FLASHBACK FRIDAY | DONNY SCHMIT’S STORY OF GLORY & TRAGEDY
Donny Schmit’s life story reads like the script of the movie Brian’s Song. The movie tells the real-life story of Chicago Bear’s football player Brian Piccolo and the tragic consequences of his sudden death on the team. Schmit, a Bloomington, Minnesota, native, rose to fame through the normal channels of hard work, dedication and determination, but after having arrived on the scene would suffer setbacks, redemption and a tragic end.
To his Minnesota buddies, Donny Schmit was more than just another motorcycle racer. He was a special person, and they were happy when the local hero got a Team Suzuki ride in 1987. That first season Schmit won three 125 Nationals, including the final two races of the 1987 season—Troy and Millville. Even though Donny was fifth in the 1987 AMA 125 Nationals, his late-season charge elevated him as the favorite for the 1988 title chase.
Shockingly, Suzuki didn’t negotiate, make a counteroffer or even return Donny’s phone calls; instead, they dropped him from the team.
Donny didn’t disappoint in 1988, winning one National and scoring a solid second overall behind Team Honda’s George Holland. During the off-season, Donny asked Team Suzuki for a raise for 1989. Shockingly, Suzuki didn’t negotiate, make a counteroffer or even return Donny’s phone calls; instead, they dropped him from the team. It was a tough pill to swallow. His pride was hurt, and the bad news came too late for him to sign with another team (they were all full), so Donny bought a Honda CR125 and, with support from Pro Circuit, became a privateer in 1989. Donny used his unceremonious dumping by Team Suzuki to fuel his desire. At the end of the 1989 season, Donny finished fourth overall behind Team Honda’s Mike Kiedrowski, Team Yamaha’s Damon Bradshaw and Honda’s Guy Cooper. Sweetest of all, Donny beat every member of Team Suzuki as a privateer.
If there was ever any doubt that Team Suzuki USA and Team Suzuki Europe had different agendas, the answer came when European team manager Sylvain Geboers hired Schmit to race the 1990 FIM 125 GPs immediately after the ’89 AMA season was over. If the U.S. team didn’t appreciate talent, Geboer’s Bieffe/Suzuki team did. In his first season in Europe, Donny Schmit won the 1990 FIM 125 World Championship. It was the greatest in-your-face victory in moto history. Donny went from struggling CR125 privateer to 125 World Champion in one swift move. Two years later, Donny won the 250 World Championship for Team Chesterfield/Yamaha.
Unfortunately, less than a year after his triumphant return to American motocross, Donny was diagnosed with leukemia. He died on January 19, 1996, at the age of 29.
After five years on the Grand Prix circuit, Donny retired and came back to the USA. On a lark, he showed up at the 1995 Millville 250 National with a special one-off Honda of Troy ride. He holeshot, led and finished fourth overall in his one-and-only AMA race in six years. He followed that up by winning the 1995 World Four-Stroke Championship on a CCM.
Prepared to live the life of a country squire, Donny and his wife Carrie moved to their new Coon Rapids, Minnesota, home. Unfortunately, less than a year after his triumphant return to American motocross, Donny was diagnosed with leukemia. He died on January 19, 1996, at the age of 29.