Pierre Karsmakers is an iconic name in American Supercross and motocross. The Dutch sensation was among the first Europeans to travel across
the pond and race in the U.S. during the early years
of motocross. He paved the way for future generations
of European racers and was instrumental in showing
Americans how to compete on a world-class level.
These days, Pierre lives in the Netherlands. He spends
time with family, rides trails on a Yamaha YZ250FX, and
occasionally races vintage motorcycles. MXA sat down
to dinner with the very first Supercross Champion
and talked about the life of a man once referred to by
American racers as “The Rabbit.”
didn’t have as hard
of a time in Europe
what the American
riders were trying
to do to me back
in the 1970s.
I quickly learned
that you don’t try
to take money
away from an
WHY DID YOU MOVE TO AMERICA TO
RACE? I was winning races in Europe and National
Championships in Holland. I was number one three
times, almost in a row, and at the end of every year all
of the factory contracts went to the Belgians and the
Swedes. I couldn’t believe that, and I still don’t know
why I was overlooked. I was a technical engineer who
spoke good English and could compete well in motocross.
After realizing that I probably wouldn’t get an offer in
Europe, I looked to America. The Trans-AMA series was
running, so I left home and pursued what I thought could
be a career in America. Things went well almost right
from the very beginning in the U.S. I received two
offers; one came from Yamaha and the other from
THEN WHAT HAPPENED? After I received the
offers, I flew back home to Holland and spoke to my wife
about the opportunities. I was more concerned about
moving to America than I was about picking between
brands, because it was going to be a big deal uprooting
and moving to a new country. My wife thought that I
should take the deal and race in the U.S. for one year.
She was right. I signed with Yamaha and became the
500 National Champion in 1973. It was exciting to be suc-
cessful in America. At the end of that year, I liked how
things were going, so I signed on for another year with
WHY DID YOU SIGN WITH YAMAHA INSTEAD
OF KAWASAKI? I tested the Kawasaki factory bike, but
I didn’t care for it. The people at Yamaha were also a lot
friendlier, and I could tell that they put a lot of effort into
racing. They were very passionate about what they did.
Yamaha made me feel at home way back when I first
raced for them, and to this day they still take care of me.
I’m very grateful for Yamaha.
PEOPLE REMEMBER YOU AS A YAMAHA
RIDER, BUT YOU RACED A HONDA FOR TWO
YEARS. Yes, that’s true. For quite some time Honda had
been asking me if I was interested in racing for them.
Initially, I turned them down, because I was very happy
with Yamaha. In 1974, Honda made me a really good
offer, but I still didn’t want to abandon Yamaha. The
people at Yamaha were so nice to me, and they believed
in my capabilities from the start. I took the written offer
from Honda to the decision makers at Yamaha and
showed them the offer. I asked them to try to come a
little bit closer to what Honda was willing to pay. They
told me that they were struggling with the oil crisis and
that I should sign with Honda. That’s what I did.
EVENTUALLY YOU CAME BACK TO YAMAHA.
WAS THAT THE PLAN ALL ALONG? In a way, yes,
but I did my very best while with Honda. The thing with
Honda is that they really made me work very hard. I was
flying back and forth to Japan in order to test, and I was
so exhausted. I never had time to recuperate from the
traveling. Yamaha brought me back once my deal with
Honda was up after the 1976 season. I signed a three-year contract. At the end of that contract I was 34 years
old. It was my seventh year in America, and I felt that it
was time to stop racing. The younger guys were coming
up, and I was riding over the hill [laughter].
WAS IT DIFFICULT TO LEAVE THE SPORT? I
had informed Yamaha that 1979 would be my last season, and they offered me the team manager position for
motocross, the International Six Days team and also the
road racing team. It was a five-year deal, and the money
was very appealing. I should note that in the last couple
of years that I raced in America, my wife had moved
back to Europe. Every time I ventured home to Holland,
I discovered that my kids were growing up quickly. In
fact, one time I flew back from Japan to surprise my
family. I arrived home and walked into the living room to
see my children. They glanced up briefly and went back
to playing. At that moment, I realized that I was doing
something wrong and that my priorities weren’t where
they should be. I decided to decline the five-year contract
with Yamaha, because otherwise I would have lost my
WHAT WAS YOUR PROUDEST
ACCOMPLISHMENT IN RACING? There are several
events that stand out. Becoming the very first Supercross
Champion in 1974, winning the 1973 AMA 500cc title,
and winning the Grand Prix of Canada are special.
Also, I taught motocross schools in the beginning years
of my time in America. Those were very rewarding
experiences. The young American riders were very
interested in becoming better motocross riders.