While it’s true that America leads the way in Motocross des Nations victories, amassing 22 wins in the event’s illustrious 68-year history, there has been no equal to the team that won 13 straight Chamberlain trophies from 1981 to 1993. Ricky Johnson, David Bailey, Jeff Stanton, Johnny O’Mara, Jeff Ward and many more celebrated racers piloted the red, white and blue to the top step of the podium. Historians will remember that the American effort in 1981—the first year Team USA won the MXDN—was a hodgepodge of talent that banded together and shocked the motocross world; however, the 1987 MXDN stands out among the many amazing American efforts.
The 1987 Motocross des Nations was a special occasion for several reasons. (1) It was the first time the prestigious event was held in the United States. The 1987 edition was held at Ward Robinson’s Unadilla circuit in New Berlin, New York. (2) The selection of Bob Hannah to Team USA, in the twilight of his career, caused quite an uproar, because 1987 AMA 125 National Championship Micky Dymond was passed over. The two-time 125 champ was livid. (3) Ricky Johnson, Jeff Ward and Bob Hannah had home-field advantage racing at Unadilla. The trio looked unstoppable during Saturday’s qualifying sessions. Then, a deluge hit upstate New York, and Unadilla was a quagmire on Sunday. Mud favored the Europeans, who were used to slogging around in the muck of the Old World.
“BOB [HANNAH] LATER STATED, ‘I HAD MY WORK CUT OUT FOR ME, SO I JUST STARTED HAULIN’ BUTT. I COULDN’T SEE ANYTHING. IT WAS FUN RIDING ALL OUT WITH MY FEET FLAPPIN’ ABOUT. I USED MY FEET LIKE SKIS TO GET AROUND THE TRACK!’”
A seventh-consecutive MXDN triumph for Team USA was in doubt after the opening moto of the day. In the combined 125/500 class, Bob Hannah twice failed to climb a steep uphill on his Suzuki RM125; however, in classic Hurricane style, Hannah clawed his way from last place to finish ninth overall combined and fourth in the 125 field. Bob later stated, “I had my work cut out for me, so I just started haulin’ butt. I couldn’t see anything. It was fun riding all out with my feet flappin’ about. I used my feet like skis to get around the track!” Meanwhile, Jeff Ward lost his goggles while racing up front on his KX500. He soldiered on to a third-place finish. Still, Belgium and Holland were tied for first place after the opening moto. Team USA was on the outside looking in.
Fortunately, things swung in the direction of Team USA in the 125/250 moto. Ricky Johnson proved to be the anchor, grabbing a fourth-place start and passing Dutch sensation John Van den Berk for the lead. Ricky stymied the advances of 250 World Champion Eric Geboers and won going away. Bob Hannah was a revelation in the second moto, nabbing a top-10 start and working his way up to third overall and first in the 125 class. When the mud settled, the Americans were tied with Belgium for the points lead with one moto to go.
In the combined 250/500 moto, Ricky Johnson (250) and Jeff Ward (500) were pitted against one another. On any other day, the competitors would have engaged in all-out warfare, but the MXDN is different. The two came together in the second turn, but avoided potential disaster when Ward shut off and let his American teammate by. Johnson powered away with the victory, which secured the Chamberlain trophy for the USA. Ricky Johnson went 1-1, Jeff Ward went 3-3, and Bob Hannah 9-3. It was an unforgettable day for Team USA, but equally important for American motocross. The stars and stripes would eventually win 22 times out of 27 attempts between 1981 and 2011; however, we haven’t won since.