May 7, 2020

RIP: Marty Smith

At the tail end of what passed for a “motocross career,” I rode 125 support class at the Herman, NE track in 1978 or ‘79. As usual, I ended up in the middle of the pack. No bad luck, no bike failure (I was riding a friend’s RM125 that he and I had spent a week prepping), just not nearly enough talent to be anywhere else but in the middle of the pack. My friend’s one-year-newer RM125 put him in the top 5, not high enough to trophy, but high enough to make him feel good about himself. I was happy not to have crashed and to have managed to pass a couple of guys; and get passed by a few including getting lapped in a 20 minute moto by the winner.

A real upside to being there was getting to hang out in the pits for the main events. We amateurs were pretty much relegated to a section of the pits, to keep us out of the way for the pros, but we were close enough to talk to some of the racers and mechanics and watch the real guys do their jobs. One of those guys was “Mighty Mouse,” Marty Smith. Marty and his wife, Nancy, were killed in a dune buggy crash not far from their home in the California desert this past Monday. Marty was 63, which really makes me feel old because I remember him being a “kid” when I was in my late-20s and early-30s.

This picture is how I will always remember Marty. He was always a serious looking guy before the race and had a big grin on his face afterwards; even when he didn’t win. The year I saw him upclose was the year Bob Hannah started winning . . . everything. It was very much like the changing of the guard. Marty’s style was like the European TransAM guys we’d been seeing for the past decade, wiping up the US guys on our own tracks and hauling off the trophies and prize money. Bob changed all that and within a few years, the Euro-riders quit coming to the US because they were working for free.

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