NOTE: I wrote One Hit Wonders back in 2010. I’ve updated the statistics in the intro paragraphs below to reflect where supercross history stood after Daytona 2020 (March 7). If there’s enough interest and curiosity, I’ll do a part of two of this ‘one hit’ series and maybe even expand it to the motocross winners.
Also, since all of these wins came during the eras when two stroke motorcycles dominated, I stuck with the 125/250 division names. So, if you see “250 class”, it’s referring to the premier class of the series, or what we now call 450.
One Hit Wonders: Kings for a Day
This is a list of 10 riders who won a single premier class supercross main event in their career. No, neither Ricky Ryan or Mike Craig made the list but before you roll your eyes or click away, hear me out. Of the 684 supercross main events run from 1974 – the year the AMA Supercross Championship officially started – through March 7, 2020, only 64 riders have won. Of those 64 riders, 22 won a single main event in their careers (this figure includes the still-active Blake Baggett and Justin Brayton)
I’ve narrowed the group down to ten retired riders based on their accomplishments outside of that lone victory. These imperfect guidelines left me with ten riders who were among the best in their time. Some were champions in the 125 class, some won MXGP World Championships and handfuls of races in the AMA Pro Motocross series. But in the stadiums, their finest moment as professionals of AMA Supercross happened on a single day.
For some, the memories haven’t been discussed in decades. Others remember every detail of the race down to the number of seconds the gate was held after the 30-second card went sideways. Whatever the level of recollection, none of the riders realized their first victory would also be their last. But, telling these stories years removed, they are all rightfully proud of being, even for one day, the best rider in supercross.
- April 18, 1998
- Charlotte Motor Speedway
- Charlotte, NC
- 1998 125SX West champion
- 8 career AMA 125/250 Motocross wins
John Dowd used to be so bad at riding supercross even his team laughed at him. When he was hired by Yamaha for the 1995 season and moved to California for the winter, the New England motocross specialist had very little stadium experience. That winter, Dowd spent four days a week at the team’s test track.
“I definitely pulled off some stuff in supercross I never thought I would have,” he said. “I remember all the guys at Yamaha making a lot of fun at me at first because I broke a lot of stuff, bent stuff, I was casing jumps everywhere. The joke was that I was going to owe them money at the end of that season.”
At the time of the 1998 Charlotte Supercross, Dowd battled David Vuillemin for the 125SX West title but jumped at the chance to ride the 250cc class on the east whenever he could. Known for his mud riding skills, Dowd welcomed the rain that fell in the days leading into the race. “I was pumped up for that mud. I knew it was going to be a matter of surviving and doing what you knew you could to get through the jumps because it was going to be rutty, muddy and nasty.”
Despite the warnings from others, Dowd went with a sand tire, a rare choice in supercross. “I thought, ‘screw it’ throw the sand tire on because I want a good start and I’ll deal with it from there. Anything can happen in the mud and if I was ever going to win a 250 race this was going to be the night.”
Dowd’s teammate Kevin Windham holeshot and took off. In the chaos of the mud and rain, Dowd got passed by Larry Ward and Mike LaRocco but knew if he stayed consistent he could get on the podium. “Windham crashed hard on the rhythm section on the front stretch so I inherited the lead. I couldn’t believe I actually won. I know a lot of stuff happened and a few guys fell but I’ll take it.”
At 32, Dowd also took the record for the oldest main event winner in Supercross history (surpassed since by LaRocco and Justin Brayton). Even more impressive, however, is that Dowd wasn’t even halfway through his professional career in 1998. His final professional race was the 2013 Southwick Motocross National (30-19 moto scores!) just 6 weeks shy of his 48th birthday.
- April 13, 2002
- Pontiac Silverdome
- Pontiac, MI
- 1999 125SX West champion
- 15 career 125SX wins
From 2001-2006 Ricky Carmichael thwarted a lot of would be first-time winners. By round 13 of the 2002 season he had eight victories and enjoyed a six race win streak. Nathan Ramsey was RC’s teammate and the first factory Honda rider to compete in supercross on the new CRF450R four stroke. His night in Pontiac started lousy. “I just wasn’t feeling the flow all day,” Ramsey said. His bad feelings followed him all the way to the last chance qualifier, a spot where eventual main event winners seldom mingle. “I didn’t have much time in between [the LCQ and main event]. I remember going straight to the gate and being to the very outside.”
On lap three, Carmichael attempted to make a move on Ernesto Fonseca when he did his now famous high-speed loop out over a stutter step-up jump. With his front wheel pointed at the ceiling of the Silverdome, Carmichael rode his CR250 all the way to the ground where his hands were ripped from the handlebars and his body belly flopped on the dirt. With his visor dangling in front of his goggles he scrambled to find his bike while the rest of the class, Ramsey included, passed by. “When that happened you could just see it; everybody’s eyes were just wide open going, ‘I could actually win this thing, he’s crashed!’”
Fonseca led half the race before Tim Ferry and Ezra Lusk passed him. Ramsey, who tipped over on lap six, spent the majority of the main event in fourth. Late in the race Fonseca faded and Lusk and Ferry went down in the whoops. It was the 17th lap and Ramsey inherited the lead and Carmichael, who steamrolled his way through the field, took over second.
“It didn’t really sink in until I crossed the white flag,” Ramsey remembers about taking the lead. “I remember saying to myself, ‘Ok, I’m leading this thing and I only got one lap to go. I only need to finish one lap and I’m going to win this main event!’ There was no way I was going to let anyone pass me. No way.”
Carmichael’s night ended in a rare second place, a bike length from Ramsey whose favorite memory came after the finish. “I pulled up on the obstacle after the finish and it was pretty cool to have Ricky pull up on one side to congratulate me and McGrath pulled up on the other side. For me that was a big deal. Once you win one of those things you finally feel like you’re one of the guys.”
Ramsey rode for Joe Gibbs Racing in the second half of the 2009 season before retiring. He finished 9th in the Las Vegas Supercross, the final race of his professional career.
- March 15, 1974
- Houston Astrodome
- Houston, TX
- First American to win a FIM World Motocross race (Spain, 1973)
- Four career FIM World Motocross GP victories
Jim Pomeroy, man of many things “first American” as a motocross racer, was also winner of the first-ever truly indoor supercross race. The Houston Astrodome hosted round two of what was then called the “Yamaha Super Series”, the first version of the Monster Energy Supercross Championship.
Back then, this new series was novel but considered a spring warm up for the Pro Motocross series. Pomeroy, however, needed to kill some time before he returned to Europe for the 1974 FIM World Motocross Championships. In the previous season he won the Spanish GP, becoming the first American to win an FIM GP overall. For World MX pioneers like Pomeroy, supercross was a sideshow.
“Jimmy hated manmade courses; he didn’t like supercross,” said Arnie Beaman, Pomeroy’s mechanic. “The more they made the jumps for the crowd pleasing the more he hated it.”
“We called it a gladiator sport,” said Ron Pomeroy, Jim’s younger brother. “Spectators could see all the action and all the thrills and spills and all the tracks were so tight that all you could do was knock someone down to pass them. None of us liked that.” The Houston track, built by Gary Bailey, had a blue groove in it like a dirt track oval. Supercross “settings” didn’t exist in 1974. Beaman robbed the frame from a flat track bike and shoved a Pursang motor into it. “We were experimenting,” Beaman said.
The R&D paid off for Beaman and Pomeroy. “Jimmy dominated all night long. I knew right from practice that nobody was going to be able to touch him. They had a turn that had a berm around the outside. Jimmy used the berm and nobody else did. He hit it in fifth gear and that’s where all the time was made up.”
Beaman’s recollections of the night were from a different angle than Ron Pomeroy’s; Ron raced, too. The Super Series had 40-man finals in 1974 and Ron ran at the back of the pack. “All of a sudden here comes Jim,” Ron said. “I didn’t know he was coming up on me that fast and we bumped each other because I was in his line. He yelled at me because he didn’t realize that I didn’t know he was there. I almost knocked him down on accident!”
Jim didn’t appear in another Supercross main event until 1977. He earned 6 podiums that season and finished second overall to Bob Hannah. His final supercross came at Anaheim, which ended the 1978 season. He finished 5th.
When he turned 50, Jim began competing in the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association’s vintage motocross series where he became a three-time champion of the 50-plus expert division. Pomeroy died in August 2006 in a Jeep rollover accident near Yakima.
- June 15, 1991
- Spartan Stadium
- San Jose, CA
- World Vet Motocross Legend (20+ titles and counting)
- 3 career Supercross podium finishes (premier class)
At 1:00 a.m. in San Jose, CA Damon Bradshaw had his mother on the phone, who lived in North Carolina. The sun was an hour away from rising there. “Dubach won tonight! Can you believe it? Doug won!” the excited 18-year-old screamed into the receiver while Dubach and Jeff Emig waited for their “Grand Slams” in a booth nearby.
Dubach calls it his most treasured racing memory. Three hours after the checkered flag at the San Jose Supercross, the Yamaha teammates celebrated at a Denny’s near Spartan Stadium. Dubach had beaten Bradshaw for the 250 class victory and Emig won the 125SX West main event.
Like John Dowd, Dubach scrapped for everything he ever got as a professional racer, such as racing AMA Pro Motocross Nationals while working full-time. In 1984 he got laid off from his pool cleaning job so he hitched a ride with Mike Beier to race in Gainesville, FL. On a clapped out, mostly stock Suzuki RM125, Dubach finished 5-12 and decided to stay on the road. In 1990, after years of soldiering his way through Yamaha’s factory support program he was offered a contract to be a full factory rider.
The San Jose supercross was the second to last event of an 18 round schedule in 1991. Dubach had just returned from injury and he felt fast, particularly in a set of whoops that led into the finish line tabletop. “I remember Keith McCarty telling me at the end of practice, ‘If you can go that fast all night through those whoops, you’re going to make a lot of money tonight.’ Which I thought was a funny comment,” Dubach said.
The main event, now a classic, had five different leaders but Dubach led the last lap. Late in the race Dubach ran third but watched Jeff Matiasevich and Guy Cooper slam each other. “It was almost like I wrote the screenplay because I was back there in third going, ‘Oh these guys are going to kill each other,’” Dubach said. Cooper finally made a pass stick through the whoops before the white flag but he wasn’t able to protect the inside line in the next corner. Matiasevich came hot into the corner, which had a single roller, and jumped right into Cooper’s front end. It was the last lap and cost both riders the win. Dubach, already content to have outright passed Jeff Stanton earlier, now had the lead. Bradshaw, who got stuck in the gate at the start, aggressively passed Stanton for second but his teammate had a safe enough distance to win his first AMA Supercross main event.
Dubach’s last supercross main event came in Tampa in 1996, where he finished 15th, but he also raced select Pro Motocross events through 2001 and regularly finished top 15. He’s also won more World Vet Motocross titles than anyone can count.
- March 17, 1990
- Sam Boyd Stadium
- Las Vegas, NV
- 1988-89 AMA 125SX West champion
- Two career AMA 125/250 Motocross wins
- 1995-1997 All-Japan Motocross Champion
Holding his left shoulder, Jeff Matiasevich lay in an emergency room bed at a Corona, CA hospital. The thoughts running through his head were not good. For months he had tried to forget how his shot at winning the 1990 AMA Supercross Championship imploded six months ago; now his chances of being competitive enough to win the 1991 title looked grim. Christmas was in a few days and a new season started in three weeks. Then the man in the bed next to him died of a heart attack.
Earlier that afternoon, Jeff “Chicken” Matiasevich went over the bars in the whoops section at the Kawasaki test track. The torn muscles in his left shoulder blade caused his 1991 season to suffer. “I remember sitting in the hospital wishing I was just [long pause] like, suicide would be the only answer to how, you know, I was so bummed,” Matiasevich said. “And then [hospital staff] brought in a guy and they started screaming. The guy had a heart attack right there in the bed next to me! I thought, ‘Well, I guess life isn’t that bad.’”
The injury crushed him. As a rookie, Matiasevich led the 1990 AMA Supercross Championship for 11 of the 18 rounds. At round seven in Las Vegas he took his only win of the season and, ultimately, his career. He dominated the race, leading 19 of the 20 laps. “The track was more technical and suited my style a little better,” he said. “You wake up on those days and everything seems real easy. From the first practice on I felt like I was just one step above everybody else. When I got in the lead, Jean-Michel Bayle was in second; I had about four seconds on him and I was marking him in every turn. That pace was like a walk in the park for me.”
With two hands in the air, ‘Chicken’ crossed the finish line and extended his series lead to 14 points over eventual champion, Jeff Stanton. Matiasevich consistently finished on the podium until round 15 in Foxborough, MA where he struggled for a 9th and allowed Stanton to close within one point of the championship lead. His season unraveled after that as Stanton won two of the last three. “I was pretty pissed off that I didn’t get that championship,” Matiasevich said. “In my whole racing career, the only thing I ever cared about was winning a 250cc supercross title. When I won the 125cc titles they didn’t really mean anything to me. I never had any doubts that I wasn’t going to get the [250cc] championship.”
In 1995, Matiasevich received an offer from Kawasaki of Japan to compete in the All-Japan Motocross Championship. For Kawasaki, appointing American riders helped them with production model development while raising the level of competition on their national motocross series. Matiasevich swept the series for three straight seasons. In 1998 he raced a handful of supercross events in America both in the 125 and 250 classes. His final main event came in the 250 class, coincidentally, in Las Vegas. He finished 20th.
- March 1, 1980
- Fulton County Stadium
- Atlanta, GA
- 1980 AMA 500cc Motocross champion
- 1981 USGP winner
- 1981 Motocross of Nations winning team member
Chuck Sun almost scrapped his dream of becoming a motocross champion. After three consecutive injuries that included a sliced leg, torn cartilage and broken bones, he seriously considered going to college. Husqvarna didn’t have a budget to pay him but they did give him a truck and a mechanic. In the fall of 1979 he headed to Mid-Ohio for a Trans-AMA race where he bested Roger De Coster and Brad Lackey in a moto. “All of a sudden I was on the radar again,” Sun said. The Oregonian soon found himself poring over contracts from Kawasaki, Can-Am, Husqvarna and Honda. He went with Honda, who hired all new riders in 1980. “The bike that they built was really trick. It was lightweight, had Pro-Link suspension and was a true works bike. I loved riding that thing.”
Sun’s supercross victory came in Fulton County Stadium, home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team and site of Hank Aaron’s record breaking 715th homerun six years earlier. Some of the best mud races of all-time happened in Fulton County and Chuck Sun owned the 1980 edition. “It wasn’t a super mud fest but it was sloppy, enough to give us guys from the Northwest an edge,” he said.
Sun led most of the main event but his win was nearly sabotaged when his former Husqvarna teammate, Kent Howerton, unintentionally pinned him in a corner. “I went to the inside on him when I was lapping him and he goes down on top of my bike! I had to wait until he picked up his bike and took off.”
The Atlanta win was sweet and Sun said he didn’t sleep all night. But decades later, he can more easily remember a race he didn’t win: the first main event of a double header in New Orleans two months later. The race had network TV coverage and the course featured a manmade waterhole that Sun blasted through. Mike Bell, Sun and Darrell Shultz all exchanged the lead but it was Sun and Bell who battled on the final lap. Bell made the last pass one corner before the finish. “To this day I’m still sick over losing that race.”
That autumn, Sun won the AMA 500cc Motocross Championship and came within 10 points of doing it again in 1982. The last supercross he raced was in San Diego in 1982 (14th). “I think I was pacified with my wins outdoors,” Sun said of not winning more in supercross. “I always considered myself an outdoor guy. Supercross was very, very cool but it was kind of an extra thing. In my mind the outdoors was the real thing, the real prestige.”
- March 9, 1974
- Daytona International Speedway
- Daytona Beach, FL
- 1974 AMA 250cc Supercross Champion
- 1973 AMA 500cc Motocross Champion
The most distinct memory Holland’s Pierre Karsmakers has about the 1974 Daytona Supercross was not getting the chance to race against Roger De Coster who, at the time, was a three-time and defending FIM 500cc World Motocross champion. “Right before the race he decided to not race in the race I participated,” Karsmakers said. “I was in very good shape and he was probably afraid of losing the race against me.”
The AMA ran a 500cc Supercross Championship through 1975; DeCoster won the 500cc main event that afternoon. Without “The Man,” Karsmakers was left to battle with Rex Staten and Jim Pomeroy for the win on the Gary Bailey-designed Daytona track, which, as always, was free of dust and full of telephone poles. (Bailey raced and finished 5th overall). Karsmakers remembers that the “…spectators were very enthusiastic, more so than for the 200-mile road race that year!”
Karsmakers showed up late for practice but it didn’t affect him in the three moto format. Jim Pomeroy won the opening moto but Karsmakers went 2-1-1 for the overall, besting the Penton-riding Buck Murphy (8-3-3).
In the early 70s, Karsmakers was the only top European competing full-time on the AMA circuits. For the Americans, motocross was still new and having a rider from Holland cleaning house was a challenge. He won the 1973 AMA 500cc Motocross (of which, Daytona was a round) and the Yamaha Super Series, which included only two points paying rounds. The Super Series was the first version of what we now call the Monster Energy Supercross Championship. Karsmakers competed in only a dozen stadium events in his career. His last came in 1978 in Seattle where he finished 19th.
- January 11, 1997
- Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
- Los Angeles, CA
- 1992 125cc FIM World Motocross Champion
- 1993-94 250cc FIM World Motocross Champion
- 1999 250cc AMA Pro Motocross Champion
In 1997 Greg Albertyn finally had confidence. The three-time world motocross champion came to America in 1995 and spent two years injured. “I was a beaten down rider,” he said. That January he had an improved Suzuki and a new teammate, Jeremy McGrath, who brought the experience of four AMA Supercross championships to the yellow brand. “Coming off the ’95 and ’96 seasons and having a bike that was really, really bad, we made a lot of progress for 1997. McGrath, coming off his Honda, still thought [Suzuki] was atrocious but compared to what we came from it was absolutely leaps and bounds better.”
That night the pressure was all on McGrath who had made his shocking switch to Suzuki two weeks prior to the start of the season. He was now the top rider on the team. But in the main event Albertyn, not McGrath, battled with Jeff Emig early in the race. McGrath crashed in the first corner and again later in the race. After 10 laps, Albertyn was alone in the lead and the last ten laps felt, “Like an eternity! I wanted it to end right there. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I better not throw this away’. Things were flying that night but every rut felt magnified.”
Albertyn said his fondest memory was crossing the finish line knowing he had finally done it. “To come to America and feel like a total amateur in Supercross it was like, ‘Yes!’” Two years later he beat Kevin Windham for the 250cc AMA Pro Motocross Championship. His only regret in his career wasn’t that he didn’t win more supercross races. He really wanted a supercross title, a tall order for any rider during the Showtime era. “Jeremy McGrath was the greatest of the greats when I was racing. It was damn hard to beat the guy.”
Albertyn finished 4th at the Pontiac Supercross on February 19, 2000, his last main event score.
- February 22, 1997
- Georgia Dome
- Atlanta, GA
- 1994-95 125SX West champion
- 1997 World Supercross champion
- 1998 US Open of Supercross winner
After two laps, the pain wouldn’t go away so he rode back to the truck. It was cold that day in the high desert of Palmdale, CA. Patches of snow lined the track where Kawasaki tested for the AMA Pro Motocross opener less than a week away in Gainesville, FL on March 2. After he handed the bike off to a mechanic, Damon Huffman gently, but quickly, tore off his left boot and saw his foot moving involuntarily. “Yeah, it’s broken.”
He hadn’t crashed. Huffman was still on a warm up lap, working the stiffness out of his AXO motocross boots when he hit a hole. His foot slipped in front of the peg and it sucked his leg under the bike. He had broken his fibula. “I couldn’t believe it. I kept on riding because I was expecting the pain to go away. That was really a bummer; I didn’t even get a chance to follow my win up the next weekend or have all the guys say ‘congratulations’ and all that.” Huffman had just won the Atlanta Supercross, one of the biggest highs of his career.
In the Georgia Dome, less than three days earlier, Huffman waited for the starting gate to fall. The card was sideways but the gate stayed up longer than normal. In his peripheral he saw his competition flinch. “I dumped the clutch and timed it so clean and perfect that, out of the gate, I had about a bike length on everybody,” Huffman said. “Perfect start, shifting, timing and I killed them to the first turn.” Huffman remembered Jeff Emig and Jeremy McGrath being close at the beginning but that’s it, just close. “A couple of times they showed me a wheel but I put together 20 perfect laps and nobody was able to do anything about it.”
One of Huffman’s odd little secrets that night was that he wore AXO trail riding boots. “They were super soft and I was able to really feel the bike but the support wasn’t really there.” He struggled with the motocross boots, which got hung up on parts of the bike and the trail boots allowed him to shift and move around easier.
The broken leg from testing three days later sidelined him for the rest of the 1997 supercross season. One year later Huffman suffered a broken femur in Pontiac, an injury that, he said, changed his career. “I kind of learned to be more cautious, which perhaps hurt my results. You go from being fearless, not worrying about what could happen to thinking, ‘Huh, maybe I need to be safer here.’ Very tough.”
Huffman’s last supercross was in 2005; he finished 10th in Las Vegas. He ended his professional riding career with a gold medal at the 2009 ISDE in Portugal.
- January 10, 1998
- Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
- Los Angeles, CA
- 1996 125cc FIM World Motocross Champion
- 1998 250cc FIM World Motocross Champion
- Three career AMA 250cc Motocross wins
Who’s on the number 103 Kawasaki plowing his way through the pack? What’s that funny looking gear called? Oxbow? Those may have been the questions many spectators asked as Sebastien Tortelli passed Jeremy McGrath for 3rd, Jeff Emig for 2nd and then Doug Henry for the lead on the final laps of the 1998 opener in the LA Coliseum. Few Americans knew about the 125cc World MX champ. But he could move. “It just looks like he’s being held up,” said ESPN’s David Bailey during the race telecast. The course had soft dirt and deep ruts. Rain in the leading days caused practice to get cancelled. The conditions were perfect for a hungry kid from France.
The last two laps don’t come close to telling the whole story, however. Tortelli rounded the first lap in 15th place and wasn’t in the top 5 after 10 laps. But even before that, he arrived at the starting gate and was told by the AMA he was late and would have second to last pick (Ezra Lusk came in behind him). “We were both sitting on the way outside in the deep mud,” Tortelli said. With his boots soaking in standing water, the chances of Tortelli walking away with even a trophy seemed slim. But this scenario was normal for him. “I rode my supercross tracks back in Europe even when it was raining. You make the best out of it; having rough faces and deeps ruts wasn’t really a problem for me but for the California guys it was a problem.”
Tortelli passed Henry in a rhythm section just before the white flag. Henry, the winner of the 1997 supercross finale in Las Vegas, was looking for two in a row on the new Yamaha four stroke but he laid it down in the corner after the white flag. Tortelli blew by the mechanic’s area all alone and read his pit board. Craig Monty had written “2 for 2!” The mechanic congratulated his rider for two wins: The first was the weekend prior at the Perris Raceway Invitational where he beat Jeff Emig. Tortelli, still learning English, didn’t understand the idiom; he already thought he was in second place and seeing “2 for 2” on his signal board, to him, confirmed that. He crossed the finish line without even a fist pump but inside he was happy with his finish. One year earlier, he finished 7th in the main event at the same race.
“When I go to the podium and [ESPN’s] Davey Coombs says, ‘Hey, congratulations, man, you won!’ I’m like, ‘What? Are you sure?’ I was very surprised.”
The following week, Tortelli tweaked his knee and missed round two. Despite being top five in the points after seven rounds he was called back to Europe to battle Stefan Everts for the 250cc FIM World Motocross Championship, a title he won in the final round in Greece. In 1999 he returned to America. Tortelli’s final supercross ended in a 14th place in Houston in 2005.
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