FLASHBACK FRIDAY | THE ORPHAN NATIONAL MUST DIE
John Dowd (16), leads Larry Brooks (31), Brian Swink (10) and Jimmy Button (34).
In 1997 MXA’s Jody Weisel killed the Gainesville AMA 125/250 National when he penned a story titled, “The Orphan National Must Die.” Although Jody has shouldered the blame for killing Gainesville for 23 years, he was really doing what needed to be done, and no one else was brave enough to do it. Gainesville, which held Nationals from 1983 to 1997, was called the “Orphan National” because it was held in the middle of the AMA Supercross season and was removed from all the other outdoor Nationals by several months. It was, as Jody stated, “Like Major League Baseball holding its opening game on February 21 and the second game of the season on May 4. How much interest could baseball fans maintain for the hotly contested pennant race after a two-month break?” From 1983 to 1997 the first AMA outdoor National of the year in Gainesville, Florida, was a fish out of water. Even worse, it was held in the middle of the AMA Supercross series, which not only caused confusion for casual fans of the sport but required the teams and riders to stop their Supercross programs and change their bikes over to outdoor settings (with minimal testing time). It was separated, isolated, unconnected and unwanted on the race schedule.
But, was it only unwanted by Jody? No. The factory teams didn’t like it because they had to spend precious time testing outdoor suspension and engine settings and then switch back six days later for the Daytona Supercross. The riders didn’t like it because a Supercross injury meant that they would not only lose the Supercross Championship, but it would put them 50 points down in the AMA National Championships. Conversely, a rider who got hurt at the Orphan Gainesville National would then have to miss Supercross events.
The track itself was unpopular with the riders, regardless of the rose-tinted glasses of 23 years of memories. The Gatorback track had the reputation among team managers and racers as the worst prepared track on the AMA circuit. Two-time AMA 125 National Champion Micky Dymond said about Gainesville’s Gatorback track, “Some traditions should have died a long time ago, and Gainesville is one of them.”
Thus, the Gainesville National was killed after its final race in 1997, and its date was absorbed by the Supercross series. And, the two AMA series—Supercross and Nationals—were separated into the unified, contiguous, stand-alone series we know today.