Pierre Karsmakers, among other Supercross legends, was honored at Angel Stadium on Thursday. Photography by Kit Palmer
This weekend’s Anaheim II Supercross at Angel Stadium will be a little more special than usual, as it will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the AMA Supercross Championship, and for Thursday’s pre-race media day, some of the legendary Supercross racers of the past were invited to participate in the afternoon’s conference and attend Saturday’s race.
One of those riders was the first ever AMA Supercross Champion, Pierre Karsmakers, aka “The Flying Dutchman.”
In 1973, the racer from Holland was basically hired by Yamaha to help teach its riders the in’s and out of motocross, which was at that time dominated by the Europeans.
After a stellar first year racing motocross on American soil, Honda made a move for Karsmakers and hired him for the 1974 season and then some. When he won the first Supercross Championship in 1974, no one really knew what the new sport of Supercross was about to grow in to. Except Karsmakers.
“I always felt Supercross would be big,” said Karsmakers at Angel Stadium. “Americans are sporting people and they love the spectacle of the sport.
“I wasn’t riding alone,” he added. “There were Americans riding here [Supercross] also and we all together made the show. I could really feel by the reactions of the public in the stadiums that Supercross was going to grow. Because when people passed each other, the people were just cheering [loudly], so I knew right then that this is going to grow in America, for sure, I just felt it right away.”
For someone who grew up racing on fast, rough and natural-terrain track of Europe, the idea of racing indoors must have seem ridiculous to him, but The Flying Dutchman was very much open-minded about it.
“The first race I saw the track, it seemed so narrow; it was such a small track and everything, but during the race, it turned out to be okay, because it was for everybody the same,” Karsmakers said. “Then the tracks improved and improved, so it was okay.”
He obviously caught on to this new sport just fine.
“When I won the Supercross Championship in 1974, it was very tough racing. Obviously, things are completely different now with the tracks, bikes, suspension, but it was hard work. It was very intense, and you really had to be careful not to get thrown off the bikes.”
Karsmakers’ first Supercross win was at Daytona in 1973 and he won there again in 1974, but he was not able to defend his number-one plate that year because of an injury.
“At the end of ’74, I moved to Honda, but I broke my leg in my first qualifier race, I think at Carlsbad, right at the beginning of February . That was a bummer for me, so it put me back two months. That year I started late and couldn’t really compete in the Supercross Series anymore. Plus, I was sent to Japan and Europe a lot for Honda for testing for the Grands Prix; my actual position at Honda at that time was trying to make the bike competitive for the Grands Prix, which we succeeded.”
The best works bike that he ever rode, he said, was the Honda RC400 in 1976.
“It was a great bike, everything about it was great: powerband, torque, bottom-end, handling, weight, center of gravity – at that time it was ideal.”
Karsmakers says he has two memories of Supercross that stands out most for him.
“I think winning Daytona twice and also my last race on Honda, which was here at Anaheim. After three years with Honda, I signed a contract with Yamaha again to race for them for three more years, so I really wanted to leave Honda with a victory, and this was the last race of the year. On the start, I did something wrong and missed my start completely, so I had to come from way back to the front, and I was behind Marty Smith who was leading at the time. I needed just a couple hundred more yards in the race, but I came just a bit too short. That was a really hard battle. I really had to push it to the limit every second. I should’ve won that race.”
Karsmakers, who lives in Belgium, was invited by Supercross promoter Feld Motor Sports and was happy to make the trip to California for this weekend’s race.
“I feel real glad that after 40 years people still remember me here and still know about the races that I rode here and the victories that I took,” he said. “It is nice that they flew me over here, so it’s nice to be remembered. It shows respect.”
He added that he still follows the sport and still attends Supercross races here in the U.S. when he can.
“The last one I was at was Daytona four or five years ago. I always love Daytona, don’t know why, but I always loved Daytona.”
Maybe it’s because he’s won twice there.