By Massimo Zanzani
Everyone knows it takes more than raw speed and dedication to win titles. It’s a combination of many learned and natural traits, which often take years to develop. Quality equipment, a supportive team and luck are also part of the equation. What about a girlfriend or spouse? It depends. Many Pro riders benefit from a loving spouse, while others are better off finding love after their career is over. Meet the wives of four National and World Champions. These women were instrumental in their husbands’ successes and, in one case, smart enough to stay away until after the sun had set on a turbulent career. Don’t be surprised to discover that these wives have quite a bit in common.
MRS. BRAD LACKEY—LORI LACKEY
Brad and Lori Lackey.
“Bad” Brad Lackey has the 1972 500 National title to his credit. More important, he was the first American to win the 500 World Championship, accomplishing the feat in 1982 after years of racing in Europe. His wife Lori was by his side the whole time.
HOW DID YOU MEET BRAD? I’ve been with Brad since I was 15 years old and he was 16. It has been a long time. I was 19 when we moved to Europe. I had finished up with high school. I had thought about going to college, but Brad wanted me to move to Europe with him, so that’s what I did. We lived in Europe for 10 years.
WHAT CHALLENGES DID YOU HAVE TO OVERCOME TO DATE A MOTOCROSS CHAMPION? Brad won the 500 National Championship in 1972. Before he won that title, he told Kawasaki that if he won the championship, then they should support him on the Grand Prix circuit. As part of his contract, Kawasaki had to oblige. At that time, he knew that the very best racers were in Europe. He could only go so far in America, and if he could win in America, then it would be better to race the best riders in Europe. It was difficult for us to be away from home for so many years. We were very alone, and we didn’t have a support group. Not a lot of people spoke English in Europe at the time, so it was especially challenging.
HOW IMPORTANT WAS YOUR PRESENCE IN HIS CAREER? It was very important. We got used to being together. As long as he wanted to do something important, then I was there to support him. Then again, he was there to support me too. Brad and I were a team. He had a dream, and we decided together to pursue that dream in Europe. When he would win and be happy with something, then I would also be happy. When he was down, so was I.
HAS BRAD CHANGED FROM WHAT HE WAS LIKE AS A RACER? Brad changed a lot when he stopped racing. Before, he was very focused. He had the eye of the tiger. Now, in his personal life and also in business, he’s more relaxed. That’s not how he was before. He was very regimented.
DO YOU HAVE ANY REGRETS? The biggest regret that I have is not having a real education. My parents wanted me to go to college, and I was focused on going to college, but I didn’t actually do it. However, I feel like I got so much more out of going to Europe with Brad. That was my schooling. Some of my friends that I went to school with stayed in the same town, and a few have never traveled outside of California. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to see the world, and that’s an education in itself.
IS THERE ANYTHING SPECIAL THAT YOU CAN SHARE ABOUT BRAD? Brad was very dedicated. He had a good team, mechanic and trainer. He knew how to put it all together. Some people don’t have that ability. They surround themselves with the wrong people. Brad was smart. He have as much patience with the journalists as he should have. He was the only American racing in Europe, and he felt defensive. He felt like the little guy and that the media was picking on him. If the journalists wrote something that he didn’t like, then he would become very angry.
WHAT MISTAKES DID YOU HAVE TO ENDURE DURING BRAD’S CAREER? One of his mistakes was leaving Honda one year too early. If he had stayed and not gone to Kawasaki that year, then he probably would have been the World Champion much sooner. He was with Honda in 1977 and 1978. Kawasaki wanted him back, and they offered him a good contract. Brad’s Honda was good, but he wasn’t happy with the company, so he left. He didn’t have the support that he felt he deserved, so he went to Kawasaki. But that year the bike was terrible. He finished second overall in his last year at Honda, and if he had stayed another year, then I feel he would have won the title.
IS LIFE AFTER RACING GOOD? There are a lot of good things about Brad and very few bad things. Of course, a wife always has her little complaints about her husband [laughter]. Maybe he doesn’t pick up after himself the way he should. We’ve been married for 37 years and together for 42 years. You don’t stay with someone if they have a lot of bad qualities.
MRS. RON LECHIEN—TIFFANY LECHIEN
Tiffany and Ron Lechien.
Known fondly as “The Dogger,” Ron Lechien was one of the most gifted riders to ever throw a leg over a bike. Although he only won the 125 National title, in 1985, he was always a threat to win. Unfortunately, his off-track antics and turbulent personal life hindered his racing efforts. He has been married to his wife Tiffany for five years.
HOW DID YOU MEET RONNIE? I met Ronnie when he was 12 years old. We were both in the seventh grade. His parents allowed him to skip eighth grade so that he could race. He was the cute boy in town. He rode a motorcycle, and his career took off. I would see him at parties. He did his thing and I did mine. It wasn’t the time for us to be together. Ronnie was the stud, and he didn’t want a girlfriend. He probably had 20 girlfriends at the same time [laughter]! He would call me every now and then. I got a boyfriend in high school, but he wasn’t nice. I told him that I was going to go out with Ronnie, and that made the boyfriend jealous. Well, when I was around 38, my old high school boyfriend passed away. Ronnie called me up and said that he would like to go to the funeral with me, because we both knew the guy. We went to dinner, and we have been together ever since.
WHAT CHALLENGES DID YOU HAVE TO OVERCOME TO DATE A MOTOCROSS CHAMPION? We didn’t start dating until after his career was over. I knew him growing up, though. I remember when Ronnie was 16 years old and making $250,000 a year. He had it all. I went to his house a few times and partied. I know all of his old girlfriends, and we laugh about it now.
HAS RONNIE CHANGED FROM WHAT HE WAS LIKE AS A RACER? Ronnie told me that we never would have lasted if we were together back when he was racing. He was a wild and crazy guy. It worked out that we started dating later on. Today, he’s just a big, loving guy.
IS THERE ANYTHING SPECIAL THAT YOU CAN SHARE ABOUT RONNIE? Ron wasn’t riding seven years ago when we got together. I put him on a diet, and then he started riding again. He has so much natural talent on a bike, and he found enjoyment in riding again. He can ride the track once and memorize it. He can do it with his eyes closed.
WHAT MISTAKES DID YOU HAVE TO ENDURE DURING RONNIE’S CAREER? Ronnie knows what he had and what he lost. He appreciates things much more now. He hangs on to everything. Fortunately, his parents held on to his trophies. They packed everything away in storage, and they have been sitting there waiting for him. We will need to clear a whole room for his trophies.
IS LIFE AFTER RACING GOOD? Life is great. We have three cats. My family loves Ronnie. Whenever I get mad at him, my family always says, “Poor Ronnie.” There really isn’t a worst part about him. He takes me on a bunch of nice trips. We’ve gone to Switzerland, Paris, England and Belgium. It’s weird, because even now, when we’re traveling somewhere, people will notice Ronnie and ask for an autograph. He’s still famous, even after all these years!
MRS. DANNY LAPORTE—GEORGIA LAPORTE
Georgia and Danny Laporte.
Danny LaPorte has a 500 National title and the 1982 250 World Championship to his credit. He was also a member of the U.S. Motocross des Nations team that won in 1981. He has been married to his wife Georgia for 29 years.
HOW DID YOU MEET DANNY? We met at the Genoa Supercross. I didn’t speak English, and he didn’t speak French or Italian. At that time I lived in Italy, and Danny was traveling all over the world. Gabriele Mazzarolo from Alpinestars knew that we liked each other, so he introduced us.
WHAT CHALLENGES DID YOU HAVE TO OVERCOME TO DATE A MOTOCROSS CHAMPION? Injuries. While racing the Paris-to-Dakar Rally in 1990 for Yamaha, he had a serious injury. It was the early morning when he rode during a sandstorm and fell in a hole made by some kids near a village. He got dragged by the motorcycle when he crashed. Danny suffered severe trauma to his lungs, heart and head. He was in a coma for a few days.
Georgia and Danny at home.
HOW IMPORTANT WAS YOUR PRESENCE IN HIS CAREER? I met Danny when he was already World Champion. He had been riding since he was 9 years old. He won the 500 National title in 1979, then he became 250 World Champion in 1982. Then he got tired of racing, and when we got married, I told him that I hoped it wasn’t my fault! I felt guilty, because he didn’t feel like riding anymore. He was bored, and the everyday life of riding and training for motocross was monotonous. I was happy when he started racing in the desert, because I didn’t feel as guilty anymore about how he stopped racing motocross. But, he stopped when he broke his femur in Italy. I always wanted him to do whatever he wanted and for as long as he wanted. Now he still rides just for fun. The racing lifestyle allowed us to do things that normal people will never do.
HAS DANNY CHANGED FROM WHAT HE WAS LIKE AS A RACER? Danny still has his crazy side, but we both grew up. When we were young, we didn’t know anything about life. We grew up quickly once we had kids! Having kids especially changed me, because I was only 20 years old. He still has his crazy side, while I’m the wise one. I have more stability, so we complement each other. When he was at the races and we had kids, I looked after everything so that he could go racing carefree. Riders can’t think about anything outside of racing.
DO YOU HAVE ANY REGRETS? Life has gone by way too fast. We have been married for 28 years. When I reflect on my life, I wonder where the years went.
IS THERE ANYTHING SPECIAL THAT YOU CAN SHARE ABOUT DANNY? He forgets about everything, but he will never forget a glove or a pair of boots, and his motocross bag is always perfect. Everything else, such as his house keys and phone, he will leave somewhere and forget about them. Yet, he doesn’t forget anything when he’s going riding.
WHAT MISTAKES DID YOU HAVE TO ENDURE DURING DANNY’S CAREER? It’s hard to see your husband hurt, because then depression can set in. It was also tough dealing with contracts. You sign a contract for one or two years, but you don’t know what’s going to happen beyond that. As Danny found out, everyone wants you when you win, but they don’t when you don’t win. As Andr Malherbe told us, “When you win, everybody is in your tent, but when you lose, there’s no one.” And it’s so true. Andr also used to say, “You know your true friends when you’re in the hospital. See who comes to visit you, and you know who really cares about you.”
IS LIFE AFTER RACING GOOD? Today’s Danny is good for today’s Georgia. Yesterday’s Danny was good for yesterday’s Georgia. We grew up together in these 28 years, and every moment we went in the proper direction.
MRS. MARTY SMITH—NANCY SMITH
Marty and Nancy Smith.
Marty Smith was the first really big American motocross star. The sun-kissed kid from Southern California was dominant in the 125 class during the mid-1970s and also won the 500 National Championship in 1977. His wife Nancy was with him from the very beginning.
HOW DID YOU MEET MARTY? I remember our first date well. Martin had fake teeth, and he had to take them out when he ate. His food came shooting out at me [laughter]. This was on our first date! So that was a memorable moment. I thought to myself, what am I doing? That also made me fall for him. He wasn’t embarrassed, but instead very confident.
WHAT CHALLENGES DID YOU HAVE TO OVERCOME TO DATE A MOTOCROSS CHAMPION? In the beginning there were too many women [laughter]. There were way too many women! That was hard. I was very confident, strong and independent, but there were just too many women attracted to him.
HOW IMPORTANT WAS YOUR PRESENCE IN HIS CAREER? My presence wasn’t so important for his career. Martin was just so good at riding. I didn’t need to ever push or encourage him. He was very dedicated and tuned in to his racing. He had a job to do, and he loved to do it. I would support and encourage him, but he knew what he needed to do and how to do it. I actually learned a lot from him.
HAS MARTY CHANGED FROM WHAT HE WAS LIKE AS A RACER? Martin is much better today. He’s more mature. He’s also happier and has less pressure. When he was racing, I can remember how he was always so focused and serious. Now that pressure is no longer on him, so he can relax more. He’s not so uptight.
DO YOU HAVE ANY REGRETS? I sacrificed my sanity [laughter]. I was a mail carrier. I worked for 28 years delivering the mail. I had my own career. Marty would come and go, but I stayed at home. I maintained the home life and essentially held down the fort. I was really thankful when he stopped racing. Everybody was good at that point. However, I would do it all again. It was that fabulous. We spent five years together before we got married. In those years I was with him in Europe, Japan and all over the U.S.A. When I got my full-time job at the Postal Service, I couldn’t travel anymore, but Martin still had to go. I did my thing with the kids, and it was okay.
IS THERE ANYTHING SPECIAL THAT YOU CAN SHARE ABOUT MARTY? To see Martin ride was beautiful. He blended in so well with the track. He was so smooth and strong. He could pick the bike up and throw it anywhere he wanted. I was never nervous or afraid when he raced. He would pick me up and ride me around on the back of the bike, and I was so happy and unafraid.
WHAT MISTAKES DID YOU HAVE TO ENDURE DURING MARTY’S CAREER? The saddest part was him crashing at the Houston Supercross. He dislocated his hip, and that was the only injury he ever had. However, it ended his career. It was the first pain he ever felt. He had never broken a bone or suffered any major pain before that incident. After that, he was frightened. It was a total surprise to me that he hadn’t suffered through pain before. Martin realized that he wasn’t invincible. He discovered that he could get hurt, so it put the brakes on his career. He crashed in the L.A. Coliseum one time and went into the seats. His adrenaline was going, and he just jumped back up and got on the bike. After Houston, that same thought process was no longer in his head.
IS LIFE AFTER RACING GOOD? Absolutely. We have two daughters, a son and two grandsons. Martin takes care of all of us. Our son still lives with us. A couple of years ago, our daughter was living in another state. We went, picked her up, and told her that she was coming back home to live. In the last two years she has moved out. We feel blessed that we are helping to raise our grandchildren. Our middle daughter is getting married soon, and then we’ll have more grandkids. We’re happy and thankful. Everyone is healthy and things are good.