TRUE CONFESSIONS OF THE FIRST MXA TEST RIDER
Do you remember Pete Maly? You probably remember his epic photos from the early days of MXA. But did you know that his first magazine photos was for the cover of Dirt Bike. When Motocross Action was launched in 1973, it was the world’s first magazine dedicated to the fast growing sport of motocross. Much like today, there were plenty of bikes sold and raced, but it wasn’t until MXA came along that the bikes began to get seriously tested. Pete Maly was Motocross Action’s first official test rider and for anyone who grew up racing back in the 1970’s, they undoubtedly saw plenty of action photos of Pete in the pages of what would soon become the “bible” of the sport.
HOW DID YOU BECOME AN MXA TEST RIDER? I was at Indian Dunes and my dad met Super Hunky. Super Hunky asked me to do some one handed-wheelies for Dirt Bike Magazine. I did the photo shoot and I ended up on the cover of the May 1973 issue. Two months later, July of 1973, when MXA was launched, I worked with Pete Szylagi and Paul Boudreau. I was privileged to be a part of the early years of motocross in California in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I stayed on when Jody Weisel came to MXA in 1976, but Lance Moorewood eventually replaced me.
When Jody decided in late 1979 to start a race called the “CZ World Championship,” he asked me to help him. That event was the first vintage motocross race of any importance. It spawn the current era of vintage racing. We modified many of the bikes for these races including the “Full Floater” CZ that Clark Jones rode to a CZ World Championship at Saddleback Park. The funny thing was that we just finished building that bike in my garage the morning of the race.
IN YOUR DAYS AT MXA DID YOU RACE THE TEST BIKES LIKE MXA DOES TODAY? Not as much as MXA does today. These days you can take a new test bike straight to the track and race it. Back in the 1970’s you couldn’t really even take a bike out on a trail ride without first going through it. We did race the test bikes, but only after fixing the flaws. We wanted to race our own bikes, not like MXA does today. That was a Jody thing. Testing and modifying the bikes was great for the motorcycle business. My shop did a good business selling Mikuni carbs, Femsatronic ignitions, fork extension kits, rear shock lay down kits, plastic gas tanks, plastic fenders, Oury grips, Akront rims, heavy duty spokes, Motoplat ignitions, aftermarket air filters, Koni, Boge, Girling and Bilstein shocks, and since none of the bikes used upswept pipes, we sold pipes like crazy.
WHAT STOOD OUT ABOUT MXA FOR YOU? From day one MXA was committed to telling it how we saw it. Motocross bikes back then were highly flawed from the factories. I was amazed when our observations about shifting, handling, chassis, controls, construction quality, power and suspension actually went into print. I would feel bad for the manufacturer for about two seconds, but many of them refused to give us test bikes because they didn’t like criticism. Then, when we got our test bikes from friendly local dealers…that made the manufacturers even madder. Our intent from day one was to share our observations with the readers and hope that the manufacturers would take note and improve their bikes.
WHO WAS TESTING BIKES AT MXA WITH YOU? In the first few years it was mainly Kenny Zahrt, Al Baker, Paul Boudreau and me, but Lars Larsson, Rick Brown, Mike Runyard, Rich Thorwaldson, Gary Ogden and Bruce Baron helped us whenever we needed them.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED RACING? I liked riding motocross at Saddleback Park in the late 60’s, but never raced until some friends said I should try it and that was when I got my first CZ in 1972.
The MXA gang from 42 years ago. (From left to right on the bottom row) Kurt Evans, Pete Maly and Al Baker, (From left to right on the top row) Paul Boudreau, Jody Weisel, Cherry Stockton and mechanic Alan Hahn.
THAT WAS ALSO THE SAME YEAR THAT YOU OPENED YOUR OWN SHOP? Yes, it was called Coast Moto Cycle and I ran it from 1972 to 1977. That turned out to be a bit of a quandary for me. The shop supported my racing and my racing promoted the shop, but the two jobs were hard for an 18-year-old kid to manage with no experience! Ah, but the experience comes fast and hard, and those were good times.
HOW DID AN 18 YEAR-OLD KID START HIS OWN BIKE DEALERSHIP? My dad had set aside tuition for me to attend Cal Poly Engineering after I completed high school. I hated school and loved racing, so he offered to give me part of my college tuition to start a CZ shop. He wanted me to attend the “School of Hard Knocks.” My dad was from Czechoslovakia — so choosing the brand was easy. We started small and never got big. The shop had good years when my racing wasn’t and red ink when I was winning at the track. I learned a lot in those five years of 18 hours a day and six days a week work. Between my shop, MXA and the track, I met a lot of great people.
DID CZ PROVIDE YOU WITH ANY RACE SUPPORT? They provided a few top SoCal Pro riders with semi-factory bikes to see if we could deliver results and sign on with the factory. It was a really trick bike with sand cast magnesium cases and hubs. It weighed 30 pounds less than a production bike and had a smooth midrange hit that was unbelievable. The suspension was awesome and the handling was really predictable. Amazingly, I rode a tick slower on the factory bike, because I was in awe of the bike and did not want to hurt it! So that deal only lasted a few months.
WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE MXA MEMORY? I will always remember the bikes of that era. Suzuki, who had not talked to us for two years because they didn’t like criticism, invited us to their grand introduction for the 1976 RMs at Carlsbad Raceway. The RMs were game changers. I will never forget that day. They had some hot test rider there that was blowing out corner fencing by the name of Bob Hannah.
Additionally, the Maico 450s and 490s were the best of all the test bikes I rode. They had good suspension, broad powerbands, precise steering and terrible brakes. Who needs brakes! I was, of course, partial to CZ (because I owned a CZ shop). The worst bikes I ever rode were the Carabela 125 and the Suzuki TM400.
THERE WAS A SADDLEBACK VERSUS INDIAN DUNES RIVALRY. YOU WERE SADDLEBACK GUY, BUT WERE BEST KNOWN AS A DUNES GUY WHEN YOU WON THE #1 AME PLATE. AME happened to be the first club I raced with in 1972. I did ride some Saddleback and Carlsbad CMC events, but found the day too long with the big turn outs that CMC drew. I remember the Saddleback/Dunes rivalry more on an individual basis than regional, but I suppose that was a part of it. Often the hype of a big name Saddleback guest rider at the Dunes drove up the excitement at the track—and vice versus. Sometimes I was the guest rider, and sometimes I was the defending host. That sometimes worked in my favor and sometimes not.
YOU RACED IN THE 1975 SUPERBOWL OF MOTOCROSS AT THE L.A. COLISEUM. WHAT WAS THAT LIKE? I raced the 500cc Support Class. I watched the race the previous year and saw some local guys doing well that I knew I could beat, so in 1975 I decided to race. It was really a fun track especially with the first indoor double jump at the bottom of the peristyle. No one knew it was a double on press day, until a couple of us started using all the momentum coming down from the peristyle and jumping it. That jump and a couple of bowl turns, and a chopped-up whoop section were my favorite parts of the 1975 Superbowl track. It was all pretty fun and I have to say it really didn’t seem all that strange to me because there was already so much night racing in SoCal back then. Almost every night of the week there were night races at Ascot, Orange County International Raceway, Lions Drag strip, Indian Dunes and Irwindale. To me the Superbowl of Motocross was like an outdoor race at night – it was night racing, but on a much bigger track. Unfortunately, I rode really tight and ended up ninth overall.
WHAT ABOUT THE AMA NATIONALS? Back in the 1970s almost every local race was like an AMA National because the factory stars of the sport liked to race every week. My first big race was the 1972 Saddleback Trans-AMA. I rode the 250 Support class and finished 6th. I raced lots of AMA qualifiers, which you had to do to get the required points to race an AMA National. Getting lapped by Pierre Karsmakers illustrated to me that I needed more conditioning. Still, I got to race with some of our sport’s best riders in 1973. It was an awesome experience.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE TRACK BACK DURING THE GLORY DAYS OF SOCAL MOTOCROSS? That’s hard to answer because back then there were so many different tracks open to ride. Any day of the week you could ride at a different track! I liked Saddleback and Carlsbad because they were epic outdoor tracks. Escape Country was a lot of fun with a sort of hybrid outdoor/Supercross style track.
WHAT KIND OF RIDING DO YOU DO THESE DAYS? I mostly ride in the desert with my son Loren. We used to go to Zaca Station to do some laps when it was open. When I ride today, it still gets me so excited to twist the throttle, get some hang time, rail a berm and wheelie out of a turn – those are emotions that you never lose. The sport of motocross has been a priceless experience in life and I think that for anyone who can ride a modern motocross bike, all is good. This may not be one of Pete’s most memorable moments, but for thousands of teenagers in 1974 it made them want to race.