In the closing laps, Marty Moates lofts his production-based Yamaha YS465G over one of Carlsbad Raceway’s hard-packed jumps. Photo from the Dain Gingerelli Collection
By 1980 American motocross fans had grown accustomed to predicting who wouldn’t win the United States round of the 500cc motocross Grand Prix World Championship. An American wouldn’t win — it had been that way since the USGP first called Carlsbad Raceway home in the early 1970s, so why should 1980 be any different? After all, and despite European riders detesting Carlsbad’s hard-packed track that twisted and turned itself over the arid hillsides several miles inland of Southern California’s scenic coast, those international racers willingly cashed in on the championship points over their American counterparts.
But that changed June 22, 1980, and if you were watching the race on ABC Television’s Wide World of Sports you might have sensed that this year might be different. During ABC’s lead-in to the race, an overview of the course appeared on TV screens across America revealing a serpentine track layout resembling a person’s tight-clinched fist. And a solitary hairpin turn at the far end of the course stuck out like, well, a sore thumb, and to mix metaphors it resembled the hand’s middle digit defiantly projecting the international sign of displeasure, offering this subliminal message to the world: “Take this, wretched invaders — today an American is going to win!”
And most race fans agreed that American was “Bad” Brad Lackey, who, for six years, had been chasing the 500cc championship. And for 1980 he and his Kawasaki were in the thick of things by the time the USGP came to town; Lackey and Belgian rider Andre Malherbe were locked in a bitter dual for the world title.
No official spectator attendance figure was announced, but ABC’s television commentator Jim Lampley pegged the number at about 35,000. While most of those MX fans were there to root for Lackey, some showed strong support for a few other hometown heroes including Danny LaPorte, Rex Staten, Chuck Sun and Goat Breker.
Photo from the Dain Gingerelli Collection
But few gave notice to local racer Marty Moates. At 23 years old, and after more than a few injuries to hamper his career, most rail birds considered Moates over the hill. What oddsmakers failed to consider, though, was that Moates knew the Carlsbad course like the back of his hand. He lived minutes away and had spent a good portion of his racing days competing there.
The race started as all MX races do, at the starting gate. And that’s where Moates played his trump card — he was familiar with the starting line’s strip of slippery cement, so prior to the start he seasoned his portion of slick concrete with dirt. When the gate dropped his Yamaha YZ465G’s rear tire spun just enough to launch him cleanly onto the track where he led — to the 35,000 spectators’ and millions of TV viewers’ amazement — into Turn One.
More drama played out later on the track where Moates even crashed during the first moto, quickly remounting to catch and repass Swedish rider Hakan Carlqvist and LaPorte to win the moto. The second moto put him in a dice with Lackey, who crashed out, giving the moto — and overall — win to Moates. The jinx had been broken, but more important perhaps was that a relatively unknown rider aboard a rather pedestrian customer bike was able to beat the best riders the factory teams, Europe and America had to offer. It clearly was a historic feat 40 years ago. — Dain Gingerelli