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50 years later: Mark Blackwell and the “Motocross” of Daytona

This year’s Monster Energy AMA Supercross race at Daytona International Speedway was extra special for a racing fan watching it from his home in Scottsdale, Arizona. Mark Blackwell will think back 50 years ago to when he won the Daytona Supercross, but then it was called Daytona Motocross because Supercross hadn’t been invented yet.

Blackwell shared the spotlight with another winner on the 11th day of March 1972 – Jimmy Weinert, who dominated the 250cc class. Blackwell won the 500cc class, also called the Open class.

Daytona Motocross wasn’t the first time a motocross race was held inside the Speedway, but it was the first time it was held directly in front of the main grandstands, on the grass, where the race still takes place to this day. Prior to this, the Daytona motocross track was built on the infield parking lot.

Mark Blackwell, after winning Daytona Motocross 50 years ago in 1972, the first year the race was held on the Speedway’s grass field, where Daytona Supercross is still held today. Photos: Courtesy of Mark Blackwell

Blackwell entered this Daytona race 50 years ago already a champion. The 19-year-old from Southern California had, the previous year, won what is now recognized as the first ever AMA 500cc Motocross National Championship. Champion or not, Blackwell had his work cut out that day at Daytona as he accompanied some of the best motocrossers in this country, including factory Husqvarna teammates Jim West, Bob Grossi and Bill Clements. And then there was also Yamaha’s Gary Jones, who won the inaugural AMA 250cc Motocross National Championship that same year. It turns out that Jones also gave Blackwell his biggest challenge that day 50 years ago.

“Gary was a terrific competitor and clean rider,” Blackwell says of his battles with Jones. “I don’t think we ever touched during the race, but we went there tooth and nail every week in those days. My career was cut short by an eye injury in Europe later that year, but we had some great races and obviously he won four national championships.

“This event [the ’72 Daytona Motocross] was, if I remember correctly, the eighth in the Florida Winter-AMA series,” says Blackwell. “We used to use it to warm up for the season, and I had just won the first AMA 500cc motocross championship, based on the Fall Trans-AMA series. I was the best American. I beat Brad Lackey by a single point at Saddleback Park with a flat front tire and a broken exhaust!

“In the Florida Winter-AMA, I believe I won six or seven of the eight race series, and Daytona was the last event. I had injured my foot/ankle earlier in the week and I had crutches on race morning Rolf Tibblin, three-time motocross world champion, was our trainer/coach/team manager for the Husqvarna team – Bob Grossi, Jim West, Billy Clements – and Rolf told me : “Let’s put some tape on and try in training! “I did it and felt pretty good!

Like today’s Daytona Supercross, Daytona Motocross was decided via a single main event, where Blackwell ended up facing Jones for the win.

“In the main event I got off to a bad start and slammed my way close to the front of the pack. Gary was leading on his Yamaha. I locked the rear brake on a hairpin turn, cut the engine and went to the back of the field with only a few laps to go. I started again and charged forward. I caught and passed Gary jumping over a pit that they had dug in the straight before, and when I did, the crowd in the stands cheered so much that I almost fell off the bike – we had never experienced this! It was about four months before the LA’s first motocross Superbowl, but Supercross was already starting to happen.

“The crowd in the stands cheered so much I almost fell off the bike – we had never experienced this before! It was about four months before the first Los Angeles motocross Superbowl, but Supercross was already starting to happen .

“Anyway it was a big win for me and I won the Florida Winter AMA Series. I raced with Malcolm Smith in the Mint 400 a week later where I crashed as I I was leading overall on a 250 and I got knocked out. But I got up, and Malcolm and I won the 250cc class and finished fourth overall.

“The following week I went to Europe to compete in the 500cc GPs and finished on the podium in Germany in one of the international races between Adolph Weil and Ake Jonsson. It was an important period in the early days of motocross in America.

Marc Blackwell
Blackwell describes this photo: “I’m pretty sure it’s Orlando. But that typifies the battles that Gary and I had each week.

Unfortunately, later that year, during a muddy GP in Luxembourg, Blackwell suffered an eye injury that would derail his racing career for good. Although he raced again, Blackwell was never the same driver again due to the injury and would soon retire from full-time racing. However, he spent much of the rest of his career in the motorcycle industry, most notably as Suzuki’s motocross team manager during one of the marque’s most successful periods in the sport of motorcycling. motocross and supercross in the late 70s and early 80s when he guided superstars such as Kent Howerton, Mark Barnett and Danny LaPorte. Since then he has held leadership positions at Husqvarna, Suzuki, Arctic Cat, Polaris and Victory Motorcycles.

Blackwell proudly looks back on his racing days. “That period was the pinnacle of my riding before I left for Europe to compete in the 500cc GPs. the race!’ Not a big ego, I just remember at that time, my 1972 Husqvarna was magic, and Rolf had us in such good shape, I felt like I was playing with the other riders. But later that year- there I would learn the hard stuff with accidents and loss of confidence in Europe, rain, mud, strange food, different currencies, foreign languages, etc. Looking back, I’m sure those experiences made of me being a better team manager and leader later in my career. I had more understanding and empathy when the riders were going through tough times and tough times. I especially remember how it helped me to bring Kent Howerton back to greatness.

Blackwell was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2000. He is also a member of the Trailblazers Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Edison Dye Lifetime Achievement Award. NC

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