Gary Mathers may be the most successful figure ever in American motorcycle racing. His management expertise and keen eye for talent produced champions in AMA road racing, dirt track, motocross and Supercross, and some of those riders went on to capture World Championships. A former dirt-track and snowmobile racer, Mathers also led a successful snowmobile race team prior to his involvement in AMA professional racing.
Born in Wyoming, Mathers grew up in Spokane, Wash., where he raced dirt track and snowmobiles as a young man. After a brief career as a glazier, he worked with Polaris as a service representative and was asked to lead their snowmobile racing program in 1971. In the mid-1970s, he joined Kawasaki’s snowmobile program as an engineer and later moved to their racing program. In 1979, the company asked him to manage its entire U.S. racing operation, including motocross and Supercross.
Mathers had a keen eye for spotting talent. In 1980, he hired a young road racer named Eddie Lawson, who won the AMA 250cc Grand Prix title for Kawasaki. Lawson returned the in 1981 and won both the AMA Superbike Championship and the 250cc Grand Prix title, and successfully defended the AMA Superbike title for Kawasaki again in 1982. Then in 1983, rider Wayne Rainey delivered the AMA Superbike title for Kawasaki under Mathers’ leadership. Mathers also hired famed tuner Rob Muzzy during this era.
In 1985, American Honda asked Mathers to run their racing department. He brought Wayne Rainey to Honda, teaming him with Fred Merkel. For the next four years Honda dominated the AMA Superbike Championship, winning the title with Merkel in 1984-1986, Rainey in 1987 and Bubba Shobert in 1988. Mike Baldwin and Randy Renfrow also won the 1985 and 1986 AMA Formula One Championships, while Shobert won the 1985 and 1986 AMA Grand National dirt track titles for Honda.
The off-road side of Honda’s racing program was faring just as well. Mathers’ teams won the 1985 AMA 250cc Supercross title with Rick Johnson and the AMA 125cc Motocross title with Ron Lechien. The 1986 seasons went event better, with Rick Johnson winning the 250cc Motocross and Supercross titles, Micky Dymond winning the 125cc Motocross title, and Keith Turpin winning the 125cc East Supercross title.
Mathers remembers that second year with Honda in 1986 as one of his most successful. "We were involved in nine different championships in dirt track, road racing, motocross, ATV racing, all of it, and we won all of them that year," he said. "The only time I took off that year was the Fourth of July and Christmas day. I wanted to win those championships so bad.”
Honda teams captured more championships throughout the late 1980s. Jeff Stanton won the 1989 AMA Supercross and Motocross Championships. George Holland won the 1988 AMA 125cc Motocross Championship for Honda, and Mike Kiedrowski won the 1989 title.
The 1990s saw the continuation of Honda’s and Mathers’s winning ways, with Tom Kipp winning the 1992 Supersport title, and the Honda dirt track team taking the 1993 AMA Grand National title with Ricky Graham. That decade also brought sponsorship from Camel -- via Kentucky entrepreneur Martin Adams -- as well as road racer Miguel Duhamel, who delivered the 1995 AMA Superbike title along with four AMA Supersport championships.
The Bostrom brothers also enjoyed success under Mathers’s leadership, with Ben winning the AMA Superbike title and Eric taking the AMA Formula Xtreme title, both in 1998. Andrew Stroud (1997) and Kurtis Roberts (1999) also captured Formula Xtreme titles while racing with the Erion Honda satellite team. In 1999 a young gun named Nicky Hayden won the AMA Supersport Championship for Honda.
Mathers also led Honda motocross and Supercross squads during the 1990s, racking up titles with riders such as Jeremy McGrath, Doug Henry, Jean Michel Bayle and Steve Lamson.
Mathers retired from Honda in 2001, and served one season as the operations manager for AMA Pro Racing. “I learned a lot of things over the years, but the main thing is, it's the people. The manufacturer gives you the budget, but you still need the best people you can get, and I had them from my administrative assistant on up. You surround yourself with good people, and then you just let them go. That's it."
Mathers is also an accomplished technician and machinist. Now retired, he lives with wife Denise in Hendersonville, N.C.
Mathers was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2009.
A list of titles acquired under Mathers’ direction includes:
• 2000 Supersport, rider Kurtis Roberts
• 2000 Formula Xtreme, rider Kurtis Roberts
• 1999 Supersport, rider Nicky Hayden
• 1999 Formula Xtreme, rider Kurtis Roberts
• 1998 Superbike, rider Ben Bostrom
• 1998 Formula Xtreme, rider Eric Bostrom
• 1997 Supersport, rider Miguel Duhamel
• 1997 Formula Xtreme, rider Andrew Stroud
• 1996 Supersport, rider Miguel Duhamel
• 1995 Superbike, rider Miguel Duhamel
• 1995 Supersport, rider Miguel Duhamel
• 1992 Supersport, rider Tom Kipp
• 1991 Supersport , rider Miguel Duhamel
• 1988 Superbike, rider Bubba Shobert
• 1987 Superbike, rider Wayne Rainey
• 1986 Superbike, rider Fred Merkel
• 1986 Formula One, rider Randy Renfrow
• 1985 Superbike, rider Fred Merkel
• 1985 Formula One, rider Mike Baldwin
• 1993 Grand National Championship (dirt track), rider Ricky Graham
• 1987 Grand National Championship (dirt track), rider Bubba Shobert
• 1986 Grand National Championship (dirt track), rider Bubba Shobert
• 1985 Grand National Championship (dirt track), rider Bubba Shobert
• 1996 Supercross, rider Jeremy McGrath
• 1995 Supercross, rider Jeremy McGrath
• 1994 Supercross, rider Jeremy McGrath
• 1993 Supercross, rider Jeremy McGrath
• 1993 Supercross Lites East, rider Doug Henry
• 1992 Supercross, rider Jeff Stanton
• 1991 Supercross, rider Jean Michel Bayle
• 1991 Supercross Lites West, rider Jeremy McGrath
• 1990 Supercross, rider Jeff Stanton
• 1989 Supercross, rider Jeff Stanton
• 1988 Supercross, rider Rick Johnson
• 1986 Supercross Lites East, rider Keith Turpin
• 1985 Supercross, rider Rick Johnson
• 1996 Motocross Lites, rider Steve Lamson
• 1995 Motocross, rider Jeremy McGrath
• 1995 Motocross Lites, rider Steve Lamson
• 1994 Motocross Lites, rider Doug Henry
• 1993 Motocross Lites, rider Doug Henry
• 1992 Motocross, rider Jeff Stanton
• 1991 Motocross, rider Jean Michel Bayle
• 1990 Motocross, rider Jeff Stanton
• 1989 Motocross, rider Jeff Stanton
• 1989 Motocross Lites, rider Mike Kiedrowski
• 1988 Motocross Lites, rider George Holland
• 1987 Motocross, rider Rick Johnson
• 1987 Motocross Lites, rider Micky Dymond
• 1986 Motocross, rider Rick Johnson
• 1986 Motocross Lites, rider Micky Dymond
• 1985 Motocross Lites, rider Ron Lechien
• 1983 Superbike, rider Wayne Rainey
• 1982 Superbike, rider Eddie Lawson
• 1981 Superbike, rider Eddie Lawson
• 1981 250 Grand Prix, rider Eddie Lawson
• 1980 250 Grand Prix, rider Eddie Lawson
• 1975 Eagle River World Snowmobile Championship, rider Jim Bernat
• 1973 Eagle River World Snowmobile Championship, rider Bob Eastman
World Champions who raced on AMA teams under Mathers’ direction:
• Nicky Hayden, 2006 World MotoGP Champion
• Wayne Rainey, 1990, 1991,1992 World 500cc Champion
• Eddie Lawson, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1989 World 500cc Champion