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The 1984 Seattle Supercross Triple Header

By Brett Smith

Imagine this: you watch an entire main event. The winner is interviewed. Champagne, awards, fake checks, kissing the trophy girl… Then a few minutes later, a small group of those same riders line up and do it all over again.

On February 12, 1984, this happened at the Seattle Supercross. Here’s a brief story about a bit of odd never-will-happen-again moto history.

In 1984 the Seattle Kingdome hosted a Supercross triple header on a single weekend. Yup, three separate main events, all 20 laps in length. Only two of them, however, paid points for the championship. The third race paid no points at all. Just a lot of money, specifically $25,000 for the win ($73,247 adjusted for inflation). The 25k was 16 times more than what the points-paying main events rewarded. (Yup, the winners in 1984 got just $1500 for a main event win, half what was paid in 1983).

Yet, the 1984 InSport/Wrangler Supercross Series had several weird, sponsored side features that had nothing to do with winning the number one plate. Miller High Life gave a bonus to the fastest heat race, Diet Coke gave $1000 for the rider who went the furthest off the “Catapult jump”, a 7-ft. tall takeoff.

Reportedly, Ross Pederson went 55 feet off it at the opening round in Anaheim. And then there was the Wrangler Dash at Seattle, a completely separate 20-lap invite-only main with a $70,000 purse. The winner took over a third of the total prize.

In another hard-to-believe statistic, the 1984 season started with three different winners, all of whom won their very first Supercross main events.

  • Johnny O’Mara won round one in Anaheim, his 34th career start.
  • Jeff Ward won round two in Seattle, his 48th career start.
  • Ricky Johnson won round three in Seattle, his 26th career start.  

After Larry Maiers finished interviewing Johnson for ESPN, just seven riders lined up for the Wrangler Dash. The invite list was assembled from a quirky set of confusing requirements that differed depending on who was explaining it. Here’s what Dirt Bike reported: in the year 1983, any rider who posted the fastest heat race at least once, earned Rookie of the Year, or won at least one Pro Motocross overall got a spot in the Dash. Cycle News had different criteria: they said 1983 National Champions were invited, not Pro Motocross winners.

But Ross Pederson, the Canadian Supercross Champion was invited and Kent Howerton, who hadn’t been on a supercross podium since 1981, was picked as a “wild card”.

Nine riders were supposed to compete but Bob Hannah and David Bailey scratched. Bailey’s left foot was twice as big as his right and Hannah cracked two ribs in a crash en route to his 12th place main event finish.

Jeff Ward, 1984 Anaheim Supercross
Jeff Ward at the 1984 Anaheim Supercross. Phil Backman Photo

One rider conspicuously missing was Ricky Johnson, the guy who won the second main event in Seattle. Johnson won the 1983 Washougal Pro Motocross so this is a clue that maybe Cycle News reported the qualifications correctly. Why Johnson and another rider weren’t slotted to race in place of Hannah/Bailey is a mystery. But then again, 1984 as a whole was odd to begin with considering the war between the promoters and the AMA, which led to the series being sanctioned by “InSport”, which is a whole other story that I’m not going to cover (but this possibly explains why the purse was so paltry in 1984).

In a text message exchange, Ricky Johnson said he didn’t remember the Wrangler Dash happening at all, which indicates that maybe he didn’t put up a protest about getting in, especially given that Hannah and Bailey scratched.

Here are the seven riders who raced the Wrangler Dash:

  • Johnny O’Mara
  • Kent Howerton (wild card pick)
  • Jeff Ward
  • Ron Lechien
  • Broc Glover
  • Ross Pederson (Canadian National Champ)
  • Mark Barnett

Paul Clipper covered the Seattle round in the May 1984 issue of “Dirt Bike” magazine. In a three-quarter page sidebar about the Dash, he wrote “Although there were more than a few people calling the $70,000 purse an ‘incredible waste of money,’ there’s no doubt that five big figures has a way of capturing the interest–at least for the moment.”

Predictably, the race had plenty of carnage and crashing. The riders were exhausted after completing two days of racing. Jeff Ward led early and the payday looked promising but two crashes cost him $19,000 in the end. The first was a missed shift.

“It was a stupid thing,” Ward told Kit Palmer of Cycle News. “I just went over the bars. I tried to hold on but I didn’t save it. If it had been yesterday, I would have saved it but I didn’t have enough strength left.”

In a text message, Ward said he has fuzzy memories about the Dash as well. He thought he got second. “I don’t remember how tired I was,” he said. “I won my first SX that weekend so I might have been feeling good.”

Johnny O'Mara, 1984 Seattle Supercross
Johnny O’Mara didn’t win a points-paying main at the Wrangler Dash at the 1984 Seattle Supercross yet made the Cycle News cover.

Glover and Barnett also crashed while trying to move up the pay scale. Lechien took over the lead after Ward’s first crash but got overtaken by his teammate, O’Mara. When his transmission noticeably started failing, Lechien limped his Honda to the finish. O’Mara won the $25,000 but left Seattle seven points behind Ward in the championship. He entered the weekend with the lead.

“This must be a dream, I really can’t believe this,” O’Mara said to Maiers. “Even though I dropped to second in points, The Wrangler Dash sort of makes up for it.”

Unlike his contemporaries (and unsurprisingly), O’Mara remembers the night well. “I recall being pretty motivated because I knew everybody would be pretty tired after two nights of racing so I knew my fitness probably be the big advantage,” he said in a text. “Sure enough, everybody was falling apart and I took the win.”

Curiously, the race coverage narration from the video embedded above is a word for word copy of the article text from “Dirt Bike” magazine. The narrator never identifies himself in the video, which Gary Bailey shot. Maybe it’s Clipper himself?

Wrangler Dash Results

  1. Johnny O’Mara – $25,000
  2. Ron Lechien – $12,000
  3. Broc Glover – $8,000
  4. Kent Howerton – $7,000
  5. Jeff Ward – $6,000
  6. Mark Barnett – $5,000
  7. Ross Pederson – $4,000

(This only totals $67,000 but remember, only 7 riders competed)