It had to happen sooner or later – the Americans couldn’t just keep on winning the Motocross des Nations forever. In 1994 the Brits finally did it. In Roggenburg, Switzerland, the squad of Rob Herring, Paul Malin and Kurt Nicoll held off Team USA and ended America’s MX des Nations win streak at 13.
It’s not a story American racing fans love to hear, but you have to admire the gritty trio of British riders who pulled off the huge upset. Their story is even more compelling since Great Britain has yet to again claim the top spot in the international competition. Until another British team takes the Chamberlain Trophy, for better or worse, the ’94 squad of Herring, Malin and Nicoll will remain etched in the minds of fans as the last Brits to win the competition the country dominated for so long.
Their win represents both pride and frustration for the British motocross faithful – pride of course for taking the historic win, but also frustration for being unable to duplicate the feat for in last 22 years.
The British had a long and rich history in motocross, with the sport being born there in the 1920s. It was almost natural that when Motocross des Nations began in Wassenaar, Netherlands in 1947, it was a British team of Bill Nicholson, Bob Ray and Fred Rist that came away with the victory.
For the first two decades of the competition, it was Great Britain that dominated. From 1947 to 1967 the Brits won 15 times. The run included a stretch of five wins consecutively from 1963 to ’67 with motocross legends like the Rickman brothers Derek and Don, Vic Eastwood and Jeff Smith.
But after 1967 the winning suddenly stopped. The late 1960s saw the rise of the Belgians, Russians and Swedes. That lasted through the entirety of the 1970s and into the first year of the 1980s. Then came the Americans, and boy did the Yanks ever come strong.
This is the part of the story American racing fans know so well. The Euros brought over motocross in the mid-1960s and we got trounced, but like the unflappable Americans, we took our lumps, learned, practiced, morphed the sport into something more technical than the founders had ever dream and created a monster.
Starting with Donnie Hansen, Danny LaPorte, Johnny O’Mara and Chuck Sun in 1981, the Americans were off and running in the Motocross des Nations. By the mid-‘90s we were winning so much we were getting sick of winning. Ha! Not really. Americans loved the taste of victory and it never got old, but believe me the Euros were flat sick of it. Every year Team USA showed up from ’81 on it was us against the world. European fans wanted anyone, it didn’t matter who, to beat the Americans.
That was the backdrop of the 1994 Motocross des Nations.
There were indications that the Americans were beatable. The year before in Austria, Team USA’s Mike Kiedrowski, Jeremy McGrath and Jeff Emig eked out a one-point victory over the Belgian squad led by Stefan Everts. So when Kiedrowski, Emig and Mike LaRocco showed up for the 1994 edition of the event, they were taking nothing for granted.
The main challenge to Team USA was expected to come again from the Belgians or perhaps the French. The Brits were not really on the radar. Nicoll was a highly-respected rider who’d been on the British squad for 10 years, but none of the three, Nicoll, Herring nor Malin, had earned a moto win in the 250cc World Championships that year. Nicoll ended the season ranked fourth in the championship, but both of his teammates finished outside the top 10.
But there was something in the air that day on the borderlands between Switzerland and France. The track was ultra-fast, hilly and rock strewn. Nothing like the Americans had ever seen before. When asked what American track it most resembled, Emig thought about it and replied only half-jokingly, “Laguna Seca.” South African World Champ Greg Albertyn hit a deer at 40 mph on one of the fast straights, creating a venison feast for someone that night.
Race day started off solidly for the Americans, and equally so for the Brits. A massive contingent of French fans went hysterical when Yves Demaria took the victory in the opening 500/125cc moto. LaRocco, racing an open class Kawasaki, finished second and Nicoll third. The shocker was Malin took sixth overall on a 125 to top that class ahead of Emig. Malin hadn’t raced a 125 in five years and some in his own country had criticized his selection for the class. The US and Britain were tied 4 each after the first moto.
The second moto was the 125 and 250cc combined. Albertyn was leading when he hit the deer and was thrown cartwheeling off his bike. That unexpectedly put Britain’s Herring into the lead. Belgium’s Marnicq Bervoets got by Herring with a half-lap to go to take the win. Kiedrowski came home fourth, behind Frenchman Frederic Bolley.
Malin once again surprisingly beat Emig among the 125 riders. “I just wasn’t comfortable riding at that speed on this track,” Emig explained. “I give Paul (Malin) a lot of credit. I duked it out all the way to the end, but it wasn’t enough.”
Going into the final moto (500 & 250cc) the Brits led 7 points to 10 over the USA. France was third with 12. In spite of being down, the Americans were still in control of their own destiny. If LaRocco won the 500 class and Kiedrowski the 250s in the final moto, the US would win, regardless of where the Brits finished.
The Americans needed everything to go perfectly and it didn’t. A first-turn pileup caught out Kiedrowski. As he tried to maneuver his way through a mass of riders and machines he was mid-pack.
Late in the moto Nicoll was getting signals from his crew that Kiedrowski was well behind and the next 500 rider was 45 seconds back, so when LaRocco came up to challenge for the lead Nicoll simply let him go by, much to the frustration of LaRocco, who was looking for any opportunity to stuff his opponent.
Kiedrowski heroically did all he could to make up for the unfortunate start, but a young Italian making his first international appearance named Alessio Chiodi rode flawlessly and Kiedrowski couldn’t find a way around.
When the totals were tallied, the Brits had done it, defeating the Americans by two points 9-11.
While it was an excellent team effort (starting with British team captain’s David Thorpe’s rider picks and the decision to have a week-long team practice to build unity), both Nicoll and Herring rode excellent motos, Malin was clearly the surprise performer for the Brits with his pair of 125 class wins.
Since they were the last British team to win, to this day every year at Motocross des Nations time, the three British heroes, who became motocross legends in their country, field tons of interview requests.
“I don’t think there was any chance we were getting beaten on that particular day,” Nicoll remembers. “Certainly, Malin’s performance he never replicated in his career, but on that day, everything came together.”
Even though they hold a certain fame because of the victory, Nicoll said he and his teammates still root on Britain every year in hopes their country can once again stand atop the des Nations podium.
“I would love to see England be strong enough to win again,” Nicoll admits. “I think they are a ways off at the moment, but I would love to see them become a powerhouse in motocross again.”