40 Day Countdown to AMA Motocross Opener: 1974

By Davey Coombs
Photos: Steve French

The start of the 40th season of Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross is rapidly approaching, and we're counting down the days—and years—one at a time. Today, we bring you 1974, a pivotal year for American motocross.

And if you missed the first two days, follow these links: 1973 | 1972


By 1974 it was becoming obvious that the American motorcycle market was growing in size and influence, even as the athletes were getting faster and more professional with experience. The AMA started its first AMA Supercross tour in 1974, though at the time it was called the Yamaha Super Series, as the term supercross had yet to be coined. At the same time, the Inter-Am Series for 250cc motorcycles was struggling to attract talent from Europe like it had just a couple years earlier (though the Trans-AMA Series for 500cc bikes still flourished). It was down to just four races, and it lost its biggest race—the annual Superbowl of Motocross—to the new stadium motocross tour. (Czech CZ riders Zdenek Velky and Jaroslav Falta, the only two GP riders to race the Inter-Am Series that year, finished 1-2 nonetheless in the final standings, and Falta won the L.A. SX.)

After hiring Marty Tripes at the last second, Can-Am could boast a 1-2-3 in the '74 250 Nationals

The big controversy of the year came when the AMA decided that only U.S. citizens could compete for the AMA title, meaning transplanted Dutchman Pierre Karsmakers, riding for the Yamaha factory, would not be registered in the points standings. Karsmakers, who won the Yamaha Super Series and was highly influential in getting the Americans up to speed, raced anyway and won three of the nine 250cc rounds, but Can-Am rider Gary Jones was awarded the title—his third official one in a row here. Jones’ younger teammate Jimmy Ellis would finish third, but then in what some may have thought was a shrewd PR move, they team hired second-ranked Marty Tripes away from Husqvarna for the last race, giving Can-Am a 1-2-3 in the AMA 250cc National Championship!

Mike Hartwig won the opening round of the 500cc Nationals at Hangtown

The 250cc and 500cc National classes ran simultaneously, beginning with the Hangtown Classic, which was on the schedule again—this time promoted by the Dirt Diggers M/C rather than Mike Goodwin. The winner of the first 500cc round was Mike Hartwig, from Hadley, Michigan. He also won the third round, and seemed to possess the talent and the resources to win the title, but then injuries and bad luck set in.

Charley Morey's classic photo of Tony D. and The Jammer made the cover of Racer X a few years back. It's arguably the best motocross photo of all time.

Meanwhile, a near-privateer CZ rider, Pennsylvania's Tony DiStefano, was also winning races. The championship soon turned into a knock-down, drag-out battle between Tony D. and “Jammin’” Jimmy Weinert, who rode for the Kawasaki factory team. As they took their battle down to the wire, they came together at Laurelville, Ohio, and Weinert went down. The moment was captured on 35mm black-and-white film by Cycle News photographer Charley Morey and remains one of the all-time great photos in motocross history. In the end, The Jammer took the title, though Tony D. rode well enough to sign with Suzuki at the end of the year.

Rick Sheren sent us this old cover showing the start of the first 125 National at Hangtown

The biggest change, though, was that the AMA decided to add a 125cc National class to its program, albeit just four rounds. Before that, there were one-off 125cc championship races, including an unofficial championship at Arroyo (now basically REM at Glen Helen) in 1973, won by Ray Lopez, and the 125cc World Cup in St. Louis, which was won by Nils Arne Nilsson, a transplanted Swede riding a Husqvarna—the FIM would begin hosting its world championship for 125cc in 1975.

So the first real AMA 125cc National would run at Hangtown, but the remaining three would piggyback on the Inter-Am Series. Honda hired a slew of fast young riders to compete in the new class, and they would sweep the series standings in this order: Marty Smith, Bruce McDougal, Chuck Bower, and Mickey Boone.  

The program cover of the 1974 Appalachia Lake National

Hangtown is still a part of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross tour, albeit at a different facility, having moved from Plymouth to the Prairie City OHRV Park outside of Sacramento. But one track joined the tour in ’74 and remains in place, as the centerpiece of the tour: RedBud in Buchanan, Michigan, which takes place on July 2 and will air live on NBC and Fuel TV here in the U.S., as well as in Europe, Australia, Brazil, and more.

On a personal note, 1974 was the year Racer Productions, the company Dave and Rita Coombs started, held its first national at a place called Appalachia Lake Motocross Park in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia, right outside of Morgantown. Racer Productions is the parent company of MX Sports, which now runs the whole Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross tour, along with our partners Alli Sports and the NPG promoters.

Tomorrow, we will take a look at 1975 as the countdown to the 40th Annual AMA Motocross Championship continues!

Gary Jones earned his third consecutive AMA 250cc National Championship. In his honor, the Manufacturers' Cup for top 250cc team is now called the Gary Jones Cup.

1974 250cc AMA Motocross Championship Series

4/8 - Plymouth, CA - Bill Grossi (Santa Cruz, CA; Hon)
4/14 - Moorpark, CA - Pierre Karsmakers (Holland; Yam)
4/28 - Buchanan, MI - Ken Zahrt (Woodland Hills, CA; Bul)
5/5 - Bruceton Mills, WV - Pierre Karsmakers (Holland; Yam)
5/19 - Hamersville, OH - Pierre Karsmakers (Holland; Yam)
8/11 - Delta, OH - Jim Ellis (Cobalt, CT; Can-Am)
8/18 - Mexico, NY - Marty Tripes (Santee, CA; Hus)
8/25 - Hillsboro, OH - Jim Ellis (Cobalt, CT; Can-Am)
9/2 - New Orleans, LA - Kent Howerton (San Antonio, TX; Hus)

1974 250cc AMA Motocross Point Standings

1. Gary Jones, Hacienda Heights, CA - 600
2. Marty Tripes, Santee, CA - 576
3. Jim Ellis, Cobalt, CT - 430
4. Rich Thorwaldson, Cerritos, CA - 430
5. Bill Grossi, Santa Cruz, CA - 390
6. Kent Howerton, San Antonio, TX - 367
7. Peter Lamppu, Sherman Oaks, CA - 315
8. Frank Stacy, Cheektowaga, NY - 285
9. Ken Zahrt, Woodland Hills, CA - 257
10. Ron Pomeroy, Yakima, WA - 254

1974 500cc AMA Motocross Championship Series

4/8 - Plymouth, CA - Mike Hartwig (Hadley, MI; Yam)
4/14 - Moorpark, CA - Tony DiStefano (Morrisville, PA; CZ)
4/28 - Buchanan, MI - Mike Hartwig (Hadley, MI; Yam)
5/5 - Bruceton Mills, WV - Tony DiStefano (Morrisville, PA; CZ)
5/19 - Hamersville, OH - Jim Weinert (Middletown, NY; Kaw)
8/11 - Delta, OH - Jim Weinert (Middletown, NY; Kaw)
8/18 - Mexico, NY - Jim Weinert (Middletown, NY; Kaw)
8/25 - Hillsboro, OH - Jim Weinert (Middletown, NY; Kaw)
9/2 - New Orleans, LA - Gary Semics (Lisbon, OH; Hus)

Privateer hero Tony DiStefano had a breakthrough year in 1974, but he did not win the title

1974 500cc AMA Motocross Point Standings

1. Jim Weinert, Middletown, NY - 900
2. Tony DiStefano, Morrisville, PA - 780
3. Steve Stackable, Austin, TX - 680
4. Gary Semics, Lisbon, OH - 620
5. Mike Hartwig, Hadley, MI - 507
6. Bryar Holcomb, Sunland, CA - 395
7. Terry Clark, Palmdale, CA - 295
8. Rex Staten, Fontana, CA - 257
9. Gary Chaplin, Cayucos, CA - 200
10. Mike Runyard, Mission Viejo, CA - 174

1974 125cc AMA Motocross Championship Series

4/8 - Plymouth, CA - Marty Smith (San Diego, CA; Hon)
6/30 - Salt Lake City, UT - Marty Smith (San Diego, CA; Hon)
7/6 - Baldwin, KS - Jim Ellis (Cobalt, CT; Can-Am)
7/21 - Lexington, OH - Tim Hart (Torrance, CA; Yam)

1974 125cc National Point Standings

1. Marty Smith, San Diego, CA - 420
2. Bruce McDougal, Orange, CA - 240
3. Chuck Bower, Anaheim, CA - 235
4. Mickey Boone, Winston-Salem, NC - 200
5. Tim Hart, Torrance, CA - 196
6. Jim Ellis, Cobalt, CT - 167
7. Jeff Foland, San Diego, CA - 153
8. Dan Turner, Placerville, CA - 126
9. Robert Haag, Newport Beach, CA - 100
10. Vincent Clark, Lompoc, CA - 94