Today we focus on 1981. The previous season ended on a somber note, as highly respected veteran Gaylon Mosier, winner of the '79 High Point 500cc National on a factory Kawasaki 500, was killed in a training accident near Unadilla before the Trans-USA race there when he was hit by a truck while riding a bicycle.
Of the tracks on the outdoor tour in 1981, Hangtown, RedBud, Washougal, High Point, and Southwick are all still on the schedule for the 2012 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship.
The big news that started 1981 was the fact that Bob Hannah was coming back after missing all of the previous season with the severely broken leg. Hannah started slowly (for him anyway) in AMA Supercross on his #100 Yamaha, but he did manage to get a win at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan, one of his favorite venues.
But the runaway winner for the '81 AMA Supercross title was Mark Barnett on his Suzuki, outpacing defending champ Mike Bell and his own Suzuki teammate Kent Howerton for the title.
Barnett also laid waste to the 125 class outdoors—marking the only time a rider would win both the AMA Supercross title in the premier class (the 125/Lites SX class did not even exist until 1985) and the 125 AMA Motocross title. Barnett swept all seven of the first eight races but missed his shot at a perfect season when he broke his collarbone and could not ride the last round at Carlsbad. That opened the door for Team Honda's Johnny O'Mara to get his first AMA National win. And a Yamaha-supported teenager named Ricky Johnson won his first moto that day on the #212 YZ125.
The real fireworks in '81 came in the 250 class outdoors between Howerton, the #1 rider, and Hannah, the dominant class leader before breaking his leg. Their battles that summer are the stuff of legend, particularly Saddleback, which turned into a ramfest. There's even a documentary out about that epic day from Todd Huffman and the Motocross Files called The Saddleback Massacre.
You can order the film right here.
Hannah won that battle and two others but Howerton won the war, earning his second straight class title (and third AMA championship) in what was shaping up as an excellent career. Finishing seventh in the class that year was a future star riding for Team Green named David Bailey.
And speaking of epic careers, Yamaha's Broc Glover overcame his defeat the year before to Barnett in the 125 class to take the 500cc title outdoors, winning all but two nationals in the series. Mike Bell, runner-up in AMA Supercross, would finish as runner-up here too.
But the biggest news for American motocross in 1981 came in Europe, after the AMA Motocross season had ended. That's where four American Honda riders—Donnie Hansen, Danny LaPorte, Johnny O'Mara, and Chuck Sun—showed up at the Trophee and Motocross des Nations after most of America's best riders passed on the event (again). They were inspired by Motocross Action editor Dick Miller, Bel-Ray's JJ Hanfield, and Hi-Point Racing Products' Larry Maiers to take on the Europeans. With newly retired five-time 500cc world champ Roger DeCoster helping manage the young Americans at Team Honda, they went to Belgium and West Germany and absolutely crushed the rest of the world in one of the most shocking upsets in the sport's history.
With those MXoN and Trophee wins—and twelve more consecutive years of wins at the world team championships—the balance of power in global motocross moved from right to left across the Atlantic Ocean