FLASHBACK FRIDAY | FOUR-STROKE PIONEER LANCE SMAIL

Lance SmailLance Smail (1) picked up some cargo during the 1997 four-stroke championship series.

Before Ryan Dungey and Roger DeCoster, KTM had a champion in motocross. His name was Lance Smail.

In the mid 1990’s, four-strokes were taking a backseat to two-strokes. They had the reputation of being slow, heavy and fragile. Independent of the AMA Outdoor National Championship, the World Four-Stroke Championship ran with the purpose of racing four-strokes only. In 1996, Smail focused on the White Brothers-sponsored World Four-Stroke Championship, but would race some AMA Nationals and Supercross at the same time. The World Four-Stroke Championship may seem like an odd idea today, when four-stroke rule the motocross world, but this wasn’t so in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. The World Four-Stroke Championship, AMA East/West Four-Stroke National Championship and ThunderCross Stadium series were the only places where four-stroke engines could shine. The White Brothers funded and supported the World Four-Stroke Championship and the list of rider who won the event reads like a who’s who in motocross history. The event was discontinued in 2010—when four-strokes were no longer considered rare or unique anymore.

But, this story is about Supercross and four-strokes. It revolves around 1996 and 1997 and centers on three men, Rod Bush, Lance Smail and Tom Moen. The man behind KTM USA, the late Rod Bush, green lighted an experiment to make a four-stroke-legal bike for selected AMA Supercross races for Lance Smail to race. Lance’s mechanic, Tom Moen was given a big enough budget to build three special machines. Tom modified his three KTMs to be Supercross legal, using 538cc engines built with a potpouri of different KTM engine parts.

Lance’s Supercross KTM four-stroke that made history. 

KTM was the first manufacturer to take advantage of the Four-Stroke exemption rule, which allowed each manufacturer to race a non-homologated four-stroke machine for one season—with a displacement of as much as 550cc. Lance Smail would take the one-off KTM to the Daytona Supercross on March 8, 1997. When Lance’s KTM thundered into the Daytona main event during the semi, it was the first time a four-stroke had ever qualified for a premier class Supercross main event. Yamaha, which had lobbied for the four-stroke exemption rule for their YZ400, would become the first manufacturer to win an AMA Supercross on a four-stroke two months later when Doug Henry won the Las Vegas Supercross on May 17, 1997. Smail and KTM’s accomplish became a footnote in four-stroke history, but now you know.

EVERY WORLD FOUR-STROKE CHAMPIONS FROM 1976 TO 2010
1976 …Gunnar Lindstrom
1977 …Mike Bell
1978 …Rod Kentner
1979 …Goat Breker
1980 …Pierre Karsmakers
1981 …Rex Staten
1982 …Eric McKenna
1983 …Ricky Johnson
1984 …Ron Lechien
1985 …Brian Myerscough
1986 …No race
1987 …No race
1988 …Goat Breker
1989 …Greg Zitterkopf
1990 …Greg Zitterkopf
1991 …Ty Davis
1992 …Mike Young
1993 …Gordon Ward
1994 …Shaun Kalos
1995 …Donny Schmit
1996 …Lance Smail
1997 …Shaun Kalos
1998 …Doug Dubach
1999 …Doug Dubach
2000 …Doug Dubach
2001 …Ryan Hughes
2002 …Doug Dubach
2002 …Ryan Hughes
2003 …Ryan Hughes
2004 …Ryan Hughes
2005 …Ryan Hughes
2006 …Josh Grant
2007 …Jimmy Albertson
2008 …Bobby Garrison
2009 …Weston Peick
2010 …Weston Peick

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