FLASHBACK FRIDAY | FROM WHENCE WE CAME—TONY DiSTEFANO

Tony DiStefano’s personal life story would make a great movie script. Coming from working-class roots in Eastern Pennsylvania, Tony D hit the National circuit in 1971 under an assumed name and again in 1972 under his own name, but someone turned him in both times for being under the AMA age limit. When he came back on a home-built Czechoslovakian CZ, he led the AMA 500 National Championship until breaking his thumb at a local Friday night race. His CZ heroics got him a factory Suzuki ride, which turned into three straight AMA 250 National Championships (1975–1977). After he injured his knee, Team Suzuki dropped him. He raced on both Can-Ams and Husqvarnas (for Mitch Payton) before cutting his eye so badly in a workshop accident that he had to sit out two years. He bravely returned as a Maico privateer, racing with sight in one eye. After retiring, he started a successful motocross school, only to get paralyzed in a practice accident. Once he checked out of rehab for his back, he returned to teaching motocross from the seat of a quad—which he continued to do until retiring to his native Pennsylvania. MXA wanted to go back in time with Tony D, not to his glory days, but back to the roots from which he came.

The first time: “My dad was a motorcycle dealer in Pennsylvania, and he gave me one of those lawnmower engine-powered minibikes when I was five. It came in a suitcase and you folded it out.”

My first race: “I raced a Yamaha 80 at a scrambles near Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1965. I was 8 years old. It was muddy. I had a bubble visor on my helmet, and every time I fell down it would fog up. I didn’t know what to do, so I kept going without being able to see. I ended up cutting through the infield more than on the race track.”

My first injury: “I hurt my knee in the middle of the 1975 AMA 250 National Championships. The doctors told me that I needed immediate surgery. I was winning the National Championship, so I ignored them. My knee hurt, but I raced with it and won two more AMA titles. Then, at the 1978 Pontiac Supercross, it went  pop.” 

My first Pro race: “I raced the 1971 Unadilla Trans-AMA at age 14. I raced under the name Carl Dockery because you had to be 18 back then to get a license. I didn’t do very well. The next year, I got a phony driver’s license and got my own AMA Pro license. I started winning races, but someone turned me in for being 15. The AMA fined me $50 and sent me home. To me, $50 was a lot of money. The next year, the age was lowered to 16.”

The first time I realized I could make it as a Pro: “What convinced me was when I started passing guys that I respected, like John DeSoto, Sonny DeFeo and Peter Lamppu. When I first started, everyone was better than me, so when I passed better guys, I knew I would succeed.” 

The first time I met a famous person: “I was sheltered. I was always invited to concerts, banquets and premieres, but I never went. Once at a race in 1978, a guy came up and started talking to me. After he left, Lance Moorewood said, ‘Why did you blow that guy off?’ I asked who the guy was, and he said, ‘Olympic Decathlon Champion Bruce Jenner.’”

My first expensive purchase: “In 1977, I bought a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL. I picked it up at the factory in Germany. I got rid of it after I got six speeding tickets. It was so smooth that I never realized how fast I was going.” ο

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