Throwback Thursday – Anaheim II Pre-Race Press Conference

In case you didn’t already know, 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Monster Energy Supercross Championship, and to commemorate the anniversary, this weekend’s Anaheim II race will be throwback themed. The track will be an exact replica of the 2001 Anaheim Supercross, and to kick the weekend off, a press conference was held today featuring former Supercross Champions Johnny O’Mara, Jeff Ward, Jimmy Ellis, Pierre Karsmakers, and Donnie Hansen.
The former champs spoke about everything from old bikes to training to their thoughts on today’s racers, giving a taste of what to expect this weekend when all of the former champions will be attending the race and taking part in opening ceremonies. Following the press conference, Red Bull KTM and Troy Lee Designs/Lucas Oil/Honda took to the partially completed track for photos.

Pierre Karsmakers – 1974 Champion

Pierre Karsmakers and his championship-winning Suzuki.

On whether he saw Supercross becoming as big as it is today…
“Yes, I always felt that way [that Supercross would be where it is now]. I always thought that it would grow like it did and I think it will continue to grow. Americans are very supportive people of Supercross, and I always felt that it was going to be big.”

On his outlook on racing in his prime…
“Everybody was chasing me at the time, but that was because I was also a little bit older. I came from Europe at the time, so I had something to prove to everyone. I loved being in America and the atmosphere.”

His last race…
“I retired December 1979 while riding for Yamaha, but I’m still riding to this day.”

On the difference between racers of his era and racers of today…
“It’s hard to compare. When we were racing, we gave it our full 100 percent effort and I don’t think that has changed. The only difference is that the bikes are a lot better, so the riders can jump higher and further, and go through the berms faster. Our effort was 100 percent and their effort today is 100 percent also. The tracks are obviously different, though (laughs). The bikes are better and the tracks are a lot more spectacular now.”

Jimmy Ellis – 1975 Champion

Jimmy Ellis

On racing for Can Am…
“In 1974, I started riding for Can Am. They gave me a chance to be a professional, but the first time I rode a Can Am, I broke my hip. It actually made me a better rider, though, because that year I rode about half the season. The following year, I was hungry for a win and possibly the championship. There were very few Supercross races that year and the Can Am was a very good bike for that time period.”

On the future of the sport…
“What’s going to happen in 40 years is that these guys [Dungey and Roczen] will be sitting in our spot and we’ll probably be gone and dusted by then. Right now, their making history, and it will be interesting to see where the sport is 40 years from now.”

Advice to the younger generation…
“One piece of advice I’d like to give is that a racing career is short. We all still ride; Pierre is 67 years old and he still rides every weekend. It is a very short career, so make the money when you can. If you look at the stats, it’s probably only a five or six career—maybe seven years. I don’t know anyone who has raced for 10 years and been a champion for that long. Make the best you can of it, because it is a short career.”

Ryan Dungey – 2010 Champion

Ryan Dungey

On hard work paying off…
“As I got older and into the professional scene, I always knew that hard work is what got you far. I got the opportunity to work with Johnny O’Mara in 2008, and I thought I knew work ethic before then, but he taught me a whole new ball game. He helped me to stay strong and be mentally tougher—the whole deal. The guys of the ‘80s set the pace for us and showed us the way.”

Johnny O’Mara 1984 Champion


On previously working with Ryan Dungey…
“I really enjoyed working with that guy, and I’m super proud of what he has accomplished. I know he still has more in the tank, and is in the hunt for the championship again. The biggest part of his program is work ethic and being consistent week in and week out. All of the champions need to be respected, though, because they all went through wars. That’s why I look up anyone who has been a past champion—knowing what they’ve been through is pretty gnarly.”

On his former Factory Honda teammates…
“All three of us—David Bailey, Donnie Hansen, and I—were almost like brothers on Team Honda back then, we were so close. Like Donnie said, we set the trend in the ‘80s. We started doing new techniques like wheel tapping—we weren’t skimming stuff like the guys are today, but we had really good technique and people still talk about it today, saying we were some of the smoothest guys out there. It’s cool that we were able to pave the path of where the sport is at today, and I’m very honored to be recognized for that.”

On training with other riders when you’re racing…
“I would say that it is very different now. Kenny has, though, hooked up with RV for training and I think that it’s very good motivator for both of them. It keeps Ryan on his toes and it helps Ken move up the ladder, which is already showing. It just has to be the right chemistry.”

Jeff Ward – 1985 and 1987 Champion

Jeff Ward

On turning pro…
“Here at Anaheim on a Yamaha was my first-ever Supercross. I was a whopping 4’ 11” and 95 pounds. I recall I was pretty ah-struck at my heroes on the line—Marty Smith and Pierre Karsmakers. I remember going to Pierre’s house in Mission Viejo—Brad Lackey was there, Moisser, Tony D, Wienart. I used to ride my bicycle over there from school and circle around until they came back from riding. It was pretty cool. I was young and it was difficult to jump right into the big leagues after being a mini bike star. I went from winning a lot to getting smoked, wondering if I would ever make it. Fortunately, I stuck with it.”

On practicing for Supercross…
“Kawasaki was one of the first factories to make a Supercross test track—it was actually out at my father-in-law’s property. That was when we first got something to practice on that was similar to what we raced on. Before that, it was difficult to come to a track and tackle it when you didn’t have something to practice on.”

On training with Johnny O’Mara back when they raced together…
“I don’t envy Dungey training with Johnny, because back when I thought I was in shape, I trained with him and he usually kicked my butt in a lot of stuff. It’s a brutal sport and usually the guy that is more mentally tough pulls through in the end.”

On developing the Kawasaki motocross machines…
“There were quite a few years where it was a known fact that Kawasaki didn’t have the best bike and I was the only Kawasaki on the track. Back then, everything we got was made in Japan and sent over here. We had a lot of bikes and triple clamps breaking in half. We were the test riders. The bikes were built light, but no one knew how strong it would be until you rode it and it broke. There were plenty of times where we had triple clamps break.”

Donnie Hansen – 1982 Champion

Donnie Hansen

How much he made for his 1982 Supercross and motocross championships…
“When I won the Supercross championship, I got $100,000 and it was $80,000 for the outdoor title. I think it was about $10,000 for an individual win.”

On training with O’Mara…
“Johnny and I lived together in Canyon Country. We trained together, rode together, and pushed each other. Going into the off-season in 81, we trained, raced locally, and pushed each other to be ready for the first race. I won that first race and Johnny finished third behind Wardy. At that time, a lot of fast riders could win and I know Johnny and I both knew we could do it.”

From left to right: Donnie Hansen, Jimmy Ellis, Ryan Dungey, Ken Roczen, Johnny O’Mara, Pierre Karsmaker, Jeff Emig, and Jeff Ward.