Across the Dirt: Motocross from 1972 to 2023

| by BRIX

From the initial roar on the starting line in the early '70s to the symphony of engines that define today's circuits, motocross has encapsulated the essence of competition, innovation, and the unyielding pursuit of excellence. This journey through the history of motocross from 1972 to 2023 celebrates the icons that revolutionized the sport, the pivotal moments that defined its evolution, and gazes into the electric future of two-wheeled competition.

The Beginnings: 1972-1980s

In 1972, the AMA Motocross Championship was established, marking the dawn of a new era in American motocross. This was a time when the sport was dominated by Europeans, but American riders like Gary Jones were beginning to make their mark, claiming the first 250cc title and setting the stage for the emergence of domestic champions.

The 1990s: The Golden Era

This era was characterized by fierce competition with several riders making significant impacts. While Jeremy McGrath was the undisputed king of Supercross during this time, Motocross had its share of legends who dominated the tracks.

McGrath MammothMX

One of the prominent figures was Jeff Emig. Emig was one of McGrath's main rivals and managed to secure multiple AMA Motocross Championships against stiff competition. He notably won the 450cc (then called the 250cc class) National Motocross Championships in 1996, 1997, and 1998, showcasing his prowess on outdoor tracks.

Multi-time AMA Pro Motocross Champion and broadcast veteran Jeff Emig will join the announcing team at the Unadilla National. Photo: Racer X Illustrated

Photo: Racer X Illustrated

Mike LaRocco and Doug Henry also left their mark during this era. LaRocco won the AMA 500cc Motocross Championship in 1993 and was a consistent top competitor in the 250cc class throughout the decade. Doug Henry, on the other hand, had remarkable achievements, including winning the 1993 AMA 125cc National Motocross Championship and the 1998 AMA 250cc National Championship, the latter after making a successful transition to four-stroke machinery with his historic win on the Yamaha YZ400F.

2000s: The Reign of Carmichael and Emergence of Stewart

The new millennium was defined by Ricky Carmichael, affectionately known as the "GOAT" (Greatest Of All Time), who redefined the limits of the sport with his unrivaled success in both Supercross and Motocross. Carmichael's sheer dominance, consistency, and dedication to the sport elevated the competitive standard, inspiring a generation of riders to aim higher. This era also witnessed the rise of James Stewart, a legend who brought revolutionary techniques to the forefront. Stewart's introduction of the "Bubba Scrub" to the motocross world changed the dynamics of racing, making him a pivotal figure in the sport's evolution.

Newly announced AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame inductee James “Bubba” Stewart will make his broadcast debut at the track in which he introduced the “Bubba Scrub” to the world for the first time.

Transition and Talent: Late 2010s to 2023

As the sport navigated through the transformational late 2010s and steadily advanced towards 2023, a remarkable influx of new talent began reshaping the motocross landscape. Among these emerging stars, Cooper Webb distinguished himself as a formidable force, securing the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship in 2021 with unmatched resilience and performance under intense competition. Webb's victory underscored a pivotal shift in the sport, spotlighting the evolving strategies and mental resilience increasingly demanded of modern motocross athletes.

In this era of renewed vigor, Eli Tomac also profoundly impacted the sport. Tomac, renowned for his exceptional consistency and raw speed, became a dominant figure in both Supercross and Motocross. His multiple AMA Motocross Championships throughout the late 2010s highlighted his versatility and unwavering competitive spirit, firmly establishing Tomac as one of the era's defining riders. His prowess on the track and ability to excel under various conditions made him a fan favorite and a benchmark for success in the sport.


Joining the roster of impactful newcomers, Jett Lawrence burst onto the scene with a victory in his first race in the 250SX East Region in 2021. Lawrence's youthful energy and innate talent added a refreshing dynamism to motocross, signaling the emergence of a bright future star. His ascent in the sport brought a new level of excitement and appeal, emphasizing the timeless allure of motocross to fans and aspiring riders of all ages.

Additionally, the entry of the GasGas team into the competitive fold underscored the dynamic progression of the sport. The growing variety of teams and manufacturers contending for supremacy painted a picture of a landscape abundant in opportunities and ripe for innovation, with Triumph emerging as the latest newcomer to enter the fray. These developments, driven by the achievements of riders like Webb, Tomac, and Lawrence, alongside the strategic entries of new teams, marked a vibrant period of growth and continued evolution in motocross.

The Backbone of Motocross Evolution

Since its inception, motocross has thrilled audiences worldwide, not just through the daring feats of its riders, but also via the iconic tracks that have become arenas of legendary battles and milestones in the sport's history. These tracks are not mere stretches of dirt and obstacles; they are the crucibles where champions are forged, limits are tested, and motocross history is written.

  • Unadilla MX, New York | First Race: July 16, 1972 - A track synonymous with motocross heritage in the United States, Unadilla is known for its natural terrain, challenging obstacles, and its role in hosting numerous international motocross events. Established in the late 1960s, Unadilla has been a staple in the AMA Motocross Championship and has seen the best in the world compete on its demanding layout.
  • Hangtown Motocross Classic, California | First Race: April 8, 1974 - As the traditional opener for the AMA Motocross Championship, Hangtown's history spans over 50 years. Its evolving layout and challenging conditions have made it a revered test for riders kicking off their campaign for the title. Victories at Hangtown are seen as good omens for the season ahead.
  • RedBud MX, Michigan | First Race: April 28, 1974 - Celebrated for hosting the "RedBud National" around the Fourth of July, this track is famous for its "LaRocco's Leap," one of the most daunting jumps in all of motocross. The track's combination of natural and man-made features, along with a passionate crowd, epitomizes the spirit of American motocross.
  • The Wick, Massachusetts (formerly known as Moto-X 338) | First Race: June 6, 1976 - Renowned for its deep sandy composition, Southwick, often referred to as "The Sandbox," presents a unique challenge unlike any other on the circuit. Its terrain tests riders' strength, endurance, and bike setup, making it a critical juncture in the championship. The track's history is steeped in motocross lore, earning a revered spot in the sport for its capacity to both challenge and captivate.
  • High Point Raceway, Pennsylvania | First Race: May 29, 1977 - Nestled in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, High Point Raceway is celebrated for its scenic beauty as well as its challenging and dynamic track layout. Since its opening in 1977, it has become a beloved staple on the Pro Motocross circuit. Known for its jumps, hard-packed terrain, and off-camber turns, High Point tests rider skill in a way that few other tracks can, earning its place as a cornerstone event every season.

These tracks, with their unique characteristics and historical significance, have not only hosted unforgettable moments in motocross but have also played a crucial role in the sport's evolution. They've tested riders' mettle, contributed to the development of racing strategies, and have become landmarks in the motocross world. As the sport continues to evolve, these tracks will undoubtedly remain at the heart of its success, challenging new generations of riders and continuing to write new chapters in the rich history of motocross.

Pivotal Moments

  • 1972: The establishment of the standalone AMA Motocross Championship marks the beginning of America's foothold in the sport.
  • 1990s: McGrath dominates, elevating the sport's profile with his charismatic presence and unparalleled skill.
  • 2000s: Carmichael sets new standards of excellence, while Stewart introduces innovative techniques that transform racing dynamics.
  • 2021: The emergence of Cooper Webb, renewed vigor of Eli Tomac and Jett Lawrence represents the sport's vibrant future, with masterful tactics and raw talent hinting at a thrilling new era.

The Road Ahead: Envisioning Motocross's Future

As motocross accelerates into the future, it faces both challenges and opportunities. Advancements in technology promise more sustainable and high-performance motorcycles, potentially transitioning to electric powertrains that offer a greener future for the sport. The global expansion of motocross, bolstered by the digital age, promises to bring the thrill of racing to new audiences and cultivate a broader, more diverse community of fans and riders.

A Legacy of Thrills and Evolution

Motocross's journey from the humble beginnings of AMA championships in 1972 to the global spectacle it is today in 2023 is a testament to the sport's enduring appeal and capacity for reinvention. Legends like Ricky Carmichael and James Stewart have paved the way for new talents like Cooper Webb and Jett Lawrence, who now carry the torch, illuminating the path for the next generation of riders. As we stand at the cusp of a dynamic era in motocross, one thing remains constant: the unyielding spirit of competition, innovation, and the sheer joy of two wheels flying through the dirt. The legacy of motocross is not just in the victories and records but in the countless moments of triumph, teamwork, and tenacity that define this exhilarating sport. As we look to the horizon, motocross promises to continue its thrilling ride, powered by the relentless drive of riders, teams, and fans alike. Here's to the past legends, present champions, and future heroes as we prepare for 2024! Secure your tickets today at

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