Funkalicious: The Superbowl of Motocross

Held in the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Yamaha Superbowl of Motocross was a race like no other.

Three-time Supercross champ Bob Hannah in the whoops at the 1977 Superbowl of Motocross in the Los Angeles Coliseum.

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Few people in 1972 even considered that a motorcycle race curiously conceived in an aging football stadium would eventually lead to one of the most successful forms of racing in motorsport history. That race, officially known as The Yamaha Superbowl of Motocross, held in the Los Angeles Coliseum (site of the NFL’s original Super Bowl game in 1967), was staged to make one man — rock-and-roll concert promoter Mike Goodwin — a lot of money. And that, in so many words, was the essence of the race, even though it was included in the AMA’s ill-conceived Inter-AMA Series that same year. The Superbowl of Motocross was a race like no other. 

In 1974 the Superbowl of Motocross, joined by two other “indoor” races, formed the nucleus of the AMA’s new Super Series that consisted solely of stadium-based races. The term Supercross had yet to be coined, and for several years observers and stadium-race promoters wrestled with various names to describe indoor racing, among them Stadiumcross, Indoor Cross, and ultimately the name used today — Supercross, or SX for short.

The first Superbowl of Motocross actually was preceded by a motocross race staged on Daytona International Raceway’s infield in 1971. And as early as 1948, a scrambles-type race set on an artificial course in a small stadium near Paris, France, is credited with being the first-ever such motorsport event.  

But it was Goodwin’s 1972 race that set the stage for all the other indoor races since, and his instincts as a promoter led him to hire Larry “Supermouth” Huffman as the event’s announcer. Huffman already had a presence in Southern California as the PA voice for Friday-night speedway racing in Costa Mesa, plus he was gaining a foothold at local road race tracks as the premier announcer for those events. Supermouth wore his patented tuxedo for his Superbowl gig, and he wasn’t shy about giving tacky nicknames to the riders during the evening, either.  

Above all, the track was ingenious in its conception and layout so that all the action took place in front of spectators seated in the bleachers. While most of the course zigged and zagged its way across the Coliseum’s football field, with jumps and whoop-de-doos mixed in, each lap the riders also visited the peristyle — the columns enclosing the coliseum — at the east end of the track where they climbed a steep hill, made a sharp left turn (the only place they were out of view from spectators) before launching back into the stadium via the long downhill leading to the main course.

The 1972 race was won by a young local rider, 16-year-old Marty Tripes, laying the groundwork for other young American motocrossers to dominate this sport in years to follow. Indeed, it was at the 1974 Superbowl of Motocross that another brilliant young racer named Bob Hannah would clinch his first of three consecutive Supercross titles, the first multi-champion to do so.  — Dain Gingerelli