Welcome to the Shift Number Cruncher. This is one of the biggest
weeks of the year for motocross. With this in mind we decided to drop
back into the shotgun position and go for a big play. I think it is
time for the Number Cruncher to hit a climax and really get to the core
of what racing numbers are all about.
When Ricky Carmichael
won the 1999 AMA 125cc Motocross Championship for the third straight
time, he was faced with a fairly strange predicament. The sport was
changing and was scratching and clawing its way into the mainstream. A
marketing mindset swept over the industry and we began looking at
different sports genres for clues. Stick and ball sports learned a long
time ago about the revenue possibilities of using numbers to I.D. their
athletes. Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, for instance, the #23 was
synonymous with Michael Jordan. The same could be said for #80 for
Jerry Rice or any other top player. Millions upon millions were made by
merchandising companies. Other motorsports had also heavily invested
into the concept of attaching a permanent number to their drivers, like
the #43 with Richard Petty or the #3 of Dale Earnhardt.
AMA decided to bring that thinking to SX/MX. With more titles than any
still-active rider, Jeremy McGrath chose first, taking #2 (when he
wasn’t wearing #1, which was reserved for the current champion). Jeff
Emig was next with four titles, and he took #3. RC chose #4, the digit
he would wear to win his first 250 SX, at Daytona in 2000.
Coincidentally, it was also the first number he had ever raced with.
#4 is calling it quits, more or less, with fifteen championships, two
perfect seasons, and more than 140 wins. The MX world will forever
recognize this number as the one the GOAT wore; it is doubtful they
will ever allow an AMA pro motocrosser to wear it again. But while
Carmichael will always be known as # 4, there were also some incredible
men who wore it before him.
|John DeSoto |
was the earliest #4 we could find—John DeSoto ran it way back in 1973.
That’s the Flyin’ Hawaiian on a Kawasaki dinosaur at the Daytona
|Jaroslav Falta |
is Jaroslav Falta, the ill-fated CZ rider who basically had the ’74 FIM
250cc World Championship stolen from him by the Russians (and that had
to be the baddest jersey available in 1974).
“Short Stack” Stackable was famous for being able to ride pretty much
anything (including Maicos after almost everyone else switched to
Japanese bikes) and his incredible physical fitness.
wasn’t even born when Gerrit Wolsink wore the #4 at the 1975 Carlsbad
500cc USGP. The Dutch dentist would win that race five times!
he looks pretty serious here, The Jammer, was one of the most colorful
personalities in the sport’s history. He wore #4 in the ’76 250
from Texas, Kent Howerton was one of the best sand riders of all time,
and he basically invented using the clutch around the track. Here he
surfs the soft stuff in 1977 at the old Hangtown
track on his 250 Husky.
“Bad” Brad Lackey was #4 in the world when he rode for Team Honda at the 1977 Carlsbad 500cc USGP.
|Kent Howerton |
Here is the “Rhinestone Cowboy” Howerton sporting the # 4 again, this time at the 1980 Daytona SX.
Andre Vromans, 1981 Swedish 500cc Grand Prix…. Wow, the Dick Miller Archives go deep!
|Bob Hannah |
only fitting that the Original King of Supercross, Bob “Hurricane”
Hannah, would race with the #4. For the better part of motocross
history, Hannah was widely regarded as the best ever. By ’82 he was two
years removed from his sketchy water-skiing accident (where Marty
Tripes was driving the boat) when this picture was taken. Hannah lost
almost three full years recovering, then returned to his winning ways
in 1983 on a Honda, only to keep getting hurt. But man, was he fast!
|Johnny O’Mara |
Check out the O’Show in 1983! You know he just hated that duct tape, but he did bag the AMA 125 National Championship that year.
|Jeff Ward |
Ward was one year away from winning the 250 SX and MX Nationals when
this picture was taken at Daytona in ’84. Ironically, Daytona was one
race he never won.
|Damon Bradshaw |
|photo: Fran Kuhn|
apologies to Guy Cooper and Mike Kiedrowski, each of whom wore the #4
to titles in the early 1990s, the man most attach #4 to in that era
might be Damon Bradshaw. Unique in almost every aspect of his career,
nobody carried as much mystic and hype than the Beast from the East.
Typically sporting snakeskin cowboy boots, sleeveless shirts, and a
nasty disposition, B’Shaw was a true bad-ass on and off the motocross
track. It is a tragedy that Damon never put it together and won a 250
title; his wins were legendary, but he left the motocross world wanting
so much more.
|Steve Lamson |
|photo: Fran Kuhn|
Serpico, as he was known to his native NorCal fans by, ran the # 4 during the 1994 125 Nationals while riding for Team Honda.
|Larry Ward |
|photo: Jim Talkington|
Ward raced almost every bike made from 1987 to the present time. He has
also worn almost every kind of riding gear. Here he rides a factory
Suzuki wearing Answer, running the #4 toward the ’98 Tampa SX win
(before it got really muddy that night).
|Jeff Emig |
Emig is one of the most patriotic American motocrossers of all time.
Fro has cried tears of joy and defeat in during his many campaigns for
Team USA, which stretched from ’92 through ’97, with three wins and
three losses. Emig answered the call in ‘96 when Uncle Sam came calling
for a 500cc rider. Even though he had never raced a 500 before, he
stepped up to ride the KX500 as McGrath, his main rival, rode the 250
class. The bike was a monster, but Emig rode the wheels off it in
Jerez, Spain, and led all 500-class riders in both motos. With MC and
125-class rider Steve Lamson also having perfect days, Team USA won by
we have RC racing 250cc supercross at the 2000 U.S. Open. This would go
on to become the most feared gear color of all time. When he won the
epic Anaheim 3 battle with MC the next January, he stayed in the orange
gear for the rest of supercross and won out the series. (Another unique
aspect of this picture is the #4 itself; after running this standard
digit in ’00, he and his crew came up with the stylized one he races
with to this day.)
|RC on Honda|
|photo: Simon Cudby|
RC made the switch to red after winning the SX title on green in ’01,
Johnny O’Mara said, “Just wait till people see how fast he is on a
Honda.” Well, in Ricky’s first season aboard the big red machine he won
a downright nasty twenty-four straight outdoor motos, as well as the
AMA supercross title. But that season didn’t get off to a very good
start. First, he was soundly booed at the U.S. Open when he let the
promoter talk him into wearing a cape and crown during opening
ceremonies. Then he suffered a horrendous endo at Anaheim 1. He would
recover to win the supercross title, and then again before sitting out
the ’04 winter with a knee injury. Then he came back and won
twenty-four in a row again outdoors!
|RC on Suzuki|
|photo: Simon Cudby|
In 2005 Ricky took the #4
over to the big yellow tent at Team Suzuki. While he didn’t win
twenty-four in a row, he did win every single overall in the
outdoor season to accompany his 2005 supercross title. He then closed
out the final full season of his career in 2006 by again winning both
championships, cementing #4 as the greatest number in motocross history.
Respect the 4.