Davey Coombs is well known in the sport of motocross, both in America and in Europe. As one of the main people at MXSports, the promoters of the AMA Nationals, and now partner in crime for the USGP. Coombs a veteran of the sport in America and somebody who is a real motocross historian, he knows a lot, and remembers more than most of us have forgotten.
When Youthstream president Giuseppe Luongo made the call to join forced with Coombs to help get the United States Grand Prix back on track, it was a shock to the motocross world. David Luongo said it well when he said it’s better to work together, than work against each other, and hopefully this new relationship will benefit the sport on both sides of the Atlantic.
Geoff Meyer sat down with Davey and ask him about the up-coming USGP and also the Motocross of Nations. It’s a very long interview, so we will run the USGP part today, and the MXoN part either later this week, or next week.
It’s as interesting as it is informative, and I hope you all enjoy reading it.
Davey, can you remember your first ever USGP?
Coombs: I can, it was 1976, mid-Ohio 125 USGP and it was an epic battle between Marty Smith and Bob Hannah. The only race that year that Smith actually beat Hannah. He actually got to ride his works bike (that he rode in 1976 in the Grand Prix series), instead of the bike he had been riding in the 125cc Nationals. The was a claiming rule, so the only chance to see Marty on his factory bike, an they just put on an epic battle in both motos and Smith won.
So that was his Grand Prix bike then?
Yes, the one he raced against Gaston Rahier. Hanna was crazy fast that year, but Marty held him off in the USGP.
I actually came to America in 1978 and I was a big Marty Smith and we visited the Daytona Supercross and Houston, where Smith had his career changing injury.
The first turn crash in Houston actually also ended the careers of Tony DiStefano and Jimmy Ellis. Smith of course broke his hip and was never the same.
You have been to a lot of races and seem to have a photographic memory. What USGP stood out as the most enjoyable.
That first one stands out, I was 10 years old, it was bicentennial year and a lot of American enthusiasm. It was just cool go to there. But I also remember the 1992 USGP at Unadilla. Jeff Stanton won all three motos, but Donny Schmit got knocked out in practice. He missed the first moto, because he was in the emergency room, but he came back for the second and third motos, and he actually won the world championship that year. I was covering it for Cycle News and I will never forget shooting photo as he was layed out on the back board and the doctor told him they needed to take him to the emergency room, and Donny said to the doctor, I need to be back by 12.30. I remember thinking to myself, this guy is a stud. That was the last GP at Unadilla.
There had been some really classic USGP events over the years, throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and everyone wanted to do it. Always a big battle, with the American riders often having the upper hand. Then it really disappeared or was not as impressive as those early years. Why do you think that was and how important is it to get that race back to where it once was?
It is incredibly important. A lot has changed, the real hey-day of the USGP was of course Carlsbad back in the 1970s and 1980s, but during the 1980s the supercross started becoming more important, and even though guys like David Bailey, and Ricky Johnson and Jeff Stanton would ride the GP when it was here, by the 1990s it was really started to change. I think when you came in 1978 Geoff, the season started in Daytona in March and now the first race has crept up to the first weekend in January and it goes until the end of summer. There are a lot more races than there used to be. And I think the USGP has struggled for relevance and it moved around a lot, from Carlsbad, to Hollister Hills to Glen Helen and Budds Creek. Even this year we were dealt a blow when the lease of Gatorback expired and we had already done a lot of work there. The Grand Prix is a mysterious series to a lot of kids in America, who didn’t grow up like you and I did, loving the whole us against them and the international races and don’t see it like we see it. I mean I grew up racing Bobby Moore and he and I used to always say how cool it would be to race in Europe. As a kid, my favourite riders were Heikki Mikkola and Jaroslav Falta and Bobby and I would talk about that. Bobby went up and left and raced in the World championship and won a title over there and he never came back. You don’t have that a lot now because supercross is front and centre of everything, and then you have the nationals after that. Carlsbad and Unadilla used to be in the middle of the nationals series. I think the teams said they didn’t like doing races in the middle of their championship and that is why it was run at the end of the season. I mean we need to get one or two in to show how cool it is. Get it established and get people familiar with it and keep working with Youthstream and the teams to make it relevant again.
So, the Gatorback thing didn’t work out and you quickly found WW Ranch, and as you know I have interviewed the owner, and he seems like a great guy and is motocross to the bone, and the facility itself looks amazing. You have been there and had a look. When that happened, it must have happened a week or two before Loretta Lynn’s, probably your busiest week or the year. How was that for you?
It was a shock, and very unsettling. We made a commitment to work with Youthstream and try and help get a good race going again, and have that blindside us, it was unfortunate, but man, didn’t we get lucky. Junior has a very good facility, and he is very enthusiastic. It is also close to the airport all the GP teams were flying into, and everything was being shipped. Youthstream visited the location and are very happy with it, we will just see how it goes. Right now, we are really focused on WW Ranch. What is funny, you are right, my busiest week is Lorretta Lynn’s, and Junior came to Lorretta Lynn’s and worked all week on the infield. From the drop of the gate until it was over. It was pretty cool to see him out there.
I did an interview with Jeffrey Herlings about the USGP and Eric (Johnson) did one a couple of days later about it. Herlings is very focused for this race, training with Aldon Baker and you get the idea Jeffrey is serious about this race and I would guess wants to race with Eli Tomac, who as Jeffrey said in the interview, probably the fastest rider in the world on his day. That alone, with Antonio probably in the best form of his life, those things alone, if you don’t want to get to this race, then there has to be something wrong with your passion for motocross.
Well, I think it’s awesome that Jeffrey is coming. I have always liked Jeffrey and he is great to watch. I was worried about him earlier in the year, he came in injured and underestimated these guys. Now he is settled in, they are having fantastic races. As much as I am looking forward to seeing Jeffrey versus Tomac, I am looking forward to seeing Tony versus Tomac. His career is a bit like watching Stefan (Everts) or Ricky (Carmichael) at the end of their careers, where you keep wondering how this guy keeps getting faster and faster. Tomac has been putting the everyone out of reach (in the points) and wonderful to watch, he is our best guy right now and to see him up against the best riders in the MXGP, that is enough for me to make the 12-hour drive to Jacksonville. I am a big fan, and I hope other people feel the same way.
You have been to the track, it looks a little sandy, but not Lommel sandy. It looks really fast and it’s going to be really hot, which will favour the AMA guys no doubt. Who is it going to favour, the AMA guys, or the GP guys?
It’s not going to get as sandy as Lommel, but it will get close to Valkenswaard, but not as rough. Tomac is from Colorado, so I am not sure if he will have an advantage in the heat. But Tomac, Herlings, Cairoli. I will say any one of those three guys can win it down there.