Motorcycle race fan: “How many championships ya got?”
Motorcycle racer Gary Jones: “Three or four.”
Winning a national motocross championship is no easy feat, but try winning three or four titles, as Gary Jones did.
Wait a minute, three or four? Which is it … three, or four?
Good question, because Jones’ first AMA 250 National Championship (1971) was soon nullified and later recycled back into the record books, then mothballed again by the AMA. Jones’ overall performance as top-scoring American in the 1971 Inter-AMA Series that pitted Europe’s best racers against America’s growing legion of motocrossers earned him the title. Jones didn’t win the 1971 Inter-AMA Series outright; he scored the most points among American riders. Instead, the experienced European riders dominated the Inter-AMA championship, leaving the Americans to squabble over the AMA National points. Jones’ point tally earned him the AMA’s first 250 motocross national championship. The AMA has since ping-ponged back and forth regarding recognition of Jones’ 1971 national championship status.
Jones once told Cycle News: “I actually won it [250 championship] twice for Yamaha, but that first year  they [AMA] didn’t call it a National series. Then they did, and then they didn’t, so I don’t know what to say on that one. I say four, and everybody else says four, but the AMA says three, so I don’t know what to tell you. That’s the AMA.”
Putting politics aside, consider Jones’ equally meaningful AMA 250 titles that he won in subsequent years. The 1972 title was aboard Yamaha’s YZ250 (an improved version of his 1971 bike based on a modified DT-1 that Jones, brother Dewayne and their father Don Jones developed in 1970-1971). The following year he rode Honda’s new Honda Elsinore 250 to the championship, winning in 1974 for Can-Am. Foremost, there never was a question who the top dog was in the 250 class during that fairy-tale time, either, although Marty Tripes and several others certainly factor into the conversation.
Winning wasn’t necessarily easy, though. Jones and Honda definitely had their work cut out for them in 1973, as author David Dewhurst points out in his new book Motocross: The Golden Era (motocrossthegoldenera.com), a chronicle that highlights motocross racing’s magnificent and game-changing early days from the mid-1960s through the halcyon 1980s and early 1990s when chassis and engine development seemingly changed daily.
But the 1973 championship certainly underscored just how dominating a racer Jones could be. Honda offered him and his family (papa Jones and brother Dewayne joined the team, too) factory-built racers, which turned out to be, as Jones told Dewhurst in The Golden Era, “slow compared to my Yamaha (YZ250).”
The factory-prepped Elsinore wasn’t reliable, either. Said Jones in The Golden Era: “The exhaust mounts kept breaking so we had Darryl Bassani make us some pipes. Then the footpegs would bend, but it wasn’t the pegs, it was the frame bending.” As the season unfolded the Elsinore racers seemed to unfold, too. The search for reliability turned into a game of Whack-A-Mole for the Joneses until, finally, their solution was to swap the factory prototype racer for a production CR250M Elsinore, let papa Jones and the boys improve upon it, and then go racing.
Result: Gary Jones won the final six events and his second (or third) championship. It also was Honda’s first-ever motocross title, and the rest, as they say, is history.