MX Captured #50 1990 125 National Title Chase
By:
Tony Blazier

For this edition of MX captured, we are going to look back at the amazing 1990 125 National season. 

In 1990, Mike Kiedrowski was the reigning 125 National Motocross champion, but to many, he was not even the top 125 racer on his team. Photo Credit: Paul Buckley

 In the history of our sport, few motocross seasons have been as thrilling, competitive and controversial as the 1990 125 campaign. It was a season full of ups and downs, high drama and team tactics. A season highlighted by crashes, comebacks and a nail-biter of an ending. Interloping GP stars, up-and-coming young talent and grizzled veterans, the 1990 125 season had it all. 

 Some of the excitement of the 1990 125 season was certainly due to the caliber of talent that lined up to do battle that summer. In 1990, many of the normal 250 class (then the premier division) competitors actually stepped down to the 125 class for the Summer Series™. Of these stars, probably the highest profile was Factory Honda’s fast Frenchman, Jean-Michel Bayle. In 1990, Bayle was coming off back-to-back World Motocross titles and was considered one of the greatest threats to America’s unprecedented run of motocross domination. He was blazing fast, smooth as glass, and a bit of an unknown quantity. 

The year before, Bayle had shown up at Gainesville on a Pro Circuit-backed Honda CR250R and shocked the industry by waxing the Americans. Then, he backed it up (after securing the 1989 250 World MX title) with a season-ending win at Unadilla in the 500 class. There was no doubt he had the speed, but the question was, “how quickly could he adapt to the crazy aggressiveness of the American 125 class?” There, smoothness often plays second fiddle to bump-and-run tactics and the Frenchman would certainly have a target on his back. 

 Joining Bayle in the Honda pits would be the reigning 125 National champion, Mike Kiedrowski. In ’89, Kiedrowski had come out of relative obscurity to outduel the sport’s hottest rookie, Damon Bradshaw for the 125 title in a season-long duel that saw the combats take it down to the final moto of the year. For 1990, Bradshaw would be moving up to the 250 class, leaving Mike to fight it out with a new set of combatants in his bid for back-to-back 125 titles. 

Chief among these challengers would be Factory Suzuki’s Guy Cooper. Twenty-eight years old at the start of the season, Cooper was a veteran of many seasons of 125 warfare and a favorite to challenge the Honda duo for the title. In 1989, Cooper had been a member of the powerful Honda squad, but budgetary changes necessitated by the salary of the newly imported Bayle left Cooper (and fellow support rider Larry Ward) looking for a ride for ‘90. Landing at Suzuki, Cooper looked to get some measure of revenge against his former employer and finally capture the title that had eluded him the previous six seasons.  

At round one in Gainesville, the defending champ came out swinging with a win over his teammate Bayle. Kiedrowski and Bayle split moto wins on the day, but the MX Kied got the overall win based on his better second moto finish. In third overall, was Kawasaki’s top contender, Jeff Matiasevich. Another rider stepping down from the 250 Supercross division, Matiasevich had led the Supercross series late into the title chase and figured to be a factor all summer on Kawasaki’s radical new KX125. In forth, was Factory Suzuki’s Guy Cooper. In the first moto, Guy got caught up in a first turn crash and had to charge all the way back from thirty-seventh to capture forth at the finish. Then in the second moto, Cooper was at the front chasing after Kiedrowski, when a run-in with a lapper caused him to throw his bike away off a double to prevent landing on the back marker. After remounting his twisted RM, Cooper charged back to capture another forth at the finish. 

 At round two in Rancho Cordova, CA, Cooper came roaring back with a second moto win and overall victory over Bayle and local hero Tallon Vohland. In moto one, Bayle rocketed out to a holeshot and never looked back as Cooper and Vohland fought over second. Cooper would win the battle, with Vohland in third and his championship rival Kiedrowski all the way back in nineteenth after a crash. 

 In the second moto, it was Cooper’s turn to grab the holeshot and Bayle’s turn to come through the pack. Eleventh at the end of the first lap, the two-time World champ made quick work of the other riders on his way to the front. By the midway point, Bayle was into second and challenging for the lead. At one point, the Frenchman passed into the lead, but Cooper quickly squared him up and outraced him into the next turn. A lap later, JMB made a small mistake over a jump and allowed Cooper to open up a lead he would hold to the finish.  At the end of the second moto, it would be Cooper with the victory, followed by Bayle and Kiedrowski in third. After two rounds, it was Bayle out front, with ninety-four points to Cooper’s eighty-three.  In third was Kiedrowski, twenty-five points off the lead after his fall in the first Hangtown moto. 

At round three in Virginia, the two stars once again traded moto wins, this time with Bayle taking the overall win. Maybe more surprising than the two points leaders at the front, was the man who took third in the first moto, visiting GP star (and later, GNCC legend) Rodney Smith. At the checkers, it was Cooper, followed by Bayle and Smith in third.

 In the second moto, it was Matiasevich with the holeshot, trailed by Cooper and Erik Kehoe. By the midway point, Cooper had passed his way into the lead and was being pressured by a charging Mike Kiedrowski. Kiedrowski quickly moved past Cooper to put the number one Honda into the lead for the first time since round one. Unfortunately for the MX Kied, that lead would be short lived as a lap later he would wash out his front end, handing the lead back to Cooper. At that point, Cooper looked to have the win in the bag, but Honda’s other ace had different plans in mind. Coming back from a slow start and a run-in with Suzuki’s Denny Stephenson, JMB ran down Cooper late in the moto to take the win and with it, the overall victory.  

At Round four, the Frenchman surged ahead in the standings with a dominating double-moto sweep at High Point. Using his European mud-riding skills to the fullest, the smooth Frenchman put on a clinic on his Cliff White-tuned CR125R. While Bayle soared, Cooper and Kiedrowski both struggled on the sloppy High Point track, giving up valuable points with fourth and fifth place overall finishes. Leaving Pennsylvania, Bayle led Cooper by twenty-seven points and Kiedrowski by a full two motos at fifty.

In 1990, Jean-Michel Bayle came to America with two World Motocross titles and talent to burn. Thought of by many as the odds-on favorite to win the title, a crash mid-season would derail his championship ambitions.  Photo Credit: Paul Buckley

As the series neared the halfway point, it was shaping up to be a two-rider battle for the 1990 125 National Championship. After the struggles of High Point, Cooper went on a tear, winning the Red Bud and Southwick rounds to narrow Bayle’s championship points lead.  At Troy, Bayle bounced back to take the overall and gain back a few points on Cooper. Out of the first seven rounds, Cooper and Bayle had split victories at three a piece, with Kiedrowski scoring his lone victory at round one. Even with the tie in overall wins, Bayle continued to hold the championship points lead based on his superior consistency. With seven rounds down and six to go, Bayle held a fourteen-point cushion over Cooper and a substantial fifty-two point gap over Kiedrowski. 

As the 125 title chase entered the home stretch, the complexion of the ‘90 championship changed with the addition of several new combatants. In 1990, the 125 championship consisted of thirteen rounds, while the 250 and 500 class were divided into shorter series with seven and six rounds respectively. With Suzuki no longer making a 500 and Yamaha still selling one from 1982, both teams chose to drop down to the 125 division once the 500 series commenced. That meant regular 250 riders Damon Bradshaw, Doug Dubach, Mike LaRocco and Larry Ward would be making the step down at round eight in Washougal. With LaRocco and Ward now riding in support of Cooper, and ’89 125 runner-up Bradshaw joining the chase, things looked to really heat up in the Pacific Northwest. 

At Washougal, that is exactly what happened, but not in the way anyone expected. In the first moto, Jean-Michel Bayle got off to a second-place start right behind Suzuki-mounted Denny Stephenson, while Cooper was mired back in the pack. By the end of the first lap, Bayle was in the lead and pulling away. By lap four, Bayle had pulled out a four second lead on Larry Ward, who had moved past Stephenson into second and was being hotly pursued by Mike Kiedrowski. Cooper, still fighting his way through the pack, had moved all the way up to ninth by the end of the fourth circuit. 

As Bayle pulled away, Kiedrowski miscalculated a step-up jump and cartwheeled over the bars and into a fence. This left Ward alone in second to chase after the World champ. On lap six, Bayle still held a seven-second lead on Ward, with Cooper still charging and up to sixth. Near the end of the seventh lap, however, the 1990 125 title chase took a sudden and unexpected turn. Coming into a small section of jumps, Bayle tried to stretch a double into a triple and nose-dived into the face of the third jump. Trying to save it until the last second, Bayle held on and only let go a fraction of a second before impact. As he flew over the motorcycle, his legs clipped the bars and sent him into an end-over-end cartwheel. The resulting impact left the Frenchman with a broken arm and no shot at the 1990 125 National Motocross title.  

This left Ward out front, with LaRocco in second and a hard charging Cooper moving up to third. On the last lap, both Ward and LaRocco slowed suddenly, allowing Cooper to pass into the lead. While both claimed to have been “tired”, it was pretty obvious they had allowed their teammate to move into the lead to capture the maximum points in the moto. At this point, no one knew the extent of JMB’s injury and as it would turn out, every precious point was valuable.

 In the second moto, it was LaRocco’s turn to lead and then surrender the victory. Moving into the lead on lap four, after a brief fight with his teammate, Buddy Antunez, LaRocco set flight out front, building up an apparently insurmountable lead. Cooper, once again the victim of slow start after a first turn collision with Kiedrowski, was on another charge to the front. Methodically picking off riders, he had moved all the way back to second by the two-lap board, but appeared to be too far back to have any legitimate shot at the win. On the last lap, however, LaRocco suddenly slowed to a crawl (later claiming rear brake issues…wink, wink) allowing Cooper to motor by for the win. After his controversial double-moto victory and Bayle’s zero-points day, Cooper claimed the lead in a 125cc National title chase for the first time in his career. Leaving Washougal, he held a thirty-six-point gap over Bayle, with Kiedrowski all the way back in third, a full sixty-one points off the lead. 

With Bayle now out of contention, one of the interesting side effects of his exit from the title chase was the additional support given to Mike Kiedrowski. Even though Kiedrowski was the reining 125 champion, there could be no doubt who was the real favorite at Team Honda. Management had paid a lot to bring over Bayle from Europe and he was the darling of the highly influential Roger DeCoster. After Bayle’s exit, Kiedrowski was the beneficiary of all the best parts, including Bayle’s blazing-fast Cliff White-tuned CR125R motor. Given better support, Mike would turn around his season and transform what could have been a real snoozer, into one of the most exciting 125 championship fights of all time.  

At round nine in Millville, Minnesota, the 125 combatants were greeted with lots of rain and sloppy track conditions. Rains throughout the morning left the track a sandy quagmire and opened the door for some surprising results. Chief among those was probably the performance of local Minnesota hero Donny Schmit, who was returning to America to race for the first time since wrapping up the 125 World Motocross title only two weeks before. In the first moto, Schmit showed the speed that had propelled him to the World Title and proceeded to smoke the field on his Suzuki RM125. In the second moto, Schmit once again led the way, holding the point until the halfway mark, when LaRocco powered by to take the lead. At the checkers, it was LaRocco with the moto win and his first 125 National overall victory. Rounding out the overall podium were the expat Schmit in second and Mike Kiedrowski in third.

While LaRocco, Schmit and Kiedrowski were out front, the points leader was having one of those days you would rather forget. Bad starts and crashes in both motos added up to an absolutely miserable day for Cooper. A ninth overall with 10-11 moto scores was the best he could manage in the Minnesota sand. The result of this disastrous performance was a nineteen-point chunk taken out of his points lead. With four rounds to go, Cooper now led Kiedrowski by forty-two points and a sidelined Jean-Michel Bayle by fifty-seven.

At round ten in New York, things went from bad to worse for the Suzuki camp, as Cooper once again struggled, while Kiedrowski caught fire. Piloting his newly upgraded CR125R, the MX Kied was the class of the field at Broome-Tioga. Kiedrowski charged from the back of the pack in both motos to claim victory on the rocky New York track. 

While the reigning champ was returning to form, the would-be champ was struggling through another miserable day. From the first practice of the day, Cooper was off and even though he and Kiedrowski suffered similarly awful starts, the number four Suzuki was not able to make his way through the pack. Bad starts, poor riding and another day of crashes left the points leader back in eighth overall with 6-9 moto scores. With Kiedrowski maximizing his points total with a 1-1, this meant another twenty-three points taken out of Cooper’s points lead. With four terrible motos in a row, Cooper had managed to dwindle his championship lead down from an overwhelming sixty-one points, to a now-within-reach nineteen. 

At round eleven in Delmont, the setbacks for the series points leader just kept on coming. In the first moto, an errant rock punched a hole in Cooper’s cases, resulting in a DNF and zero points for the moto. While Cooper’s day once again went south, Kiedrowski continued to pour it on, taking the first moto victory and gaining another twenty-five points in the championship chase. With his first moto victory, Kiedrowski gained back the points lead for the first time since sharing the number one position with Jean-Michel Bayle at round one. 

In the second moto, Cooper finally staunched the bleeding by taking his first moto victory in over a month. This win, combined with Kiedrowski’s third in the second moto helped Cooper claw back a few valuable points toward the championship. Even with the second moto win, however, Cooper still trailed Kiedrowski in the 125 championship standings by one point going into the final two rounds of the series. 

 With Budds Creek and Unadilla to go, a title chase that looked to be a foregone conlusion month before was down to the absolute slimmest of margins.  Tensions were high in both camps, and adding to the drama was the return of the rider that had been the odds-on favorite for the title before his crash at round eight. Fully healed from his Washougal dismount, Jean-Michel Bayle was brought to Maryland by Team Honda to ride in support of Kiedrowski and hopefully, take some precious points away from Cooper.

 Unfortunately for Kiedrowski, however, this plan went awry before it even got started. Apparently, no one at Honda actually consulted Bayle on this bit of team tactics and the enigmatic Frenchman was less than pleased to hear he would need to pull over for Kiedrowski. When Dave Arnold informed Bayle he could ride in support of Kiedrowski or not ride at all, he chose the latter and headed back to the Walforf Marriot. 

While there is no way to know if Bayle’s presence would have changed the outcome of the title fight, there can be little doubt that Kiedrowski could have used some help against the sea of yellow machines arrayed against him. Suzuki had no less than seven factory-backed riders in the 125 class and one more fast Honda guy to get between him and yellow onslaught could have made a big difference in such a tight championship battle. 

 At Budds, Mike could have certainly used that support, as the two title rivals once again split moto wins. This time, however, Cooper avoided the disasters of the three previous rounds and carded a 1-2 to Kiedrowski’s 2-1.  This meant the two tied on points for the day and headed to the series finale in New Berlin, NY with Kiedrowski still on top by a single point. 

By 1990, Guy Cooper had spent seven years in search of 125 championship. A victim of budget cuts by Team Honda at the end of the ’89 season (made in order to pay the salary of the newly signed Jean-Michel Bayle), Cooper switched to Team Suzuki for 1990 and delivered the brand its first major title in eight years. Photo Credit: Paul Buckley 

 

To say the pressure was on at Unadilla would be a massive understatement. At twenty-eight years of age, Cooper was looking to take home his first National title after seven years on the circuit. If he won, he would become the oldest rider ever to win the 125 title and the first Suzuki pilot to do it since Mark Barnett in 1982.  For Kiedrowski, he was looking to both prove his ’89 title was no fluke and perhaps, send a message to the powers-that-be at Honda who had favored Bayle over him earlier in the season. With only two motos to go and in a virtual tie for the championship, it was time to put it all on the line in the rolling hills of New York. 

In the first moto, it was Cooper who rocketed to the front on his Marshall Plumb-tuned RM125, with Kiedrowski buried back in fifteenth. Rounding  the first turn in third behind privateer Steve Childress and his Suzuki teammate Jeromy Buehl, Cooper made two quick passes to take the lead by the end of the first lap. As Kiedrowski moved through the pack, Cooper set sail out front and opened up an eleven second lead by the third lap. 

By the halfway point, Kiedrowski was into fourth, ten seconds behind Buehl in third and thirty-two back of Cooper in the lead. Just past the halfway point, Cooper nearly saw his championship dreams dashed when he swapped out up the face of a jump and was thrown off his Suzuki. The tumble cost him ten seconds, but he still managed to hold on to the lead ahead of his teammate LaRocco in second. Buehl was still in third and coming under heavy pressure from Kiedrowski. For several laps, Buehl did everything he could to block the champ and prevent him from capturing any more valuable points. 

Eventually, however, Buehl bobbled, allowing Kiedrowski to make the pass into third, but by that point, LaRocco and Cooper were out of reach. At the checkers, it was Cooper with the win, followed by LaRocco and Kiedrowski. This gave Cooper a slim four-point gap going into the final and deciding moto of the year.

In the second moto, it was Kiedrowski’s turn to nail the start and Cooper’s turn struggle in the pack. As the number one Honda checked out up front, the number four Suzuki nearly threw it all away with several close calls in the opening laps. Riding ragged and tight, Cooper took several laps to loosen up and start moving forward. After a few laps, he settled down and started his charge to the front. Coming from tenth, he chased down teammates Tichenor, Buehl and Stephenson, who all gave the number four a wide birth as he passed. With only three laps to go, Cooper had made his way all the way back to third, with his teammate LaRocco the only thing standing between him and his first 125 National title. As the two-lap board came out, Cooper passed LaRocco, taking second and collecting the points he would need to become the 1990 125 champion. 

 At the finish, it was Kiedrowski with the win, followed by Cooper in second and LaRocco in third. With his second-place finish, Cooper captured the overall and took the championship by a single point over Mike Kiedrowski. After spotting Cooper sixty-one points with five rounds to go, Mike came all the way back to take the points lead, only to lose it again at the very end. It was a thrilling end to one of the craziest title fights in the sport’s history.

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Comments

Well done

Excellent article Tony. I'm sure it took a while to write this up, but I really enjoyed the read.

1990 was a great year all the way around. It was one of my favorite years of 250 SX, and Atlanta was my favorite race ever. Obviously, this was a great championship as well, with all the team tactics, Bayle's injury, and a 1 point victory for a long-time underdog.

My first National was Millville '91, and I remember watching Cooper in the sand whoops the first lap with the #1 plate, and custom painted helmet. I was in awe at seeing him and the Peak team that first practice. I'll never forget it.