In 1981, the team of Donnie Hansen, Danny LaPorte, Johnny O'Mara and Chuck Sun swept the 250cc Trophee des Nations and the 500cc Motocross des Nations, beginning a 13-year period of domination by the United States of America teams.
The team was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2003. Here are some fun facts about that historic victory.
1. The 1981 U.S. team was captained by motocross racing legend and future AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer Roger DeCoster.
2. Hansen, LaPorte, O’Mara and Sun, along with Speedway World Champion Bruce Penhall, were named co-winners of the AMA Pro Athlete of the Year Award in 1981.
3. The 1981 team initially chosen to go to the des Nations featured many of the best motocross racers in America, but several of the manufacturers could not justify the expense of sending a team and dropped out at the eleventh hour.
4. For a while, it looked like the United States would not send a team to the competitions, but a group of industry enthusiasts, spearheaded by Hi-Point’s Larry Maiers and Motocross Action magazine’s Dick Miller, convinced Honda to enter its American motocross team in the des Nations. Honda, its sponsor Bel-Ray Lubricants, along with funding raised through T-shirt and product sales and donations, raised the money necessary to field a team.
5. The team’s arrival in Europe was not a warm one. The “no-name” B-team of Honda riders was scoffed at by des Nations officials as being unworthy of participating in the prestigious des Nations competition.
6. The warm-up for the U.S. team was the Trophee des Nations, the younger sibling of the more established Motocross des Nations. The Trophee des Nations was held on a sandy circuit in Lommel, Belgium. The defending champion Belgians were exempt from the 20-minute qualifying motos, so when the U.S. team emerged from qualifying in first place, pundits predicted they would crumble in the final, which consisted of 40 minutes plus two laps.
7. Belgium’s Andre Vromans won both motos, but it was the Americans who scored the most points and took a surprising victory. O’Mara, LaPorte and Hansen finished second through fourth in the first moto, and in the second LaPorte and O’Mara were second and third. The U.S. team had easily beaten the host Belgians with a score of 20 to 37.
8. A week later it was on to the big prize, the Motocross des Nations, held on a hilly circuit in Bielstein, West Germany. In the first moto, Sun was the leading American rider out of the gate in sixth. Hansen was just inside the top 10. O’Mara was in trouble after being caught up in a first turn pileup. Troubles for the Americans multiplied. The chain fell off Sun's bike a couple of times. Hansen’s throttle stuck open and he ran off the track but was able to hold on to second. O’Mara was hit and pushed off the track by a Russian rider and lost three or four positions. And LaPorte was hit in the neck by a big rock and could hardly breath. Still Hansen and LaPorte managed to finish inside the top 10, Hansen second and LaPorte sixth. But Brits filled the top 10 and lead the standings going into the second moto.
9. The squad’s head mechanic, Dave Arnold, had barely enough parts to keep all the bikes running and the mechanics were desperately doing last-minute work on the bikes right up to the start of the race.
10. The rear tire on Hansen’s bike went flat just minutes before the start of the second moto. The crew quickly installed a new tube and he was ready to go just in the nick of time. Rain began and the second moto became a mud race.
11. Sun crashed and aggravated an ankle injury, forcing him out. That would put even more pressure on the remaining three riders to score well. LaPorte was moving through the field, spurred on by the pit board reading “Need Points!” and “Must Pass!”
12. The Americans took the lead two laps from the end. At the flag, LaPorte made a heroic charge all the way up to second. O’Mara was eighth and Hansen 13th. Although the numbers looked promising for the U.S., no one was really sure if they’d won.