

 

Blaze: Partying aside, the new C4 gear was actually pretty good-looking. I was not really on board with their decision to double-down on the wrap-around leg look, but I did dig the bright color combos. 

 

Matthes: Button wore this gear on the factory Suzuki, I do remember that. 

 

Blaze: One addition to the JT lineup for 1994 was the new David Bailey designed V-Flex chest protector. While probably more advanced, I wanted this odd-looking replacement precisely 110% less than the old V-2000.

 

Matthes: I never, ever saw one of these out in the wild. I disagree with Blaze though, looks good and I would rock this. Looks like David “Style” as going for maximum flexibility here. Tough to put a name and number on the back though.

 

Blaze: One set of early nineties JT gear that did really catch my interest was the limited-edition Blaze gear for 1994. The Blaze (maybe it was the name that got me) jersey and Power pants were super-colorful and featured a cool flame motif I really dug. 

 

Matthes: Shocking, Blaze liked the “Blaze” gear.

 

Blaze: The 1994 Factory Suzukis were some badass-looking machines and Jimmy Button looked good on them in his blue Limited Edition Blaze gear.

 

Matthes: Button got screwed at the end of ’94 when he was riding well and Suzuki dropped the ball on him and he lost his ride late that year. With nothing else available, he was forced to Europe in 1995 and then came back to the USA in ’96 on the mighty PJ1 Yamaha team.

 

Blaze: In 1995, Jimmy Button was off to Europe, so JT took the rather interesting tack of hiring another Frenchman (presumably, because it worked so well last time) to be their top rider. Pro Circuit’s Mickaël Pichon ran the gear (he and Ricky Carmichael being the only two riders in the team’s history ever allowed to eschew the team-issued gear), but appeared in none of the ads. Amazingly, instead of Pichon, JT went with David Pingree’s mechanic Randy Lawrence as their star model. I actually talked to Randy about this, and apparently, JT was taken with his bleached hair and avant-garde look (how did Kenny Watson miss out on this gig?). 

 

Matthes: I do not remember Randy Lawrence in any ads for JT whatsoever. But like Blaze said, Pichon was a bad dude on the PC 125’s. Maybe Payton, who probably couldn’t stand to see Pichon in different gear, made it part of the deal that there would be no ads?

 

Blaze: While Pichon’s absence may have been a bit odd, I doubt it could have done much to improve JT’s fortunes in 1995. Personally, I hated this stuff and there was no way I was picking this over any of the awesome gear AXO, Fox and THOR had available that year. 

 

Matthes: Terrible, just terrible.

 

Blaze: Ok, here is where things really go off the reservation. The new baggy faze was completely lost on me at the time (and still is frankly). The new Slam gear for 1996 tried to capitalize on the free-riding movement that was taking hold and even poked a little fun at itself by including quotes by Roger DeCoster, Bob Hannah and Mitch Payton in the ad. Payton’s quote pretty much summarizes my feelings on the matter – “I hate ‘em, those guys look like clowns.” Amen.

 

Matthes: The baggy gear phase sucked, no doubt about it, but this stuff was the nicest ever made in my opinion. It looked pretty good…c’mon Blazier! THE Timmy Ferry even wore this for one moto at Washougal in 1997! But then he blew his knee out in the first turn almost as if the Moto Gods were punishing him.

 

Blaze: Awful, just awful…

 

Matthes: No thanks, I’ll pass.

 

Blaze: The new Concept gear was way less terrible looking for 1996 and JT actually decided to take a chance and show Pichon in some of their ads. In this particular one, he is joined by the brand’s newest hire, Timmy Ferry. While this stuff was not great, it was way better looking than the goofy UFO gear Ferry was stuck running in 1995. 

 

Matthes: I don’t know man, Ferry looked great in this stuff and to me, he also looked great in the UFO stuff. Timmy told me that UFO paid him up front for the whole year and also shipped him all his gear at the start of the year that he brought with him to the races.

 

Blaze: The gear may not have been great, but it was cool to see two-time 125 National Motocross champion Micky Dymond back in an ad after several years away from the spotlight.

 

Matthes: I remember seeing this and thinking “Micky Dymond??” but yeah, Micky Dymond bro and of course, he’s looking sweet. Oh and so is that #20 guy right there. 

 

Blaze: Good lord this stuff was ugly.

 

Matthes: RL again? Really? 

 

Sweet ride there Randy.

 

Matthes: I’m out of words.

 

Blaze: I don’t know who this goofy dude was, but he certainly did not make me want to buy JT’s new Rave (Rave it up! Maybe if you dropped some Ecstasy, this gear got more attractive) gear in 1997. Seriously, they were just phoning it in at this point. 

 

Matthes: My eyes. This is getting worse and worse as the years roll on. Please stop Blaze…

 

Blaze: Baggy was back for 1998 (ugh), and JT decided to tout being the pioneers of this misbegotten movement in their ads. About the only things good I can say about the ’98 Slam line is that the lady modeling the gear is super cute, and the return to the classic JT logo made the jersey at least half-way tolerable. Pretty much all you need to know about the Slam gear is in the ad copy, which states, and I quote –  “Slam is sweet. Spank it!” 

Yeah, one foot out the door…

 

Matthes: Blaze infatuated with the girl in the ad. “Nice top”…

 

Blaze: For 1999, by far the most difficult part of commenting on JT’s gear was actually finding an ad for it. By this point, the Gregorys had pretty much lost all interest in the motocross side of the brand and pulled nearly all of the advertising. They had no major pro racers in the gear and virtually no presence in any of the major magazines. In fact, this single ad from Racer X Illustrated is the only one I could find after scouring every issue of Dirt Bike, MXA, MX Racer and MX Journal from ’99. As if that was not bad enough, the ad itself is utterly terrible. I have no idea what the copy here is referring to (who is the “who” here and what exactly is happening again?) and you can barely see the gear, which is…wait for it…hanging in a trailer park? I mean, even if you are too busy counting your paintball dollars to give a hoot at this point, this should not seem like a good idea. JT gear, the favorite of trailer parks everywhere! 

 

Matthes: I have no memory of this ad or this gear.

 

Blaze: In the early eighties, JT Racing accounted for a whopping 50% of the motocross market. By the time they finally pulled the plug, they were down to a miniscule 5%. The profitability of paintball, unending liability litigation, and a generous offer from Brass Eagle Inc. made it an easy decision to sell off the brand in April of 2000. A sad end to a one-time motocross empire.

 

Matthes: Turn out the lights, the parties over. What a company and what a ride it must have been. 

 

Blaze: After a decade away from the sport, JT Racing made a triumphant return in 2011. Under new ownership, they launched with some really cool retro gear and a reunion of nearly all the names that made them great. JT, AWESOME again! 

 

Matthes: I thought this stuff was awesome, it looked classy and very smart by the new owners of JT to embrace the traditional look but make it modern. I interviewed one of the OG investors and they were all in. Then some internal politics happened and one of the OG guys left and they regrouped. And they’re still kicking with, in my opinion, some good-looking stuff. 

Next up: Moto Gear History Part V – Fox Racing: Origins to 1989 

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