to see dealers, but I also used it to
go racing. I had a little trailer that
I would attach to the tailgate, and
one time I loaded the trailer so much
that it made the front of the car lift
up off the ground [laughter].
BACK IN THOSE DAYS, THE
500 SERIES WAS THE PREMIER
CLASS. HOW DID YOU ADAPT
TO THE BIG BIKE? The 500 class
was where I wanted to be, so I
learned how to ride the big bike. In
Belgium there were a lot of international races, and the 500 class
attracted more spectators and racers.
I got a little bit of help from CZ and
finished fifth in the championship
my first year. I actually finished fifth
overall three years in a row. When
Joel Robert left CZ to go to Suzuki,
CZ asked me to ride the 250 class.
They promised me that they would
give me more support. In 1970, I
finished third in the 250 championship. My bike was so much heavier
than the Suzuki at the time. I would
say that it was a 20-kilogram (44-
ISN’T THAT AROUND THE
TIME SUZUKI CAME CALLING?
Yes. At the end of that year, Suzuki
came to me and asked if I would be
interested in riding the 500 class for
them. Many people at that time were
saying that the Japanese companies
couldn’t be successful in the 500
class because people thought that a
manufacturer like Suzuki didn’t know
how to make a good 500cc bike. I
decided to go with Suzuki anyway.
I won the first 500 GP of the year,
which also was the first 500 GP race
for a Japanese manufacturer. I went
on to win the championship that
year, and I did it two more times.
The fourth year Heikki Mikola beat
me. I was leading the points until
the last race, in Luxembourg, when
the connecting rod in the engine
broke. I had a 15-second lead, and
there were 10 minutes left in the
race. If I had won there, then I
would have won six titles in a row.
That’s how it goes, though.
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST
SUZUKI AND THE EUROPEAN
BRANDS BACK IN THOSE
DAYS? Quite a few people recall
how I broke the frame on my Suzuki,
but I also did it on a CZ. At that
time, it wasn’t uncommon to break
the wheel, hub, frame or forks if
you over-jumped something. When
that would happen, the European
manufacturers would always blame
it on the rider. I remember that CZ
told me that I was stupid for riding
that way. When Suzuki came along,
if something broke, then they would
send the part back to Japan to figure
out what went wrong. They would
always take pictures of the parts.
They were very open to criticism,
while the European companies would
simply blame the riders.
HOW DID YOU LEARN TO
TRAIN FOR MOTOCROSS? In
Belgium there was a soccer player
who was the best in the country. His
name was Paul Van Himst, and he
played center forward for the best
team in Brussels. I became friends
with him because his father liked
motocross. When he didn’t have a
soccer game on Sunday, he would
come to the races with his father. I
had a small injury one time, and he
invited me to see his team trainer.
I wanted to compete with Paul at
running, and before too long we
were running together. He was also
friends with cyclist Eddy Merckx,
and the three of us became really
good friends. Those guys would
teach me about training and eating
healthy. That’s how I learned. We all
wanted to be the best at what we
did. People would call us the “Three
Musketeers.” I’m still friends with
WHAT WAS THE BEST BIKE
YOU EVER RACED? My 1972
Suzuki 500 was the best bike at the
time. It didn’t break, and going into
that season, Suzuki made some of
the changes that I had asked for on
the bike. When I was at CZ, I would
ask for changes, but nothing would
ever happen. At Suzuki, I asked
if they could turn the four-speed
transmission into a five-speed. That
made a huge difference. They got
the carburetor running really clean.
The bike was awesome. I was also
the strongest that I had ever been. It
was a good combination. I could give
the competition a head start and I
was not worried, because I knew
that I could easily pass anyone.
WHAT ABOUT THE WORST
BIKE? Hands down it was my 1978
Suzuki 500. The bike was terrible. It
got so tall. Every year Suzuki would
add more travel to the suspension,
and the balance was completely off.
That year they also changed some
of the people at the race team. The
head engineer, Mr. Yokouchi, was
moved to another department. The
bike got really difficult to ride. It was
almost impossible to ride on a sand
track because it was very tall.
TALK ABOUT HOW YOUR
RELATIONSHIP WITH SUZUKI
SOURED THE FIRST TIME. My
racing career spanned 14 years.
The worst result over that time was
sixth overall. After 1978, Suzuki
was thinking that I was getting old
and that they needed young riders.
Unfortunately, they weren’t thinking
about fixing the bike. I knew that I
could still win. Yamaha and Honda
started to put in a big effort to sign
me; however, I felt so loyal to Suzuki.
They gave me the first chance at racing good bikes, and I won five World
Championships with them. I thought
that I would be with Suzuki for the
remainder of my career. The support
I got from Suzuki became less and
less, and when they turned toward
hiring younger riders, the younger
guys couldn’t beat me! In 1979, the