MOTOCROSS ACTION RACING LORE: THE IMPORTANCE OF MUGEN TO JOHNNY O’MARA
“My breakout year came in 1980. Most people will remember that I was riding for the Mugen Honda team that season. Through my friend, Al Baker, I got a deal with Hirotoshi Honda, the son of Mr. Honda. Hiro had his own motorcycle performance program. He had a big race team in Japan and wanted to get something going in the U.S. Hiro made the leap by signing me. I rode an all-white Honda, and I even wore white gear. The bike was pretty crazy looking and caught a lot of people off guard. At the time, there wasn’t anything like it in American racing. That Mugen Honda 125 was a huge advantage for me against the rest of the class. Heck, it was better than what the factory Honda guys were running! It was a true works bike. Hiro only had the team for one year, but I took full advantage of the opportunity by winning the 125 USGP at Mid-Ohio.
“NOBODY REALLY KNEW ABOUT ME IN THE UNITED STATES BEFORE THEN. I WAS A CALIFORNIA BOY, BUT WINNING THAT USGP PUT ME ON THE MAP.”
“Nobody really knew about me in the United States before then. I was a California boy, but winning that USGP put me on the map. Winning was crucial, because it captured the attention of the factory teams. I received several big offers from teams for the 1981 season, but it was a no-brainer as to where I should go. I was already in the Honda family, and the 125 was a really good bike. Naturally, I signed with Team Honda. I was part of a dynamite team that included Donnie Hansen, Danny LaPorte and Chuck Sun. We became the first winning U.S. Motocross des Nations team.
“I was tapped as Honda’s next 125 specialist when I signed with them in 1981. During that time, Mark Barnett was on top of his game and had been torching everyone in the 125 class. It took me until my third year on the Honda team to dethrone Barnett for the 125 National Championship. I had finished second behind Barnett for a few years in a row. He was tough as nails! And while I battled with Barnett, I also had to deal with Jeff Ward. He was a huge threat. For those few years, we were the guys behind Mark. It seemed like every time I would step up my game, Jeff would too. It was tough!
“Throughout my professional career, I’d say that Jeff Ward was my toughest competitor. Jeff and I dueled incredibly hard for the title once we knocked Mark Barnett off the top of the 125 mountain. I won in 1983, and he beat me the following year. At the time we didn’t get along, but once we both retired, we put the past behind us and became really good friends.
“Honda’s focus when they signed me to the team, as well as my goal, was for me to be the top 125 rider. I hadn’t spent much time on a bigger bike, and I put a ton of dedication into the 125. It wasn’t until after I won the title and accomplished my goal that I made the transition to the 250 class. Being more of a technical rider, I immediately felt comfortable on the 250 and won the 1984 250 Supercross title. That would never have happened if Hiro Honda hadn’t taken a chance on me.”