People are quick to extol such-and-such a race as the greatest ever, but all Supercross races will forever be compared to the 1986 Anaheim 1 Supercross. It was a race that is still lauded and openly discussed by all who were in the stands that damp night of January 18 in Southern California. Although a thousand gate drops have happened in the time since, the Ricky Johnson versus David Bailey battle royale has gone down in lore. Younger generations will undoubtedly write off the events that transpired that evening as a race that is only important to men of a certain age, but the youngsters would be wrong.
The 1986 Anaheim Supercross opener had the makings to be great even before Johnson and Bailey went toe-to-toe. Jeff Ward won the 250 Supercross title the year before, ahead of a supporting cast of top-ranked riders. Unfortunately the sport suffered a black eye at the hands of the ill-devised Rodil Cup at the 1985 Supercross finale in Los Angeles, in which riders sandbagged their way into front-row starts in promoter Mike Goodwin’s harebrained split-start fiasco. The fans left booing, and the sport was in turmoil. It would take nothing short of an incredibly exciting Anaheim Supercross opener in 1986 to captivate a fickle fan base. Additionally, 1986 marked the beginning of the AMA production rule. Gone were full-works bikes, which closed the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Storylines were aplenty at Anaheim 1.
The racing began with Jeff Ward snapping his throttle cable in the heat race. His night was done. Stars such as newly signed Honda rider Ricky Johnson, along with teammates David Bailey and Johnny O’Mara, as well as Broc Glover, Ron Lechien, George Holland and Micky Dymond qualified for the main event. However, once the gate dropped there were only two riders the spectators fixated on–Johnson and Bailey. For 20 laps the factory Honda riders swapped the lead numerous times. At certain points in the race they were side-by-side, neither one wanting to give any quarter. The action was thoroughly described in MXA’s coverage of the event. We stated, “Ricky Johnson and David Bailey, two riders who came out of the Rodil Cup mortification with their images unsoiled, added luster to their reps with 20 laps of stuff, bluff, ram, slam and cram. The crowd went bananas!”
The article goes on to state, “Ricky Johnson, the new Honda rider, was ragged, hanging off the back of his CR250R, over-jumping every obstacle, but determined. Once Johnson got the lead, he fought like a junk-yard dog to keep it.” Alas, it wasn’t enough. Ricky’s aggressive riding put him in front over half a dozen times, but David Bailey came out on top when the checkered flag waved. Throughout the main event the two block passed, torpedoed, stuffed and brake checked one another. Fortunately the events that transpired that night haven’t been lost to memory. Thanks to YouTube the race has been immortalized, as it can be viewed on your computer.
It was a banner night for factory Honda, but even bigger for the sport of Supercross, which needed a home run in order to find appeal following the Rodil Cup flop. And while David Bailey won the Anaheim 1 Supercross, Ricky Johnson had the last laugh in capturing the 1986 Supercross Championship.