The AMA Claiming Rule Controversy
Marty Tripes 1979 factory Honda RC250M, the only bike ever successfully claimed in AMA competition.
The AMA Claiming Rule
The AMA claiming rule was originally written for dirt track racing to keep the equipment fair in a sport that was relatively static as far as equipment was concerned at that time. It was written long before motocross had arrived and long before the Japanese factories were developing very expensive works bikes for research and development that was supposed to filter down to the companies production bikes.
AMA Championships equaled increased sales and while motocross in the US was relatively young at this time, it was growing at an exponential rate. During the seventies, motocross was in a hyper-evolution phase with engine, chassis and suspension design. The factories were not only trying to win on Sunday and sell on Monday with their factory teams, they were competing against each other to build the best production bike to sell to the public. It was not uncommon for a production bike to be outdated in six months after it was released and at the works bike level this could occur on a week by week basis. The price of some of the Japanese works bikes in 1976 was approaching the price of the national median home value of $44,000.00. The Type 2 Honda's probably exceeded that while a production 125 sold for less than $1000.00. While all this was going on the claiming rule in the AMA rule book remained, in fact it was virtually forgotten until May 23rd 1976, when privateer Mickey shocked the world and attempted to claim Bob Hannah's factory Yamaha OW27 at Red Bud. In a near miss, Yamaha was spared of losing a very expensive motorcycle.
The rule stated that any rider in the race with another rider could purchase the bike the other rider was riding for a sum. In 1976 the sum for a 125 was $2500.00. If rider A wanted to own rider B's bike, both riders had to compete against each other in the same race. Rider A had 30 minutes from the time the checkered flag fell on the first place rider to notify the AMA referee of the claim of rider B's bike. He then had to give the Ref the required funds in the form of a Certified Check or Cash. If rider B wanted to keep his bike he could also file a claim on the bike, put up the cash and then there would be a lottery or drawing to decide who would get the bike. In 1976 the factories worked together to counter claim any bike that might be claimed by having all of their riders that were in the same race as the bike being claimed, file a claim on the bike. The mistake both riders made in 1976 was filing too soon. Had Boone waited till the last minute to file the claim on Hannah's OW27, he would have owned it.
The first successful claim
On Sunday March 25, 1979, a factory works motocross bike was successfully claimed for the first time at a professional AMA sanctioned motocross race. The 1979 AMA rule book stated "The objectives of the association have always been to foster strong and fair competition…..to administer the competition program with impartiality….
The only time the claiming rule had ever been used before was in 1976 when the 125 national series went into a meltdown when Mickey Boone unsuccessfully tried to claim Bob Hannah’s #39 works OW27 Yamaha and another privateer also unsuccessfully tried to claim Marty Smith’s works RC125 Type 2 Honda.
To claim a 250 all a rider had to do was be entered in the same race as the rider who’s bike he wanted to claim, put up the required dollar amount in the form of a cashiers check within 30 minutes after the checkered flag fell and the bike was his. The rider whose bike was being claimed also had the right to counter claim his own bike as well as any other rider in the same race. If this happened, and there was more than one claim, there would be a drawing of numbers and whom ever drew the high or low number (depending on how the AMA referee determined the lottery), that person would win the bike. The price for a 250 in 1979 was $3500.
To protect their expensive, one-off and experimental equipment, the factory teams had an informal, unwritten understanding-that if any works bike is claimed, the riders on the other factory teams will enter claims against the bike in question; this reduces the single privateer’s chance of getting the machine.
An attempt by privateer John Roeder had been made earlier in the year at the Oakland Supercross, the first supercross of the year. John Roeder tried to claim Steve Wise’s factory RC250 Honda. Roeder paid another rider who was in Wises race $1000.00 to file the claim and Roeder provided the only check against the bike. The AMA commissioner Mike DiPrete was on the spot as Honda did not want to lose the bike but did not bring any counter claim checks that day, nor did anybody else. There was an issue with the check that allowed the commissioner to side with Honda. Roeder’s check did not say "cashier check" on the front. Instead it read "guaranteed check." Any bank teller would have recognized that the check was good but the decision went Honda’s way.
The factories had a close call; unprepared to counterclaim, they had almost lost a bike. Mike DiPrete was satisfied and technically his position was unassailable but he had gone by the very words of the rulebook. Honda kept the bike and Roeder went home empty handed.
At the next supercross in Seattle, Mike DiPrete made mention of a misplaced rule that was mysteriously left out of the rule book. The reason was a printer’s error. The mysteriously misplaced rule restricted prospective claimants to only rider who qualified for the main event. Roeder was not good enough to qualify for the main event and the few privateers who were would not jeopardize any chance of ever getting a factory sponsorship by claiming a bike. The "missing" rule, once in place, insured that the bulk of the privateers could not use that rule to file a claim against the factory works bikes.
The outdoor national series was to open March 25th at the place it had for years in Sacramento California. For the opening round everyone had to qualify and the claiming rule was in effect and this was on everyone’s mind.
The official rule stated; Any rider can enter a claim on any motorcycle which races against, either in a qualifying race, or consolation race or a final-provided that the motorcycle in question eventually finishes in one of the top three positions in the national. At the first national of the season the factory bikes were in the greatest danger of being claimed because everybody had to qualify for the main event. After the first round, the top 10 ranking riders would not have to re-qualify; their ranking automatically transferred them into the final.
John Roeder was in the second qualifier and did not transfer to the final. Factory Honda rider Marty Tripes was in the same moto and did transfer. While Roeder was on the track in his qualifier word spread fast that the "Claimer" was on hand and intended to claim a bike that day. When it was all over, Bob Hannah won the 250 national and Marty Tripes and Kent Howerton finished second and third. After the checkered flag for the second moto dropped, Butch Lee, the referee for the event, thought there was something unusual. Hannah’s victory seemed common enough, but Lee soon found himself surrounded by factory team managers.
Their interest in Lee was not misplaced. Roeder intended to claim a bike. He learned from his Oakland experience that if he was going to claim a bike successfully, he would have to follow every letter of the AMA rulebook. When Hannah received the checkered flag from the second moto, Roeder started two stopwatches to accurately monitor the 30 minute claiming period. He also brought a second check that a friend would use to claim the same bike. At 29 minutes and 40 seconds into the claiming period, Roeder presented the referee with the two claims. " I’d like to claim Marty Tripes’ Honda, number 14 in the 250 class."
Factory team managers Kenny Clark of Yamaha, Steve Johnson of Kawasaki, Mark Blackwell from Suzuki and Gunnar Lindstrom representing team Honda also filed claims and submitted cashiers checks for the number 14 Honda. A total of 11 claims had been made on one motorcycle. Startled, Butch Lee gathered the checks and took the interested parties away from the crowd that had gathered. A lottery would be held to determine who would own the bike.
With the factories nine and Roeder’s two checks the odds were 4.5 to one against Roeder. By using starting line position chips, numbers one through 11 were put into a sack and mixed up. The rider who drew number one would own the bike. Roeder went first. He reached over his head and into the sack and drew out chip number one. He owned the RC250.
After Roeder won the bike, he agreed to let Cycle magazine tear it down and do a story on it. The bike graced the August 1979 issue and remains one of the more popular collector magazines. After a short test ride, the bike was stored in a trailer in Idaho where it sat for over 25 years until it eventually found its way into this collection.
This was the first time the public ever got a real peak inside a works bike and Cycle magazine did a fantastic job covering the teardown. Once the bike was opened up all the special handmade parts were weighed, photographed and compared to the stock counterpart. It became obvious that not many parts would interchange with the stock CR and the bike was special in every way. The works Showa cartridge forks alone were worth several times as that of a stock CR250. Even small pieces like the chain guide showed much attention to detail. Every part on the RC250 was made to be a part of an RC250.
The next week in Southern California, behind the scenes meetings were going on all week and at the following national at Saddleback Park under pressure from the factories not wanting to lose another mega dollar works bike, the AMA suspended the rule with this memo.
"Please be advised that an interim ruling suspending the claiming rule at motocross events for an indefinite period is in effect."
The rule was never reinstated and another era in the history of US motocross had come to an end.
Points of View
Honda Factory Rider
What I remember about the Hangtown race in 1979 was that before the race we were testing with the Showa suspension guys during the week and they were working very hard at getting the works suspension right. Most of the Honda team was using Fox shox at that time and they worked very well. They wanted us to use the Showa shocks but nobody would give them a chance even though they were trying very hard. While we were out testing I picked up a set of the Showa’s and they were super light, I looked at the inside and they looked like everything was made right so I continued to test them. We got them valved and sprung pretty good and I kept them on my bike for the Hangtown race. We made one other change before practice and I went out to see if they did what I thought they would do and in fact the shocks worked very well. I came in from practice and told my mechanic, my manager and the Showa guys that I was going to use them in the race. The Showa guys were ecstatic. During the race they worked great, they didn’t fade at all in the 40 minute motos.
In the first moto, I had the worst gate position and was in about 15th place at the start. I worked up to second behind Hannah but then fell back to third on the last lap.
In the second moto, Hannah and I got away 1,2 on the start. I chased him for most of the moto eventually passing him. Hannah passed me back and was leading, then he had to pull over for a brake problem and I was able to close the gap. My pipe developed a crack about 3 or 4 laps from the end and my bike was losing power and was unable to make a last minute charge. I ended up 3,2 for 2nd overall.
Back then you didn’t get to practice on works bikes during the week because they were so rare and expensive. Since I didn’t ride the works bike as much as I would my production bikes I used for practice, I never really knew the limit of it. I never knew how far I could push the works bike. On the production bike, I knew right where the limit was and I knew exactly what it would do in almost all circumstances. I set the RC up very similar in many ways to the production bike because of this. It is what I was comfortable with and the production CR was a very good bike anyway.
Prior to Hangtown I never saw John Roeder before. Earlier I heard he wanted to claim a bike and actually tried to claim one but something happened and it didn’t go through. I do remember people talking about him trying to claim another bike at Hangtown but everybody was pretty confident that he wouldn’t win it because all of the factories got together and would file counter-claims on any bike to dilute his chances of winning it.
After the race was over the AMA came over to our pits and notified us that a claim had been filed on my bike. They took the bike and pushed it out of the pits and away from the crowd. At this point it was tense but I really didn’t think anything would happen, I didn’t even think of losing the bike. I just thought we would get through it and maybe the AMA would eventually change the rule.
Once we got to the spot where the lottery would be, the bike was sitting there and all the team managers and involved riders were standing around and then they took 11 starting position chips and put them in a hat. The AMA ref said that the person that drew the lowest number would win the bike. We all gathered around to draw. Roeder drew first and then all I remember was the AMA ref Butch Lee said "It’s over, he drew number one." It happened so fast. I was completely stunned. I remember looking over at my mechanic as Roeder was pushing my bike away as if he was going to stop him or something. I couldn’t believe I lost my bike.
The 1979 RC250 Honda that Roeder claimed was a phenomenal bike. The crankshaft was real special and the motor was vibration free. It had the type of motor that revved freely and if you asked for more it would give you more. It was all there. When we got the suspension figured out, it was a killer. It was a phenomenal bike in every way.
I had participated in other motorsports before, such as SCCA, that had various sets of rules based on the philosophy of different types of racing. Different organizations had different ways of accomplishing that goal whether it was unlimited modified machines or where all the riders or drivers were using equal machines. It is a choice made by the participants and the organization. In this case, the AMA and its participants made that choice when they put the claiming rule in the rulebook years before.
Prior to the 1979 season, I read the AMA rulebook very carefully to see what it would take to claim a bike. I thought I did what was necessary to get a bank "guaranteed check." in my attempt to claim a bike at the Oakland Supercross. The fact that it didn’t say "cashiers check." was an interpretation of the rules and I was disappointed that it didn’t work the first time. So the element of surprise didn’t work at Oakland. Looking back, I think that maybe I could have pursued the matter more aggressively but Bowman, who filed the claim for me, didn’t want to pursue the matter. I think he didn’t realize what he had gotten himself into and at that point decided to withdraw the claim. At this point I was in no position to challenge the issue.
The next week at Seattle, the AMA had this paper with a supplemental rule that stated you had to qualify for the main event. Also, by this time everybody had time to think about it and had an opinion. Most of the factory riders were upset and afraid. And some of the privateers came up to me and gave me their support.
Most of the races after that were back east, so I waited until Hangtown to try again. Since Hangtown was the first national and everyone had to qualify, this also increased my chances. I went there with about seven "cashiers checks" determined to get a bike and planned on getting other privateers to file a claim as well as myself. As it turned out, one other rider agreed to file so I would be going in there with two checks.
During tech inspection at Hangtown, many riders came up to me with many comments that ranged from one end of the spectrum to the other, but I never let on to my intent. I was in Marty Tripes’ qualifier and would be allowed to claim his bike.
After the race I had my mechanic start a stopwatch to take advantage of the 30-minute rule as we were going to wait till inside the last minute to file the claim. We also kept a close eye on the AMA ref to make sure he didn’t all of a sudden disappear during the 30-minute time period. To further disguise my intent I was going to have my mechanic actually hand the checks and the claiming form over and I just stood back about 50 ft. so the team managers that were all hanging around with briefcases wouldn’t be able to act in time as they were all hanging around the ref and watching me.
With less than 30 seconds before the 30-minute mark was up, my mechanic handed the Ref the claim forms and the checks. Realizing what had just happened, the team managers immediately said, "Whose bike is he claiming and we want to claim it too." No forms or checks were produced by the managers at that time. They spent the next several minutes filling out claim forms and then well after the time had expired, they officially filed their claims. Once again the AMA went out of their way to accommodate the teams and allowed them to file late. I thought that was just wrong. I figured by the time we put in a claim and if nobody else claims, then the rider would be allowed to counter-claim his own bike.
There were 9 claims by the factories and my two claims for a total of eleven claims for the bike. The AMA ref put 11 chips in a hat numbered 1 to 11 and it was decided that who ever drew number one would win the bike. I reached into the hat and pulled out the chip. I was shocked, I couldn’t believe my eyes, I looked down and there was number one. It was over I had won the bike. I remember looking over at Marty Tripes and he really looked depressed. He was just standing there shaking his head like he couldn’t believe this had just happened.
I was pretty excited to have the bike and when I got home, I half disassembled the motor just to see what was inside. Then I rode the bike a little before Cycle magazine contacted me about doing a story about it. I agreed we scheduled a day where I would take the bike down to the LA area where they would tear it down for their story. After the magazine story, I put it in storage and it remained there for nearly 30 years.
At that time the four Japanese factories were spending incredible amounts of money on these works bikes and I think most would agree that there was a big advantage there. Other sanctioning bodies have hundreds of pages of rules to keep the equipment somewhat equal and the AMA basically said you can run anything but there is this claiming rule. Other than I did think it would be cool to have a works bike, who wouldn’t, but I think the main reason I claimed the bike was more of the hypocrisy of it all. Here were the factories saying that this bike was a Yamaha or this bike was a Honda was a stretch. There was not one part on the bike I claimed that would interchange with the production bike. I do understand and agree that running works bikes promotes research & development and this would lead to better production bikes. But even more so, was the hypocrisy of the AMA. They were saying "We are trying to keep racing fair and we have this claiming rule to do that." Then when somebody exercises the rule, they find any reason they can to see to it that the claiming rule can’t be used. I think that was hypocritical and in the end, they just removed the rule.
Honda Team Manager
In 1979 I was the Honda motocross team manager. Our team was using various types of race bikes that year. We had bikes prepared by Mugen, we had bikes with single down tube stock frames, we had the prototype double down tube frame bikes that were coded 467 and we had full works bikes that Steve Wise and Marty Tripes rode. Steve Wise rode the bike that had the experimental long stroke engine, which was the RC250M A1D-D and Marty’s bike was the short stroke version, and that one was the RC250M A1D-C. Both Wise’s and Tripes’ bikes were full works bikes with special sand-cast engines and works double down tube frames. They were the best bikes we had.
At the first Supercross of the year at the Oakland Coliseum we had our first scare with the claiming rule. John Roeder tried to claim Steve Wise’s works bike. Roeder didn’t qualify but he got a guy by the name of Dave Bowman to file a claim. There was a technical problem and Bowman withdrew his claim. I was the new team manager and Oakland was the first race of the year so I was unprepared to file a counter-claim and if not for the technical problem, we would have lost a very expensive bike. It was a close call.
There were many other supercross races between the first one at Oakland and the first national at Hangtown and at this time we established a gentleman’s agreement with the other factories where cashiers checks for all factory riders would be at the races and if anyone tried to claim a works bike, all factory riders in the same race would file counter claims for the same bike. This was done to dilute the chance of the claimer winning the bike.
At Hangtown everyone had to qualify since it was the first national and we figured he might try it again and we were ready with cashiers checks. At the end of the race Roeder filed his claim as we thought he might and all the team managers were right there with their checks just like we had planned. It was all over very fast as Roeder won the draw and the bike was his. He immediately offered to sell it back for $15,000.00. I didn’t have that much money with me, and if I did, I’m not sure I would have gone through with it. It would have violated the process that we all subscribed to. Roeder won the bike fair and square.
We felt that anyone claiming a bike and selling it back for more money was a breach of a gentleman’s agreement that we thought all the riders had. We felt that if anyone claimed a bike it would hurt them more than it would help them in the long run as far as getting parts for it etc. but we were prepared for it. We weren’t sure why he did it. We thought he was some sort of maverick or something but when we heard he was going to let Cycle magazine do a story on it involving a tear down we thought he might have had some ulterior motives. We were very concerned about one of our works bikes being torn down and revealed in a magazine. We contacted Cycle and asked them not to run the story but they did it anyway. It was bad enough to have to regroup and come up with another bike for Marty from a parts standpoint, mechanics standpoint as well as a rider’s standpoint. But then to have your bike torn down and revealed made us seem somewhat violated. At the time we were really trying to catch Yamaha, they were the top team and this did not help.
At Honda we really felt somewhat violated by the whole ordeal. It was very embarrassing for us to explain this to Honda of Japan and they really didn’t understand the claiming rule and why it was there. Marty’s mechanic Jon R. built him another bike out of parts exactly like the claimed and we used that bike the next week at Saddleback where the claiming rule was suspended indefinitely.