Jeff Stanton's 1989 Motocross des Nations
In his rookie season, Jeff Stanton went 1-1 in Gaildorf Germany to lead the US Motocross des Nations team to it's ninth consecutive win
MXworksbike is honoured to announce that this feature is the first of several features that we will be doing in partnership with six time AMA Champion Jeff Stanton.
Jeff is one of the best riders to ever come out of the US and was probably the best motocross rider in the world when he was at his peak. I was fortunate to see many of Jeff's races back in the day when I owned "On the Line Racing" and sponsored Ty Davis. We were sponsored by Honda and were always welcome in the Honda pit section. Jeff's mechanic Dan Betley even helped us with our bike occasionally. The take-away I got from watching Jeff race so many times was dominance. He was all business at all times and it really showed on the race track. In his prime, he was quiet, polite and always down to earth, a real gentleman. On the track, he was an absolute killer and he has six AMA titles to back it up. We will also be displaying Jeff Stanton's entire collection of memorabilia such as helmets, gear, trophies and other really cool things covering his entire career in our museum. We are starting with his 1989 Motocross des Nations helmet, jersey and pants and will go from there. Jeff Stanton had one of the biggest "Cinderella" stories in his rookie season with the factory Honda team in 1989. It starts right here with this feature. Read and enjoy! - Terry Good
Jeff Stanton's memorabilia covering his entire career. This is just a small sample and will be on display at the MXworksbike.com museum
Jeff Stanton's 1989 Motocross des Nations
As the 1980's were winding down so was Honda's commitment to Honda Racing Corporation better known as HRC. Honda Motors in Japan had committed to fund HRC for 10 years in a program that began in 1980 that was designed to put Honda on top of the professional racing world. For an entire decade HRC developed the finest equipment and won more championships than all of the other manufacturers combined. Dave Arnold was there since the beginning when in late 1979 he was promoted to US Honda Motocross Team Manager. Dave had developed an incredible ability to develop a machine into a championship winning machine and he also had developed a very keen eye for rider talent.
It was Dave Arnold who hired Jeff Stanton who was a Yamaha support rider to the mighty Honda Motocross Team. " I hired Jeff as a project, basically to help him develop into a top rider but more importantly, he was hired as a test rider. I did not want to burn out our top riders like Ricky Johnson with endless hours of testing. It was important to keep them fresh for the championship races. I wanted someone like Jeff who was a dedicated, focused and hard working rider who had talent and did what he was told." recalls Dave today. Jeff was on the race team and raced in the championship races but during the week Dave Arnold and the HRC engineers would take him out as the sole test rider and test and test. "We would basically run him into the ground." said Arnold. For Stanton this would be the chance of a lifetime, just to be on the works Honda team in any capacity would have been a dream come true for any aspiring rider. Jeff turned out to be an excellent test rider. He understood what the bike was doing at all times and what worked and what didn't. As a result the 1989 RC250 was developed into the best 250 on the track by far. To this day all the riders will say that the 1989 250 works Honda was the best 250 they ever made. "Our 1989 250 was by far the best, much better than the bikes we had in the 1990's" says Stanton. Dave Arnold agrees, "Our 250's in the 1990's were designed after HRC got out and were garbage compared to the 1989 bike. The 1989 bike was a fantastic bike and had no shortcomings at all."
Ricky Johnson was 250 National and Supercross Champion and held those titles every year since 1986. Johnson was without a doubt the best rider in the US when Jeff Stanton was hired by Honda. Ricky took the young Stanton under his wing and mentored him and showed him the ropes of big time motocross. "Ricky took a liking to Jeff right away. Jeff was a shy young rider from the mid-west, real down home and not into the glitz part of it at all. Ricky told me he was going to help him out and show him the ropes" said Arnold. "Ricky and I got along really well, he showed me a lot of stuff and I learned a lot." remembers Stanton. They practiced together, they were room mates and best buds. It would have been every rookies dream to have the best show you all the tips of being a champion. As the 1989 supersross series started things were going as planned. Johnson was winning like he always did, but Stanton was quietly grabbing podium finishes with seconds and thirds. And for seven rounds that is how it went, and then they came to Atlanta. " To this day I don't know what happened but everything changed at Atlanta . I don't know if Stanton woke up that day and said I'm going to win today or what but nobody saw that coming. Jeff rode like I'd never seen before and won convincingly" remembers Arnold. Stanton also remembers that race well. "I was a competitor and it was my career at stake. When I went to the race track I went there to win every single week. I took in everything I learned from Ricky and then just waited for him to make a mistake. It went for seven races where I just waited and waited and then at Atlanta it happened. He made his first mistake and crashed and I was right there and went for it and won. The whole thing backfired on those guys. From that race in Atlanta I got more and more confident each week and ended up winning the 250 national and 250 supercross championships." Stanton won the 250 SX title and then went on the win the 250 outdoor national series, winning five out of seven races. Jeff Stanton went from Honda test rider to 250 Supercross and 250 National Champion in his rookie season! The next challenge would be the Motocross des Nations .
After Atlanta, this is the view everyone got of Stanton for the rest of the season
Prior to 1989, if Jeff Stanton had a weak spot it was supercross. By the end of the 1989 season he was Supercross Champion
When the 1989 supercross season was over, Jeff Stanton was 250 Champion and a household name. Before anybody realized what was happening, Jeff was top dog.
Johnson's out Stanton Selected: By the time it was time for the Motocross des Nations, two of the three man team had to withdrawl. Number one rider Ricky Johnson was out with injuries suffered at the 250 national in Gainesville. 125 riders Ron Lechien and back up George Holland also withdrew. Jeff Stanton was now selected to replace Ricky Johnson for the 250's and Mike Keidrowski was selected for the 125's. The 1989 Motocross des Nations was going to be held at the famous track in Gaildorf Germany. The track was known to be a very fast and very slick "blue groove" race track. Jeff had some experience in Europe in small stadium events but nothing on a track like Gaildorf that favored 500 bikes. Jeff is from Michigan where there is lots of sand. Mike Keidrowski had never even been to Europe! Factory Kawasaki rider Jeff Ward would be the only veteran originally selected and he would be on the works 500 Kawasaki. With all these last minute changes, it was no secret that the 1989 des Nations team was the weakest American team in a decade. The eight year winning streak that started in 1981 was in serious jeopardy. The Eurpoeans knew it too and were on their home turf waiting for the Americans.
Jeff Stanton's Comments: When I was selected to represent the United States in the Motocross des Nations, I was definatley a little nervous. The world champion at that time was David Thorpe on the Honda RC500. He was the guy that was winning over there and this was going to be his last race. I can tell you, I was more nervous to race against David Thorpe than all the rest. He was the guy on the pedestal. Also, everybody was talking about the 8 year winning streak and now with the US team being down to one veteran and two rookies, the Europeans had their best chance to break the US win streak. To me, the Motocross des Nations is the olympics of motocross, you put everything you got into it. You are upholding your country. To me this was more important than winning the nationals or a supercross title and I was not going to end the streak. I would do whatever it would take to win.
We crated up my 250 outdoor national bike and sent it over and then we flew over as a team on a Wednesday. We rode as a team on Thursday and Friday at another track just to set up the bikes. My bike was really really fast, it was a rocketship. It had a full HRC engine with a very crisp throttle response. Those HRC guys really had it figured out. We just had to make some minor adjustments to the suspension for the hard pack. The track at Gaildorf was really fast and the surface was like asphalt. It was "blue groove" everywhere. I had never ridden on something like this. I was from Michigan and grew up riding in the sand. This track favored 500's and required lots of throttle control because the track was so slippery.
Going into this race I was coming off winning the 250 Supercross Championship and I had won many nationals and secured the 250 National Championship, so I had a lot of confinence but I was also nervous because of Thorpe, who was world champion and this was the des Nations that I had never done before. They started in two rows so if you got a bad start you would have to pass 80 guys. Out of the three motos I would be starting in the second (125's and 250's) and third (250's and 500's).
Stanton's First Moto: Most of the press and nearly all the fans had all but written off the Americans. Even the European riders were cautiously optimistic as to which European team would win. They felt now was the time to stick it to the Americans. The first moto was 125's and 500's and veteran Jeff Ward did a fantastic job winning the overall on his works 500 Kawasaki. Mike Keidrowski surprised everybody by winning the 125 class in his first race in Europe over 125 World Champion Alessandro Puzar on the works Chesterfield Suzuki. Things were looking up for the Americans but there was two motos to go and Stanton hadn't been on the track yet. For the start of the two row 80 rider second moto, Stanton powered the HRC 250 works Honda into second into the first turn. This seemed reasonable as this moto was 125's and 250's. By the second corner Stanton had the lead. 125 factory Honda rider Keidrowski was way back in the pack but moving up. Meanwhile Stanton was out front and really hauling, The track was so hard that in many sections the blue groove went all the way accross the track rather than just in a particular line. The track was actually completely blue in some sections. Still way out front, Stanton looked as confident as ever and if he didn't like the track, you would have never known it watching as he was in full attack mode, doing two wheel drifts going in to and out of the corners, steering the bike with the throttle. He went on to finish the race several seconds ahead of second for the overall. Kiedrowski put in an amazing come from behind ride to finish 2nd 125's behind Puzar. This combination gave the Americans the overall win by the second moto out of three.
Jeff Stanton's Comments: In the first moto I got an excellent start and was second in the first turn. By the second corner I was in the lead. All the nervousness was gone and it was getting down to business. I settled down pretty quick and was very careful with my throttle control. This was critical on a very slippery track like Gaildorf. It was obvious that the fans did not want us to win. There was one section over a hillside on an off-camber turn and this big German guy would hang out a German flag over the course right where I would pass through every lap. I would come through there, go off a jump and blip my throttle, sliding into a two wheel drift through the turn and this German flag would hit my face and go over my helmet every time. I actually thought it was pretty funny but I remained focused and went on to win the moto by several seconds. I was riding extremely good that day.
Jeff Stanton had the race of his life at the 1989 Motocross des Nations in Gaildorf Germany, easily beating the world's best.
Stanton's second moto: By the time moto three started, the Americans had their 9th consecutive Motocross des Nations win sewn up. The final moto was 250's and 500's, so Jeff would be starting in the second row behind Ward on the SR500. A bad start would be disasterous for him given the fact that the entire front row was mostly 500s. The Gaildorf track was extremely fast and for a 250 to pass a 500 on this course was very difficult. This was also the first and only time Stanton would line up against his hero, David Thorpe, only Thorpe would be on a works RC500 Honda in the first row and Stanton would be on the works RC250 Honda in the second row. Big disadvantage!
When the gate went down for the final moto, Stanton tucked in behind Jeff Ward down the long start straight and somehow ended up in 7th position as they came through the first turn. By about the 6th turn he was miraculously in 3rd position breathing down Germany's Dietmar Lacher's neck. Another corner and Stanton was in second within striking distance of 1st place Jacky Martens on the works 500 KTM. By the end of the first lap Stanton was in the lead, screaming the extremely fast 250 Honda like a 125. With what seemed like nothing to prove he seemed to be going faster in the final moto than in the second. The track now was so hard and blue grooved out, many riders were falling as a result. The braking bumps going into the corners were so sharp and hard, as were the acceleration bumps coming out of the corners. Stanton was doing the same two wheel drifts as he was in the second moto, bliping the throttle as he slid through, never getting out of control. Jeff Ward went down 3 times on his Kawasaki as the track conditions continued to get worse. Stanton meanwhile was out front having one of those dominate races like in the states, completely unchallenged and pulling away. Nobody even looked close to being able to catch him. In fact the crowd was somewhat looking behind Jeff at the battle for second between Trampas Parker on a KTM and David Thorpe on the works Honda. At the checkered it was Stanton by a lot, then Parker and Thorpe rounded out the top three. The American's won with Italy and Great Britian getting second and third. By the end of the day everyone in Europe now knew who Jeff Stanton was.
Jeff Stanton's Comments: Going into the final moto I was more nervous than I was at the beginning of the race. Here I was on the starting line with world champion David Thorpe in his last race. To me that was like playing basketball against Michael Jordan, thats how I viewed it. He was the guy on the pedestal. I was starting from the second row and I was on a 250 against all of the 500s and I knew I had to somehow get a good start. The start straight was really long, so when the gate dropped, Ward went and I went and an alley just sort of opened up and I held it on a second more than he did. I passed him and before you know it I was in third and then by the start of the second lap I was leading it! I couldn't believe it. I was thinking to myself "Are you kidding me, I started in the second row, and I'm in the lead on the first lap! This is unbelievable." Once I settled in I was a 100% confident I was going to win the race. I knew Thorpe was in second but wasn't worried. When you are upholding your country, you don't wait or look for nobody. You show no mercy and that is what I did. I rode my race, I laid down some tracks and had fun and killed em all.
Jeff Stanton, high flying over Gaildorf Germany enroute to a 1-1 finish in his first ever Motocross des Nations
Dave Arnold sums up Jeff Stanton's 1989 season: Jeff surprised everybody with his performance that year. For him to come on as strong as he did totally blew me away. I knew he had potential, but to win both supercross and outdoor national titles with the stiff competition in the 250 class was unthinkable at the beginning of the season. To win the Motocross des Nations so convincingly, the way he did, gave him a nearly perfect season and it never went to his head. To this day Jeff Stanton is one of my favorite riders ever.
Jeff Stanton's 1989 Motocross des Nations helmet, jersey and Hondaline pants.
1989 Motocross des Nations Helmet - Jeff Stanton
1989 Motocross des Nations Jersey and Pants - Jeff Stanton
At the end of 1989, Jeff Stanton was "King of the Mountian" and for 1990 American Honda ran a huge ad campaign letting the world know it.