FACTORY RIDE: 1981 vs NOW
“I got some help from Yamaha in 1983 and bought bikes cheap from Brian Collins Yamaha. I managed to beat a few of the factory guys that year and got noticed by the Toshiba Yamaha team. They offered me money and the full factory deal at the time and I walked into my boss the next day and said, ‘See you later. I’m going riding on my motorbike.
The deal was for $7500 a quarter, so around $30,000 a year, which was pretty good money at the time. I was earning just over $150 a week at work and it was my dream to race for a living. I used to read all the motocross magazines on the train on the way to work and just think about riding and racing all day, every day. So it was a dream come true for me to be able to achieve a factory ride.
When Yamaha restructured their racing, I then shifted to Honda. I never got paid to race for Honda. They supplied bikes, parts and plenty of technical assistance and paid for some things, but I never received sign-on money from them. At the time, I was fortunate to have companies like Yokohama, Shell, Silkolene and MC Mart step up and offer enough money to keep me on the road and going to events.
The majority of money I made in this period was via prizemoney. I raced a lot and supercross was everywhere at the time, so I was able to earn reasonable money by racing well. I think I made around $80,000 to $90,000 from prizemoney in the good years, but it meant racing from Cairns to Melbourne and across to Perth.
The money for the top guys has increased a lot but not really for the other riders. The main thing I see is the support and infrastructure around the riders. Teams now have motor guys, suspension guys, trucks, personal mechanics, flights and all the stuff that makes their life pretty easy. The responsibility of the modern rider is to turn up fit for an event and have your gearbag with you. A factory ride in 1984 was money, bikes, parts and a guy to help you on the weekends.
I also think they don’t do a lot of races these days for the money they earn. We used to race about 40 times a year, while a rider on a factory contract in Australia has less than 20 events per year.”
“Craig Dack and I were pretty close, as we grew up riding together around Sydney. As our careers started to gain momentum, it obviously became hard to remain close friends but, at the same time, be each other’s main rival. We never had a huge blue or argument but grew apart as time went on. We still spoke at races and at media functions but it was never like it was when we were teenagers.
I think the riders of today have become more independent again. Back in the 1990s, most of the riders travelled together out of necessity to afford to keep racing. It’s hard to slam a guy on the track then get in the same car and make small talk for the next 20 hours home. But now, with most of the teams flying riders around, the riders seem to keep more to their team structures and around their teams rather than mingle with other riders on race day.”
Bell on one of the great rivalries
“Craig Dack and I were pretty close, as we grew up riding together around Sydney. As our careers started to gain momentum, it obviously became hard to remain close friends but, at the same time, be each other’s main rival.”
“Supercross was pretty raw back in the early 80s. Track builders were still learning what to do, riders were still learning the new skills to race it and the bikes were altered the same way they do it today but it was all a bit primitive and really hit and miss.
We would harden up the suspension but it was never really that hard. Most guys just put stiffer springs and some more oil in. We would also cut down mufflers and change sprockets to make the power more aggressive.
I remember being real nervous at my first supercross. It was at Lang Park in Brisbane and I raced C grade. I led the race almost until the end, until I jumped into a lapper, but I really liked it. Then, when they built a supercross track at Hungry Creek (old ride park near Sydney), I spent plenty of time out there learning how to ride supercross and how to set up my bike.
I won my first 250 class supercross at Newcastle in 1983, I think. I won that night and, as it was part of a series and we raced the same venue next week, I came back and won again. That was against a few US riders and all the top Australian guys and I couldn’t believe I won the first one but was floored when I won the next one just a week later.
The tracks now are built far better than back then. Every obstacle is designed with a purpose rather than just dumping dirt all over a football field. Jumps really haven’t got bigger; in fact, the 1990s was when triples and quads were at their biggest. But they have made take-offs and landings so much safer.”
“My first year on Yamaha, it was my job to race the 250s and the Mr Motocross class on 500s. So I rock up to the first round and the 250s, have two 30-minute motos in the morning and then the Mr Motocross Championship is four 20-minute back-to-back motos in the afternoon. By the second race of the Mr Motocross races, I was done, so we decided it was best if I just raced the 125s and 250s and with Gally to race the Mr Motocross. I won the 125s and was second on the 250 that year.
It’s interesting to see the formats are going back to something similar to what we had back then. I’m not sure if it’s good or bad but I guess they have at least tried something different to keep the interest up. From the rounds I have been at, most of the riders aren’t complaining too much.”
“So I rock up to the first round and the 250s, have two 30-minute motos in the morning and then the Mr Motocross Championship is four 20-minute back-to-back motos in the afternoon.”
“That’s easy! Tokyo Supercross in Japan. I finished fifth but all the top US guys were there. There was this quad jump right out of the first turn and they wanted us to jump it but the landing ramp was too small. The riders and teams got together and said, if you take out the third jump and put it on the landing ramp, the riders will do it.
I didn’t think you could make it out of the first turn, so in the final I got the holeshot and did double and then single. But then I hear Johnson and Bayle just holding it on and committed to the jump. They both cased it hard but managed to get by me. I followed them for lap after lap and they didn’t really get away. Then, at the end, Bradshaw passed me and so did one of the other factory US guys and I finished fifth. To be racing among those guys and holding my own was the best moment of my career.”
STAY OR GO?
“I never went overseas full-time. It was more a matter of circumstance than lack of opportunity. I was married with kids at the time and it is very hard to pick up a family and move to the other side of the world to ride a dirtbike. I was also on pretty good money here at the time and I just didn’t feel it was the right time to go.
I had offers to race the GPs after I rode a few rounds one year and scored a heap of top 10s. Then, after the Tokyo Supercross, I got a few offers to go to the US, but it was never enough to make me want to leave. There were only factory teams then and no real support teams like we see today; and, while they all said they would help, I just didn’t think it was right for me.”