Motocross Accelerates Through 50 Years of Progress

THE early days of motocross were technically the same as they are today: riders racing dirt bikes over bumps and around berms, the fastest person wins.

After 50 years, it actually almost feels like a different sport.

Motorcycles are faster, more powerful. Runners come from all over the world and are some of the fittest athletes in any sport. The tracks feature jumps that old-school racers wouldn’t have even considered, obstacles that would have been unfathomable.

And exposure, thanks to television and social media, soared from a dirt-covered launchpad.

“Oh man, it’s like watching the 1972 Olympic basketball game compared to what we have now with the Dream Team,” said Davey Coombs, president of MX Sports Pro Racing, which manages the Lucas Oil Pro Championship. Motocross. “What was once a kind of Alabama dirt bike race has become a worldwide phenomenon.”

The Lucas Oil Motocross Championship kicked off its 50th season in Pala, Calif., moved north to historic Hangtown and will roar along the Rocky Mountains outside of Denver this weekend.

It was quite a ride.

The circuit’s origins date back to 1972, when parts from several series were cobbled together into one. Few outside of die-hard fans knew who the riders were, the tracks weaved mostly through natural terrain, and the bikes broke down so often that the organizers opted for three 20-minute motos, so there was some time for repairs.

The only opportunities to watch the races live were if the circuit came to town or if you were prepared to take a long drive. Even early photos are hard to find, let alone video footage.

The sport started gaining momentum when marketable stars like Jeremy McGrath, Ricky Carmichael and Travis Pastrana started making noise. Motocross remained a niche sport, but interest in high-flying, fast racing began to grow as some of the best riders in the world flocked to the United States.

Frenchman Dylan Ferrandis won the 450cc title last season and Australian Jett Lawrence took the 250cc crown. The series also includes two-time German 450cc champion Ken Roczen, up-and-coming Japanese rider Jo Shimoda and Frenchman Marvin Musquin is a two-time runner-up who has only raced Supercross this season.

“We’re seeing all the best of every other country in a way that we’ve never seen before,” Coombs said.

And more people watch them run.

Picture credits: PA