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                  Memories of the 1976 Nationals from a true Privateer

                                               Kim Blackseth (1976 National #479)

                                                

                                                                       Prelude

   The 1976 125 AMA Championship started for me about two years earlier.  In 1974, I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Mecca of 1970’s motocross, Southern California.  In those days anyone who wanted to make it as a pro motocrosser had to prove himself in the crucible of So Cal motocross at Saddleback, Carlsbad, Indian Dunes, Ascot, Corona, Lions Raceway and the list goes on.  As a modestly successful local Nor Cal pro, I struck out to make my mark as an AMA National Pro.  I moved to Hermosa Beach with a well-worn 1972 CZ 400 and was immediately overwhelmed by the significant increase in talent at these venues.  I just knew a new 1975 250 YZ-B Monoshock would be the prescription for those new results at the top of the pack.  In the mid 1970’s you could literally race 5 times a week or more, Wednesday night at Ascot, Thursday at Irwindale, Friday at Orange County Raceway, Saturday at Saddleback and Sunday at Carlsbad, Indian Dunes, etc, etc.  While my results were better, I had my eye on the upcoming AMA 125cc Nationals and bought a new 1976 YZ 125 C.  I supported myself as a parts/salesman at California Cycle Center in Santa Ana and met another aspiring pro, Terry Good, from Michigan. 

  Terry and I would race at Saddleback and Carlsbad and watch some of the best this country had to offer like Marty Smith, Jim West, Rex Staten, Bruce McDougal and Tim Hart. Additionally the local experts had these tracks wired.  Guys like Marty Moates, Bryer Holcomb, Danny La Porte and Tommy Croft.  The local So Cal talent was enormously competitive in the 125 classes with local hotshots like 16-year-old Broc Glover, Warren Reid, Danny Turner, Davey Williams and Ron Turner.  A 125 race at Saddleback was like an AMA National week after week.  As Terry and I raced and attempted to improve our results, we began to see a new face appear among the fast guys; someone named Bob Hannah. He was wild, unrelenting and ridiculously fast.  He simply came out of the blue and destroyed everyone. This guy Hannah was something different. However, I never had any doubt, my hero Marty Smith would take him to school once the Nationals began.  After all, I worshipped at the feet of Marty and Bad Brad Lackey (I was a North Cal guy don’t forget).  I first noticed Bob Hannah on Suzuki’s.  At this time, the factories raced their support guys and occasionally the top guys, like Marty Smith in the weekly So Cal scene. While I don’t know the particulars, Bob left the Suzuki ride and began to show up on Yamahas.  We all wondered how Suzuki could have let him slip away.

  Terry returned to Michigan and I bought a new 1976 125 Yamaha and returned to Nor Cal after about two years in the So Cal scene. However, we made plans to meet in Michigan (centrally located and Terry’s home) and travel together on the upcoming 1976 125 Nationals.  I had high hopes to just qualify and get noticed.  I harbored no illusions of beating the top tier guys, but figured I could run mid pack and get noticed by one of the satellite teams, like FMF, DG or T&M.

                                                                                    Hangtown

                                                                                      My Hangtown rider credentials

  I entered the 1976 125 National opener at Hangtown in the California town of Plymouth, about an hour east of Sacramento.  The race was in early April, followed by Buchanan, MI in May and Midland, MI in June.  Terry was to join me at round 2 in Buchanan, MI due to his logistics and AMA licensing issues.  I prepped the Yamaha, ate right and worked out.  I was going to give it all I had (which meant I was praying to qualify and finish mid pack at this point in my career).  As I pulled into the tech area at the old Plymouth track, which were old Amador County fairground buildings, the excitement and pressure was building.  All of my heroes were there.  The 250 class had Howerton, Weinert, Ellis and more, and the 125 class was absurd with so much talent like Grossi, LaPorte, Wise, Marty Smith and of course, Bob Hannah.  While we California MX’er’s knew Hannah, he was not a national name yet.  As I lined my YZ 125 C up in the tech line, there was a noticeable buzz going through the crowd.  “Have you seen the Yamahas?” was overheard.  As I got closer to number 39!  It was water-cooled!  While this may not seem to be a big deal compared to today’s technology of disk brakes, perimeter frames, upside down forks, etc, it was a new paradigm in 1976.  There were two new OW27 Yamaha’s, the #39 of Bob Hannah’s and #11 of Danny Turner.  These were full on magnesium, sand cast works bikes and they were hypnotic to followers of the sport.  In addition, Honda had a red works RC 125 for Marty Smith, Suzuki was represented by Danny LaPorte and Billy Grossi, while Kawasaki put their hopes on Steve Wise and the new SR 125.  All of the aftermarket teams were represented; DG with Davey Williams and after the second race at Red Bud, Broc Glover (he didn’t turn 16 until after Hangtown), T&M Engineering, Donny Emler’s FMF and CH.  These were the forerunners of the factory support teams such as Pro Circuit.  As everyone had to qualify, the qualifiers were “mini nationals”. I missed qualifying for the main program by one place, so I had a front row seat for the first 1976 national.  Bob Hannah was relentless and attacked the sandy, whooped course.  He won both motos and now the whole motocross world knew Bob “Hurricane” Hannah. I immediately got on the phone when I got home to appraise Terry Good about Hannah’s victory and the unheard of water-cooled technology.  I think he thought I was crazy I was so excited.

                                                                Red Bud Michigan round 2

I lI loaded up my 1966 Chevy Pickup with my $30 camper shell and drove to Hale, MI, where Terry had lined up an apartment and a Monday- Friday job as a carpenter with his father’s firm.  We needed to work, we had no support (besides jerseys, oil and whatever we could scrounge), gas cards or spares if something broke.  I made $4.00 per hour, not bad as minimum wage was $1.65, and Terry got a bit more as he was a better carpenter.  I got to Hale about 10 days before Red Bud. Terry had just bought a new  Econoline van (California Bright Orange). We took over the apartment building laundry room and turned it into our “race shop”.  We practiced after work and toiled late into the night on our bikes.  We loaded up the van with our bikes and headed to Buchanan for the Red Bud National.  With the eight-track playing “Sutherland Brothers and Quiver” we drove, slept in the van and were living our dream, i.e. big time pros headed to the Nationals to make our names.  Life was good!

  When we checked in and tech’ed, Terry found his AMA license was not there.  The AMA assured him it would be waiting for him in Buchanan.  It wasn’t.  You have never seen a guy so mad and disappointed.  Terry quickly bucked up and offered to wrench for me and turn his 125 Yamaha into my parts bike.  Pretty classy guy!  I threw a chain while in qualifying position and once again had a great view of the National, i.e. the sidelines. Terry and I watched Hannah and Smith battle like madmen.  I was waving Smith on, with Terry whooping for Hannah.  We ran from one side of the track to the other.  It was epic.  Hannah won and Marty had mechanical issues, but what a battle.  I knew the fight had just begun.

  It was after the race that Mickey Boone claimed Hannah’s OW.  Word traveled through the pits and Terry and I bolted for the AMA trailer. Yamaha also claimed their works bike and Bob won the drawing to see who got the bike.  It changed everything.  No more pure works bikes, the factories just would not chance losing one.  Every privateer in the pits contemplated claiming a factory bike, but knew that anyone who did would become an immediate pariah.

                                                                                                                                                            My 1976 YZ 125 at Terry Good's and my "race shop in Michigan

                                        

16 year old Broc Glover's (#848) first ever AMA Pro start. This was the 1st qualifier at Red Bud.  I'm #479 next to him.  I think it's a as close to him as I got until he retired.

                                                            

                                                       

                                                                                                                                     Here I am behind Marty Smith at the bottom of Red Bud's famous ski jump. jump.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

                                                               Midland Michigan round 3

  Before Midland, Terry finally got his AMA license that was promised at Red Bud.  We knew we would qualify.  We had been practicing almost daily and pushing each other very hard.  We had little doubt. Terry and I worked all day and by night, built a trailer to pull behind his new Ford Econoline van. We set off in the van pulling the trailer (snowmobile trailer with unpainted particle board enclosure) and were happily cruising down the Interstate, when the truck shuttered a little and our trailer tilted back, pivoted sideways and passed us on the right while the van was now completely sideways at 70 mph.  The damn trailer latch that allows it to pivot up and down for snowmobiles to ride up came undone and “slungshot” the trailer passed us on the shoulder of the highway.  By the time we stopped my handlebars were poking out the side of the enclosure, gas and tools were everywhere.  All and all very lucky with the exception of a big gash in Terry’s new truck where the trailer hit the rear quarter panel as it passed us. After cleaning up and grieving for the truck damage, we decided we were pretty lucky and it was the best pass either of our bikes made all year.  One of my favorite memories of Midland was Marty Smith pulling up to tech at the Holiday Inn in a new 1976 Porsche Carrera with the “whale tail”. If I remember right, he bought in nearby Chicago and drove it to the Tech area.  If it didn’t psyche Hannah, it certainly did me.  All’s I could think of was “how cool can you be”.  Midland was a turning point for me.  It was obvious my two-year-old YZ could no longer be competitive.  You cannot practice and race the same bike week after week at this level and expect it to be reliable and competitive.  It broke in the qualifier and was getting plumb worn out. Again I did not qualify and it was apparent I needed to rethink this 125 cc stardom thing.  As Boone had tried to claim the factory Yamaha the previous round, none of the factories used their works stuff. In my opinion, this was a gift to DG, T&M and FMF, whose bikes were sorted out and super fast.  Now anyone of 15 guys could win, including Reid, Glover and of course the factory guys like Wise and LaPorte.  Marty still had mechanical issues, while Hannah went 1-2, with Kudalski getting the second moto win.  Now I was starting to worry about Smith’s chances, but the season had a ways to go.

                                                 My 1976 125 National season ends

  Soon after Midland, I left and returned to California.  My Mom had gotten ill, I was homesick, had a worn out bike and was deeply disillusioned.  I knew I was better than my results.  I continued to follow the results in Cycle News and received calls from Terry, who continued on the circuit.  To this day, I treasure the experience of this summer and thank Terry and his family for helping me live my 1976 National Dream (such as it was).

                                               

                                                                                     Epilogue

  I returned home, bought a 1977 Suzuki 250 and raced Pro for a few more years. I had decent results and finally attracted a support Can Am ride in 1978 and 1979. I was very excited.  I raced the 250 Nationals in 1977 and 1978.  While no National winner, I was proud of my results.  In 1979, I again got help from Can Am and built a new 250 with Fox Air Shox, Simons forks and the best parts I could find. I started the season January 28, 1979 with the Oakland Supercross (not even sure we called it Supercross in 1979).  In front of my home crowd I had a lousy day. The bike just was not handling right and I could not get it sorted out.  As the Seattle Supercross was in two weeks, I decided to race a local $1000 purse at the old Hangtown track in Plymouth (by now the Hangtown National had moved to Prairie City) to try to sort out the handling bug.  On the second lap I fell off hard and paralyzed myself at C-5, a quadriplegic.  It subsequently became apparent my new Simon’s forks (Serial #011) had seized at the top of the throw.  They worked OK until the big bumps, and then froze briefly, turning it into a rigid frame and tossing me on my head.  Far too many of us are in wheelchairs, Tony DeStefano, David Bailey, Danny “Magoo” Chandler, Wayne Rainey, Ernesto Fonseca, Mitch Payton, Mitch Mays, etc, etc.  I’m a huge supporter of Han’s neck protection and it’s motorcycle equivalent.  I’m still a huge motor sports fan and am now a 30-year subscriber to Cycle News.  I follow it every week and still love motorcycles.  I’m a very lucky guy; I married my “pit tootsie” and we have been married 30 years, a lovely 28-year-old daughter and a very successful business. I have all life’s good stuff, but I sometimes wish I had played golf on Sunday Feb 4, 1979.

  Kim Blackseth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

he season had a ways to go.