Cycle News Archives
This Cycle News Archives Column is reprinted from issue #49, December 14, 2005. CN has hundreds of past Archives editions in our files, too many destined to be archives themselves. So, to prevent that from happening, in the future, we will be revisiting past Archives articles while still planning to keep fresh ones coming down the road -Editor.
Best Supporting Actor
By Scott Rousseau
In racing, there are superstars and there are many others who make them so by racing against them and putting in solid supporting efforts. Without sportsman, there are no stars, and without stars, there are no superstars. You might say that Southern California motocrosser Rich Eierstedt is a solid supporting star from the ’70s decade of motocross.
As a factory Honda rider, Eierstedt, won two Trans-AMA 250cc Support titles and placed well in several AMA Nationals, but he never really got the type of recognition reserved for the elite troop of legends in the sport. In fact, no mention is even made of Eierstedt’s Trans-AMA titles in the AMA media guide—only the 500cc class titlists are mentioned. Eierstedt is only credited with winning two AMA 500cc Supercross events, one at Houston and one at Pontiac, Michigan, in 1976, and even these were support events, unlike the 1974 and 1975 seasons, which crowned AMA National Championship titles to the winners of the 500cc Supercross class.
“I’m probably more well known for the mechanics I had,” Eierstedt jokes. “Roy Turner was my mechanic with Honda, and then he ended up being the Honda team manager, and then he was the Kawasaki team manager forever. Then my other mechanic was Dave Arnold, and he ran Team Honda forever; and then in between them my mechanic was Steve Whitelock, and I think you know who he is. [Former AMA Pro Racing Manager].”
Growing up in Southern California, Eierstedt began riding motorcycles, like most others from his era. Unlike today, there was no fast track to stardom via high-profile minicycle events. Eierstedt was just a trail rider before he became a motocrosser.
“We used to go out in Riverside off of Arlington and camp,” Eierstedt recalls. “My mom and dad would hunt, and I didn’t like guns, so I rode.”
Eierstedt didn’t ride his first motocross race until he was 16 years old.
“It was at Saddleback Park,” Eierstedt says. “Jim Wilson was my hero at the time. He was the top guy in Southern California in the early ’70s. He rode Greeves, and I had his practice bike, which we bought from Nick Nicholson. I talked my dad into taking me out there. That was in 1971.”
Eierstedt progressed quickly, and pretty soon he was fast enough and winning often enough to earn a factory ride. Even so, if it wasn’t for his mother, Phyllis, Eierstedt might never have gotten his shot at the big time.
“I was riding Maicos for Warren Burrell,” Eierstedt recalls. “His shop was called American Motocross, and he sponsored me, Rex Staten, Mike Cram and Gaylon Mosier. We all rode Maicos, and he called it the sandlot because he had us idiots in there working on Maicos all day. But we never broke down because he showed us what to do, and it was pretty hard to keep Maicos running. Gaylon went to the CMC races, and I just traveled around and went to Indian Dunes and places like that, and my mom kept track of all the races that I won.
“I’ll never forget when Cycle World came out with a picture of the new Honda Elsinore on the cover,” Eierstedt continues. “I saw it and said, ‘Oh, look at that bike. That looks like the best bike.’ My mom said, ‘Why don’t you write a letter to Honda and tell them that you want a bike?’ I said, ‘I can’t do that,’ but she made up a little letter and put all my wins in it and mailed it to Honda without me knowing about it. Two weeks later [team manager] John Blum called me from Honda, and the next thing I know I was flying all over the world, riding for Honda.”
In fact, Eierstedt proved that he knew what to do with the Elsinore when he got on it, as he won the 250cc Support class in the Trans-AMA Series in 1973.
“I am listed as Honda’s first [MX Champion] in 1973, ahead of Gary Jones, for the Trans-Am’s,” Eierstedt says. “See, back then the Trans-Am’s were a big deal. It was kind of neat. We had Europeans there, and so you had French guys and Finnish guys on the starting line with you. The whole atmosphere was different. They were heroes, and they didn’t talk like us. I think I won five or six races that year in the 250cc class in the Trans-Am. My competition was Billy Grossi, Bryar Holcomb, Billy Clements. Then in ’76 when I won it again, Danny LaPorte was my main guy. We were three points apart going into the last race in Arizona, and I beat Danny there. But there were a lot of guys back then, and it was a lot of fun.”
Despite winning his second Trans-AMA title, tying with Rick Burgett for sixth in the AMA 500cc National MX Championship Series and finishing 10th in the AMA 250cc National MX Championship Series, Eierstedt was forced to go shopping for a ride for 1977.
“Honda had told me that if I won the Trans-AMA, they would sign me for the next year,” Eierstedt says. “Then the winter came, and they never called me. But I had four good years with them. What are you going to do?”
With many of the top rides gone by the time that Honda had turned him away, Eierstedt wound up at Bultaco.
“I have kind of a funny story about that,” Eierstedt says. “I knew Jim Pomeroy really well, and he would stay at my house sometimes. I went to Bultaco and he went to Honda for ’77, so we just traded clothes. I had all these Hondaline clothes from four years of being with Honda, and he had all these Bultaco clothes—T-shirts and all that stuff.”
The Bultaco deal didn’t pan out the way Eierstedt had hoped, mainly, he says, because of personality conflicts with the team’s manager Gary Bailey. The clash ultimately led to Eierstedt leaving the team in the middle of the ’77 season.
“Gary Bailey fired my mechanic, and I was top-10 in the Nationals, and I said if my bike broke, I was going to quit,” Eierstedt says. “Gary Bailey was working on the bike himself, and the carburetor fell off at the National in Florida, so I walked across the pit to the Harley-Davidson truck and knocked on the door and said, ‘Do you guys need a rider?’ They said, ‘Sure,’ and that’s how it went. I switched teams.”
While Eierstedt doesn’t go so far as to say that his move from Bultaco to Harley-Davidson was akin to going from the frying pan to the fire, it may have been close enough. Even so, he still managed to finish 10th again in the 1977 AMA 500cc National MX Championship Series.
“Harley was really great because everything was done with a handshake,” Eierstedt says. “They paid me my money every week, they met me at the airport, flew me to the races. I still practiced on Bultacos—Bultaco had given me some bikes at the beginning of the year, but I raced Harleys. I liked Bultaco well enough, but I couldn’t stand Gary Bailey. The only good thing that happened on the Harley was that I led a heat race at Anaheim for seven or eight laps, ahead of the Honda team, until my bike seized. So, then I signed a deal to ride with Can-Am for the next two years, in ’78 and ’79.”
Eierstedt raced the AMA Nationals with Can-Am, but his time with them was fraught with problems, even though he managed another 10th-place finish in the AMA 250cc National MX Championship Series.
“We had a lot of bike problems, and the bikes didn’t handle too good,” Eierstedt says. “I did the best I could, then I quit in 1980. Well, I got talked into coming out with Maico for a while. They gave me a bike, but I just couldn’t get back into it. I just lost the desire. I’d seen friends get paralyzed. I just got out of it.”
Eierstedt says that he didn’t race for the next 14 years, preferring to just trail ride and ride street bikes.
“But I always liked Mammoth, although I didn’t care for the rest of the California tracks because I had been so spoiled from racing back East,” Eierstedt says. “I saw where Roger DeCoster won the Over-40 Championship at Mammoth, and when I saw that, I said, ‘I want my name right below his.’ So, I borrowed a bike from Wayne Mooradian at PEP Racing. He had an old ’85 CR500 laying around, and he let me go practice that. The power was no big deal, but I hadn’t ever ridden a bike with disc brakes. It actually turned, and it actually stopped. Then I called up Roy Turner at Kawasaki and told him I was going to go up there, and he said, ‘I’ll give you a bike.’ He gave me a brand new ’94 KX500, and I took it over to Wayne’s, and Wayne did the suspension on it. I went up to Mammoth and won both days.”
Not long after that, Eierstedt got a phone call from Motocross Action magazine editor Jody Weisel, offering him bikes to ride and drafting him as part of MXA’s test team, which Eierstedt happily agreed to. Eierstedt was an MXA test rider for the next 10 years, while also earning a living working in the industry, with companies such as JT Racing and White Brothers. He backed away from riding to pursue a career in the real-estate business, though he says that he doesn’t expect he’ll be away as long as he was last time.
“As soon as I get the business going, I’ll start riding again,” Eierstedt says.
And he’ll do it because he loves it, and not because of any recognition that he feels is due or overdue.
“I guess my career, I was always like Rodney Dangerfield or something, but if you would’ve seen the wars between me and Grossi, and then me and Chuck Sun, Bryar Holcomb. Those were some pretty competitive races,” Eierstedt says.
Legend or not, Rich Eierstedt had the kind racing experiences that most people can only dream about. (Editor’s Note: Rich Eierstedt passed away in 2010. He was 56.) CN