It’s the eve of the 2023 MXGP season, where we have the possibility of seeing two riders line up with five world titles to their name, for only the second time in history. Today we highlight the careers of the only two men who faced each other with five or more world titles already in the bag. They are two of the last great products of the Belgian Motocross production line that rolled on from the 1950s – Stefan Everts and Joel Smets.
Words: Ben Rumbold | Featured Image: Ray Mayes
These were the big two Belgian legends around the turn of the millennium. When Smets won his fifth title in the 650cc class – the follow-on from 500cc and pre-MX3 category, basically the last big-bike World Champion with serious credibility – Stefan, son of Harry, Everts was already on seven. Yes, Eric Geboers and Georges Jobe raced each other many times, but Jobe didn’t get his fifth title until well after Geboers retired. So until Jeffrey Herlings and Tim Gajser meet in anger later this season, Stefan & Joel are the only two riders to have claimed five world titles or more and then raced each other for a World Championship, which they did in 2004 & ’05 before Smets retired.
To put it simply, Stefan Everts is the best rider I ever saw race a motocross bike. To explain why I think so, allow me to briefly get a little bit personal. Jean-Michel Bayle is my all-time hero because of what he achieved in America, and how he did it – by looking “effortless”. That’s the key word here. When I was born, a member of my family, namely my mother’s brother, Neil Hudson, was on his way to becoming a major player on the world scene. Ultimately he won a world title, and the word most people associate with Neil is “smooth”. The word “effortless” is usually not far behind. When I started to ride a dirt bike as a kid, I was taught that if you get the technique right, Motocross looks like art. It does look effortless, even though my uncle and many like him will tell you it seriously is not! The other major lesson is that if you get the technique right, you can basically go as fast as you need to, as fast as you like. I obviously did not get as far, but many said I had a similar style when I raced. Just with nowhere near the same amount of speed!
Stefan Everts was the ultimate example that proved that theory to be correct. That if you take the time to find the lines, steer towards a smoother part of the track, then you may look slower because you aren’t bouncing around, but your wheels are on the ground and you are driving forward. And to me, as an onlooker, I love to see that in a rider. Stefan was the epitome of that style of riding. Now he may have been a bit spiky, especially when being beaten, and detested lapped riders who got in his way, but it all stems from the expectation. So many riders went faster around me because of who my uncle was, and I don’t even share his surname! Imagine being the son of a four-time champion? It’s true that, as Mike Healey said, he never raced a production bike, but he was never the underdog, always expected to win, and his father in particular never let him off the hook, teaching him exactly how hard you have to be at the very top. I never saw Bayle race, because he never had to do a GP in England, but I followed Stefan across the years as an example of how it should be done.
His career is well documented, of course, as the most successful racer in World Championship Motocross. His career had two distinct chapters, although maybe four when you look at it closely. There was the early success of the first world title at 18, the 125cc in 1991, helped by the injury to defending champ and teammate Donny Schmit but seeing off a determined Bob Moore. His move to 250 looked good until he burst his spleen in a first corner crash, an issue which even from that age he had to deal with throughout his career. For three frustrating years the 250 title wouldn’t come. Anything less, even finishing 2nd to Greg Albertyn for two straight seasons, was seen as failure on his part. He even considered retirement at the end of 1994.
Then came the breakthrough. Earning Kawasaki its first world title in 1995 under the management of awesome tuner Jan de Groot, the relief was palpable. Those three years meant that he abandoned his original plan of following Bayle to the States, and instead set about dominating GPs, which he did on factory Hondas for the next two years. It wasn’t all plain sailing as factory Suzuki man Marnicq Bervoets ran him seriously close in 1996, and in 1997 the arrival of hot French speedster Sebastien Tortelli ran him ragged. In 1998, a year he called “so stressful”, it was between him and the Kawasaki-mounted teenager. From 16 Grands Prix, Stefan won 8, Seb won 7, only Pit Beirer breaking their deadlock on Czech hardpack. Of the 32 motos, Everts took 14, Tortelli 15, with Beirer claiming 2 and Tallon Vohland the other one! It all came down to the final moto in Greece, and in an uncharacteristic mistake, Everts cracked whilst leading and fell heavily on the exit to a corner, and Tortelli was champion.
Chapter three was the dark time. He was badly injured at the pre-season Beaucaire International for two consecutive years, the first on the same Radson Honda team as raced for in ’98 and the second on a big Husqvarna as the team, under the management of Dave Grant, switched to the 500cc class. He says that he learned a lot at this time about how Grant had treated him, and the strength of his wife-to-be Kelly really saw him through.
Despite the barren years, Michele Rinaldi of the factory Yamaha team was still very interested as his team was looking to further improve their original high-revving four-stroke in the 500cc class. From there, the rest is true history. He matched Joel Robert’s record of 50 Grand Prix wins, which had stood for 29 years, quite fittingly at Namur, on his way to title number five, and despite winning less than KTM-mounted Smets in 2002, stayed consistent for a record-equalling 6th title. Then came his most stellar year to date, when 250 two-stroke and 450 four-stroke merged into the MXGP class and he suddenly faced double 250 World Champ Mickael Pichon at his very best. Pichon scorched to the first three wins in the single moto format, and Rinaldi suggested that Stefan race the 250F in the earlier race of the day, the 125cc class, to help his MXGP exploits. To say the gamble paid off is an understatement. Not only did Everts win every single one of the remaining 9 MXGP rounds, but he also won 8 of the 9 125cc races, claiming 2nd in that championship behind fellow Belgian Steve Ramon! Then at the final round, to top it all, he extended his GP win tally to match his race number of 72 by winning all three classes in one incredible day at Ernee in northern France!
The titles kept on coming, in 2004 he broke Pichon’s challenge once more as the Frenchman shifted to a four-stroke Honda, and in 2005 the challenge came from New Zealanders Josh Coppins and Ben Townley, but nobody won even half the number of motos as Stefan that year. For 2006, words was that his old foe Tortelli would return from the USA, and his instant response was “good, now I can get revenge for ’98.”
He trained like never before and despite losing the opening moto to Sebastien, Stefan claimed the overall win each time out before the Frenchman ended not only his season, but also his career, with a crunching fall of his KTM that seriously damaged his hip area. With that challenge gone, Stefan was almost detuned in what he had announced would be his last season. He still won nearly every Grand Prix, only denied by a determined Josh Coppins at the incredible Desertmartin ciruit in Northern Ireland.
Everts kept his motivation up by the prospect of one final Nations conflict with his US equivalent, Ricky Carmichael. Often scathed by American fans for the 2003 Nations at Zolder, where the two-stroke Honda of RC blitzed the 450 Yamaha of SE, there was the threat of both Carmichael and James Stewart coming over to Matterley Basin to ruin his career-ending party. As it was, Ricky got injured in the States and Stefan got the joyous pleasure of riding around the outside of Stewart, on the pegs, through a long, rutted, off-camber right hander. Probably the best overtaking move I’ve ever seen live, it was a stunning way of closing his career, even if his teammates couldn’t join him to prevent the team victory going to the USA. Could he have beaten Carmichael that day? This writer, and admittedly massive fan, truly believes so.
Against the other five-time (or more) Champions, obviously he won more in total than anybody, although Herlings is threatening that record this season. Stefan’s record of 10 titles should be safe. Jeffrey is the only 5-time champ to have won their first title as young, and again only Jeffrey was younger by title number three. The four-year drought before his fifth title meant that he had to wait until his 13th year at GP level to get that high, and only Jobe and Smets had to wait longer. Either way, his is an incredible story and I was privileged to have followed it as a fan.
No-one else that I can think of quite lives up to their nickname than the man they call “The Flemish Lion”. He started racing at the age of 17, saving up the money to buy motorcycles and somehow progressing to GP level by the age of 20 on a complete shoestring. His career path could not have been more different to that of Everts, but the two seem to get on remarkably well. Named after the first to get to five titles plus the one more, Joel Robert, the tall, blonde, broad-shouldered Smets went straight to 500cc GPs as he knew it as the class of Kings. He was certainly strong enough to handle it, and got to 17th in the World Championship in 1991 on a private Honda. Receiving no support from the manufacturer, he decided to eliminate their colour red on the 1992 effort, so ran instead in a light turquoise blue with unique Tecnosel gear – they usually made graphics and seat covers!
In 1993 he made the big leap to the four-stroke world with the Swedish Husaberg factory, although their bike was heavily adapted by the Italian Vertemati brothers, who changed the bike to be in their name for 1994. Either way, Smets won his first Grands Prix and finished 3rd in both seasons. Great consistency considering the fragility of the bikes! Shifting back to the actual Husaberg factory team for 1995, he won a titanic struggle with American exile Trampas Parker, who was gunning for his own “Mr 875” deal as he had already won titles on both 125s & 250s. Parker was on a high-revving 360cc KTM and the mix produced some incredible battles, but a rotten day at Namur put a big dent in Trampas’ chances, and Joel took his first world crown at the age of 26!
Another 360 KTM, ridden by New Zealander Shayne King, took the crown away in 1996 as Smets only won a single GP to Shayne’s six. 1997 was ultra-competitive, with six GP winners on a variety of machines taking victories – Peter Johansson and Andrea Bartolini on the new YZ400F prototypes, Daryll King on the big 630cc Husky thumper, Kurt Nicoll on another 360 KTM, and Avo Leok on an ancient 500cc two-stroke Kawasaki! Smets kept his head, won 4 GPs and reclaimed his crown. He then dominated 1998 with 6 of the 12 GPs going his way, for world title number three. That season saw his first proper race against Everts, with the Honda man wild-carding at Namur and taking both motos, despite having his mind blown by the complexity of the circuit on his first racing visit!
In 1999 he again amassed a good GP win haul of 4 for the year, but that was matched by both Johansson on the KTM, who had bought Husaberg by this time, and Bartolini who was still on that Yamaha, by now a 426cc machine. The Italian prevailed to be Champion, assisted by many mechanical breakdowns for the Husaberg. He was their only World Champion, but he simply had to leave for the main KTM concern after suffering 4 mechanical DNFs and having to sit out two rounds due to injuries caused by them.
On the KTM he proved to be unstoppable, romping to 12 GP wins out of 16, and 25 of the 32 motos, and clinched the title thee rounds early, at the incredible Namur circuit that he had frequented as a teenage fan. He became a four-time champ at the age of 31 and only the arrival of Everts, and the single-moto format, really stopped him going much further still.
He ran Everts close with 6 wins to Stefan’s 7 in 2001, and another 6 to his rival’s 4 in 2002, but a single mechanical issue or crash cost him dear in both seasons. He certainly was a match for his fellow Fleming during those years, but Stefan raised his game in 2003 as they both tackled the new MXGP class. Smets raced two classes each day that season, with that last big-bike championship GP run at the end of the day. Joel won 10 of the 12 single-moto GPs, with only Cedric Melotte stealing the race at Namur on his CR500 Honda, plus of course Stefan himself taking that last GP at Ernee. At 34 years of age he became the oldest World Champion in Motocross history, a record that still stands today.
He made a shock move to Suzuki in 2004, racing a Japanese bike for the first time in 12 years, but was still a competitive animal with podium finishes on the brand new bike in 2004 before injury ended his season early. Then in 2005 he signed off from racing, taking the first two GP moto wins for the Suzuki RMZ450 machine, the final one at Bellpuig in Spain just after turning 36 years old.
The comparisons to his fellow five-time champs all highlight his age – the oldest to win at every stage, but also he had some of the most dominant seasons amongst them all. He did most of his racing in a dwindling class that was a world away from the hectic 125 & 250 scenes on both sides of the Atlantic, but his speed against Everts showed his pedigree and worthy place among the greats of World Motocross, despite his massively late entrance into this world.
|Rider||Stefan Everts||Joel Smets|
|DOB||November 1972||April 1969|
|Career Year (Age)||3rd (18)||6th (26)|
|GP Wins That Year||5/12 (42%)||5/12 (42%)|
|Career Wins To Date||5||8|
|Career Year (Age)||7th (22)||8th (28)|
|GP Wins That Year||5/15 (33%)||4/11 (36%)|
|Career Wins To Date||19||13|
|Career Year (Age)||8th (23)||9th (29)|
|GP Wins That Year||5/13 (38%)||6/12 (50%)|
|Career Wins To Date||24||19|
|Career Year (Age)||9th (24)||11th (31)|
|GP Wins That Year||9/15 (60%)||12/16 (75%)|
|Career Wins To Date||33||35|
|Career Year (Age)||13th (28)||14th (34)|
|GP Wins That Year||7/14 (50%)||10/12 (83%)|
|Career Wins To Date||50||57|
|Career Year (Age)||14th (29)||–|
|GP Wins That Year||4/12 (33%)||–|
|Career Wins To Date||54||–|
|Career Year (Age)||15th (30)||–|
|GP Wins That Year||9/12 (75%) (+8×125 & 1×650)||–|
|Career Wins To Date||72||–|
|Career Year (Age)||16th (31)||–|
|GP Wins That Year||7/16 44%)||–|
|Career Wins To Date||79||–|
|Career Year (Age)||17th (32)||–|
|GP Wins That Year||8/17 (43%)||–|
|Career Wins To Date||87||–|
|Career Year (Age)||18th (33)||–|
|GP Wins That Year||14/15 (93%)||–|
The GOAT Club – 102 Outdoor Wins for both RC & JH
Comparing the numbers of, statistically, the best of all-time.
So as has been well documented, Jeffrey Herlings broke the all-time MXGP win record at the Spanish Grand Prix, lifting his tally above that of Stefan Everts to 102 Victories at the highest level. However, one other rider has won that many top-class events in outdoor Motocross – the rider known as the GOAT – Ricky Carmichael, who claimed 102 AMA Nationals in Pro Motocross over a remarkable career. Just for a comparison, MX Vice shows you how JH84’s numbers compare to those of RC4, and as we already had them there, SE72 as well.
Words: Ben Rumbold | Featured Image: KTM / Richard DeLibertis
As rapidly as Jeffrey has amassed his GP wins, with around 50 less starts than Stefan had to get to 101, he can’t match the sheer domination that brought Ricky his 102nd win in just 127 starts, only dropping 25 races across an incredible ten-and-a-half year career in AMA Pro Motocross. Just to note of course that we are not including Supercross in all this.
|Seasons||11||13 (2022 missed through injury)||18|
|GPs / Nats||127||169||226|
|Year 1||1996: 125cc, 31st, 1 Nat, 0 Wins (2M, 0W)||2010: MX2, 6th, 12 GPs, 2W (24M, 4W)||1989: 125cc, 15th, 7 GPs, 0 Wins (14 Motos)|
|Year 2||1997: 125cc, 1st, 13 Nats, 8 Wins (26M, 14W)||2011: MX2, 2nd, 15 GPs, 5W (30M, 6W)||1990:125cc, 3rd, 9 GPs, 0 Wins (18 Motos)|
|Year 3||1998: 125cc, 1st, 12 Nats, 8 Wins (24M, 16W)||2012: MX2, 1st, 16 GPs, 9W (32M, 18W)||1991: 125cc, 1st, 12 GPs, 5 Wins (24M, 10W)|
|Year 4||1999: 125cc, 1st, 12 Nats, 9 Wins (24M, 18W)||2013: MX2, 1st, 15 GPs, 15W (30M, 28W)||1992: 250cc, 11th, 7 GPs, 1 Win (20M, 4W)|
|Year 5||2000: 250cc, 1st, 12 Nats, 9 Wins (24M, 15W)||2014: MX2, 2nd, 13 GPs, 12W (26M, 22W)||1993: 250cc, 2nd, 14 GPs, 3 Wins (41M, 10W)|
|Year 6||2001: 250cc, 1st, 12 Nats, 8 Wins (24M, 14W)||2015: MX2, 7th, 11GPs, 4W (21M, 14W)||1994: 250cc, 2nd, 15 GPs, 5 Wins (30M, 10W)|
|Year 7||2002: 250cc, 1st, 12 Nats, 12 Wins (24M, 24W)||2016: MX2, 1st, 15 GPs, 14W (30M, 27W)||1995: 250cc, 1st, 15 GPs, 5 Wins (30M, 8W)|
|Year 8||2003: 250cc, 1st, 11 Nats, 9 Wins (22M, 15W)||2017: MXGP, 2nd, 19 GPs, 6W (37M, 12W)||1996: 250cc, 1st, 13 GPs, 5 Wins (26M, 12W)|
|Year 9||2004: 250cc, 1st, 12 Nats, 12 Wins (24M, 24W)||2018: MXGP, 1st, 19 GPs, 17W (38M, 33W)||1997: 250cc, 1st, 15 GPs, 9 Wins (30M, 16W)|
|Year 10||2005: 450cc, 1st, 12 Nats, 12 Wins (24M, 22W)||2019: MXGP, 19th, 5 GPs, 2W (9M, 4W)||1998: 250cc, 2nd, 16 GPs, 8 Wins (32M, 14W)|
|Year 11||2006: 450cc, 1st, 12 Nats, 9 Wins (23M, 19W)||2020: MXGP, 12th, 6 GPs, 4W (12M, 5W)||1999: 250cc, 11th, 4 GPs, 1 Win (8M, 2W)|
|Year 12||2007: 450cc, 6th, 6 Nats, 6 Wins (12M, 9W)||2021: MXGP, 1st, 17 GPs, 9W (33M, 15W)||2000: 500cc, DNS, 1 GP, 0 Wins (1M, 0W)|
|Year 13||N/A||2023: MXGP, 2nd, 6 GPs, 3W (12M, 4W)||2001: 500cc, 1st, 14 GPs, 7 Wins (14M, 7W)|
|Year 14||N/A||N/A||2002: 500cc, 1st, 12 GPs, 4 Wins (12M, 4W)|
|Year 15||N/A||N/A||2003: MXGP & 125: 1st & 2nd, 22 GPs, 18 Wins|
|Year 16||N/A||N/A||2004: MX1, 16 GPs, 7 Wins (32M, 13W)|
|Year 17||N/A||N/A||2005: MX1, 17 GPs, 8 Wins (34M, 14W)|
|Year 18||N/A||N/A||2006: MX1, 15 GPs, 14 Wins (30M, 27W)|
Of course it did help RC’s tally that he had those two absolutely perfect seasons of 2002 & 2004. In comparison to Herlings, he also avoided injury incredibly well, not missing a single moto until the last race of 2006 when he hurt his shoulder at Glen Helen, had to pull in from moto one and skip moto two. This is also what deprived us of seeing RC & SE battle it out at the Matterley Basin Motocross of Nations that year.
Now this is where fans of the GP riders will look to pick a few holes in RC’s record – just how good were the people he beat? Well, maybe John Dowd and Brock Sellards weren’t quite as tough to beat as Tommy Searle or Greg Albertyn, but both Stefan & Ricky battled Sebastien Tortelli for a title, the Frenchman getting the better of the Belgian in 1998 but finishing 78 points shy of the AMA Champ in 2000.
All three of our record holders – Stefan still holds the record for most world titles, don’t forget – have deprived great riders of being Champions in their own right. Marnicq Bervoets just couldn’t break the 1990s stranglehold of his fellow Belgian, and Searle & Seewer have been denied by Jeffrey at their very best. RC managed to keep out one of the ultimate stylists in the form of Kevin Windham, who was 2nd five-times to the mighty Floridian, and although he got closest in 2001, just 8 points behind, that’s because Ricky stepped down at the final round to race the 125cc class and shoot for the all-time record in that class. That win, which took that record away from Mark Barnett, is reflected in Ricky’s numbers here, by the way. Apart from that, only John Dowd, factory Yamaha-mounted in 1998, got to within 50 points of RC across that incredible ten-year unbeaten run.
|1996: Steve Lamson Champ||2010: Marvin Musquin Champ||1989: Trampas Parker Champ|
|1997: Kevin Windham 2nd||2011: Ken Roczen Champ||1990: Donny Schmit Champ|
|1998: John Dowd 2nd||2012: Tommy Searle 2nd||1991: Bob Moore 2nd|
|1999: Brock Sellards 2nd||2013: Jordi Tixier 2nd||1992: Donny Schmit Champ|
|2000: Sebastien Tortelli 2nd||2014: Jordi Tixier Champ||1993: Greg Albertyn Champ|
|2001: Kevin Windham 2nd||2015: Tim Gajser Champ||1994: Greg Albertyn Champ|
|2002: Tim Ferry 2nd||2016: Jeremy Seewer 2nd||1995: Marnicq Bervoets 2nd|
|2003: Kevin Windham 2nd||2017: Antonio Cairoli Champ||1996: Marnicq Bervoets 2nd|
|2004: Chad Reed 2nd||2018: Antonio Cairoli 2nd||1997: Marnicq Bervoets 2nd|
|2005: Kevin Windham 2nd||2019: Tim Gajser Champ||1998: Sebastien Tortelli Champ|
|2006: Kevin Windham 2nd||2020: Tim Gajser Champ||1999: Frederic Bolley Champ|
|2007: Grant Langston Champ||2021: Romain Febvre 2nd||2000: Joel Smets Champ|
|2022: Tim Gajser Champ||2001: Joel Smets 2nd|
|2023: Jorge Prado Leads||2002: Joel Smets 2nd|
|2003: Joel Smets 2nd MXGP|
|2004: Mickael Pichon 2nd|
|2005: Josh Coppins 2nd|
|2006: Kevin Strijbos 2nd|
Both Stefan & Ricky had to cope with the shift from two-strokes to four, but it made no difference whatsoever to the American, whereas the 450F probably suited Everts’ style more even than the outgoing 500cc two-strokes, on which Stefan won in his only attempt, at Namur 1998. Jeffrey did stay in MX2 a little longer than most, but he did start at only 15 years old in the 250F class, and joined the big boys at the age of 22 for his 8th year of world class competition.
Incredibly for a rider of such short stature, Carmichael only dropped 3 overall wins on the 450 machines, one when he got injured as previously mentioned, and the other two in close duels with new hot-shot, a promising lad by the name of James Stewart!
|125cc – 39 Nats, 26 Wins. 78 Motos, 49 Wins||MX2 – 97 GPs, 61 Wins. 193 Motos, 119 Wins||125cc – 38 GPs, 13 Wins. 67 Motos, 19 Wins|
|250cc – 58 Nats, 49 Wins. 116 Motos, 91 Wins||MXGP – 72 GPs, 41 Wins. 141 Motos, 73 Wins||250cc – 99 GPs, 37 Wins. 217 Motos, 76 Wins|
|450cc – 30 Nats, 27 Wins. 59 Motos, 50 Wins||500cc – 29 GPs, 13 Wins. 30 Motos, 14 Wins|
|MXGP/MX1 – 60 GPs, 38W. 108 Motos, 63 Wins|
Jeffrey Herlings has never left the comfortable bosom of the Red Bull Factory KTM team, and for a megastar in the social media age it is easy to see why. They really do have an awesome support network, only amplified by the amount of times Jeffrey has had to recover from serious injury. Stefan took some time to find that sort of home, and became the only rider to win world titles on all four Japanese manufacturers, ultimately forming that incredible alliance with Yamaha to turn his already awesome career into a record-breaking one.
Ricky was brought up as part of the immense Team Green programme, and won more with them than anyone else. Big money moves from Honda and then Suzuki mixed it up later in his career, but his domination meant he probably would have won on anything!
|Kawasaki 62 Nats, 42W. 124 Motos, 77W||KTM: Whole career||Suzuki: 49 GPs, 9W. 117 Motos, 24W|
|Honda 35 Nats, 33W. 70 Motos, 63W||Kawasaki 30 GPs, 10W. 60 Motos, 18W|
|Suzuki: 30 Nats, 27W. 59 Motos, 50W||Honda 50 GPs, 24W. 100 Motos, 47W|
|Husqvarna 1 GP, 0W. 1 Moto, 0W|
|Yamaha 96 GPs, 58 Wins. 144 Motos, 83 Wins|
Even bearing in mind that there were less AMA Nationals per year than the GP guys had for most of their careers, the rate at which RC racked up his wins was incredible, with a career win percentage of over 80% there was simply no stopping him. Jeffrey got close to that rate during his best years of 2013, ’16, and ’18, and Stefan had his awesome spells of domination in 2003 and ’06.
One thing which Jeffrey did in Spain is to lift his moto win tally above Ricky’s, moving on to 192 moto wins amongst his 102 GP overall victories. That magical number 200 is within his reach, and I’m sure that those celebratory boards will be getting worked on as we speak! But with an incredible ten-year championship run, it’s hard to argue with Ricky Carmichael’s incredible numbers in AMA racing. There is a reason why he’s known as the Greatest Of All Time. How would he have fared against Jeffrey? To quote The Bullet himself, “I guess you’ll never know!”.
|1st Win||2nd Nat, 1st Year (1997)||3rd GP, 1st Year (2010)||20th GP, 3rd Year (1991)|
|10th Win||17th Nat, 2nd Year (1998)||31st GP, 3rd Year (2012)||51st GP, 6th Year (1994)|
|20th Win||30th Nat, 3rd Year (1999)||45th GP, 4th Year (2013)||80th GP, 8th Year (1996)|
|30th Win||46th Nat, 4th Year (2000)||55th GP, 4th Year (2013)||103rd GP, 9th Year (1997)|
|40th Win||60th Nat, 5th Year (2001)||65th GP, 5th Year (2014)||120th GP, 10th Year (1998)|
|50th Win||70th Nat, 6th Year (2002)||83rd GP, 7th Year (2016)||139th GP, 13th Year (2001)|
|60th Win||80th Nat, 7th Year (2003)||95th GP, 7th Year (2016)||166th GP, 15th Year (2003)|
|70th Win||92nd Nat, 8th Year (2004)||120th GP, 9th Year (2018)||176th GP, 15th Year (2003)|
|80th Win||103rd Nat, 9th Year (2005)||131st GP, 9th Year (2018)||195th GP, 17th Year (2005)|
|90th Win||115th Nat, 10th Year (2006)||146th GP, 11th Year (2020)||214th GP, 18th Year (2006)|
|102nd Win||127th Nat, 11th Year (2007)||169th GP, 13th Year (2023)||226th GP, 18th Year (2006)|
|100th Moto||74th Nat, Steel City 2002||86th GP, Neuquen 2016||152nd GP, Uddevalla 2002|
Top 50 Riders Of The 1980s (By The Numbers): #41 Donny Schmit
Fiercely-determined Minnesotan sits just outside our Top 40 of the 1980s (By The Numbers)
There are some sportsmen who simply will not be denied their place in history. Donny Schmit, RIP, is one of those riders. And it was a happy moment when compiling this list to see that he got in here off the back of the AMA section of his career. From 1990 onwards his numbers go absolutely through the roof, but his 1980s results were enough to see him at number 41 in our 1980s list.
Words: Ben Rumbold | Images: Various
So just to give you all a little bit of house-keeping right here… this is a 1980s list, and we will be running a Top 50 Riders of the 1990s (By The Numbers) series next year, so that’s when we will go through Donny’s 1990s story – it was radically different! I know that with other riders – such as Robbie Herring – we have gone through their 1990s results, but that’s when they really are not going to feature in our 1990s Top 50.
There is no doubt that Donny will be well up in that list, but that feature will be written closer to the time, so for now let’s concentrate on the AMA exploits of the skinny blonde kid from Minnesota who fought the West Coast machine the whole way from 1986 to 1989 in the 125cc class.
Born: January 1967
Years Professionally Raced: 9 – 1986-1994 (1986-89 – 125cc AMA, 1990-91 125cc GPs, 1992-1994 250cc GPs)
Machines Raced: Kawasaki, Suzuki, Honda, Yamaha
AMA National Wins: 3 Podiums: 14 AMA National Moto Wins: 6 Top 3 Moto Finishes: 30
GP Wins: 15 GP Podiums: 27 GP Moto Wins: 34 GP Top 3 Moto Finishes: 59
Nations Selections: 0
2 x Gold – 1990 125cc World Champion, 1992 250cc World Champion.
1 x Silver – 1988 AMA 125cc Nationals.
1 x Bronze – 1993 250cc GPs.
Winner – 1986 AMA 125cc West Region Supercross Championship.
Donny picked up the Motocross bug from his elder brother Dave, getting an XR75 from his father so he could play around on the land around the family’s lake cabin. “Dad would give me 20 bucks a week – 5 for food, 5 for gas, and 10 for whatever! He taught me to appreciate things”. Ten years his senior, Dave would wrap a kidney belt three times around Donny because he was so skinny, and bombing around with the older kids certainly toughened up the younger Schmit. He even endured the nickname “Peanut” and had to use a milk crate on the start line in his early races.
There was no denying his speed however, and in his teens he got picked up by Team Green for the major youth races of the time, which bought him a ticket to the professional ranks for 1986.
One tribute paid to Schmit not long after his untimely death in 1996 was from our own Kurt Nicoll, who in his book calls him “the most determined rider I’ve ever known to lead on the first lap.” And this is exactly what Donny did from the off, one day after his 19th birthday in the opening round of the 125cc “Pro-Am” West Region Supercross series. This was the famous 1986 Anaheim event that went down in history, due to the 250cc Main Event being one of the best ever between Ricky Johnson and David Bailey. Before that famous duel, Schmit had fought past early leader Dean Matson to put his Kawasaki in front of the 125cc race. He had moved down from Minnesota in the north of the country to race the West Region series with support from Kawasaki. In the opening round, Schmit was overhauled by another green bike, that of Tyson Vohland, but 2nd in his first indoor event was a very good start. Donny would go on to win the third round at San Diego and take a narrow points lead from Vohland. Then he got a little closer to home with the two-night double-header in Seattle, and took 2nd behind “Wild” Willie Surratt on night one. Then he won a fantastic battle with a rider called Carroll Richardson to claim the Sunday night win!
Although his initial forays into the AMA Nationals returned some patchy results, in the stadia Donny started to show the consistency that would become a hallmark. Two 4ths and a 3rd in the last three rounds were enough to withstand the late charge of Surratt to tie up the Western Region Supercross title. The outdoors was a tougher nut to crack, although a fighting 3rd in the second moto at the Lake Sugartree National in Virginia showed that the potential was there.
Donny was fanatical about training, and as wife Carrie says, “he never let himself have the luxury of anything that might make him a wimp in a race”. That included never turning the air conditioning on in the van after a day at the track! “Gotta get ready for those hot and humid summer races!” he would say as he kept his gear on, wound up the windows and turned the heating up! Ever supportive to his cause, Carrie endured the heat to help her husband’s belief that it would give him an advantage over his rivals.
Picked up for Suzuki in 1987 as the yellow brand aimed for sweeping both 125cc regions, Donny broke his collarbone just before the season and ruled himself out of the first three Supercross events. He returned with a solid 4th overall at the outdoor season opener in Florida, then a win at his first Supercross back – Pontiac again! Sadly, he came up short over a double jump on the second night at Pontiac. The resultant crash was a nasty one as he got ploughed into by Matson and several others, being pinned to the ground by another bike, and he had to admit that the title was gone.
The big crash knocked some confidence out of Schmit, but in his beloved Fox gear – they backed his efforts massively for the rest of his days in America – he got back to the top to take his fourth and final Supercross win in Tempe, Arizona. Suzuki did ultimately sweep both 125cc series with Surratt and Ronnie Tichenor. In the outdoor arena, Schmit was enjoying the results of his training methods and won his first National in 90+ degree heat at Anderson, South Carolina. Taking advantage of problems for reigning champ Micky Dymond, his 7-1 scoreline was enough to seal the deal ahead of Guy Cooper and George Holland.
Schmit had to wait until the end of the year to get up there again, however, as the factory Honda of Dymond romped to his second straight title. He did impress at the one-off 125cc USGP at Steel City, beating reigning World Champ Davy Strijbos to 5th in the second moto, once again in raging heat that made that year’s champ John van den Berk pass out!
In the Nationals, Donny would usually have one good moto then issues in the other, but by round 11 at Troy, Ohio, he finally stitched two good races together. With a 3rd and a 2nd he grabbed 2nd overall behind Honda-mounted Cooper. Better was to come, and at his home-state round at Millville he grabbed the holeshot in race one and cleared off, winning by 16 seconds. In race two his start was only matched by new champ Dymond, and as the pair tangled, Schmit’s teammate Erik Kehoe snuck through. The pair put a distance between themselves and the pack, and 2nd place was enough for Donny and his home crowd to celebrate his second overall win for the year, proving that his 7-1 at Anderson was no fluke!
For the 1988 season Donny moved up to the 250cc class for Supercross, but with the Nationals being split through the year in the bigger classes (6 rounds for 250s, 6 for 500s), and no 500cc Suzuki available, he stayed on a 125 outdoors for their 12-round championship. He was a contender all year in the Nationals, 3rd at the opening round at Gatorback, and climbing the podium steps at 7 rounds, including another loudly-cheered win at Millville!
Once again driving his home fans wild, he survived an initial dogfight with Cooper, which ended with “Airtime” experiencing some serious “ground-time” from an over-the-bars crash through the whoops! Schmit powered to another runaway win, 15 seconds clear by the finish. The second moto was much tougher, however, as two crashes in the first five laps put him behind Cooper and Yamaha-mounted young guns Damon Bradshaw and Mike LaRocco. With four laps to go, Schmit was still 5 seconds behind LaRocco, before the Indiana man hit a rock in a corner and went down! He remounted still in the lead, but Donny was on him. He shot past and took a popular win, saying afterwards, “I’m thrashed! That had to be my best National moto ever. I had to work, but the fans were cheering me the whole way! It was great!”
That result, along with 3rd overall at the final round at Washougal, saw Schmit narrowly hold off Cooper for 2nd in the 1988 series. George Holland took the title with amazing consistency, finishing top three at every round bar one, to take Honda’s 4th straight 125cc National title.
Sadly for Donny, his Supercross results didn’t live up to his outdoor ones. A best of 12th as further crashes knocked his confidence indoors put pressure on his place. It didn’t help that in the absence of a 125 GP, Donny entered the 250cc USGP at Unadilla, battled with Peter Johansson and Soren Mortensen, and had a less than stellar day with 7-13 motos for 9th overall. He was eventually dropped by Suzuki despite being their best rider in any outdoor Nationals and being only 22 years old at the start of 1989!
His reaction was a far more determined one than our recently-featured Eddie Warren, who suffered the same fate with Kawasaki a year earlier, at the same age, but moved to Australia to earn a crust from racing there. With no other offers, Donny and new wife Carrie instead bought a private Honda, a van, and focused on the outdoor Nationals with the word “REVENGE” emblazoned on his Fox race pants.
Against rising stars like LaRocco, Bradshaw, Larry Ward, Jeff Matiasevich, and factory Honda new kid Mike Kiedrowski, Team Schmit were immediately on the pace. With a bit of help from Pro Circuit, their Honda was fast enough and Donny holeshot and hid to win race one of round two at Hangtown. He grabbed 9 top three motos across the season and was 2nd overall at both Hangtown and Southwick. Despite driving everywhere himself across the vast continent, Donny was 4th in the championship behind the factory Honda duo Kiedrowski and Cooper, and 17-year-old Yamaha sensation Bradshaw. The highest-placed Suzuki was Erik Kehoe in 9th!
Despite being dropped from the yellow team, Schmit didn’t turn his nose up when approached by Sylvain Geboers for his Team Bieffe factory squad in the 1990 World Championship, alongside his young protégé Stefan Everts. And the rest is history! Donny took two world titles, returned to win another National moto at Millville as a World Champion in 1990, and won more Grands Prix than any other American rider of all time.
His sudden death from Aplastic Anemia in early 1996 came just after he turned 29 years old. It was a massive shock to the Motocross world, and especially to his Minnesotan fans who mostly heard the news at the Minneapolis Supercross the night after it happened. A silent tribute was paid and a great champion mourned.
We will cover Donny’s European exploits in more depth when we publish the 1990s list next year. It is proof of his pedigree that he got into the Top 50 of the 1980s (By The Numbers) list off the back of his AMA career alone.
Donny’s three wins came against stiff opposition in the 125 class at the end of the 1980s. Even a legend like Suzuki rider Johnny O’Mara, who was contracted to the 250 series before seeing out the rest of the season in the 125 class, couldn’t get the better of the raging eighth-litre pack. It was a hot-bed for young American talent and no doubt a production line for their ongoing run of megastars.
Donny raced for four seasons in that cauldron, a total of 48 events, although there were a few missed with injury in 1986. Criminally he was always over-looked for a Nations place, even in his world title-winning years, and his two GP appearances in the 1980s didn’t help his numbers. Either way 3 wins from 50 races is an easy calculation, so a 6 per cent win rate is high enough for 41st in our 1980s list, and a welcome addition considering what was ahead of him.
Schmit’s 1980s Numbers:
GPs counted: 2 – 0 Wins
AMA Nationals: 48 – 3 Wins
Total: 50 Events, 3 Wins, Winning Percentage 6.0
Season By Season:
Year Class Record Champ Position Grand Prix Results
1986: 125cc AMA 11 rounds, 0 wins 51st N/A
1987: 125cc AMA 12 rounds, 2 wins 5th USGP 125cc – 10th Overall
1988: 125cc AMA 12 rounds, 1 win 2nd USGP 250cc – 9th Overall
1989: 125cc AMA 13 rounds, 0 wins 4th N/A
Our next rider… well I’m gonna wait for the backlash on this one! He certainly was a fan favourite, although he never had anything like the extreme dedication to training as Schmit did. He did win a world title, but the numbers that put him at #40 cannot be denied. Although I can guarantee that many British fans won’t like it!
Top 50 Riders Of The 1980s (By The Numbers): #42 Eddie Warren
Rejected Kawasaki star makes a surprise appearance in our Top 50
The USA, in Motocross as in all other sports, loves its megastars – the Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Ricky Carmichael type of character – and in the 1980s it had a good number of those on dirt bikes. They helped lift American Motocross to a level that means it makes a study of the sport, like this list, pretty meaningless if you don’t consider the AMA Champions as at least the equals of those who raced the Grands Prix.
As with the elitism of bodies like the NFL, NBA, etc, those sportsmen who are damned good, talented individuals who just don’t quite get to the top very much, kind of get condemned to the trash heap a little bit. Such is the case with our #42 – Eddie Warren.
Words: Ben Rumbold | Featured Image: Richard DeLibertis
Now, let’s be plain here. He’s higher in this list than British heroes Rob Herring and Jeremy Whatley, and in comparison to many riders, Eddie’s career was like a blink of an eye. Based on opinion, especially outside of the USA, he probably would never have got in. When he did – “By the Numbers”, let’s not forget – I was a little nervous about this particular article. Until I found out more about his story. Ladies and Gentlemen, here’s what happens to a Ricky Carmichael-level schoolboy – or “Amateur” to use the relevant American parlance – when things don’t quite go right for a season or so.
Years Professionally Raced: 3 – 1985-1987 (All 125cc AMA)
Machines Raced: Kawasaki
AMA National Wins: 2 Podiums: 5 AMA National Moto Wins: 3 Top 3 Moto Finishes: 11
Grand Prix Moto Top 3 Finishes: 1
Nations Selections: 0
Championship Medals: None in Motocross. Best of 6th, 1985 125cc AMA National Championship. 1985 125cc East Supercross Champion
So who was Eddie Warren? Well according to those who watched keenly for the next big thing to come through the big American youth meetings such as Loretta Lynn’s and Ponca City, he was quite simply one of the fastest teenagers to thrash a “Wun-twenny-fahve” around a race track. Watching footage of him is a treat, like a slightly shorter David Bailey, smooth and up on the pegs whenever possible, and with a natural, effortless style. One of those riders to whom going fast isn’t hard work, so it’s actually difficult to make them work hard to go faster still, or faster for longer. Is natural talent a two-edged blade? Most certainly!
At 19 years old Eddie, son of a renowned Harley-Davidson mechanic who always made sure the bikes were perfectly prepared, tried his hand at the newly-conceived Regional 125cc Supercross “Pro-Am” series. Naturally, the boy from Michigan rode the Eastern races, although it didn’t look strictly controlled as to who rode what. A 16-year-old tearaway by the name of Mike Healey finished 3rd in the West series, and 5th in the East! Eddie had never turned a wheel on a true Supercross track before the Atlanta opener, although the randomly-constructed circuits of the time were light-years away from the computer-designed layouts of today. Nevertheless, his natural abilities shone through and he won the first three rounds, including the first-ever Championship 125cc Main at the iconic Daytona Speedway, then the mixed East-West event at Houston.
With the outdoor and indoor seasons overlapping back in those days, before that third Supercross win Eddie tasted National AMA Motocross competition for the first time. Despite a shaky debut in the 125 class, he powered to a fine 5th overall at Hangtown’s second round, with his first top-3 moto in the opening race. He only had future champs Ron Lechien and George Holland in front of him!
The results were encouraging enough for the father & son team to tackle the whole 10-round Outdoor National Championship, and after sewing up the Eastern 125 Supercross title (future World Champ Bob Moore won the West), he scored an opening-moto 3rd again in the heat of Las Vegas. The results fluctuated for the #801 Kawasaki man, between 14th and 4th overall, but he kept scoring points and finished well with his first overall podium, a 3rd overall at Washougal. Ending the season 6th overall in the championship, a factory Team Green ride was secured for 1986!
For the first time, Eddie rode without his father on the spanners and it took time to get used to a factory setup. He was also thrown straight into the deep end in the 250cc Supercross season, lining up alongside the likes of Ricky Johnson, David Bailey, and teammates Jeff Ward and Ron Lechien! He recorded a best of 9th indoors but 22nd in the series, probably disappointing to his Kawasaki bosses.
His main aim was the 125cc Outdoor Championship, and although there was a promising start with a 5th in the second moto of the opening round at Hangtown, it would take until early August for his promise to show through. Having grown up in Michigan with the accompanying weather and conditions, circumstances played into Eddie’s hands. The opening moto at the Broome-Tioga facility near New York was good with a 3rd place, due to a near holeshot and battles with Yamaha’s Keith Bowen and factory Suzuki man George Holland. As dark clouds and lightning storms closed in on the circuit, the second moto got underway and Holland looked to have it stitched up. On the fourth lap it absolutely hammered down, and Holland slowed immediately to protect a slightly injured knee. Warren was on him and gone, pulling well clear even after dropping his goggles. It was a great turnaround for the 20-year-old.
The similarly-soft terrain of Millville saw Eddie on the podium again with 3rd overall from 5-2 motos. Then came the best day of his whole career at a new venue, the Roger DeCoster-designed Hollister Hills track in northern California. On hard-packed slick West Coast dirt, Warren never expected to win there, but with a dominant first moto victory and a tape-to-tape, but closer, second moto, Eddie claimed his only ever AMA National maximum score and was on cloud nine! A 5-3 at the final round at Washougal meant that Eddie outscored everyone in the four events in August. 7th in points doesn’t do justice to how fast he was at that point. Five of the people he beat in that time are going to be featured in this list, with World or National Championships to nearly all of their names!
He continued his good run on the last day of August 1986, travelling south to Belo Horizonte in Brazil for the final round of the 125cc World Championship! Duking it out with the Vehkonen cousins, Pekka & Ismo, and the Benelli of Alberto Barozzi (I’m sure he never saw a Benelli again, before or since!), Eddie finished a credible 6th overall with 7-6 motos in a GP dominated by Micky Dymond.
He was expected to grow in 250cc Supercross in 1987, and certainly challenge for the 125cc national title. Just to give it a context, the 125s raced at every AMA National event from 1985 onwards, a full 10- to 12-round championship, whilst the big boys split those rounds between 250cc & 500cc. Most riders did both to contend for two national titles of 5 or 6 rounds each. If you were a Suzuki rider, you might have done half of the 125cc series after the 250s were done, as you had no 500cc option by 1985! Most Suzuki factory guys, like Holland, Erik Kehoe and rising star Donny Schmit, just did all of outdoors on a 125. As proven though by first Lechien and then Dymond, the Honda was really the machine to be on!
So this is where Eddie Warren’s story shifts a bit. As you can see from the numbers, he would never win another AMA Event. For an unknown reason that would only come to light years later, the results just didn’t come. Lower end of the top ten in both series, all through the year, there just wasn’t the same spark there. Team Green had plenty of kids knocking on the door, one by the name of Jeff Matiasevich, and it started to be obvious that Warren would not be re-hired alongside Wardy & Lechien.
The reason for this slump was only made public in a recent podcast, where Eddie explained that he was involved in a car crash with someone else driving, and as the vehicle was rolled it messed up his shoulder “big-time”. He didn’t have it x-rayed, and bizarrely he never told anybody in his team or the media about it, but he was struggling for mobility in his shoulder for much of the early part of the year. This, added to chronic arm-pump which plagued him his whole pro career, just left Eddie with an empty ammunition holster.
The arm pump he puts down to lack of confidence, nerves, and going from being a win-everything Amateur to suddenly swimming with the sharks in the pro ranks. It’s an age-old problem that doesn’t seem to have an easy answer. Ultimately, you just have to become a shark yourself!
Eddie once again came good towards the end of the year. In June’s penultimate Supercross, at East Rutherford, New Jersey, he scored a stunning 3rd place behind RJ & Lechien, and ended the season tied with Guy Cooper for 6th in the series! Back to the Nationals and it was more of the same, 12th & 11th, but then it was back to Broome-Tioga – so named because the track is in Broome County and the pits are in Tioga County! Here it was that Warren claimed his final overall AMA podium result, with 5-3 motos putting him 3rd behind Holland and double-champion Dymond.
A week before the last round of the Nationals, Eddie lined up for the 125cc USGP, the first one since 1981, at Steel City in Pennsylvania, and acquitted himself well. A crash ruled him out of the points in 17th for race one, but he held a strong 2nd for most of race two behind GP winner Kehoe, only to be passed by a late charge from rising superstar Jean-Michel Bayle. Even then, a top 3 in his last ever GP moto? Surely a move to Europe could have been an option?
4th overall at the final AMA round at Millville got him to 9th in the championship, but it was not enough to save Warren’s Kawasaki ride. Before he even turned 22, with zero offers on the table he considered calling it quits. After the Nationals however, he had done a few Australian races at the recommendation of his 125cc AMA rival Jeff Leisk. He got a call inviting him down under to race there, and he never lived in the USA ever again!
Warren’s story from here is an extraordinary one. He carved out a decent living on the Australian National scene, winning domestic championships and falling in love with the country. He met his wife out there, moved to Sydney, had two kids, and made the place his home. Hearing him speak today, there’s a definite Aussie twang mixed-in with the Michigan! At the start of the 1990s, he raced the Osaka Supercross in Japan, against a bunch of top Americans, and finished an amazing 5th. This led to Kawasaki requesting his presence in Japan to compete in their domestic series. The first year he commuted by plane between Australia and Japan, before Kawasaki helped him get an apartment and a van to stay there during the season.
In comparison to his paltry $15,000 salary from Kawasaki in 1986, he could make 25 grand on a good weekend in Japan, and although Eddie didn’t make enough money to retire on for the rest of his life, it certainly set him up with a house and some savings when he finally called it a day.
He raced hard against his old buddy Ronnie Tichenor in the All-Japan series, and raced some seriously trick factory kit, his 1992 hand-made steel framed KX250 his personal favourite. From then on many Japanese manufacturers began experimenting with ally frames, and the thing he got to ride was “a piece of junk” in comparison. This was many years before the first of those frames made it into production!
Tragedy did befall Eddie when, after being chased out of his Japanese ride by, guess who, Matiasevich again (!), he rode out his career in Australia and settled down. His wife passed away from an aneurism and he had to raise his two daughters alone for a while. He did re-marry and acquired four step-daughters, worked on railways and then the recycling industry. He also helped Aussie Jay Wilson in recent years. He did it the long way round, but Eddie Warren carved out a professional career in Motocross that set him up well for life afterwards. Many riders both in or out of this list were not so fortunate.
There is no doubt that Eddie’s place in this list is mainly due to the fact that he only rode for three seasons and won the minimum requirement of two events that this list was built on. His 35 counting events – 33 Nationals and two GPs – is the 4th lowest number on this list. Even so, given more of a chance he surely could have done more had he stayed in the AMA for ’88 & ’89, or even gone to Europe as some of his contemporaries did. His place in history as the first ever Eastern Region 125cc Supercross Champion is also not to be sniffed at.
I grimaced slightly when his statistics put him into this list, and in terms of best championship finish he is the weakest one of all 50, but his story is an amazing one, reflecting what happened to a rider given very little chance to find his place amongst the elite but still finding a way to survive. I’m glad he’s in here.
The rider we flip to next time had a different story to tell after he was left outside of the factory AMA line-ups, and he left his own mark on Motocross history…
GPs counted: 2 – 0 Wins
AMA Nationals: 33 – 2 Wins
Total: 35 Events, 2 Wins, Winning Percentage 5.7
Season By Season:
Year Class Record Champ Position Grand Prix Results
1985: 125cc AMA 10 rounds, 0 wins 6th —
1986: 125cc AMA 11 rounds, 2 wins 7th 125cc – 6th Overall (Brazil)
1987: 125cc AMA 12 rounds, 0 wins 9th 125cc – 9th Overall (USA)
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