Cycle News Archives
This Cycle News Archives edition is reprinted from June 2005. CN has hundreds of past Archives columns in our files, too many destined to be archives themselves. To prevent that from happening, we will be revisiting past Archives articles while still planning to keep fresh ones coming down the road -Editor.
One Was Enough
By Scott Rousseau
Be prepared, that’s Jeff Ward’s motto. After winning four AMA Supercross Series rounds in 1984 and finishing fourth, Jeff Ward won only one round of the AMA Supercross Series in 1985, but he ended up with the number-one plate on his motorcycle. How’s that for numerology? Win four, finish fourth. Win one, finish first.
The beauty of Ward’s ’85 title—his first of two in AMA Supercross—was that it came in the most competitive season the sport has yet seen, in an era when there were so many top-tier factory stars capable of winning that a multi-victory run of the kind that modern-day warriors Jeremy McGrath, Ricky Carmichael and Chad Reed have enjoyed was simply unfathomable.
“Yeah, either we were all very bad, or we were all very good,” Ward, now 43, says with a laugh. “There were eight different winners, and it was all about getting the start. If you got a 10th-place start, or even a fifth-place start, you were screwed. You needed to be first, second or third off the start, because you weren’t going to get by guys every corner and every lap to catch up to the leaders. If you did get up to second, the leader was usually gone.”
And you had to get good starts twice each night, because 1985 was the year that the AMA, in its infinite wisdom, elected to utilize a two-moto format for AMA Supercross. Rather than one 20-lap main event, there were two 10-lappers, the rider with the best two moto scores being declared the winner of the event. Ward recalls that he placed extra-heavy emphasis on his training regimen that year in anticipation of a war with a number of equally prepared rivals.
“There were a few of them, like Johnny O’Mara, David Bailey, Ricky Johnson and Broc Glover,” Ward says. “We didn’t really throw Ron Lechien in there as someone who was tough, because he didn’t train, but his riding ability sure made up for it. You couldn’t [discount] him, because of how talented he was.”
No surprises then, when all five of those riders scored wins during the II-round series, as did the seemingly ageless Bob Hannah and Mark Barnett. In all, eight riders—half of them former AMA Supercross Champions—would win rounds, setting a record for different winners in a single season that still stands today. Ward, who won round seven of the series, in Houston, Texas, recalls that the race format and the depth of the competition made the title battle an all-out war.
“We brought it up to another level, that’s for sure,” Ward says.
Damn straight. In fact, the title battle was so intense that Team Kawasaki’s Ward found himself tied for points with Team Yamaha’s Glover—the two vying for their first AMA Supercross crown, 211-211, after the penultimate round at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Team Honda’s Lechien had somehow put together a consistent enough series to sit third, just four points adrift of Ward and Glover. No one could be sure of what was in store at the final round, which would take place at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
“But I was prepared,” Ward says. “I did my training, did everything I possibly could do to be ready for each weekend. No matter whether it was muddy, or cold or whatever, I was prepared. If I had an injury, I was prepared to deal with that, but I do remember that I stayed pretty injury-free that year.”
Well, almost. There was an ungodly three-month hiatus between the Coliseum and Rose Bowl rounds. In the meantime, the trio of AMA National Championship MX Series would be in full swing, with the 250cc U.S. GP at Unadilla, New York, taking place little more than a month before the Rose Bowl finale. Of course, Ward contested the U.S. GP, and wouldn’t you know it—bailed off, suffering a separated shoulder.
“I remember the photo of me going over the bars was in a couple of the magazines,” Ward says.
“I didn’t finish the moto and pulled out of the race. Then I had to do therapy on the shoulder for the two weeks before the race.”
But Ward caught a break when main rival Glover got a break: The “Golden Boy” fractured his wrist in a practice-track incident less than two weeks before the showdown at the Rose Bowl. That left two battered and bruised veterans up against one pink-cheeked bullet, Lechien, in a supreme battle for the crown on August 17, 1985.
Lechien was the first to falter at the Rose Bowl. Bailey grabbed the holeshot in the first main, while Lechien, who was running second, crashed over the first set of double jumps and wound up ninth. Bailey went on to win the race, while Ward’s teammate Goat Breker finished second and defending series champion O’Mara finished third. Behind fourth-placed JoJo Keller, Glover managed to ace Ward in a battle of gimps to finish fifth and get a leg up on the title.
All eyes were on Glover and Ward in the second main event. The championship was on the line. Ward got off to second-place start, behind O’Mara, who would go on to win the race and claim the event win. Meanwhile, Glover got off the line third. Glover fell back, but then he upped the pace late in the race, and he began to reel in Ward until only one bike-length separated them. A slight bobble by Glover while dogging Ward to the checkered flag spelled the difference. Ward finished second, Glover third, and Ward claimed the AMA Supercross Series Championship by one point, 218-217.
He may have won only one race all year, but Ward earned the title by being prepared and by practicing what he preaches to this day, nearly 20 years later.
“Consistency is what wins championships,” Ward says. “Look at what Ricky Carmichael said this year : ‘There’s fast guys out there, but you have to be consistent.’”
When Jeff Ward raced, there were a lot of them, and he was. CN.