In the early 1970s, AMA Supercross was born, and one of the first champions of what is now one of the world’s largest, most successful motorsports was Jimmy Ellis, the 1975 AMA Supercross 250cc National champion.
Although the sport was young and featured only four rounds in 1975, the finale at the Los Angeles Coliseum was televised nationally. Ellis won the event, capping his sweep of the series, and helped ignite a mainstream passion for AMA Supercross that continues to thrive today.
Born in October 1955, in Middletown, Conn., Ellis started racing in New England in the 1960s and quickly established himself as a regional powerhouse. His performance attracted the attention of Montreal-based Can-Am, and the growing factory team hired Ellis to race the national circuit. In 1974, riding the works 250 Can-Am, Ellis finished third for the 250cc national title, with two overall wins.
Ellis was going strong, and his most lasting contribution to the sport came the following year. In 1975, Ellis won the AMA Supercross 250cc championship by sweeping the four-round series, punctuated by a dominant victory in the high-profile finale at the L.A. Coliseum.
“The L.A. race was certainly one of the biggest races of my life,” Ellis remembers. “I think winning that race had a lot to do with how I felt at the time, and what I was feeling was that it didn’t matter who I was riding against. I knew I could win and was quite confident. And my bike was very quick. That track was a very fast layout, and it suited the bike well.”
Ellis says that those early years of AMA Supercross did not resemble the extravagant show that it has become.
“I never realized Supercross was going to be as big as it is,” he says. “All those years ago, I took it as just simply another race that I wanted to win. It’s certainly become a much bigger business today, and more professional than what it was then. Today, it has grown six-fold into a multimillion dollar business. When we did it, we were there for the companies, sure, but mostly it was just for ourselves and racing motorcycles.”
Ellis continued to give Can-Am top finishes through the 1977 season, after which Honda hired him for its U.S. factory effort. Ellis was a contender on the national circuit for a few more years, finishing second in 1978 to future Hall of Famer Bob Hannah for the 250cc national championship.
Following a knee injury, Ellis transitioned into retirement during the 1981-82 seasons and moved back to New England to work for his father’s company. Soon, though, he got a call from a promoter in Australia offering him a ride.
“I thought it was a prank call,” remembers Ellis, who today supervises a large machine shop for an Australian manufacturing company. “I got the call in the middle of the night. I told him, ‘Sure, send me a plane ticket.’ Well, a few weeks later, a ticket showed up in the mail. I went, raced, won, got married, got a job and stayed.”
Ellis says that it is an honor to be recognized by the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
“Motorcycle racing was something that was extremely exciting for me,” he said. “It gave me a good career, a good lifestyle, and it let me see the world. It’s just fantastic to be honored with this.”
Jimmy Ellis was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2012.