From the Wide World of Sports helicopter, it looked more like a Pink Floyd concert than a motocross race. But this was the motocross race: the Bel-Ray United States 500cc Grand Prix. After nine European victors in as many years, a sea of tiny American flags said those 30,000 fans down below were ready for a homegrown winner. So was the biggest audience ever to watch a motorcycle race on television-before or since. As far as they were concerned, an American was going to win. The only question was: Which one?
Brad Lackey was just a few points behind André Malherbe in the 1980 world championship chase-he could do it. So could Danny LaPorte or Rex Staten or Marty Smith. Roger DeCoster, a.k.a. "The Man," was hanging it up after five 500cc Motocross World Championships-maybe that was an omen? Some said the Belgian was cursed because he'd never come to terms with the sun-baked adobe that made Carlsbad a little slice of hell for Europeans accustomed to the idyllic, loamy circuits back home.
Few Americans and fewer Europeans knew the genial 25-year-old privateer riding the stock-looking #23 LOP Yamaha YZ465. That was about to change. Marty Moates lived right down the road in Santee, California, and knew every rut, rock and berm on a track where such intimate knowledge was everything. A few hours later, everybody knew Marty Moates.
He kept things interesting with a fall in the first moto that let LaPorte sneak briefly into the lead. Lackey provided a potential plot twist by leading part of the second. Otherwise, the 10th USGP was all Moates. Sadly, that first GP win would be his last. After an otherwise un-remarkable racing career, he went on to found the No Fear clothing company, then inexplicably took his own life in December of 2006.
While most Americans were discovering a thing called MTV, American motocross was just getting warmed up. After finishing second in '78 and '80, Lackey took the 500cc World Championship in '82. LaPorte took the 250cc title that same year. Beginning in '81, the American team won 13 straight Motocross des Nations titles. And all of that traces back to that smiling face from Santee on the privateer Yamaha.
Exactly three decades later, Todd Huffman, Producer of The Motocross Files TV series, celebrated Moates' triumph by debuting a brilliant piece of work-The Carlsbad USGP 1980: One Day Of Magic-at San Diego's fittingly historic Spreckels Theatre. The DVD is available at finer motorcycle dealers everywhere and online at www.carlsbadusgpmovie.com.