Connect with us


The Five-Time World Champions – Antonio Cairoli

MX Vice looks into the career of the best Italian ever to race Motocross



As we literally rev up for the opening round of the 2023 MXGP season, MX Vice continues its look at the legends of the sport that have achieved five or more World Championships since the inception of the series.  We now focus on the first non-Belgian rider to achieve such a feat, and he went on from there to make it an amazing career tally of nine world titles.  He is, of course, the mighty Sicilian, Antonio Cairoli.

Words: Ben Rumbold | Featured Image: KTM

Antonio Cairoli clinches his first world title at Lierop in 2005. (Image: Yamaha Europe)

There are many candidates that can claim to be the best of all-time, the best of this century, all of that. For certain, Antonio Cairoli has to be in the argument. Nine world titles, seven in the Premier class, six in a row (matching Stefan Everts’ record there), and the one I consider to be the most impressive, an incredible 17 consecutive years of winning at least one GP, and usually several!  No-one in history can match that. 92 GP Wins include 68 in the 450cc class – more than any other rider. And as a final argument for being one of the very best, he had some incredible races in the Motocross of Nations. The 2006 MX2 win at Matterley Basin springs to mind as he passed everybody in the second race – Christophe Pourcel, Ben Townley, Ryan Villopoto included. His 2009 duel with Chad Reed on home soil at Franciacorta was incredible to behold, and the final moto start-straight collision between him and David Philippaerts almost certainly robbed his nation of a home win.  I personally witnessed his devastation of the field at both Lommel 2012 and Teutschenthal 2013. It was only fitting that he should lead his country to the win in his final GP season of 2021, allowing him to ride with the #1 plate at his final ever pro race at the end of 2022.

Not quite 20 years old as he enjoys his first World Championship celebrations. (Image: Yamaha Europe)

It was a very tough life for Tony at the beginning.  Miles an hour faster than anybody on his native island of Sicily, the kind of football being kicked by the “boot” of the Italian mainland in the heart of the Mediterranean. So instantly he had to sacrifice his home life just to compete at national level. In order to race at the world level his talent deserved, he had to make the move to the Motocross mecca of Belgium.  It is ironic that the first non-Belgian to win five world titles or more basically had to adopt the Belgian way of life to get there.  This led to him becoming one of the best Italians of all time in deep sand, pounding out the laps around Lommel and the surrounding circuits.

Former 500cc GP racer Claudio de Carli spotted his talent and ran him on his MX2 GP team from the start of 2004. And it started there as he won his first Grand Prix, still only 18 years old and wearing his legendary #222, at the historic Belgian circuit of Namur. Bizarrely he won with a 2-4 moto scoreline as the two race winners, fellow Italian legend Alessio Chiodi (did you know that Chiodi is the word for “Nails” in Italian? Suits him!), and eventual champ Ben Townley, hit troubles in the other races. He wouldn’t often go without a moto win in the years to come!

Racing with the number one plate in 2006, Cairoli just lost the title to Christophe Pourcel. (Image: Yamaha Europe)

Third in the world was a great result for his first year at the top level. He did run the #3 for the following season, and led the series from the third round onwards, stretching away from early challenger Stephen Sword. Many might say that Tyla Rattray’s injury helped, but Tony was already ahead of the South African. 13 moto wins was 9 better than anyone else that year, and fittingly the title was clinched in the deep sands of Lierop, finishing ahead of the late Australian Andrew McFarlane.

He ran the #1 plate that he earned for 2006, but came up against the super-talent of Christophe Pourcel. He still won more races, 12 to the Frenchman’s 4, but two DNFs early in the year left him always chasing, and he lost his crown by 18 points.  From there on, he carried the #222 plate as the internet age arrived and encouraged riders to build brands around their numbers. In 2007 he was virtually unstoppable with 21 moto wins of the 28 he raced in MX2, plus a successful MX1 debut in a wildcard appearance at Donington Park, splitting the motos with Kevin Strijbos and taking the overall verdict at his first attempt!  The following year, his last in MX2, saw a monumental scrap between him and the two factory KTMs of Rattray and Tommy Searle. All three led the series at one point, and it got testy with Searle being shown the “Clean Him Out” board in reference to Tony at the Swedish GP! It all came to an end for the Sicilian, however, with a badly-damaged knee injury from the South African round, the tenth of the series, and Rattray emerged as Champion.

Shocking everyone with his domination of MX1 in 2009.(Image: Yamaha Europe)

At the age of 23, he moved up with his de Carli Yamaha team to MX1 in 2009. Teammate Tanel Leok took the opening round, a true mudder at Faenza in Italy that got cancelled before race two, but after a double win in the Turkish round three Tony was able to bolt the red plate to his bike.  It never came off!  KTM’s Max Nagl gave chase, looking to give the orange marque their first title in the MXGP era.  But new KTM boss Stefan Everts had a plan…

De Carli’s team was in direct competition to the long-established factory Yamaha squad run by Michele Rinaldi., who had won the previous year with David Philippaerts. They were all black and Monster Energy backed, and Tony was a lifelong Red Bull athlete. Both Italian as well, it just didn’t fit, so Yamaha deferred to Rinaldi.  That’s where Stefan and KTM jumped straight in, fitted things around the Sicilian’s favoured arrangements, and in so doing changed the face of MXGP for the immediate future in which we are still living!

Utterly dominant. No-one could wrestle the gold plate from Cairoli for five straight years on the 350cc KTM. (Image: KTM)

With his throttle-happy style and diminutive 1.7 metre/5ft 7in stature, KTM’s new 350 SX-F fitted him like a glove, and it became a lethal combination to the rest of the field.  Winning his second GP on it, he took 15 of the 30 motos in 2010, a positively barren 9 from 28 in 2011 but still 100+ points ahead of Yamaha’s Steven Frossard, 21 from 32 in 2012, 20 from 34 in 2013, and finally 15 from 34 in 2014.  It is one of the most dominant spells in Motocross history, and it might have been boring had it not been for Cairoli’s Valentino Rossi-esque Charisma and personality, all with that famous toothy grin and fans cheering around the world. The parallels with Rossi are striking – multiple Italian champion carrying the sport in its new four-stroke era, not quite able to match the all-time figures set from a different time but in a lot of fans’ eyes, especially when combined with his massive brand and popularity, he was the very best.  He even had a much younger, controversial but crazily fast young buck eventually rise to challenge him, just like Rossi had with Marc Marquez.

Injury prevented Cairoli from making another run at the 2015 title, although factory Yamaha new boy Romain Febvre and Husqvarna-mounted Nagl were making life more difficult than usual even before he hit troubles. 2016 saw the arrival of new MX2 Champ Tim Gajser, on a much more sorted factory Honda, and for the first time the now 30-year-old Tony looked a little outgunned, even running behind Febvre until the Frenchman crashed out of the season at Matterley Basin. Tony was 2nd in the series but 84 points back from the Slovenian.

Saluting the Sedish crowd at Uddevalla on the way to his first Championship for KTM. (Image: KTM)

Tony worked incredibly hard in the off-season, however, moving up to the 450cc machine after years on the 350, and shot out of the blocks with a double win at the Qatar opener in 2017. Gajser was strong and took two more GP wins, but the incredible circuit of Arco di Trento saw one of Cairoli’s all-time best rides. After passing and pulling away from Tim in race one, a troublesome second corner put him outside the top twenty on lap one. Gajser was away and clear, but Cairoli found an incredible passing point on a right hander after an uphill step-up, passing Arnaud Tonus, Gautier Paulin, Clement Desalle, Jeffrey Herlings, and Evgeny Bobryshev all in the same spot! An inspired and incredible fightback that sealed the GP win and kept Gajser in sight in the points chase. Tim’s season did get interrupted by injury, and after a pre-season issue had slowed Herlings, the Dutchman started to get on the pace of his elder teammate. Cairoli’s experience showed and he kept himself in the picture, all hopes for Jeffrey being dashed by a broken chain in Sweden. Cairoli was crowned Champion for the 9th time in Jeffrey’s back yard at Assen.

2018 was another incredibly tough season for Tony, even with Gajser taken out of the equation with an horrendous pre-season crash. Herlings was fully up to speed on the 450, and despite an early double victory in the brutal heat of Red Sand in Spain, he couldn’t stop the Bullet, almost exactly 9 years his junior, from steamrollering to his first Premier class title. Only Desalle got a single moto win outside of the two KTM riders all season, and Cairoli kept the pace with an amazing 29 top three motos out of 38.

A massive home crowd say Arrivederci to Antonio after his last ever Grand Prix, held at Mantova. (Image: KTM)

More injuries to Herlings put Cairoli in a top spot for 2019, however, and he won four out of the first five GPs, before a crash at Kegums in Latvia put him out for the season.  It’s a tribute to his mentality the he won the next GP there in 2020, on his way to third in the series, before taking two further victories in his final year of 2021. The first was on a mixed day of weird weather at Matterley Basin, and his final GP was won amongst the pandemic-condensed end to the year, on home soil at Trentino. That was actually a month after a gloriously emotional involvement in the Italian win, on home soil again, in the Motocross of Nations at Mantova.

He’ll always be the Italian #1 – Cairoli’s last professional race at RedBud, proudly brandishing the plate he had helped to earn the previous year at the Motocross of Nations. (Image: KTM)

Just for comparison’s sake we have listed Tony’s career breakdown alongside the only rider to win more world titles than him, Stefan Everts. Amongst those with five titles or more, only Gajser was marginally younger on winning his fifth crown, and only Herlings has won more seasons with over 50% of the GP wins to his name. He earned his ninth title at the same age as Stefan did, but it has to be said that Tony faced stiffer opposition in his attempts to get to number ten, and he was still very close to achieving that.

Tony now moves into a management role, his main charge being a certain Dutchman who he battled with so fiercely in his final few years.  We’re sure the pair will make an incredible team, and we wish them all the best this season.

Rider Stefan Everts Antonio Cairoli
DOB Nov-72 Sep-85
Title 1 1991 2005
Career Year (Age) 3rd (18) 2nd (20)
GP Wins That Year 5/12 (42%) 6/17 (35%)
Career Wins To Date 5 7
Title 2 1995 2007
Career Year (Age) 7th (22) 4th (22)
GP Wins That Year 5/15 (33%) 10/15 (67%)
Career Wins To Date 19 21
Title 3 1996 2009
Career Year (Age) 8th (23) 6th (24)
GP Wins That Year 5/13 (38%) 4/15 (27%)
Career Wins To Date 24 29
Title 4 1997 2010
Career Year (Age) 9th (24) 7th (25)
GP Wins That Year 9/15 (60%) 8/15 (53%)
Career Wins To Date 33 37
Title 5 2001 2011
Career Year (Age) 13th (28) 8th (26)
GP Wins That Year 7/14 (50%) 6/15 (40%)
Career Wins To Date 50 43
Title 6 2002 2012
Career Year (Age) 14th (29) 9th (27)
GP Wins That Year 4/12 (33%) 11/16 (69%)
Career Wins To Date 54 54
Title 7 2003 2013
Career Year (Age) 15th (30) 10th (28)
GP Wins That Year 9/12 (75%) (+8×125 & 1×650) 9/17 (53%)
Career Wins To Date 72 63
Title 8 2004 2014
Career Year (Age) 16th (31) 11th (29)
GP Wins That Year 7/16 (44%) 9/17 (53%)
Career Wins To Date 79 72
Title 9 2005 2017
Career Year (Age) 17th (32) 14th (32)
GP Wins That Year 8/17 (43%) 6/19 (32%)
Career Wins To Date 87 83
Title 10? 2006
Career Year (Age) 18th (33)
GP Wins That Year 14/15 (93%)
Career Total 101 92


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.

Rider RC4 JH84 SE72
Ages 16-27 15-28 16-33
Years 1996-2007 2010-2023 1989-2006
Seasons 11 13 (2022 missed through injury) 18
Titles 10 5 10
GPs / Nats 127 169 226
Wins 102 102 101
Win %age 80.31 60.36 44.69
Motos 253 334 422
Wins 190 192 172
Win %age 75.10 57.49 40.76
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.

Jeffrey Herlings has passed RC for outdoor moto wins, and with one more GP win will move clear of his overall win tally as well. (Image: Ray Archer)

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.

RC4 JH84 SE72
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.

Stefan Everts is the only rider to collect world-class championships on four makes of motorcycle, as well as only the second to win in all three original GP categories.

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!

RC4 JH84 SE72
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!

RC4 JH84 SE72
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

Ricky Carmichael closed his career out with Suzuki, dropping only three overall wins from his last 30 outdoor events.


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!”.

RC4 JH84 SE72
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

Continue Reading

1980s Motocross

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

Championship Medals:

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.

Schmit powers the KX125 to the 1986 West Region Supercross Championship.

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.

Schmit rode a few 250 Supercross races in 1987 as he knew he would be in that class for 1988.

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.

The 1988 250cc USGP was not a great day for Schmit at Unadilla. (Image: Mitch Friedman)

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!

Donny’s fans wanted Revenge almost as much as he did!

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.

Schmit earned himself the National #9 plate for 1989 but every factory team passed him up. With just him, his wife, and a van, he took home 4th in that series on a private Honda.

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.

The private Honda was plenty fast enough as Schmit proves with a holeshot at the Unadilla National. Just inside his roost is eventual champ Mike Kiedrowski, on the factory machine. (Image: Richard DeLibertis)

The Numbers

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

The 1990s would hold a new lifestyle for Schmit and his wife, which will feature in the 1990s list next year…

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!

Continue Reading

1980s Motocross

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!

Eddie Warren in his first pro season, wearing #801 in 1985. If he wore a Scott full-face mask, I was a fan! (Image: Richard DeLibertis)

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.

A 21-year-old Eddie Warren battles with the big boys on 250s in just his second professional year.

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.

Warren plugs through the mud in his last Daytona Supercross, 1987. (Image: Dirt Bike Magazine)

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.

“Fast Eddie” found a career, and a lifelong home, Down Under in Australia.

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.

The Numbers

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…

1980s Numbers:

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)

Continue Reading