Let’s be real for a moment: All of us have biases, correct? Correct. I put forth a conscious effort to remain as objective and non-biased as possible on all issues. But, sometimes, when it comes to more subjective things like our line of work, and you tell me I am wrong, my bias can, at times, really shine bright. My point is that I was brought into this world in the mid 1980s and my era of Supercross and motocross racing is the 1990s and early 2000s. We all hear people say how much cooler the sport was back in the ‘90s and early 2000s. Hell, there is even a couple of wildly popular Instagram accounts that are dedicated purely the the 1990s and early 2000s of our sport. And, let’s not forget Red Bull Straight Rhythm even dedicated its last event to the 1990s. So, objectively, I would say yes, there is something special to that era of our sport. Subjectively, my Trey Canard 200% answer comes into play in saying YES: the 1990s and early 2000s of Supercross and motocross were and are far better than anything present day in our sport. Again, subjective. At 200% Trey Canard status.
With that said, I thought it would be interesting to take a small walk down memory lane. The month was July, the day was Sunday the 18th, the year was 1998, and the location was Unadilla MX in New Berlin, NY. By this time, the young Ricky Carmichael had won the 1997 125cc Pro Motocross championship in his first try, and then went on to clinch the 1998 125cc East Region Supercross championship. Now, in the dog days of the 1998 summer, RC was on his way to defending his number one plate. Although, John “Junkyard” Dowd, was doing what he could to keep it a tight points race and only trailing five points behind RC at this point in the series. When we think back on RC’s career, we can’t recall too many times that the red head from Florida was ever leading a race with a comfortable lead and then somebody from behind caught him, passed him, pulled away from him, and won the race. Seriously. RC was turning into what Jeremy McGrath was to Supercross. It wasn’t often that guys like this had a lead and were passed in the middle stages of a race.
Let’s backtrack even earlier to five years prior: enter 1993 and Robbie Reynard. The 16-year-old from Norman, OK and riding for factory Kawasaki. In his rookie year in the outdoor series, Reynard would finish 7th at High Point Raceway, 18th at Kenworthy’s Motocross Park (please bring back this track), 18th at Glen Helen Raceway, 17th at Washougal Motocross, 8th at Spring Creek Motocross, 4th at Broome-Tioga Sports Center (also please bring back this track), and by his seventh professional start in the outdoor motocross series at Steel City Raceway (also let’s bring back this track while we are at it), Robbie would win his first-ever professional race by taking first place overall with a 6-1 finish (yes, it was that kind of day). Reynard would beat the likes of Jeff Emig and Doug Henry who were battling until the last turn of the last lap of the last moto for the ’93 title, Larry Ward, Jeremy McGrath, Bryan Swink, Ryan Hughes, Ezra Lusk, Scott Sheak, Damon Bradshaw, Todd DeHoop, Jimmy Gaddis, Timmy Ferry, Brian Deegan, Donny Schmit and, well, you get the point. All of these guys were race winners and/or champions. And, on this day in Delmont, PA, the rookie was able to see it to the end to claim his first-ever moto win and overall win. Again, a wildly odd day allowed Reynard’s 6-1 scores to earn him the overall.
What’s wild about Robbie’s career is that the Oklahoma native never won a Supercross race. That’s right, he never won a 125cc SX or a 250cc SX main event. He claimed a lot of heat race wins over the years, and he battled for the 1997 and 1998 SX titles with Kevin Windham (’97) and RC (’98), where he finished second place overall in the series standings, but never captured that elusive win inside the stadiums. However, for as smooth and technical as he was, Reynard has garnered quite a few outdoor motocross wins and overall wins to his name. Robbie was somebody that had a style you dream about having. Elbows up, great posture, and a style so effortless and smooth that he literally looked like he wasn’t trying. How that never translated into SX wins is odd to me. But, the outdoor wins, as mentioned, happened a bit easier for him. And, this brings us back to 1998 on Sunday, July 18th, in New Berlin, NY at the infamous Unadilla. By this time, Robbie was no longer a part of factory Kawasaki. Plagued with injuries, he had moved to a privateer effort by 1996, riding for the Primal Impulse Honda team. And, in 1997, in his second year with the privateer outfit, he battled for the 125 West Region SX championship, finishing second place overall to factory Yamaha’s Kevin Windham. Come 1998, Reynard was on his third year with the team, but they had switched manufactures and were now on Suzukis. When I say privateer, I say this a bit loosely. Quite frankly, I do not know what type of support Primal Impulse and Robbie were receiving from Honda/Suzuki. From the outside looking in, one would think little to none, but frankly, I don’t know. I just know that Primal Impulse, at this time anyways, was not a factory team. Hell, I wouldn’t even call them a satellite team like a Honda of Troy or a not yet formed Factory Connection Honda, yet they were battling and beating factory teams and their riders.
Reynard’s 1998 SX campaign was once again that of playing runner up. This time on the East Coast and, now to the redheaded Carmichael aboard Mitch Payton’s SplitFire/Pro Circuit/ Kawasaki. By this time, everybody knew Reynard had the speed and the talent to be a champion, but continuous injuries and a perpetual struggle with arm pump always seemed to hinder what was the true potential Reynard had within. However, Unadilla 1998 maybe the day where we saw the truest form and the truest potential of Robbie Reynard. I realize many hold James Stewart in high regard as the fastest individual to ever throw a leg over a 125cc motocross bike and, most likely, this is correct. However, what Reynard did on that day stands out to me just as much, if not, maybe a little more so when compared to what JS7 did at Budd’s Creek in 2003.
In 1998, the Internet wasn’t much of a thing. We would hear our stories and get our news from the weekly Wednesday addition of Cycle News and/or MotoWorld, which would help hold us over until the race was broadcast on TV, roughly two weeks later at 3:00 a.m. on a Thursday (for some reason, I miss those days). I remember hearing the stories floating around the magazines about what Reynard did at Unadilla and what an incredible ride it was. Finally, it was time for us to watch it. I remember we ordered pizza from a local spot and we crowded around the TV to watch this battle. To this day, I will never forget watching what Robbie Reynard did in that first moto of the day. We kept rewinding the VCR so we could watch how fast Robbie was railing a corner, or we would rewind the VCR to watch how Robbie was using breaking bumps as small jumps to hop and dance and float across the rocky and New Berlin terraferma. We were mesmerized by what he was doing. RC got a second place start behind rival John Dowd, however, RC made quick work of Junkyard Dog to take the lead and slowly start inching away from the Bryan Barry tuned Yamaha YZ125. As for Reynard, he started 10th place in the moto. Think about that for a moment. Ricky Carmichael got a clean start, is leading, and pulling away. Reynard got a 10th place start. In those days, if RC started 1st and anyone else 10th place, you were, at best, settling for second place. You did not start 10th place and work up to second and then hunt down RC, pass him and pull away and win the race. That. Did. Not. Happen. In those days.
To this day, I don’t know what Robbie ate or what he did that morning to bring the speed and confidence he did, but it was something special. Reynard came from 10th place to second place by the halfway mark. Robbie then hunted down RC, passed him, pulled away, and won the moto. He straight up, no questions asked, beat Ricky Carmichael during a time when Ricky Carmichael was not beatable on 125s. To this day, I will argue it maybe one of the greatest rides in our sports history. A privateer effort going against Mitch Payton’s SplitFire/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team during year 486 of utter dominance and the Redheaded do or die racer in Ricky Carmichael, on one of our sports most iconic motocross tracks; it was truly something to watch. Hell, it’s a race that I still watch to this day and I am still just as mesmerized and dumbfounded by what Robbie did in present day as I was back in 1998 when I watched it on TV while eating pizza. Robbie would finish the day with a 1-3 for second overall on the day. Sure, Robbie never won the championships and amount of races that maybe many thought him capable of doing, but when he was on, the guy was untouchable. And, he will go down as one of the most smooth and effortless racers to ever touch a dirt bike and that, my friends, is an objective fact.
Robbie, if you ever read this, obviously I have been a fan since day one. But, please feel free to reach out to us with any stories or information or photos you have have from this day. We will happily update this article to include your point of view from what is considered one hell of a ride. Also, please teach us to to ride a motorcyle and make it look like we are not trying!