Archives: Rick Johnson’s Great Day at the Beach
The 1986 Daytona Supercross proved a tipping point of sorts in the rider power structure of AMA Supercross racing. Coming into that race riders like David Bailey, Jeff Ward, Ron Lechien, Johnny O’Mara, Broc Glover and even an aging Bob Hannah were considered the elites of the sport. But when Rick Johnson came through to score his first victory at Daytona in convincing fashion, it was clear the torch was passed to the fun-loving sixth-year pro from El Cajon, California.
Archives: Rick Johnson’s Great Day at the Beach
Johnson came into own in professional motocross and Supercross riding for Yamaha, so when he signed on to race for Honda in ’86, he said early on, he felt like an outsider on a team already packed with talent. His Honda teammates David Bailey and Johnny O’Mara were best friends and trained together in Olympian-like fashion.
“I went to train with them and they about killed me,” Johnson joked. “Plus, David and Johnny had the Honda test track really dialed in, so I felt slow trying to keep up with them there. I decided it would be best if I just went off and trained on the tracks I knew and did my own thing.”
To a certain extent, Johnson had to wonder during the off season if he’d maybe made a mistake signing with Honda. One of the biggest reasons he went with Big Red in the first place was after testing the company’s works 250 machine, he fell in love with it and knew he could win on that bike. But then the rules changed. Works bikes were out and production-based bikes were in.
“That works Honda was so good, I could go four-seconds a lap faster on it than my practice bike, with hardly any set-up,” Johnson explained. “When I found out I wouldn’t be riding that bike, it felt like the carpet had been yanked out from under me.”
Johnson needn’t have worried. It turns out the production-based Honda CR250s were amazing machines as well and would prove to be the class of the factory bikes under the new rules.
The opening race of the 1986 season was the Anaheim Supercross, and it will go down in history as one of the best Supercross races of all time. It was a Johnson and Bailey battle throughout, with Bailey coming from behind to eventually take the hard-fought win in front of a sold-out and enthusiastic crowd of over 60,000. Even though he lost, that race proved to be a turning point for Johnson.
“I knew it was my fault alone for losing that race in Anaheim,” said Johnson. “I knew then that if I was going to beat Bailey, I would have to ride wide-open for 20 laps. He was smoother and a more gifted rider than I was, so I had to go out there and treat each race as if the championship was on the line.”
The strategy paid off for Johnson. He won round three in his home race in San Diego, his first victory for Honda, then won the second leg of the Seattle doubleheader and Atlanta. Johnson came into Daytona on a roll, but Bailey was right there with him in the points and was a proven winner at Daytona, having won the 1984 race. Defending SX champ Ward, with two Supercross wins to that point in ’86, also seemed like a major threat, not to mention Johnson’s old teammate at Yamaha, veteran Broc Glover.
One thing that added to Johnson’s growing confidence, was by mid-season he was finally beginning to feel at home under the Honda tent.
“The people at Team Honda are really supportive of me,” Johnson said just before the Daytona main event. “I don’t feel like an outcast. As soon as I came over to Honda, they really treated me good and made me feel at home. I think that’s part of the reason for my success.”
One rider Johnson didn’t have to worry about at Daytona was three-time race winner Bob Hannah. Hannah was injured and instead of racing, was helping Larry Maiers call the race for USA Network.
Johnson won the most talent-packed Heat race over Bailey and Ward. Another Honda rider, Micky Dymond, as well as Yamaha’s Jim Holley and Broc Glover won the other Heats.
At the drop of the 40-rider gate on the Gary Bailey-designed track, it was the Yamahas of Glover and Holley jumping to the front of the 12-lap main event. David Bailey made a mistake early, trying to go beneath Holley, just before Holley slammed the door, leaving Bailey nothing but a haybale to run into, causing him to tip over in the tight turn. Bailey got passed by what seemed like half the field before he was able to get back up to speed. Dymond and Johnson were battling it out for third. But then Dymond was forced to exit the race after crashing in a badly rutted staggered whoop section. That left Johnson alone in third chasing the two Yamaha factory riders.
By the third lap Johnson moved past Holley to take over second. Jeff Ward was shadowing Johnson in a very close third.
Johnson nearly threw it away when he got out of shape and went nose first into the face of a jump. Only his lightning quick reactions saved him from hitting the dirt, but the error temporarily slowed his charge on Glover. Meanwhile, Bailey recovered from his early fall and was the fastest rider on the track, closing quickly on the leading trio. For a brief moment it appeared there might be an epic four-way battle up front between Glover, Johnson, Ward and Bailey. But then Glover selected a bad line through whoops section and Johnson rocketed past into the lead. Once out front Johnson seemed to find and extra gear. He set sail and pulled away. His breakaway was helped along when Bailey slammed into Ward, knocking the chain off Ward’s Kawasaki and putting him out of contention for a podium finish.
In the end it was Johnson with a commanding lead at the checkered flag over Bailey. Glover came home third ahead of Holley and Alan King rounding out the top five.
“I came down to Florida and practiced in the sand for two weeks and it paid off,” Johnson said on the podium.
Not only was the Daytona win a personal breakthrough victory for Johnson at the most prestigious race in the series, it also clearly established him as the rider to beat with a three-race winning streak.
By the end of the season Johnson had won six of the 12 Supercross races and beat Bailey for the championship by a whopping 52 points. He then took all but one of that year’s 250 motocross nationals, easily winning the title. Johnson was named co-winner of the AMA Pro Athlete of the Year with Bubba Shobert (the two would share the honor again in 1987).
Looking back on the ’86 AMA Supercross season, the grueling Daytona event was the one that gave Johnson the confidence that the title was his to win.
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