Hi boys and girls! Bad Brad here again with a little more info on my upcoming 4th annual Nor-Cal Classic Vintage MX National at Sandhill Ranch in beautiful northern California on March 28-29. In addition to two days of great vintage MX racing we will be hosting a new concept for AHRMA, the Vintage Am. There will be European World Champions racing against American World Champion Danny LaPorte. As the U.S. team captain Danny has a storybook career in the MX world.
Danny helped the U.S. make the transition from underdog to world leader in MX. The rider from Los Angeles scored an AMA 500cc National MX Championship in 1979 before going on to become the first American to win the FIM 250cc World Championship in 1982. LaPorte was also a key member of the 1981 Team USA Motocross and Trophee Des Nations squad that brought America its first win.
Danny LaPorte was the first American to win a FIM 250cc World Championship. He still races and will lead the US squad at the Nor-Cal Classic Vintage MX National.
Danny was born in Los Angeles on December 3, 1957. His dad was an avid motorcyclist and Danny grew up riding in the desert, vacant lots and MX tracks near his home of Torrance, CA. He started racing local motocross events when he was 11. At first he was intimidated by being on the track with all the other riders but he found that he was a true natural. He was so good in fact that he quickly became one of the leading riders in Southern California by the mid-1970’s.
At 16 he turned pro in local CMC events and began making money. He won so many races in Southern California that he got a call from Suzuki at the end of the 1975 season. He accepted the offer and in 1976 he debuted in the AMA 125cc National MX series.
The epic entrance of Bob Hannah overshadowed LaPorte’s debut but LaPorte did get into the thick of the Hannah/Marty Smith battles a number of times and even managed to win twice in the eight-race series. His victory in Houston in August marked not only his first National win, but also the first-ever victory for Suzuki in AMA 125 National MX competition. He ended the ’76 season a solid third, just one point out of second place.
LaPorte came back in 1977 with Suzuki and nearly won the 125 national title. In perhaps the most notorious season finale in the history of AMA motocross, Yamaha used controversial team tactics in the final round to help Broc Glover win the title. The championship ended with Glover and LaPorte tied in points. Glover won by virtue of earning more moto wins, but the way the Yamaha factory team helped Glover win the final moto became part of MX history.
In 1978 LaPorte moved to the 500cc class, still with Suzuki. He won the season opener and had other good finishes, but a string of bad luck with mechanical problems caused him to finish in fifth.
In 1979 LaPorte returned for a fourth year and got revenge of sorts on Yamaha when he narrowly beat Mike Bell for the 500cc title. Always more of an outdoor specialist, LaPorte cracked the top-10 for the first time in AMA Supercross that season, taking ninth in that series.
The 1980 campaign was a big disappointment for LaPorte who spent most of the year searching in vain for the combination that brought him the title previously. There were flashes of brilliance, LaPorte was runner up in the 500cc USGP at Carlsbad and he won a 500cc National in St. Petersburg, FL, but for the most part he suffered through a long season. LaPorte finished the year in seventh and the St. Petersburg race was his final AMA National win.
“Today I saw a motocrosser. Danny rode a perfect race, not one mistake. I have not seen a better race.” - Heikki Mikkola
In 1981, Roger Decoster moved to Honda to act as team advisor and having great faith in Danny, he convinced him to Ride Red. LaPorte earned four podium finishes and ended the year ranked fourth but it was his first season without a win.
It looked as if 1981 would be another forgettable year for Danny, but that was before he and Honda teammates Chuck Sun, Johnny O’Mara and Donnie Hansen traveled to Germany for the Motocross and Trophee Des Nations. LaPorte was one of the leading scorers on the team that finally brought the US its first victory in this celebrated international event. That year’s victory for Team USA was perhaps the single most important accomplishment in American motocross. It was a turning point for the sport in this country and proved that America had finally mastered the sport brought over by the Europeans over a decade earlier.
His success at the des Nations inspired LaPorte. Once again he sought new challenges and asked Honda if there were any openings in the company’s World Championship team. Unfortunately, the team was already set, but Yamaha’s European racing consultant Heikki Mikkola had talked to LaPorte after the des Nations telling him of a possible opening with Yamaha. A deal was made and in 1982 LaPorte headed off to Europe to pursue the 250cc World Championship.
“It had always been a dream of mine to race in the World Championship,” LaPorte said. “Even though I could have made twice the money by staying in America, I just knew that those kinds of opportunities didn’t come along often and I wanted to take the chance.”
It proved to be the best move of LaPorte’s racing career. Riding on the factory Yamaha squad, he shocked the Europeans and won five rounds, including four straight at one point, to become the first American to win the FIM 250cc World MX Championship.
LaPorte’s 1982 world title was a come-from-behind classic. He was up against the heavily favored Georges Jobe and a host of other talented and experienced world-class riders. The season began slowly but he gained confidence mid-season by winning the second moto of the Czechoslovakian GP. His first GP victory came in France, followed by a win in Great Britain. The turning point came on the sands of Holland. LaPorte upset the sand specialists by winning both motos and prompted four-time world champ Heikki Mikkola to proclaim, “Today I saw a motocrosser. Danny rode a perfect race, not one mistake. I have not seen a better race.”
So come on out and see Danny and cheer on Team USA and the other World Champions on March 28-29 at Sandhill Ranch in Brentwood, CA. See you there!