Archives: The Epic ’82 AMA 250 Motocross Championship
It’s the dream of motocross fans that rarely happens. At Castle Rock, Colorado, on June 13, 1982, everything came down to the final moto of the season – Broc Glover, Donnie Hansen and Rick Johnson all had a shot at winning the AMA 250cc Motocross Championship and the trio were battling up front. The mere fact that all three were fighting it out for the title in the final moto of the series was a fluke in itself.
Archives: The Epic ’82 AMA 250 Motocross Championship
The 1982 season was a transitional one. The previous generation of motocross stars like Bob Hannah, Kent Howerton, Marty Tripes and Steve Wise were on the downside of their careers due to age and or injury and a younger group of riders were starting to infiltrate the ranks and make their own mark. Coming into ’82 the defending 250cc champ Howerton was moving to the 500cc class, leaving the title vacant.
Yamaha did some shifting around of its riders in ’82, perhaps in a bid to win all three MX Championships. They took Glover, who’d dominated the 500cc class in ’81 and moved him to 250s. Then put Mike Bell in the 500 class and moved Hannah down to the 125s, perhaps hoping to break the stranglehold on that class held by Suzuki’s Mark Barnett. On paper the lineup looked brilliant.
As it turns out things didn’t go according to plan for the tuning fork. Honda had a nearly unbeatable bike in the 500 class and Darrell Shultz and Chuck Sun went 1-2. Bell was fourth. Barnett won his third consecutive 125 title after some epic battles with Jeff Ward and Johnny O’Mara. Hannah didn’t win a national and finished sixth in the final standings.
In the 250 class things almost worked out for Yamaha, but not in the way they might have expected.
The 250 series consisted of just eight rounds in ’82. It was fast and furious starting and ending in the span of just two-and-a-half months.
Johnson shocked the 10,000 hardcore Hangtown fans who endured intermittent rain to watch the 250 rookie ride his Bob Oliver-tuned Yamaha YZ250J to victory with a 1-2 in the season opener. It marked Johnson’s first national win. Glover and Hansen both suffered crashes and finished eighth and ninth respectively.
At Saddleback Glover went 1-1 to earn his career first 250MX victory. The win put him squarely back into the championship hunt, in third, just nine points behind Johnson, who finished second overall. Hansen landed on a downed rider’s bike causing him to DNF the second moto. Things were not looking good for him at that point. He left Saddleback ninth in the standings.
It seems out of sorts, but the order of riders winning their first ever 250 nationals went Johnson, Glover, Hansen. Hansen got his at round three on a sandy and loamy Lake Whitney (TX) track with a 2-1. Hansen had an epic battle with Glover in both motos. The crowd was running back and forth between different sections of the track to watch the riveting second-moto duel for the win. Afterward Hansen just shook his head at the torrid pace of the moto and said, “You couldn’t back off.”
Glover’s runner up in Texas, combined with a fifth by Johnson, put Glover into the series lead by a single point. Hansen’s win vaulted him from ninth to third in the standings, still 23 points back.
Honda’s Kenny Keylon won round four in St. Petersburg, Florida, making the only national that season not won by either Glover, Johnson or Hansen. Glover finished third and extended his points lead after Johnson took fifth overall once again. Hansen crashed in the second moto and could only manage a ninth, dropping him to fourth (behind Keylon in third), well out of the championship lead at the halfway point in the season.
Hansen bounced back strong with a win in the sand at Southwick, becoming the first multi-race winner of the season. Johnson took second with a 1-2 and regained the series lead after Glover was unable to finish the second moto when his bike quit running. Leaving Southwick Johnson was in control with a 24-point lead over Keylon (197-173). Glover went from first to third with 170 points and Hansen, in spite of the win, was still fourth with 166.
At High Point Raceway Johnson took firm control of the championship with a 1-1. With two rounds to go Johnson had a 40-point lead over Glover (247-207), who finished fourth at High Point, in spite of an injured knee. Hansen took third overall and regained third in the standings, two points back from Glover.
Road Atlanta was the penultimate round and it proved pivotal in allowing Hansen and Glover to at least get mathematically back in the championship hunt. Hansen won the overall on the rutted red clay, giving him the distinction of being the winningest rider in the championship that season. But equally as important was the rough day experience by series leader Johnson. RJ crashed in Moto 1, then made an amazing charge all the way back to fourth. In the second moto the shock broke on his Yamaha. Heroically he still managed 11th to score seventh overall. Hansen’s win and Glover’s third overall, gave those two at least a small glimmer of hope going into the season finale.
At Castle Rock Hansen nailed the start and immediately began pulling away. “At that point I had no thoughts of the championship,” Hansen later said. “I just wanted to go out on a high note and win the last race of the season.”
On the second lap Johnson overshot a drop-away jump and smashed his front wheel into a hole, collapsing the wheel. Johnson was dazed by the crash, but got his bike restarted and then ran beside it to the mechanics area. Bob Oliver put on a new wheel and Johnson darted off hoping to gain some precious points, but he finished out of the points in 23rd.
Suddenly both Hansen and Glover knew they now had a good shot at the title and what followed was one of the hardest-fought motos in series history. The two went at each other, swapping the lead several times in the second half of the moto. On the final lap Glover made the pass for the lead with two turns to go. The crowd was going wild. Hansen didn’t give up though and dove deeper into the final turn than he had all weekend and miraculously repassed for the win by a bike length. Glover later said when he flicked into the last-turn rut, his shifter hit the ground and popped the bike into neutral. “By the time I got my foot back down there and shifted my bike, Hansen got back by me,” Glover explained.
Suddenly Hansen was leading the championship and Glover also had a shot going into the final moto. Glover ran away and hid, winning the moto and the overall. Hansen ran second with Johnson behind him trying to force him into a mistake. Finally, Johnson realizing Hansen wasn’t going to flinch, passed him and set off after Glover.
“When RJ went by me, he looked over and shook his head,” Hansen remembers. “He had to be just stunned by what happened in the first moto, but that’s the way racing goes sometimes.”
It was a terrible scenario for Johnson. With Glover leading and still having a shot at winning the title should something happen to Hansen, he wasn’t about to slow down and let Johnson by, which would have given RJ the title.
Glover later commented that had his bike not shifted into a false neutral in that first moto, he might have won and the three contenders would have all ended up tied in points with 297. Hansen still would have won the tiebreaker in that scenario with more moto wins (5 to 4) than Johnson on the year.
The 1982 AMA 250cc Motocross season will go down as one of the great all-time battles. It had everything – Honda vs Yamaha, factory vs production, rookie vs established stars, first-time winners and a thrilling finish. It doesn’t get much better than that.