The Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship family and the sport as a whole lost a legend on Saturday with the passing of Gene Ritchie, the founder and patriarch of RedBud MX in Buchanan, Michigan. A former motocross racer himself, Ritchie broke ground on RedBud in 1972 and began hosting professional motocross races in 1974. In the years since the tradition known today as the RedBud National began, held each summer on Independence Day Weekend, it has grown to become the centerpiece of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship.
Gene Ritchie was also deeply involved in amateur motocross racing, helping to cultivate the lives and careers of countless young riders over the years, some of who went on to greatness as world-class racers.
“A dream for one man turned into a mountain of memories for motorcycle racers and enthusiasts from all over the world. The memories that I have from spending time there growing up will be with me forever. My first memory of ‘Mean Gene’ was seeing him on top of the yellow bus for the riders’ meeting. As a seven-year-old boy it was very intimidating; I am sure there are many riders who also remember the yellow bus that was the site for sign-up, scoring, and Gene handing out trophies!” – Jeff Stanton, six-time Lucas Oil Pro Motocross and AMA/FIM Supercross Champion, and a RedBud regular growing up in Sherwood, Michigan.
“Gene Ritchie built the perfect place for motocross. The track was great, the facility was impeccable, and it never stopped improving. He and his family also built a culture of enthusiasm with Midwest fans and that made it so special. I believe every pro motocrosser that ever lined up at RedBud owes a great big thanks to Gene Ritchie. He was truly special.” – Jeff Emig, four-time Lucas Oil Pro Motocross and AMA/FIM Supercross Champion.
“When I was a young boy, Bob Hannah, Mark Barnett, the Hinkle brothers [Mark and Scott] and many others battled it out at RedBud. They inspired me to want to be like them and Gene Ritchie helped make my dreams come true. Gene had the ability to work with anyone. He was always doing what it took to make the sport we love bigger and better. He never rested on this foundation as the track improved each year and new buildings were going up in order to make the facility better for the fans as well as racers. He created one of the most iconic motocross tracks in the world. He was a great promoter and even a better man. I extend my condolences to the Ritchie family on behalf of the entire motocross family as they deal with the loss of a great man.” – Stanton.
“Mean Gene? No way. Gene Richie was a big teddy bear to those that knew him. I met Gene when he came to my Florida Winter-Am Series in 1971. We sat in my van and talked about having an AMA [sanctioned] national motocross championship series. While we were talking, I looked down the drag strip that adjoined the track and here comes a guy doing a wheelie all the way up the strip. He rides right up to the van on his rear wheel and puts his front wheel on my windshield! Then he turns and wheelies away, right back down the track! Gene laughed and told me he set that up and the rider his friend, Doug Domokos, who became the Wheelie King! Gene was smart and funny and creative, and we ended up getting that series started up 1972. What has now grown into the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, Gene’s race at RedBud is right there at the center of it all.” – Bill West, friend of Ritchie and motocross promoter.
“On behalf of everyone involved today in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, MX Sports Pro Racing, and all of Gene’s fellow promoters in the National Promoters Group, I want to thank him and his family for setting the standard of what a pro motocross event can be. He was a dear friend and a great partner. He was also a great teacher, and with his children Tim and Amy at the controls, RedBud will no doubt continue to flourish and grow. Our deepest sympathies go out to the entire RedBud family.- Rita Coombs, High Point National promoter and fellow NPG member.
The 2016 Red Bull National will commence on Saturday, July 2, and will undoubtedly carry additional significance in honor of its creator.
Gene Ritchie was 79 years old. Godspeed, Gene.