This Archives edition is reprinted from Issue #29, July 28, 2004. CN has hundreds of past Archives editions 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.
Danny LaPorte: Dan Of All Trades
By Scott Rousseau
Less than a month after Brad Lackey became the first American to win a World Motocross Championship title, Team Yamaha’s Danny LaPorte became the first American to win one on the first try.
At Vimmerby, Sweden, on August 29, 1982, LaPorte’s dream of being a World Champion became reality when he put together 4-2 moto finishes for second overall, behind another American, Donnie Hansen, who made it a stellar day for America after storming to a clean sweep of both motos for the overall win. According to LaPorte, now 47 [and now 64 Ed.], the accomplishment stands as one of his two most memorable moments in racing, the other being his contribution to the winning American MX and Trophee des Nations teams. World domination was always a part of his makeup.
“When I was racing, the ultimate thing was to be World Champion, to have that title,” LaPorte says. “I was really focused on winning a title in America (LaPorte was 1979 AMA 500cc National Champion), but the goal was always to go to Europe. At the time, no one American won a title yet, so that goal was still there, so I went for it.”
LaPorte’s title race shared one significant parallel to Lackey’s in that it was an epic battle that came down to the final moto of the season. Belgium’s Georges Jobe trailed LaPorte by 15 points heading into the series finale. One bad moto by LaPorte, and the tough Belgian was waiting in the wings, ready to pounce.
If the first moto wasn’t bad for LaPorte, it was less than average, as he struggled in traffic early, working his way to fourth place while Jobe and his factory Suzuki battled with KTM’s Kees van der Ven, the KTM-mounted Dutchman having an unrealistic outside shot at the title as well, for second place.
LaPorte’s chances very nearly took a turn for the worse as he was frantically chasing the pair down late in the first moto. Misjudging his approach to a right-hand corner, he went off the track. As he re-entered it, he collided with a backmarker coming through and nearly went down. LaPorte would also be hampered by a broken wheel before the moto was over, but he would soldier on. Hansen went on to win the moto by some 15 seconds over Jobe, who had another four on Van der Ven. LaPorte finished fourth, 27 seconds behind the Dutchman.
The momentum shift after moto one was obvious, as Jobe was clearly relaxed and confident while LaPorte appeared to be more tense, seriously concentrating on the task at hand. He still held an 11-point advantage over Jobe going into the final moto.
“It was like serving for the match in the final at Wimbledon,” LaPorte recalls. “The nerves kind of get to you, and you start to double fault. There was a lot of pressure connected to winning that title.”
Anything could happen in moto two, and it did, to Jobe, not unlike the miscue that destroyed Andre Vromans’ chances to steal the title away from Lackey. Jobe was knocked down on the opening lap of moto two after making contact with Heinz Kinigadner. Jobe remounted and charged from last to 15th by lap five. Before the moto was over, he would pass a total of 32 riders to finish third.
LaPorte was not one of them, however. More relaxed on the track than he had been before the start of the final moto, he moved into second place on lap 12 and rode conservatively, doing the job that he had come to do.
“I knew that all I had to do was stay near Jobe,” LaPorte says. “I knew that he had nothing to lose, and I think that he just got over-amped, trying to create something.” Although LaPorte finished some 19 seconds behind Hansen, it didn’t matter. LaPorte was America’s first 250cc World Motocross Champion. As he crossed the line, Yamaha team manager and former World Champion Heikki Mikkola blasted LaPorte with champagne, blessing the moment with both gravity and levity.
With the title, LaPorte joined road racer Kenny Roberts as the only American ever to win a World Championship title on his first try. He may not have been the first in his sport, but ever the team player, LaPorte says he has no regrets about that.
“What was really cool is that I was there to watch Brad win his championship, and then I won mine,” LaPorte says. “And the money didn’t matter.”
Always in search of another goal, LaPorte actually stayed in Europe longer than he would have liked, defending his 250cc title the following season before taking a brief fling in the 500cc GPs aboard uncompetitive factory Yamaha 500s in 1984.
“I did go back and defend the title in ’83, and I had some mechanical problems and a few DNFs that were really critical, but I still feel like I had a better year that year,” LaPorte says. “I won more races. In ’84, the goal was to be 500cc World Champion, but I didn’t really get the support from Yamaha. They had a lot financial difficulties at that time.”
LaPorte returned home to America to finish his motocross career as a member of Team Husqvarna in 1985. He later switched to off-road racing, partnering with off-road legends such as Larry Roeseler and Paul Krause, to win the Baja 1000 aboard a Team Green Kawasaki in 1988. With Ted Hunnicutt and Roeseler, LaPorte went on to win the next three Baja 1000s in a row, 1989-91. He also scored a gold medal at the ISDE in Germany in 1989. He also contested the Paris-Dakar off-road rally five times, his best finish being second overall, and he won the Pharoahs Rally. Today, LaPorte holds a position with FMF Racing. Like a lot of his peers of the era, LaPorte has done a lot in the sport of motorcycling.
“When I was a kid, Malcolm Smith was my hero,” LaPorte says. “The reason I even went over to Europe was because when I was a kid, I wanted to be the best dirt bike rider in the world.”
It would be hard to argue against him.CN