Yamaha was the manufacturer that lobbied for the rule
change at the AMA Advisory Board late in 1996, and it
was assumed that Yamaha would be the first of the Big
Five to build a works four-stroke and race it.
But, Yamaha wasn’t first. While Doug Henry waited
for the prototype YZ400 four-stroke to be finished, KTM’s
Lance Smail was the darling of the Supercross crowds on
his Tom Moen-built KTM 540SX works four-stroke.
History is a little confused on the issue, but Lance
Smail was the first four-stroke rider to make the main
event of a modern Supercross when he qualified third out
of the semi at the March 8, 1997, Daytona Supercross.
Henry would not ride the Yamaha four-stroke until the
final round of the 1997 Supercross series in Las Vegas.
Although Smail was the first four-stroke rider to qualify
for a Supercross main, Doug Henry overshadowed that
by becoming the first four-stroke rider to win an AMA
Supercross on May 17th of the same year.
So, for the record, KTM was first to take advantage of
the four-stroke exemption rule with Lance Smail. Yamaha
was second with Doug Henry. It wasn’t until 2001 that
Ryan Hughes raced the works Honda CRF450, and it was
2005 before Sebastien Tortelli raced the Suzuki RM-Z450.
(Suzuki applied for its one-year prototype exemption prior
to the 2005 RM-Z450 production models being available,
and the rule does not require the manufacturer to stop
racing the exempted bike when the production model
goes on sale.) Kawasaki and Husqvarna have never
used their exemptions.
THE PURSUIT OF HISTORICAL ACCURACY
In pursuit of historical accuracy, MXA tracked down
the first-ever four-stroke exemption bike. It has been
ensconced away for the last 17 years by its builder, KTM’s
Tom Moen. We broke it out into the open and sat down
The four-stroke exemption rule was allowed
to pass because no one thought that a four-stroke could be competitive against a two-stroke. KTM was the first manufacturer to take
up the challenge. Now we need a two-stroke
Tom Moen pushes Lance Smail’s KTM through tech
inspection at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1997.
Lance stands behind the bike.