Cycle News Archives L.A. Coliseum

Kit Palmer | October 23, 2022

Cycle News Archives

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Coliseum Surprises

The 2023 SuperMotocross World Champion will be crowned at the place that most supercross fans recognize as the birthplace of supercross, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It was here that the first supercross race (though it was simply called indoor motocross at the time) was held in 1972 in front of approximately 30,000 MX fans. A 16-year-old kid from San Diego took the win on a Yamaha, going 2-2-2 in the race’s three-moto format. Marty Tripes beat some of the top riders in the world that night from both the U.S. and Europe, including New York’s Jimmy Weinert and World Champion Torsten Hallman and future World Champ Hakan Andersson, both of Sweden.

L.A. Coliseum
The L.A. Coliseum has hosted several historic supercross moments.

Although it was dubbed as the Superbowl of Motocross, the race, which took place again in 1973 (Tripes also won but this time on a Honda), spawned what is now the AMA Supercross Championship, which hit the ground running in 1974 as a multi-race series. The L.A. Coliseum has hosted several Supercross Championship races over the years. Most of them happened in the 1980s. The last L.A. Coliseum-hosted AMA Supercross race took place on January 21, 1998. Many historic races have been held at this iconic stadium since that first race in 1972, but the last one held here in 1998 is arguably among the 10 best in the sport’s history.

There was big-time hype leading up to the 1998 L.A. race for several good reasons. First, it was the opening round of the Supercross series, and you know how that is. Just being the opener alone is usually hype enough. But adding to the buzz was Jeremy McGrath’s debut on the Chaparral Yamaha after his previous one-year stint on the factory Suzuki Team went sideways, and he had to surrender the number-one plate to Jeff Emig after a four-year championship run.

Doug Henry was back on the Yamaha YZ400F four-stroke, but it was a production-based bike this time. We all wanted to see how he’d do after winning the last Supercross race in Las Vegas the year before on the works four-stroke.

Ezra Lusk was making his Honda debut on the factory team, and Larry Ward was back aboard a factory Suzuki after a previous fallout with the squad. Emig was wearing the number-one plate for the first time and on a totally redesigned factory-backed Kawasaki KX250.

And plenty of international riders were on the entry list to make things even more spicey. South Africa’s Greg Albertyn, Japan’s Takeshi Koikeda, Frenchmen Mikael Pichon, Frederic Bolley and Sebastien Tortelli were all raring to go. Even Valentino Rossi was among the nearly 62,000 fans that came out to watch.

And then you had the rain that dumped on Southern California courtesy of the “Pineapple Express” that washed out Friday’s activities at the race site and made the lengthy track a muddy, rutted-out, and technical challenge for Saturday night’s race.

When the main event finally came it looked to be Henry’s race. He put all that four-stroke power to the wet ground, nabbed the holeshot, and then led the next 19 of the 20-lap race. Yes, Henry came within one lap of winning the race.

Seemingly out of nowhere, the Grand Prix racer from France, Sebastien Tortelli, caught and passed Henry on the last lap for the surprising win. And it wasn’t until about five laps from the end that the announcers even mentioned Tortelli’s name as a possible race winner. Supposedly, the race had to be redubbed for television later because the announcers thought Tortelli was a lapper. But Tortelli wasn’t a lapper; in fact, he was doing some lapping of his own en route to the surprising victory in his very first attempt at Supercross racing.

Sebastien Tortelli supercross win 1998
Sebastien Tortelli won the last supercross race held at the L.A. Coliseum in 1998.

Tortelli was indeed the fastest rider on the track that night. He started the race in, at best 12th place, and then he steadily worked his way up through the talent-filled pack to claim the win.

“That’s my first race and win in the United States, and I was not expecting to do that good,” Tortelli told Cycle News. “I was trying my best to catch every rider, and that happened.”

As for Henry, things only got worse for the popular rider after Tortelli passed him. Moments after the pass, Henry had a small get-off, but he struggled to kickstart his red-hot four-stroke. He ended up 10th for the night.

This would be the first and last Supercross win of Tortelli’s career. The Frenchman was scheduled to race just the first seven rounds of the Supercross Series that year (’98) before heading back to Europe for the GPs, where had great success. He took down Stefan Everts in the last race to win the 250cc MX World Championship. Tortelli returned to the U.S. full-time in 1999 with Honda (1999-2002) and Suzuki (2003-2005). Tortelli officially retired at the end of 2006 after one last stint in the GPs aboard a KTM.

The Frenchman had plenty of success racing in the U.S. but, as mentioned, never won another Supercross race, or AMA title. He finished second to Jeremy McGrath in the Supercross Championship in 2000 and won four outdoor National races overall. Nagging injuries plagued him throughout his racing career in the U.S.

The Coliseum hosted another historic race that happened six years earlier. This time it was the final round of the series in 1992, and Damon Bradshaw came into the race holding a six-point lead over two-time Supercross champ Jeff Stanton. Six points seemed comfortable for Bradshaw, as he had won nine previous Supercross races to Stanton’s two and was clearly the faster of the two riders at that time. The race, which was delayed a month due to the Rodney King riots, took place during the day in July, and Stanton did what he had to do—win the race. Bradshaw just needed to finish third to take the title. A seemingly simple thing for him to do. At one point, Bradshaw was holding down that position and looked to be a shoo-in for his first SX title until the unthinkable happened—he started to fade back for no apparent reason. The large crowd was stunned. He ended up fifth, handing the title to a thrilled Stanton. Bradshaw, who was coming off a knee injury, never blamed the fade on the knee. Instead, he told Cycle News, “It wasn’t anything physical, just mental. I was concentrating too much on the track, riding tense, and I just rode myself into the ground.”

Bradshaw was just 19 years old at the time, and fans assumed he’d bounce back, learn from it, and that many championships would follow. But Bradshaw never seemed to be the same racer after that ’92 race at the Coliseum and would finish off his career in the premier class without a title.

So, will more dramatics play out next year when the SuperMotocross World Championship brings “indoor motocross” racing back to the L.A. Coliseum? I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but either way, it will be great to see the top stars of the sport return to the birthplace of supercross and launch out of the peristyles once again.CN

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