WHAT’S THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE YOU SEE
BETWEEN THEN AND NOW? In my era, as opposed
to now, there seemed to be much stronger rivalries. At
the same time, a lot of the riders were friendly toward
each other. These day, the racers don’t appear to have
much interaction with one another. In my day, I was
teammates with Rick Johnson, and we practically grew
up together. Marty Smith and I would hang out when we
weren’t racing. To this day, Danny LaPorte and I are still
good friends. However, on the track, we would race hard
against one another. Things seem so different now.
WHO IS THE ONE RACER THAT YOU CLASHED
WITH? The rider that really didn’t seem to care much
for me was Bob Hannah. From the day I signed a contract to be at Yamaha, he was never friendly. I didn’t
expect him to be my best friend, but I also didn’t expect
him to go out of his way to be an enemy. He was never
pleasant, and I’m not sure why. He and I were from different generations. At the time, he was a few years older
than me, so we weren’t on the same wavelength.
WHAT IS THE BEST BIKE YOU EVER RACED?
I can tell you with certainty that the best bikes I never
was able to ride were the factory Hondas in the 1980s!
Looking back on my career, I’m confident in saying that
I never had the best bike on the track. It’s an odd thing
to say, but it’s true. When I won my 500cc National
Championships for Yamaha, there’s no question that
the Honda race bikes were superior. In 1983 and 1985,
I raced a Yamaha YZ490, and somehow I won titles on
that bike. It still seems impossible that I won. The factory
Suzukis in 1983 were better bikes. I recall that my 1978
Yamaha YZ125 was really good, but I don’t think it was
up to par with the Suzuki RM125 that year. It’s safe to
say that I never had an advantage.
CERTAINLY YOU MUST HAVE A LEAST-FAVORITE RACE BIKE? In 1984, Yamaha decided to
race with production motorcycles, but the other brands
were still on works equipment. That was a terrible year!
1986 also wasn’t good in terms of equipment. I also
remember the OW250, which was water-cooled. It
easily weighed over 200 pounds, while the Suzuki RM250
was 176 pounds. The Suzuki mechanics had to bolt a
metal skid plate on it to make it legal. That was the year
that Yamaha had the radiator mounted on the handlebars,
so all of the weight was on the front wheel.
WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST RACING
MEMORIES? Traveling the world and meeting lots of
people was a great takeaway from racing. Motocross has
given me a nice lifestyle. However, my best memories
come from racing the Motocross des Nations and Trophee
des Nations for Team USA. To be on winning teams was
special. I raced for the pride of my country, and the team
By Massimo Zanzani
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BECOME A
CHAMPION? Every racer wants to think that he is
smart, fast and talented, but that’s not the case. I put
more focus on racing motocross rather than Supercross.
For the first three years of my professional career, I
didn’t race Supercross. At the time, my mechanic used
to call it “Stupidcross” [laughter]. I was racing for factory
Yamaha, and their big focus was on selling 125 two-strokes. To them, my specialty was winning 125 National
titles. At a time when I could have been developing my
Supercross skills, I was focusing on the Nationals. That
strategy held me back. I did find success in Supercross
later on in my career; however, my record clearly shows
that I was more proficient in motocross.
“IN MY ERA, A LOT OF THE
RIDERS WERE FRIENDLY TOWARD
EACH OTHER. THESE DAYS, THE
RACERS DON’T APPEAR TO HAVE
MUCH INTERACTION WITH ONE
WHAT WAS YOUR GREATEST STRENGTH AS A
RACER? I would say that I had a smooth riding style,
and I did my best to limit mistakes. Riding smart paid
off when it came down to the championships. I also
practiced and trained hard. All of those things mattered.
There was some natural talent involved, but I had a
combination of a lot of things.
WHAT ABOUT WEAKNESSES? In the early part
of my career, I was a bad sand and mud rider. Later in
my life, I got pretty good at getting through the mud. I
learned to limit mistakes, and though I often wouldn’t
finish first, I could usually end up on the podium.
Growing up in California wasn’t the best for racing in
hot and humid areas, or in mud, but for most of my
career the top riders were living in California. These
days a lot of racers live in Florida, so they’re used to the
WHO WOULD YOU DEEM YOUR TOUGHEST
COMPETITION? I was very fortunate to race with a
lot of tough riders. There were strong battles with many
rivals throughout my career. When I was riding the 125
Nationals early on, I had to go up against Mark Barnett.
He was a multi-time champion. If it had not been for a
broken collarbone when he was practicing a few days
before the last National of the 1981 125 National series,
he would have been the first rider to have a perfect
season. Later on in my years, the chief competitors were
David Bailey, Jeff Ward, Ricky Johnson and Johnny
O’Mara. In my opinion, I raced during a golden era of