The title says it all in this piece... almost famous. While
every man woman or child who has slung a leg over a dirt bike and entered
a race dreams of stardom, there are only a select minority who reach the
pinnacle of their desires. Motocross, being the elusive sport that is,
has urged many a Pro rider on towards their vision-quest only to slam the
door shut in their faces. Some recover and carry on bravely, sailing into
destiny while others simply fade away like old soldiers do.
Great American hero, "Bad Brad" Lackey raced the 500cc Grand Prix circuit
for a decade and each time he came within smelling distance of winning
the title something always seemed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Brad raced against -and was one of- the most fearsome riders of his generation:
DeCoster, Mikkola, Carlquist, Noyce, Malherbe, and a protege of the legendary
250cc GP rider Joel Robert, Andre Vromans. With the exception of Vromans,
all of the others were multi-time World Champions. More on Vromans later.
While Lackey was the lone American running down a dream, he wasn't getting
any younger and this no doubt led him to sign on to race the super-light,
ultra-trick Kawasaki KX500SR. It was Kawasaki's finest effort at GP racing
machinery but it was an unproven product. Lackey spent two years refining
the bikes but missed being the championship both times because the bike
broke at the most inopportune times to hand the titles to Belgium's Andre
Malherbe. The gods smiled on Lackey when he was signed to race for the
seasoned Suzuki team on the RN500, a bike with much Grand Prix lineage.
The earlier RN400s had carried none other than Roger DeCoster to his championships
in previous years. The only trouble was Suzuki also hired the man who would
be Lackey’s nemesis for the entire year.
Remember the protégé from previous paragraphs? Yeah, that
guy, the big Belgian, Andre Vromans had come into his own that prior season
and was a deserved member of such a prestigious team. Vromans matched Lackey
moto for moto. If Brad won race one, Vromans would win race two and back
and forth it went. The two warriors were so evenly matched they were nearly
tied on points going into the last race in Luxemburg. Moto one started
with a Vromans holeshot and race win with Lackey fighting to make up for
a mediocre start to a second place finish. The pressure was on both men
and whoever won the final moto was going to win their first world championship.
The two teammates lined up apart from each other and this would prove
to be Vromans' undoing. Vromans, a rabbit of a starter, flew out of the
gate ahead of the pack but was so focused on only beating Lackey, he turned
left at the top of the huge starting hill... Lackey and the rest of the
astonished GP pack veered right, the correct direction. By the time Vromans
realized his mistake, the pack was gone. To his credit, Vromans was the
fastest man on the track as he fought desperately to salvage any points
he could but it was too late. Lackey didn’t crack under the enormous pressure
and went on to win his and America's first World Motocross Championship.
Andre Vromans is sadly not remembered as one of the fastest motocross racers
of his generation, he is remembered as the guy who went the wrong way and
lost a kingdom in the process. Lackey remains an icon in American motocross
while the venerable Vromans is now... almost famous.
The mid-eighties in the 125 GP class bore the Renaissance of Italian
motocross. Cottage factories like Beta, Gilera, and Ancilotti were regularly
leading GP races with Italian and non-Italian riders aboard. When the Castiglione
brothers entered the fray with their superbly engineered 125cc works racer
history was in the making. They hired the super fast Italian Corrado Maddii
to pilot the bike. In only their first season on the GP circuit, they found
themselves leading the championship over another Italian, the much-favored
Michele Rinaldi. Rinaldi was the smooth tactician with Maddii the wild
man who gave it his all all of the time.
Their intercontinental ballistic rivalry led them to the forefront of
the Grand Prix circuit in 1984 and at the final round, Cagiva rider Maddii
had a slim but safe points lead. Maddii also set fast time in practice,
demolishing Rinaldi's initial practice time. When Rinaldi responded by
going out and besting Maddii's time, the ever-proud Italian went back again
and shattered not only Rinaldi's record but set a track record in the process.
After his record-breaking laps he cruised towards the pits, satisfied that
no one was going to top his time. On the sidelines and cruising toward
his destiny of becoming Italy's first World Motocross Champion, he inexplicably
veered back onto the track... directly into the path of oncoming
GP newcomer Michele Fanton in the middle of his qualifying fast lap.
The resulting crash was heard 'round the world as both riders went flying
to the dirt. Maddii's bike and lower leg were broken in the process thus
ending any chance of him becoming Italy's first world champion. All he
had to do was basically finish the event and he would've been crowned champion.
Instead, Rinaldi won the crown, Italy's undying love, and more fame and
fortune than the man who in many people's eyes was the fastest 125 rider
in the world that fateful day. There was a famous photograph that
ran in Motocross Action magazine showing Maddii being carried away on a
stretcher. The look on his face spoke volumes about what had been lost
in that instant of a moment. Rinaldi's win also put him in the good graces
of Sylvain Geboers. More on Geboers later. After retiring, Rinaldi himself
went on to manage both the Suzuki team and now the Yamaha-Rinaldi team
that bears his name. Maddii also manages GP motocross teams but no doubt
wonders what might have been. Corrado Maddi, a hero in my mind but... almost
Team Cagiva also suffered the same fate as Maddii, they would have been
the first Italian company to win an MX world title in 1984 and the first
manufacture to win a world title in their freshman year. Fate, a great
bike and smart hiring gave them the next two 125cc World Championship titles
under the throttle hands of Dutchman Davey Strijbos, and Finn Pekka Vehkonen.
The sentimental Castiglione brothers also saved the dying road bike company
Ducati and Swedish off-road icon, Husqvarna. The Husqvarnas you see today
are the descendants of the Cagiva motocross bikes that won those world
titles and numerous GP races under the riders mentioned as well as the
blazing British rider Jem Whatley and Dutchman Gert-Jan van Doorn.
Back to Sylvain Geboers... before he became the team Suzuki GP manager,
he was a formidable world class 250cc racer as well. His primary problem
was the birth of another Belgian, Joel Robert. Until Stefan Everts' recent
string of championships, Robert held the record of six world championships.
That record held fast for thirty years. Had Robert never been born, Geboers
would've been a four time world champion... this was how many times he
finished second to Robert. When Geboers raced for the potent CZ factory,
Robert signed on and won them three titles. When Geboers split to join
the fledgling Suzuki team and race their famed 187 lb. works RH250, Robert
signed on too and won three more titles. Robert seemed to have a personal
vendetta against Geboers.
Belgians never quit and the Geboers family definitely never quits. Post
racing career, Sylvain turned his attentions to training his younger brother
Eric... you remember him? He was the first man to win a world championship
in all three classes of GP motocross - 125cc, 250cc, and 500cc. Sylvain's
years on the GP circuit were really the training for his real destiny,
grooming future champions. George Jobe, then the youngest ever rider to
win a 250cc championship, was a protégé of Sylvain. Stefan
Everts and Greg Albertijn were also groomed on the Suzuki team by Geboers.
Sylvain Geboers became almost famous, then very famous.
All of the conjecturing and second guessing is purely academic and a
moot point. What is, is and what happens, happens. If that is the
case then James Stewart was meant to be the fastest Black motocrosser on
the planet. Just for a moment, imagine that blazing fast Tony Haines, the
original number 259, didn't go riding on that fateful day when he suffered
paralyzing injuries. Would it be his face plastered on giant billboards
hawking Oakley glasses? Would he be the media darling looking back at us
from all magazine covers? The lines between victory and defeat, glory and
anonymity, winning and losing, and even life and death are sometimes very
slim indeed. Motocross is a game when all is said and done... a sport.
It is a magnificent sport however and the boundaries and obstacles one
must overcome are numerous at every level.
There is always some faster, smoother, braver, stronger, or more talented...
even when you win. There are many, many pieces to the motocross puzzle
and most of us amateurs hope to simply put a few of these pieces together
on any Sunday in a race. For when we do, there is a magic that cannot
be described to one who has not been there and known the feelings first
hand. Motocross was and is never about only the winning of an event or
a championship; it has always been about the reaching, the striving, and
clawing to get to the next level... your own very personal next level.
Some days the pieces of the puzzle lock in automatically and other days
it seems like the gods conspire against you.
It is the indomitable spirit within YOU, my friends and fellow
'crossers, that makes our sport so special. We always keep trying, reaching,
and striving to attain our spiritual nirvana. Whether it be qualifying
for your home country's Grand Prix or winning the local 40+ B class, the
feelings are always the same. I'd bet if you asked Mr. Geboers, Mr. Vromans,
Mr. Maddii, and Messrs. Malherbe, DiStefano, Chandler, Bailey, Haines,
Beirer, Leok, and Fonseca if they would do it all over again, I surmise
they would all say 'yes!' For all the sacrifices I've made for motocross,
the broken bones and shattered spirits, the money spent and family time
lost, I too would do it all over again. To quote a fellow fellow District
34 racer/journalist friend and of mine, Chris van Blarcom... "It
is better to be a racer for a moment… than a spectator for life."
Article by Michael James