40 Day Countdown To AMA Motocross Opener: 1991

By Davey Coombs

Welcome back to the 40-Day Countdown to the 40th Annual Lucas Oil AMA Motocross Championships. Allisports.com is counting down the days by years, starting way back in 1972, recalling the great history of the American Motocross tour. (If you're on Facebook there's more on facebook.com/americanmotocross.  'Like' it and visit often for contests to win Pit Passes, T-shirts and more.)

Catch up on past recaps here:

1990's: 1990
1980's: 1989 | 1988 | 1987 | 1986 | 1985 | 1984 | 1983 | 1982 | 1981 | 1980
1970's: 1979 | 1978 | 1977 | 1976 | 1975 | 1974 | 1973 | 1972

As we hinted, 1990 would be a big year for American Motocross, but not because of anything an American rider did. Rather, it was because of an historic season from a visiting Frenchman that changed the whole landscape of global motocross. Twenty years later, foreign riders are still beating a path to America, following the boot steps of the enigmatic Honda rider who proved that the Americans were no longer invincible at AMA Supercross.

Jean-Michel Bayle lofts his CR250 Honda around Honda Land while preparing for his historic 1991 season; the Tom Webb photo ended up on the cover of the High Point program

In the two years leading up to 1990 Jean-Michel Bayle served notice that he could win indoors or out, and on any sized bike. He won 125, 250 and 500 Nationals, as well as a handful of AMA Supercross mains, within the first calendar year of his U.S. campaign. So when he put a stop to embittered teammate Jeff Stanton's championship winning streak at two with a resounding AMA Supercross Championship, Stanton seemed to begrudge not only Bayle's seemingly effortless, natural ability, as well as his close friendship with Honda team manager Roger DeCoster.

There was also an issue with the fans. This was the era of the first Gulf War, and the announcers in the AMA Supercross series fanned flames of resentment towards the foreigner by simply being over-the-top, pro-American in their race calls. JMB used the abrasive booing for motivation, and that made the fans boo him even more. Not a great moment for anyone, including Stanton and Bradshaw, both of whom seemed to get pulled into it simply because they were American heroes.

The 1991 Hangtown National would go down in history as one of the muddiest races of all time. Privateers John Dowd and Doug Henry won the 250 and 125 classes, respectively, in the one-moto race.

It got worse when the outdoor motocross season started and JMB began to assault Stanton's reign there. The Frenchman got a huge break at the second round at Hangtown when a massive storm turned the OHRV Park into a muddy mess, with a river running right down the middle. It was so deep that Stanton's bike drowned out, as did Jeff Ward's, Damon Bradshaw's and more. Bayle, wearing a #8 fin on top of his helmet that he lifted from a nearby Jack-in-the-Box, kept his Honda CR250 out of the water and managed to finish second behind the upset winner—Honda privateer John Dowd—in the first moto. The second moto was scrapped due to the rising waters, and so Bayle left Hangtown with a 22-point swing on Stanton and everyone else. With the series only lasting seven races, Bayle rode cautiously, never pushing it to the point where he might risk his lead. Stanton would end up winning four of the seven races, but due to his inconsistency he was still 26 points behind Bayle when the series ended at Southwick. JMB won the '91 AMA 250 Motocross title without winning a single race!

In the 500 class Bayle won more races—he split the six wins with a game Jeff Ward—but it was his consistency that paid off, as Bayle outpointed Ward by nine and claimed his third championship of the season. It was a feat that had never been done in the history of motocross, and will not be done again anytime soon, as the 500cc class and 250cc classes would eventually be merged into one, making a triple championship season impossible.

That's Jeremy McGrath, on the #125 Honda CR125, in one of that summer's outdoor nationals (Photo: Thom Veety)

The 125 class would see Mike Kiedrowski, now on Kawasaki, return to his winning ways in the class. Even though Guy Cooper put up an excellent title defense--winning more nationals than anyone in the class with five—he still came up 16 points shy of keeping the #1 plate.

But the real story in the 125 class was taking place behind Kiedrowski and Cooper, as Mitch Payton of Pro Circuit fielded his first full-on racing team, the Peak/Pro Circuit Honda crews of Jeremy McGrath, Brian Swink, Steve Lamson and Jeromy Buehl. McGrath and Swink took the Regional SX titles, and Swink handed Payton his first AMA 125 National win. There would be many, many more to come.

And over in Europe, America had another banner year as Trampas Parker became the first American to win two world titles, out-lasting Mike Healey for the #1 plate after getting a little help from Jeff Stanton at the series-finale in Japan. There's a famous photo of a mad-as-hell Healey giving Stanton the finger; we'll see if we can dig it up!  In the 125 class Donny Schmit gave up the #1 plate to his young teammate Stefan Everts, and both of them would move up one year later to battle for the '92 250cc world title with Parker and friends.

Guy Cooper on the cover of the 1991 Unadilla program

Team USA won another Motocross des Nations—their eleventh in a row—as Stanton once again led the way, with Kiedrowski and Bradshaw in support.

1991 250cc AMA Motocross Championship

3/3, Gainesville, FL - Jeff Stanton, Sherwood, MI, Hon
3/24, Sacramento, CA - John Dowd, Chicopee, MA, Hon
5/26, Mt. Morris, PA - Jeff Stanton, Sherwood, MI, Hon
7/7, Buchanan, MI - Damon Bradshaw, Mooresville, NC, Yam
7/21, Axton, VA - Jeff Stanton, Sherwood, MI, Hon
7/28, Troy, OH - Jeff Matiasevich, La Habra Heights, CA, Kaw
8/4, Southwick, MA - Jeff Stanton, Sherwood, MI, Hon

1991 250cc AMA Motocross Point Standings

1.) Jean-Michel Bayle, France Hon - 277
2.) Jeff Stanton, Sherwood, MI Hon - 251
3.) Damon Bradshaw, Mooresville, NC Yam - 210
4.) Jeff Matiasevich, La Habra Heights, CA Kaw - 193
5.) Mike LaRocco, La Porte, IN Suz - 176
6.) Doug Dubach, Costa Mesa, CA Yam - 160
7.) Jeff Ward, San Juan Capistrano, CA Kaw - 153
8.) Larry Brooks, El Cajon, CA Kaw - 129
9.) Keith Bowen, Auburn Hills, MI Suz - 110
10.) Larry Ward, Society Hill, SC Suz - 105

Brian Swink (42) won the Peak Anti-Freeze/Pro Circuit Honda team it's first 125 National in 1991 (Photo: Thom Veety)

1991 500cc AMA Motocross Championship

8/11, Millville, MN - Jean-Michel Bayle, France, Hon
9/1, Washougal, WA - Jeff Ward, San Juan Capistrano, CA, Kaw
9/22, Binghamton, NY - Jean-Michel Bayle, France, Hon
9/29, Delmont, PA - Jeff Ward, San Juan Capistrano, CA, Kaw
10/6, Budds Creek, MD - Jean-Michel Bayle, France, Hon
10/13, New Berlin, NY - Jeff Ward, San Juan Capistrano, CA, Kaw

1991 500cc AMA Motocross Point Standings

1.) Jean-Michel Bayle, France - 273
2.) Jeff Ward, San Juan Capistrano, CA - 264
3.) Jeff Stanton, Sherwood, MI - 236
4.) Damon Bradshaw, Mooresville, NC - 213
5.) Ron Lechien, El Cajon, CA - 157
6.) Gene Naumec, Columbia, CT - 119
7.) Ray Sommo, Capistrano Beach, CA - 107
8.) Keith Bowen, Auburn Hills, MI - 102
9.) Shaun Kalos, Litchfield Park, AZ - 99
10.) Fred Andrews, Salem, OH - 95

Jeremy McGrath was also on the cover of the '91 NMA Yearbook, riding his Team Green Kawasaki the year before

1991 125cc National Motocross

3/3, Gainesville, FL Guy - Cooper, Stillwater, OK, Suz
3/24, Sacramento, CA - Doug Henry, Fairfield, CT, Yam
5/26, Mt. Morris, PA - Brian Swink, Fenton, MI, Hon
7/7, Buchanan, MI - Mike Kiedrowski, Canyon Country, CA, Kaw
7/21, Axton, VA - Mike Kiedrowski, Canyon Country, CA, Kaw
7/28, Troy, OH - Guy Cooper, Stillwater, OK, Suz
8/4, Southwick, MA - Mike Kiedrowski, Canyon Country, CA Kaw
8/11, Millville, MN - Mike LaRocco, La Porte, IN, Kaw
9/1, Washougal, WA - Larry Ward, Society Hill, SC, Suz
9/22, Binghamton, NY - Mike LaRocco, La Porte, IN, Kaw
9/29, Delmont, PA - Guy Cooper, Stillwater, OK, Suz
10/6, Budds Creek, MD - Guy Cooper, Stillwater, OK, Suz
10/13, New Berlin, NY - Guy Cooper, Stillwater, OK, Suz

1991 125cc National Motocross Point Standings

1.) Mike Kiedrowski, Canyon Country, CA - 499
2.) Guy Cooper, Stillwater, OK - 483
3.) Jeff Emig, Grand Terrace, CA - 381
4.) Brian Swink, Fenton, MI - 366
5.) Jeremy McGrath, Sun City, CA - 349
6.) Steve Lamson, Pollock Pines, CA - 317
7.) Doug Henry, Fairfield, CT - 286
8.) Denny Stephenson, Omaha, NE - 246
9.) Erik Kehoe, Saugus, CA - 242
10.) Buddy Antunez, Ontario, CA - 242

Start of the Steel City 125 National... How many of these guys can you name?