As told by
Dave Arnold and Bill Buchka
1976 125 National series consisted of a total of eight races
that started on April 4th at Plymouth California (Hangtown)
and ended August 29th in New Orleans Louisiana. At the half
way point in the series was the 125 USGP held at Mid-Ohio on
July 11th.. Due to the large amount of text and photos, part 2
will break at the 125 USGP at Mid-Ohio. Many of the photos can
be enlarged. Make sure you click on the "disclaimer letter"
highlighted in red in Bill's interview, as it is a scan of the
original disclaimer letter issued by Yamaha International after
the claim was filed on Bob's bike. The claiming rule is
explained at the bottom of this page and there is a memorabilia
section to check out too. Just click on the links. I started
this with three questions to both Dave and Bill and the
remainder of the article is detailed race by race commentary.
Also at the bottom is a link to "Memories of the 1976 125
Nationals" by Warren Reid. Make sure you read that, it's really
Honda RC125M Type 1
1976 Suzuki RA125
1976 Yamaha OW27
What was your reaction to your new assignment?
To be honest, I was just a bit shocked to be given the
assignment of being Marty's mechanic and helping defend his #1
plate for the 1976 125 season that then senior Honda mechanic
(superstar in my eyes then and now) Jon R had earned together
with Marty in the 74 & 75 season. I was relatively new and
a bit less experienced, being hired into the Honda race shop in
'74 as a general type mechanic to keep the practice bikes
running for their relatively large team of seven riders.
Marty and I working together for the 1976 season and beyond was
due to a whirlwind of circumstances from that point. Prior
to this I had a short run filling in mechanic duties at the
races for Chuck Bower & Billy Grossi at the end of '74. In
the beginning of 1975, I worked with Rich Eierstedt until he got
injured and then Jon R decided he didn't want to travel the
second half of the season, so I was assigned to work with Marty
Smith in the Trans-Am series on the RC500.
For 1976, Honda decided to race Marty in both Europe and the US
to try and win both the 125 World and U.S. National titles. It was also decided that Jon R would go with Marty to Europe as
that was the "big enchilada" and I would work on Marty's 125's
here in the US. I was scared to death of the
responsibility of defending the 125 National number one rider
and bike. I can still remember Jon R reassuring me that
all I had to do was " keep the bike running and Marty will do
The first time I heard anything about
Bob Hannah was at the 1975 New Orleans 125/500 National. He was
riding for DG in the 125 class and had passed out and was hauled
away in an ambulance suffering from heat exhaustion. Later that year he
was hired by Yamaha International to compete in the 1976 125
Nationals. When I first got the assignment to work with Bob, I
thought, “this is going to be interesting” I had never worked
with a rookie before and I had never gone after a 125 title.
Yamaha’s Don Dudek was working with Bob in the Southern
California CMC races at the end of 1975 and after I got the
assignment, I thought I would accompany them at a local CMC race
at Carlsbad. Bob was riding a 125 that day in preparation for
the 125 nationals and as I watched his race, while going down
the long famous downhill, his bike was running out of gearing and he
was pulling in the clutch to freewheel and gain more speed on
the downhill. When I saw that
determination, I knew we were going to be just fine. I said to
myself, “This is a guy that really wants to compete and win.”
called upon my experience with Pierre Karsmakers whom I worked with a couple of years earlier and
applied it to our effort with Bob. Pierre was a true professional,
very competitive, and had an extremely high work ethic. I really
wanted to maximize our opportunity to win the 125 Championship. Bob was also very dedicated
and really understood the importance of physical training to
win. The bike had to go two forty minute plus two lap motos and
so did the rider. He realized that he would have to perform at
his utmost not only from a riding point of view but also a
stamina point of view.
When did you get your new bikes and
how much time did you have for testing and set-up before
It's not crystal clear
to me now exactly how long prior to the first 125 National at
Hangtown that we received out new (Type 1) race bikes and
equipment, but what I do remember in general was that the
preparation was geared more towards Europe than in the states at
first. I received a few faxes and phone calls from Jon R in
Europe (prior to clear international phone lines) with their
initial bike set-up and testing results which we applied to our
national bikes as much as possible when they arrived. This was
right before Hangtown and there was not much time to test.
The '76 Type 1 bike was similar to the bike Marty used in '74 &
'75 with minor refinements such as longer travel suspension
front & rear. The biggest difference between the two bikes was
the '76 bike used a back of the cylinder reed valve design
whereas the '74/'75 bike utilized a case reed engine. The 76
Type 1 reed valve engine had a lot of power in the mid range but
for some reason would cut out / pop at high rpm in the bumps
which was difficult to eliminate by jetting. This created
a characteristic which drove Marty crazy. It's a little
bizarre looking back, but we ended up racing four different
bikes during the '76 season. We started the season with
the Type 1 bike, a modified production bike, a hybrid 75/76 Type
1 and then the all new Type 2 bike.
We got our new works OW27’s about four
weeks prior to Hangtown. Bob and I had two bikes and our
teammate Danny Turner and his mechanic Ed Schiedler also
received two bikes. We tested the bikes at every type of track
that offered terrain similar to the tracks that would be on the
national circuit. We went to Saddleback and Carlsbad for hard
pack. Hangtown was a sand track so to prepare for that we tested
at Santa Maria and we even tested in the desert. We tested in as
many circumstances as we could in the limited time that we had.
We started with the basic set-up as the bikes came from Japan
and tried to narrow it down from there. We relied on information
that we received from Japan and our own trial and error to
arrive at a number of set-ups that accommodated the tracks we'd
be racing on and Bob's needs.
Initially Bob had a hard time communicating on the set-ups,
which later improved as the season rolled on. Danny Turner and
Ed Schiedler really helped us out with the initial set-up at
first. Ed was a real 125 aficionado. We spent a lot of time
testing gear ratios, suspension settings and jetting in a very
short period of time. We also had an engineer from Japan, Mac Suzuki
who traveled with us and who was our liaison with Headquarters
in the U.S. and Japan.
Going into the first National at Hangtown, how confident were
you? Who did you think would give you the most competition?
Have I mentioned I was
nervous and overwhelmed by the responsibility of being the
number one riders mechanic? (laughter) We knew that Marty was the guy to
beat but also, the level of support was very high for so many
riders. I'm sure Marty was by far considered the odds on
favorite going into this event but even then the field was so
damn deep during that period. There was Danny LaPorte, Danny
Turner, Jeff Jennings, Tim Hart, Warren Reid, Broc Glover, Jimmy
Ellis, Bob Hannah, Steve Wise, Danny "Magoo" Chandler, Mickey Boone and many more. Even outside of the factory
efforts, the aftermarket companies had very competitive teams
with very fast riders that could very much hang with the factory
riders on any given day. There were between ten and fifteen riders that under the
right circumstances could have won a moto in that championship.
I had only vaguely heard of
Bob Hannah who over a pretty short period of time and with out
very much equipment support had become very competitive at the
local So. Cal. races. Plus earlier in the year, Bob had
beat Steve Stackable in the Florida Winter-AMA series and I knew
that anybody who beat Stackable on sand tracks had to be taken
seriously. That said, I didn't believe.... scratch
that....I'm positive I didn't expect for Bob Hannah to not only
be so dominant against the other riders in the field at Hangtown,
but run Marty down (who was out in front from the beginning)
after a bad start and pulling off one of the biggest upsets in
Bob and I spent a lot of time
together early on in the season during the Florida Winter-AMA
series to learn who we were as individuals, what we wanted to
accomplish and how we could best accomplish it as a team. We
always made it a point to talk about who our competition was and
how we were going to handle these riders and what their
strengths and weaknesses were on the race track, as well as
off the race track. For example, this guy is very good on hardpack, this guy is good in sand but has a tendency to fall
off the pace in the last ten minutes. This guy has great
conditioning so you’re going to have to work extra hard to beat
him. Based on what we knew and previous results, we pretty much
had a good strategic file on who Bob was going to line up next to
on every starting line. It wasn’t just “Let’s go out there and
see what we can do.”
For the start of the 125 series, we
decided to focus on each race individually and adjust our strategy
based on race events and circumstances or how the results would
pan out for our competitors. We wanted to maximize each race
not look beyond each one until the series developed. We
continued to utilize our strategic plan as the series went on.
Honda was trying to win the 125 World
Championship and the 125 National Championship at the same time
with Marty Smith. If anyone thinks that that didn’t play into
our strategic plan they’re wrong. We knew Marty was on the
frequent flyer program. We felt that was going to be an
advantage to us in some way. That was a tremendous assignment
for a guy competing at such a high level in such a physically
demanding sport. To deal with six, seven, and eight hour time changes and try to
maintain a winning edge in two different championships was a
huge challenge for anyone. We knew
how difficult it was to compete here and I can’t imagine what
Marty was faced with, trying to win a World Championship and a
National Championship at the same time. By default, that was to
our advantage and definitely on our radar screen.
We knew Marty Smith was the
guy to beat
but also the level of support was very high for so many riders.
There were maybe fifteen riders that under the right
circumstances could have won a moto in that championship.
Bill Buchka, Bob Hannah and the all new OW27 before practice at
Bill Buchka archive
Bill Buchka archive
Before the first moto at Hangtown. National Champion Marty Smith
is mobbed while unknown Bob Hannah quietly shares a joke with
factory rider Danny Turner in a little quiet time before moto
Veteran rider Billy Grossi gets last minute advise from mechanic
Hangtown moments before the start of moto one: Gentleman start
Hangtown April 4th
The starting line
was filled with the most competitive racers ever to mount 125cc
equipment in this country. Marty Smith, two time National
Champion on a brand new fire engine red RC125 Honda; Billy Grossi and Danny LaPorte on works RA125 Suzuki’s; Bob
Hannah and Danny Turner brought out the new watercooled Yamaha
125s; Steve Wise on a factory Kawasaki; and the more than
unusual assortment of super sanitary FMF, DG and T&M privateers.
drop of the first gate it was Marty Smith dropping the hammer on
the pack and shrieking away to a five second lead over Grossi,
LaPorte, Wise and Turner. Bob Hannah
lingered only momentarily back in the thirties. Within nine of
the most amazing laps in AMA 125 MX history, Bob Hannah had his
Bill Buchka tuned OW27 in the lead. The crowd was stunned, many
had never heard of Hannah, most were programmed to believe in
the invincibility of mighty Marty, and no one, but no one, comes
from the back to win against the pros. Smith was pressured, but for
a rider who had won six straight Nationals last year it was an
unusual position, and he stepped off momentarily. Grossi was
third, LaPorte and local favorite Danny Turner diced it out for
forth, with Grossi’s Suzuki holding forth for the last three
Hannah’s first moto victory a fluke? How did he do it? Was it the
watercooled OW27? After all Hannah was the rookie on the Yamaha
team. In between motos, many spectators were trying to figure
out what had just happened and who was this guy on the number 39
Yamaha. The Honda and Yamaha pits were mobbed as fans tried to
figure out what the heck was going on.
Forty 12,000 rpm screams in the second moto
signaled the answer as Marty Smith, with the highest revver of
them all, was first to the corner. Hannah was second and then
first. Smith went all out to regain the lead and for twenty
minutes they played me-and-my-shadow.
Then at the halfway mark, at the furthest part of the track from
the pits, Marty's bike seized. When Hannah came around alone,
the crowd was once again stunned. As Marty made the long walk
back to the pits, a mass of fans walked along
side and as his mechanic Dave Arnold pushed his bike through the crowd, it was like
the parting of the red sea. Those that witnessed this said it
was an unbelievable spectacle. Marty Smith was a hero to everyone at Hangtown that day. Meanwhile
the unknown Yamaha rookie rode the remaining laps unchallenged
for the win to go one-one for the day.
I was really afraid of what
could happen at Hangtown even though Jon R assured me with his
("Just keep it running and Marty will do the rest") speech that
everything would be OK. The weather was cool and damp and the track
which was kind of sandy to begin with, got all rutted up and
whooped out and in general turned into one of the roughest
tracks I had ever seen.
Also, the track was very long and it seemed like it took forever
for the riders to come around, especially for the mechanics in
the mechanic/signal area where we were unable to see 90% of the
track. We couldn't see any of the racing to speak of
except for the riders coming onto the long slightly uphill
straight in front of us. It was agonizing waiting the
nearly three minutes to see where your rider ended up every lap.
In the first moto, Marty got
the holeshot and was in the lead which was all good except
for this relatively unknown Yamaha rider Bob....Who? coming
through the pack after a bad start and closing in on Marty every
lap. I didn't know exactly what to think of that at first,
but gave Marty the split as best I could not being able to watch
the racing and hoping Marty wasn't being held up by any sort of
bike problems. Bob continued to close, then follow and
eventually take the lead. Marty made a championship effort to
stay on pace with Bob but fell near the end giving the first moto
win to Bob.
The second moto was a carbon
copy of the first except Bob got a better start. Marty and
Bob were battling for the lead for the first half of the race
and then at about the half way point, Marty's bike broke. It happened at the furthest
point from the mechanic's area and it was a super long walk to
where the bike broke. It was easy to find Smitty as there
was literally a sea of kids following him back to the pits.
I have never seen anything like that prior or since. That
mechanical problem and Marty not coming around played super
heavy on me as it was my first race with Marty in the 125 class
trying to uphold his prior to then dominant championship
position within the class. The fears I had before the
season began were now being realized. After Marty's and Jon R's
flawless 1975 season, here we were in the first race of the
season, having more trouble than expected setting up the new
bike, Bob who? and his watercooled what? running us down in both
motos, Marty's DNF in the second moto, the sea of fans following
Marty back to the pits in utter disbelief and disappointment and
a very embarrassed not worthy of living, bone head mechanic ME
pushing the bike back to the pits, and all I had to do was
Bob winning that day was a
big upset within the industry as he was relatively an unknown.
The other rider that made an impression was Danny "Magoo"
Chandler. Danny was one of the best up and coming No Cal
riders at that time and he was riding a KTM that day.
During the race, the entire 125 field would take an inside to
middle of the track line up the slight uphill straight through
the mechanic's area where we would all step out and give our
chalk board signals. Magoo would go wide open up the hill
on the outside of the track through the mechanic's area.
We had to run like hell when he was coming up the hill as he
would move the entire mechanic's line off the track every lap.
I thought what kind of crazy person is this but Danny was going
pretty fast and that unconventional heart in his hand WFO riding
style made such an impression that day and beyond as he was so
exciting to watch (or fear, speaking of some other riders) over
the next few years until his retirement.
In the first moto..... I think we had
some luck in that race. Bob rode very hard. He was notorious for
not getting good starts and he didn’t get a great start in that
race. He started near the back but he rode extremely well. His
experience in the sand from Florida worked to his advantage. The
track that day emulated European sand conditions. It was wet, it was
sticky and it got rough. Bob’s ability to adapt to the sand was
amazing. I had worked with Pierre Karsmakers who was a genuine sand
specialist and I thought I’d seen the best in Pierre but how Bob
was able to adapt so quickly was amazing. I believe it was Bob’s
conditioning that got him the win in that race. Marty was out
front for a long time in the first moto. Bob got some momentum
going and he was lapping fast. I assumed that Dave Arnold was
keeping Marty informed of this. Maybe Marty was OK to begin with
but Dave had to see that Bob was coming thru like a freight
train. That must have put some pressure on Marty. It may have
caused Marty to lose concentration because Bob was closing so
fast on him. It may have been what caused Marty to crash at the
end when Bob got by for the win. I can only assume so.
In the second moto Marty had a
mechanical problem, which we were able to take advantage of. Now
we were in a situation where Marty already has to play catch up.
We maximized our position with 50 points and Marty left with 23
points. He was already one moto behind. We felt we put pressure
on Marty but we also added pressure on ourselves because you
want to keep that gap constant and even try to expand that
felt really good to win at Hangtown. It got our championship
effort off to a great start.
With the 60 second board about to come out, the factory
mechanics synchronize their watches.
The gate is half way down for the first moto. The barnburner
Number 73, DG's Mark Tyer on a Pro fab YZ gets out of shape
while #352 Danny LaPorte and #5 Billy Grossi hook up.
Marty Smith's roost can be seen at the far right.
Marty gets the holeshot in moto one.
T&M Engineering's Bruce McDougal.
Factory Husqvarna rider Nil Arne Nilsson. Nils won the
1973 125 USGP.
Bob Hannah starts the most celebrated charge in AMA history.
Picture perfect style: Marty Smith out front and hauling.
Lap eight: After starting 38th, Bob Hannah puts major heat on
first place Marty Smith. In
front of 40,000 stunned fans with two laps to go.
Photo: Mike Stusiak FTE
It doesn't get any prettier than this.
Mono wheeling through the Hangtown whoops.
Buchanan Michigan May 23 rd
After the upset at
Hangtown seven weeks earlier, the anticipation at Red-Bud was
high. All the teams had plenty of time to regroup. Nobody
questioned Marty Smith's ability, the question was, is this Bob
Hannah guy for real? Is that new watercooled Yamaha really that
good. Everybody seemed to have an opinion.
The ear piercing scream of high revving
125 two strokes shattered the air as the gate dropped and the
field exploded into turn one. Somebody fell in the first turn
and a number of riders went down with him, including Hannah,
Grossi, Kessler, Kudalski and Tim Hart. Hannah was one of the
last ones up and was back in 38th place. Way out
front was Jeff Jennings on a production RM with a ten-second
lead over Bruce McDougal, Broc Glover who was in his first AMA
National (Broc wasn’t 16 years old yet at Hangtown) John
Savitski, Warren Reid, Marty Smith and Ron Turner. Although he
lost his clutch on the third lap, Marty Smith was slowly working
his way up towards McDougal in second. Moving faster though, was
Hannah. Hannah was absolutely flying through the pack at an
unbelievable pace and by the half way point, was right behind
Marty Smith. Jennings still way in front, thru a chain. This
left Smith and Hannah in a battle for the lead. Hannah was glued
to Marty’s rear fender for a half a lap and then he was by. A
half a lap after that and Marty pulled off to the side of the
track with a broken motor. This left Hannah unchallenged to
the checkered flag.
Don Kudalski nailed the start in
the second moto with his FMF Elsinore. Marty Moates on an RM
Suzuki held second in front of Marty Smith, Grossi, Jennings,
Kessler and Hannah. Four more laps and both Smith and Grossi had
gotten around Moates, and Hannah had moved up as well to join
them as they set out in pursuit of Kudalski. At about the
halfway point, Smith, Grossi and Hannah got around the slowing
Kudalski. A couple of laps later and Hannah got around Grossi
and began to pressure Smith. Another two laps and Hannah had the
lead. For the rest of the race, you could have thrown a blanket
over Bob and Marty, they were that close. The two were as one. Whatever Bob did, Marty matched. The crowd ran from
vantage point to vantage point, not wanting to miss anything.
Both bikes were wide open at what seemed all times. The
intensity of the battle was incredible. Just listening to the
two works 125's at full throttle, never more than a few feet
apart lap after lap. They went like this all the way to the
checkered with Hannah barely edging out Smith for the win.
Hangtown was a very bad start
to winning this championship and worse than finishing second to
Bob in the first moto, was the DNF and total loss of points in
the second. This situation really needed to be turned around in
Michigan but unfortunately it ended up much the same as round
one at Hangtown. In the first moto, I believe the clutch
basket broke first (which wasn't that uncommon with that engine)
which meant the clutch action was at that point, marginal at
best, but more likely completely defunct from that point until
the very hard spring bolt dowel that broke off the clutch hub
got tired of bouncing around the engine and decided to lodge
itself between the gears. It has been many years though and I'm
not sure of the exact details.
The second moto race was
unbelievable between Marty and Bob. I would also like to
state, that even outside of Marty and now Bob, the depth of
talent within the field of riders at that time was so deep that
there were honestly at least ten other riders that were more
than capable of winning a moto or even an overall given half a
chance. The race came down to Bob and Marty at around the
half way point and I remember the racing being so close that the
spectators in the infield of the track were running back and
forth over the hill so not to miss any of the action or key move
between these two riders. Marty stayed glued to Bob's rear
fender the whole time but Bob never cracked under that pressure
and held it to the end. At this point, I believe both
Marty and Bob were trying to make a statement of their
intentions within the series. It was in this second moto that
Bob was trying to state that he is more than serious about
winning the championship and that he was more than a flash in
the pan. Likewise, Marty was trying to let it be known
that he still intends to defend his number one plate and not
give up so easily regardless of the problems that had our
championship effort off to a slow start.
Marty was more than a little
disappointed and frustrated finishing second but much worse than
that was again the loss of a whole moto due to mechanical
problems in the first race.
Around this time I got a call from Jon R in
Europe. The tone of Jon R's voice was one that I had never heard
before. It was one of.....Holy Crap are we in trouble!
Initially it was hard for me to understand or relate to all the
problems Jon R and Co. were having. The forks were bending every
race, frames were breaking, Steering head bearing races were
getting loose and turning oval, the engine powerband was too
narrow, there was cut out in the bumps, the suspension faded,
bottomed, pitched and kicked. The bike was not even close to
being adequate for the conditions they were getting into. Up
until now, our super exotic works bikes with all of the super
trick second to none jewelry like billet parts, were state of
the art. The endless supply of magnesium & titanium parts and
fasteners that provided a lightweight high revving race bike
that had been very effective on the fast and smoother tracks in
the US, were not very well suited for the much rougher
conditions on the European Grand-prix circuit. It seemed
like overnight, we went from not being able to imagine a better,
faster, more exotic race bike, to being in way over our heads
with equipment problems that we never heard, experienced or
We knew going into Red Bud that Marty
was going to do everything he could to recoup some of his loses
from the first race. Due to Marty’s mechanical misfortune, we were able to
capitalize once again. Winning four motos in a row was more than
I could have expected and I’m sure it was more than most people
would have thought would have been delivered by Bob. It was a
very powerful field proven by the fierce competition in each
moto. We really had to look at all the riders
now. We didn’t know who could come to the forefront. So many
riders had the ability to contend for the championship at that
point, we thought any number of riders could emerge. We had to
watch out for the Steve Wise’s, the Warren Reid’s, the Billy
Grossi’s, Bob’s own teammate Danny Turner. There was Bruce
McDougal and Danny LaPorte. It was a very powerful field. Now
our strategy of studying each rider would come into play. The
competition in this series was probably stronger than any other
series I have seen, including the World Championships that I was
involved in later in my career.
Bob Hannah's and Danny Turner's exotic OW27's after practice at Buchannan Michigan.
Top 125 privateer for 1975 Danny Turner on his new factory
Jeff Jennings builds a huge lead in moto one.
Bob Hannah in moto one after Marty's clutch and gearbox went out.
Hannah flat out at Buchannan Michigan.
files a claim on Bob Hannah’s OW27 at Red Bud
Fifteen minutes after Bob Hannah
had won the second moto, AMA ref Chuck McCall walked over to the
Yamaha pit area and impounded Bob’s winning number 39 works
Yamaha. What had been feared in motocross and has happened in
other types of motorcycle racing, was finally taking place.
According to the AMA rules, any rider in the race can claim any
other rider’s bike that was in the same race. The going price
for a 125cc motocrosser is $2500.00. The rider who made the
claim was Mickey Boone. Boone was of the opinion that he, as
well as many other independent riders, could compete with the
factory riders if they had equal equipment.
Two minutes before the 30-minute
claiming period ended. Bob Hannah ran up and put in his own
claim on the works Yamaha. “That’s my bike!” exclaimed Bob.
“It’s set up just right for me. No one else could ride it and I
don’t want to see it destroyed!” The apprehension clouded his
face which was still dirty from the race.
Chuck McCall placed the numbers used for drawing starting
positions in a coffee can and then held it in his hand over his
head. Both Mickey and Bob would draw numbers. The rider who drew
the highest number would win the bike. Mickey drew first, number
42. Next was Bob’s turn. Bob drew number 47. Bob Hannah had just
avoided a major disaster in his so far perfect season.
It has been many years but it
would be reasonable to think that from Honda's side, as bad as
our start to this season had been up to this point, there was
hopes that Bob's bike getting claimed could possibly play into
our favor. It could have disrupted Yamaha's momentum in
some way but the reality soon set in that by the next race, all
factories were going to compromise their efforts to win races or
even championships rather than risk losing one of their
treasured works bikes and related technology. Marty and I
were instructed by Honda that we were to race on production
equipment starting at the very next race in Midland Michigan
until Honda came to a better understanding of how best to deal
with this situation.
In retrospect, the filing of that
claim for Bob's works Yamaha dealt Honda and Marty another blow
that would make winning this 125 National Championship much more
difficult not easier. Hannah's works bike almost getting claimed
at Buchannan Michigan was a huge wake up call for all the
When Mickey Boone filed a claim on
our bike, we were caught completely off guard. Nobody ever
anticipated that rule to ever be exercised. The thought was that
every privateer wanted to get a spot on a works team. If anybody
filed a claim on a works bike, they would forever alienate
themselves from getting a spot on a works team. When we got
notice we really had to scramble to come up with the $2500.00 to
enter a counter claim on the bike. So all of us at Yamaha, the
riders, mechanics, the team manager and the engineer, pooled in
our travelers checks, pocket change, anything to come up with
the money. Then there was a drawing where the one that picked
the highest number out of a hat got to keep the motorcycle. Bob
Chuck McCall holds up the coffee can while Mickey draws. Mr.
Boone, Bob Hannah and Yamaha team manager Pete Schick watch.
3: Midland Michigan June 20 th
“The only way that bike will be
watercooled is if it rains,” Bill Buchka remarked dryly on
Saturday, referring to his modifications to Hannah’s mount
during the previous week.
In fact, the Yamaha was the
closest thing in the pits to a one-off factory prototype since
most of the major factory teams switched to machines less
elaborate (and less expensive) than the works bikes they ran at
Red Bud. The claiming rule and its threat of putting a
multi-thousand dollar works bike up for sale had frightened the
Japanese works teams into pulling them from the competition.
Marty Smith was now reduced to riding a modified Elsinore and
team Suzuki also pulled their works bikes. Billy Grossi and
Danny LaPorte were now on modified production RM's. None of the
factory teams had any real time to set up their production based
The anticipated duel between Bob
Hannah and Marty Smith began as the gate dropped for the start
of the first moto. The pair entered turn one side-by-side, then
Marty pulled ahead to-lead through the second corner. Smith
seemed as smooth as always, a style that nears perfection.
Hannah seemed content to tag along a couple seconds back in the
early laps. “That’s Bob’s strategy.” Bill Buchka said later, “He puts on steady pressure and waits for a
mistake.” Smith’s mistake came only two laps later. “He almost got off,” Hannah
recalled, “He ran along beside his bike and I zipped past.”
“Yeah, I did run along beside it” Marty remarked afterwards,
“but I couldn’t hang on. The top positions held steady
for another ten minutes as Smith pushed to recover lost time on
Hannah. Then near the 30-minute point, he closed and started to
push. Then he fell for the second time. “It was right in the
same place.” Marty said after the race, and like before he
dropped to third.
At the start of the second moto,
it was Broc Glover followed by Don Kudalski, Westerman, Hannah,
T&M Engineering’s Ron Turner and Steve Wise. On lap two,
Hannah slipped into third. Kudalski was applying considerable
pressure to Glover, and at the start of lap three, he got past
and into the lead. Two laps later, Hannah eased
behind Kudalski and was once again playing his pressure and wait
game. It took a few laps, but Kudalski finally made an error in
judgment, taking an outside line around a lapped rider and got
pushed over a berm. In a flash, Hannah cut to the inside and
passed both riders for the lead. But Kudalski wasn’t through yet.
He wanted that moto win. He attached his Honda to the Yamaha’s
rear fender, steadily pushing and looking for any opportunity to
re-pass. It came two laps later on a drop off section. With
Kudalski back in the lead, Hannah at first returned the pressure
but then, coming off the small straightaway jump, he almost
crashed. The Yamaha again, having trouble with the monoshock
fading late in the moto, began swapping ends. Cutting perfect 90
degree swaps, with his feet off the pegs and flapping in the
breeze, Bob somehow saved it. But he didn’t chase Kudalski
anymore, instead opting to match the pace and assure his safe,
secure overall win.
We decided to build
kind of a hybrid of sorts, using a production based bike
(chassis and engine). Donnie Emler infamous owner of FMF and
engine tuner extroidanare, had already developed pretty good
engine kits for the production CR and from there we adapted
as many of the works parts such as suspension, wheels and
lightweight chassis parts as possible. Initially, Marty
and then the team thought that this change would not be so bad
as we already had experienced mechanical problems with the works
bike, breaking two out of four motos and Marty was still
struggling with the powerband of the new back of the cylinder
reed valve engine in the Type 1, compared to the '74 &'75 works
case reed engines.
In retrospect it was such a
rush job and the bike wasn't set up very well. The long travel
works suspension parts really clashed with the production bike
frame geometry and the cornering of the bike was really
compromised. It is painfully clear when you look at some of the
pictures from that race. It's easy to say in hindsight but
I believe Bob and Yamaha sticking to riding the same basic works
bike with only an engine change from water to air-cooled was for
sure a bit risky but way better from a championship point of
Marty went into it with all
the best intentions and enthusiastic piss and vinegar but in
reality struggled all day losing his front end in some of the
tight sand turns and in general he was uncomfortable with a bike
that we really didn't have adequate testing or set up time on.
Now it started to seem that with every race, the chances of us
winning the championship were slipping away.
Due to the claim at Red Bud and in fear
of losing our works bike, Yamaha decided that we remove our
water-cooled motor and use a 1975 works air cooled motor that
was used in the Japanese Championship the year before. Spare
parts for this older motor were very limited and since Bob was
leading the Championship it was decided that Bob would get the
1975 works motors and parts. Ed Schiedler built a hybrid 125
that was a combination of a stock YZ125 fitted with various
works and aftermarket parts for Danny Turner. We went retro-mod.
So essentially, Bob used the 1975 works motor in the 1976 works
chassis. Yamaha International supplied us with several counter
claim checks for our riders and supporting riders incase another
claim was filed. They also supplied us with a
incase someone actually won one of our motorcycles. The letter
stated that Yamaha would not be able to supply parts or support
the bike in any way, due to limited availability of parts and or
Midland was a difficult energy sapping
sand track, held in warm humid conditions. Bob was a tremendous
sand rider and in 1976, Bob was the king of the sand on the
125’s. Bob handily won the first moto but in the second moto the
shock damping went away as the race progressed. Don Kudalski, who himself was an
excellent sand rider from Florida, was in front. We decided to
let him have the win instead of fighting for it with a bad
shock, possibly risking a crash and potential loss of valuable
championship points. As good as Don was in the sand, we knew he
wasn’t a threat for the overall championship. We were most
interested in putting points on everybody else. This was a
mutual decision between Bob and I and our overall strategy was
being used in this instance.
Midland was also very special to us because it was Fathers day.
Before the race we both said, “Let’s show our Dads that were
working hard out here and win this one for them.” Bob had a very
close relationship with his family and I thought that was a very
important and valuable character trait. After the race we dedicated the win to our
Marty Smith and Bob Hannah side by side in moto one. Don
Kudalski #255 and Bruce McDougal #17, bracket the picture.
With the air-cooled motor in the
76 works chassis, the fly swatter front number plate is gone.
Dave Arnold prepares Marty's modified Elsinore while
Donny Emler makes last minute adjustments on Warren Reid's FMF bike
Photos: Dave Arnold archive
Marty Smith's Dave Arnold prepared RC/FMF Elsinore.
Marty had trouble with the handling of his modified Elsinore at
enlarge images above
Keyser's Ridge Maryland July 4 th
the pits, there was once again speculation by the various
factory teams that privateer Mickey Boone was out to claim
another one of their bikes. He never did, but the obvious scare
tactic saw most of the factory riders riding modified production
bikes or using older works engines or modified production
engines in works bike frames. Only Marty Smith and Kawasaki's
Mickey Kessler were using the latest works equipment. After the
disastrous results at Midland, Suzuki made the decision to
install modified production motors in their works chassis'. Bob
Hannah was still using the 76 works chassis with the 75 works
motor but due to a limited parts supply, teammate Danny Turner
was left to ride a modified production YZ with works suspension.
The overall results at Midland had the teams scrambling again.
To win the title you needed works equipment. The difference was
that big. Some of the factory riders were now complaining that
they were down on power to the highly modified production bikes
from the speed shops like FMF, DG and T&M.
engineering's Ron Turner set fastest lap time in practice on his
Rocky Williams tuned Elsinore and Broc Glover was right up there
with the DG Pro-fab framed Honda prepared by his father Dick
the first moto Steve Wise got the holeshot as Broc Glover, Don
Kudalski, Bob Hannah, Ron Turner, Warren Reid, Marty Smith and
Billy Grossi gave chase on the very slippery and rocky track.
The track itself was laid out in a valley in the very
picturesque Allegheny mountains. After only a few laps, Hannah
had moved up to second, passing Kudalski and Glover and
was chasing Wise who had stretched out his lead. Then the front end of Bob Hannah's
works Yamaha washed out in an off camber downhill turn and he
went down. " I wasn't too worried when I fell," Bob said
afterwards, "because I knew I could work back up to Wise before
the moto ended. Then on the next lap in almost the same spot, I
threw my chain. Got that back on, and a few laps later my
crankshaft went out. That cost me 25 points I needed towards the
With Hannah out of the way, Smith closed in on Wise and made the
pass for the win with just two laps to go. Steve Wise finished
second, Billy Grossi was third followed by Broc Glover, Don
Kudalski, Warren Reid, Ron Turner and Danny LaPorte.
"The way my luck's been going," claimed Marty, " I expected my
engine to blow up on the last lap!" His Dave Arnold prepared RC
Honda stayed strong though, giving him the win.
Steve Wise again got the holeshot in the second moto and began
immediately to pull out a sizeable lead on Ron Turner, Kudalski,
Glover, Hannah, Grossi, Jennings, Smith, LaPorte, Kessler and
Danny Turner. The battle for second place was unbelievable
as nobody but nobody gave an inch for the second spot. Marty
moved up to challenge Hannah and they traded paint for four
laps. With the 1975 air-cooled motor in Hannah's bike, he seemed
down on power compared to the water-pumper. Bob valiantly fought
off Marty by holding the throttle open longer in the rough
sections and on the downhills, but finally had to back off just
short of killing himself as Marty used his Honda's power
advantage to pull away on the uphills. Their battle carried them
to second and third place. Privateer Steve Wise got the win and
the overall. Marty Smith was second overall and Bob Hannah was
20th overall with a 40-3 score. The series was now half over,
Marty Smith got some badly needed momentum going and it was
still wide open as to who would be the 1976 National Champ.
Danny Turner was definitely a victim of the claiming incident as
he finished a dismal 17th overall on an untested hybrid
production bike. What also was apparent, was the fact that many
of the speed shop sponsored riders had very fast and well sorted
out bikes. They showed flashes of brilliance and with all the
chaos at the factories, they were starting to run in the front.
By the fourth round at
Keyser's Ridge, We were back on the Type 1 as the team managers
had a system down to counter the bikes being claimed. Honda team
manager Terry Mulligan would carry a handful of certified checks
in his briefcase (handcuffed to his wrist while traveling) and
if anybody tried to claim our or another factories works bike,
we would have all of our team and even support riders (thanks
Warren) counter the claim which turned the situation into a
lottery and substantially reduced (but not eliminated) the
chances of losing a team bike. It for sure was a huge advantage
for works riders to have works equipment at that time but works
riders on last minute thrown together on the road, bikes, with
no time to test or properly set up was not necessarily a good
thing. In any case, it was finally Bob's turn to have
mechanical problems in the first moto and Marty was able to put
in two good rides to earn second overall. It was his first
good finish of the series and the momentum had now swung our
At Midland and now Keyser's
Ridge many of the second and third level riders on production
speed shop equipment were starting to have very respectable
results such as Steve Wise, Ron Turner and Don Kudalski.
Keyser’s Ridge with the threat of the claiming rule, we were
still using the 75 works motor in the 76 works chassis. I
rebuilt the motor but used the same crankshaft from Midland.
That crankshaft had got a good workout from the Midland sand at
the prior race. We had requested info from Japan on the air-cooled motor and
were assured that it would be reliable for a minimum of two race
events including race practices and as we had
only one week of development time with this motor and no history
to refer to, I went with the same crankshaft. Unfortunately for
us, the crankshaft big end bearing gave up and we failed to
score any points in the first moto. Just prior to this in the
same moto we also lost a chain, so we basically had two
mechanical failures in one moto. This being a mechanical sport
in addition to such a physically demanding sport, mechanical
failures can and will occur at times, and hopefully we had "hit
our quota" for failures. I replaced the defective motor with
another 1975 air-cooled motor between motos and Bob rode hard in
the second moto, but was only able to get third in spite of
maximum effort on his part. To say we were disappointed would
have been a huge understatement. Bob and I were competitors, but
in retrospect I guess it could have been worse.
Around this same time, we had also been hearing rumors that Honda would soon be unveiling a
new works 125. It was supposed to be very similar to the all red
RC500 type 2 that Pierre Karsmakers was now using in Europe. It
was supposedly already developed and the spin was that the new
125 would be just like it. We knew it would be out very soon.
Here we were now running a bike with a year old air cooled motor
that we had no experience with and now Honda is coming out with
a state of the art works bike at any time. I was starting to
feel uneasy anticipating what could happen in this Championship
that was far from over.
Bob Hannah, Marty Smith and Dave Arnold before the first moto at
Keyser's ridge. Dave and
Bill at track side in the Allegheny mountains.
Dave Arnold archive
Marty gets a pit board signal from Dave while on RC125 type 1. The board says it all.
Dave Arnold archive
One of the best 125 riders ever, Warren Reid absolutely nails
this Keyser's Ridge corner. The CMC 125 specialist was always a
Danny Turner's OW27 sits idle at Keyser's Ridge. Danny used the
hybrid YZ/OW to the right due to lack of 1975 works motors and
125 USGP Lexington Ohio
July 11 th
The 125 USGP was held each year at the
Mid-Ohio Moto Park and each prior year the victor was Marty
Smith. The event was FIM sanctioned which meant no claiming
rule. The works bikes were back and so was 125 World Champion
Gaston Rahier leading the Championship. Marty had been flying
back and forth all season, contesting in the GP's in Europe and
battling it out in the states on the 125 National circuit. The
Honda effort was having major problems in Europe just keeping
Marty's bike together. The European tracks were way to demanding
on the type 1 RC125 and many DNF's were the result. After the
Keyser's Ridge National, Marty had momentum and he had never
been beat at Mid-Ohio.
In the first moto
Marty got the holeshot on his Dave Arnold prepared RC125 and was
followed by Hannah, Kudalski, Danny Turner, Bruce McDougal and
Billy Grossi. Gaston Rahier was running in ninth. Before the
first lap was complete Bob had passed Marty for the lead. Marty
rode steadily two seconds behind until about the ten minute mark
and then closed to harass Hannah. Bob held firm; Marty kept the
pressure on waiting for a slip that didn't happen. Billy Grossi
had moved up to third and Gaston had now taken control of forth.
Just past the halfway point Marty re-passed Hannah for the lead.
" The brake cable had looped over the forks and put the front
brake on. I couldn't ride like that. It happened in forth gear
and I started swappin' and had to back off and let him pass."
Hannah explained between motos. Then he added, " I might not
have been able to catch him anyway." When it ended, Marty had a
sizeable lead, Hannah was second, Grossi third, Japanese
Champion Yoshifumo Sugio on an identical bike to Hannah's, made
an unbelievable charge from the back to take forth away from
Rahier. Jimmy Ellis on a factory Can-am took sixth.
Moto two once
again saw Marty Smith with the holeshot on the unbelievably fast
RC125. Mickey Kessler in the second spot was leading Hannah,
Grossi, LaPorte and Warren Reid. On the opening lap, Hannah
overtook Kessler and immediately attacked Smith. On lap two,
Hannah kept sticking his front wheel under Smith's rear in an
all out effort to pass and by the time the second lap was over,
Hannah had once again squeezed past Smith to lead the parade.
Billy Grossi by this time had established himself solidly in
third ahead of Danny LaPorte, Jimmy Ellis, Mickey Kessler and
The top three
riders put on a second moto show that had the fans on their toes
screaming. Tight formation riding that resembled indoor short
track closeness, yet lasted for a half hour, kept spectators
running from one snow fence to another to not lose sight of a
pass if and when it came. All three riders were lapping at an
unbelievable pace. World Champion Gaston Rahier had crashed and
was out of the race. When Smith saw that Hannah wasn't going to
have problems and make the job less difficult for him, he took
the initiative and forced up beside Bob in a series of tight "S"
turns. Through the series of corners, the pair swapped a wheel
length advantage no less than a half dozen times before Hannah
slipped under pressure and missed a shift. He made up for the
loss almost immediately, attaching the Yamaha solidly to the
Honda's flank, then made the final mistake.
As Smith rounded
a tight U-turn at the crest of a small bump on the back section
of the Mid-Ohio course, Hannah bumped into Marty. Was it a "
break check" by Marty? The impact didn't do Marty any harm but
it stopped Bob just before the crest of the rise. Slipping the
clutch and spinning the rear wheel, Hannah lost several seconds
getting over the hump and through the tight corner...Marty Smith
was gone. Billy Grossi now closed on the Yamaha rider and
pursued him for a few minutes but Hannah eventually pulled away.
With three laps remaining, Marty held a seven second advantage
over Bob who, stayed three seconds in front of Billy. Hannah's
only hope at this point was for Marty to either break or crash.
Neither happened and that's how they finished.
Now that the first half
of the National series and the USGP was over, Marty had the
momentum. There was plenty of racing left and it looked like it
was going to turn into a nail-biter. Nobody could
have imagined the events that were to take place at the next National in three weeks
at Delta Ohio.
Even though it appeared that
Marty had turned things around with his finish at Keyser's
Ridge, he was becoming restless in general. He was not happy
traveling back and forth to Europe. He was not happy with
his equipment both in Europe and the States and he was not
happy not only trailing Gaston for the 125 World GP title, but
also Hannah for the 125 National title here in the States.
Marty and I wanted
desperately to turn this whole thing around anyway possible, if
possible. Marty's bikes in Europe were completely
controlled by Japan and a small army of engineers, but in the
States, it was not like that and not nearly as structured for
better or worse. Marty really wanted to and finally insisted
that we go back to what worked for him in '74 and '75 which was
the case reed engine and he wanted to ride this bike at the 125 USGP in Ohio. This was way easier said than done.
The 1975 bikes were worn out,
taken apart and robbed for needed parts long since their last
race a year ago, not to mention that there were no new or near
new spare parts available. On top of that Marty wanted us
to find another source for suspension that was more capable than
the works Showa suspension that came on the bikes at the
beginning of the season. These suspension systems that
worked so well on the semi smooth National tracks in '74 & '75,
rapidly started to show their weakness now being raced on the
very rough conditions in Europe and the tracks in the States
were starting to go that way as well. The forks were
bending and fading not to mention their action in the first
place was marginal to begin with.
It was crazy to think about
building another completely new bike almost mid season,
especially considering we had already been on two completely
different bikes (the works Type 1 and production based hybrid)
from the start of the season and there was talk within Honda
that we would receive yet another works bike (the Type 2) within
a few weeks out. It was crazy but then again quite fun and
challenging. I have to give a lot of whatever credit to
Donnie Emler for helping me out with this project,
unconditionally spending numerous sleepless nights at the Honda
race shop helping me put this bike together with again not very
much time prior to me loading up and hitting the road again for
The bike the utilized the '76
works frame and a pieced together '74/'75 case reed engine.
Donnie did all the cylinder, head and pipe work using a super
big diameter flipper cone up pipe and we topped that off with a
huge 37mm magnesium carb taken off an RC250 of the same period.
It was a complete rocketship in everyway (everyway I'm saying
that could be verified at 1:00 O'clock in the morning in the
alley at Honda's race shop in Gardena California) For suspension
we used 35mm fork internals that just happened to fit inside our
works Showa fork sliders. Bruce Burness (suspension
/chassis guru then and now) helped with some S&W Monroe shocks.
To make sure everything was OK, I called Warren Reid and Warren
took the bike to Saddleback for a final shake down run.
Marty who was in Europe at the time, kept calling me (which
really meant he was serious) and checking on the status of the
bike and stated emphatically that he was going to race this bike
in Ohio. I went along with the whole thing but in the back
of my mind, I knew that race was in the hands of higher sources
when the European GP team showed up. That team was
deservedly the A team in terms of Honda's works bike development
at that time. I loaded up and headed to Ohio.
I bumped into Marty at the
hotel in Mansfield. Is it ready?.......Do you have it?.......Is
it ready? Marty's enthusiasm was just like a little kid.
We tech inspected two bikes but I kept the So Cal "Hot Rod" off
to the side knowing it was just window dressing. Marty rode the
GP bike in practice for only a couple of laps and then came in
and grabbed our bike. I was kind of embarrassed and semi
stunned at this. He stayed out on the track with that bike until
practice was finished. I didn't really do much in the way of
jetting or ride height, he came in and said he loved the bike
and was going to race it on Sunday. Both the European and
US teams worked together to prep the bike as best we could that
Going into Sunday I was
embarrassed and nervous. If anything happened it was our
butt on the line and really not our Championship to win or shots
to call. The rest is history. Thank God it lasted
two motos. The track was very fast and the bike (with
Marty on board) seemed to be the fastest bike of the day.
Marty got both holeshots and two near perfect wins against the
world's best after struggling to win a National. Marty won
both motos convincingly, it was one of the most memorable races
to me still to date. Nothing from Bob but I really think
it's the way that Championship should have gone from the start,
but it didn't and I'm not one for trying to rewrite history, no
spilt milk, kudos to Yamaha and Hannah.
We still had the second half
of the Nationals to contend with but this was one hell of a good
day and statement....Great day!!!
One of the highlights of the
day was after winning the second moto, as Marty was up getting all
the fan fair, one of the top Japanese engineers was starring at
our bike. I'm sure he was very happy we finally won our
first GP of the season but thinking how he was going to make out
his race report (Emler this, flipper that, big diameter what?,
Italian forks, US shocks). He looked at me and made a statement
that actually kind of hurt. "It's not even a Honda".
Marty had a great ride that day. He was
really in his element that particular day. I’m sure he
considered himself much more of a Grand-Prix rider than a National
Championship rider. He was already a National Champion, twice. He had
nothing to prove here. We were back on the works bike because it
was an F.I.M. sanctioned event and there was no claiming rule in
the F.I.M. The track was hard and dusty, very southern
California like and everything fell into place for Marty. Bob
had a good day Marty had a better day. Hats off to Marty. Bob
and I would have loved to win it, we hated to lose. Dave and
Donny Emler did a great job on that bike. They beat us fair and
After Mid-Ohio, Bob said “I feel so
much better with this bike than with the set-up we used at the
last two nationals.” “I have to have this bike if you want me to
maintain my lead in the Championship.” I supported the request
100%. If we were going to win this thing, we had to have the
best equipment available to us. Even with the risk of the
claiming rule. Bob was beginning to command a lot of respect
with the factory and I don’t think they had much of a choice. We
got the final approval from Japan. From now on we would campaign
the 1976 works bike no matter what. As it turned out, this was
an extremely key decision on the part of Yamaha. At the next 125
event at Delta Ohio, my fears became reality.
A very Happy Marty Smith poses with Dave and Jon R on the Dave
Arnold/ Donnie Emler So Cal Hot Rod
Back on the OW27 water-pumper; Bill Buchka lifts the super light
176lb works bike on the stand.
Just a normal day at the office for Mr. Hannah. Nothing out of
Bob launches his OW27 in perfect form. No landing ramps in 1976.
Photos: Bob Hannah archive
Marty Smith waits for a mistake.
Hannah, Smith and Grossi were
like this for 30 minutes in moto 2. Smith got the win.
An awesome shot of racing at it's best.
Bob Hannah archive
Click to enlarge images above
Bob grabs some serious front brake. Hannah led both motos.
Bob cooling off in between motos at Mid-Ohio.
The Mayor of Mid-Ohio; Nobody could touch Marty.
Billy Grossi and Danny LaPorte.
Marty Smith in Europe
Marty chasing Gaston Rahier in Belgium.
Marty Smith Archive
The Type 1 works Honda's were not up to the rough tracks of
Click to enlarge images above