Danny LaPorte may be the epitome of motocross factory riders. He supported the brand that supported him. Of course, he had personal goals and objectives. He probably accomplished most of them. But what made Danny LaPorte stand out was his professional representation of the factory team. He was and still is “a team player.”
I met Danny in 1982 at the Swiss 250 Motocross Grand Prix (World Championship Series) in Payerne Switzerland. He had just replaced 1981 World Champion Neil Hudson as a Team Yamaha factory rider. I was taken with his professional attitude and media-savvy representation of the team. He confided that a part of his agreement with Yamaha was attendance at what he called “charm school.” He was obviously a good student. After hearing my first name once, Danny never forgot. Name recall had been a part of the “charm school” curriculum.
The recent turmoil in the AMA Supercross and Supercross Lites series inspired this article. The immaturity and lack of professionalism amongst some “professional” riders is embarrassing to all concerned – factory, riders, fans and the AMA. It may have happened during my days as a motor sports journalist but, if so, it was a well-kept secret. And, I do not think it is because the Internet makes such information so much more accessible. I can’t imagine Danny LaPorte involved in such childishness. Nor, can I imagine a factory allowing its brand to be so tarnished.
His “company man” attitude did not mean that Danny LaPorte was a “yes man.” He started that season on a bike that he hated. Hated may be a bit strong. Danny had problems with the new liquid cooled Yamaha, especially on muddy tracks. After a few races he forced a switch to the more reliable air-cooled bike. Let someone else be the “test rider.” Danny wanted to win. As far as I know, that was never publicized and Danny never complained publicly.
Another inspiration to write this came from a friend asking about the most exciting race I had covered. Motocross is exciting. I can’t pick a specific race that was the most exciting. I do, however, think one of the most important races I ever witnessed was the Fourth of July meeting between Danny LaPorte and Georges Jobe at the Dutch 250 MX GP in Mill Holland in their intense competition in the 1982 Motocross World Championship Series. For me, it was THE RACE that made Danny LaPorte America’s first 250cc Motocross World Champion.
LaPorte and Jobe came into that race tied for second in the standings. Dutchman Kees van der Ven had a slight lead and was on his home track. Kees van der Ven was not considered a serious threat. He had never been able to stay with Jobe in head-to-head competition. The Suzuki Team was concerned enough about Danny LaPorte, however, to put sand specialist Henk van Mierlo on a factory bike to help put some distance between Jobe and LaPorte. The image on the right is Jobe who is very comfortable on sand tracks.
Before the race, LaPorte laughed about the idea of a sand specialist. Why would anyone consider sand an obstacle to him, Danny wondered. “Don’t they realize that I learned to ride in the Mojave Desert,” he grinned? He went on to humiliate Jobe that day – Jobe, van der Ven and the Suzuki sand specialist, Henk van Mierlo. LaPorte won both motos, coming from behind in each. See image on left. That was THE RACE that broke Jobe’s confidence – and put any doubts out of Danny LaPorte’s mind. He Knew he could win.
Rather than rewrite history, I will quote from a World Championship Series wrap-up that I wrote for the Stars&Stripes on July 21, 1982. The article was written with just three races remaining in the series:
Story and pboto
By WARREN M. PRICE
At the beginning of the 1982 season, the question was: “Who will finish second to Georges Jobe in the 250cc class of World Championship motocross?”
The Belgian rider Jobe, world champion in 1980, appeared seemingly unchallenged after the departure of Britain’s Neil Hudson, last year’s 250cc titleholder, who had moved up to the 500cc class.
Dutchman Kees van der Ven, consistent finisher but rarely a winner on his KTM, was the name most often mentioned as a possible runner-up to Jobe. West Germany’s Roll Dieffenbach had an erratic ‘81 season and was considered too heavy to be consistent on a 250cc Honda. The American Mike Guerra, sixth last season on a Husqvarna, was not figured to place any higher in ‘82.
Another American Danny LaPorte had raised a few eyebrows last fall with his impressive rides in the 250cc Trophee des Nations in Belgium and the 500cc Motocross des Nations in Germany. LaPorte had led the upstart American team to first-time victories in both events, leaving the European teams in mild shock.
But for ’82 LaPorte was considered as too inexperienced to be taken seriously, despite Yamaha factory support he bad inherited from the Briton Hudson.
It would be a good race for second place, the experts said, but not one of these riders was considered a remote threat to Jobe on his Suzuki.
But all that “expert speculation” came before the start of the 1982 season.
LaPorte, instead of battling other riders for second place in the standings, is leading Jobe and all the rest for the 250cc world crown. And he’s doing it on the strength of four straight grand prix victories, the latest one scored Sunday over Jobe in the Russian Grand Prix.
In the Soviet event, LaPorte won the first moto and Jobe finished second. In the second moto, it was vice versa, with Jobe the winner and LaPorte runner-up. But the American rider was fastest on aggregate time from both events, and he walked proudly onto the victory stand as winner of the Russian Grand Prix.
LaPorte, of Torrance, Calif., now leads for the world title with 173 points to Jobe’s 167 so it’s all very close, with only three GPs remaining — the US GP at New Berlin, N.Y. on Aug. 1; the Finnish GP at Hyvinkaa on Aug. 22, and the Swedish round at Vimmerby on Aug. 29.
While LaPorte’s victory in Russia was a dramatic one, his earlier triumph in he Dutch GP came as one of the most important in his career. It was a turning point, so to speak, and it occurred on the all-American date of July 4. When the Dutch race had ended that day, LaPorte had emerged with his third straight grand prix victory after beating Jobe soundly in both motos.
Refused start money at last year’s Motocross des Nations because he was an unknown, LaPorte is now the dominant 250cc rider in European motocross. What a difference a year makes!
But he started the ‘82 season slowly, troubled by a flat tire in the Swiss round, a lapse of concentration in Spain, and an ignition malfunction in Belgium. Although a bit discouraged, the young American’s confidence began to return when he won the second moto of the Czechoslovakian Grand Prix.
He scored well in the Italian GP, which van der Ven won, but Jobe still led the standings by nearly 50 points.
Despite Jobe’s big lead, he was not invincible. After all, Guerra, the other American in 250cc competition, had beaten Jobe twice and had also won the Spanish GP at Barcelona. In addition Dieffenbach had been the over-all winner in the Czech GP and Van Der Ven had beaten Jobe in Italy.
LaPorte’s first European GP victory came in France, where he won the first moto and placed third in the second to take overall honors. His victory was somewhat hollow, however, because Jobe had not raced. The Belgian had chosen, instead, to allow his injured elbow to recuperate.
But LaPorte had found the confidence he needed with his French victory, and he won again in England and moved into a tie with Jobe for second place in the world 250cc standings. Van der Ven, who had split six of the last seven motos with LaPorte, was leading by two slim points.
But until the Dutch round on July 4, European fans remained skeptical. Jobe had been riding hurt in England, they said, and LaPorte was just lucky. Van der Ven would blow LaPorte away in the sands of Holland and Jobe would beat them both when his elbow healed.
Three weeks elapsed between the British GP and the Dutch round, enough time for Jobe to recuperate. He declared himself ready for the stretch run.
Van der Ven, racing at home, is good on sand and a healthy Jobe is good on any track. And Henk van Mierlo, another Dutch sand specialist, had been given a factory Suzuki ride for the Dutch round. LaPorte would have to ride a great race to stay with the GP veterans.
And that he did.
He beat Jobe in the first moto by two seconds, then vanquished the Belgian again in the second moto by and even greater margin – seven seconds.
Heikki Mikkola of Finland, the Yamaha team manager, was ecstatic about LaPorte’s performance. Mikkola, himself a four-time world motocross champion, said, “Today I saw a motocrosser. Danny rode a perfect race … not one mistake. I’ve never seen a better race.”
LaPorte had beaten Jobe twice, and had come from behind each time. He had won his third consecutive GP, taken the lead in the world championship standings, and won the respect of motocross experts and fans alike. He would not have to beg for starting money again.
“It was a great Fourth of July,” said a smiling Danny LaPorte.
Danny LaPorte was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in 2000. His profile is a great read. See it at: