by S. Brook Reed
(photos–Dirt Bike Archives)

      In his heyday, a budding Marty Smith illustrated fundamentalist free spirit in addition to pro motocross racer. His counter cultured long hair, suntan and bright smile feigned expert surfer or rock god.
But Smith has never collected a wage for doing anything aside from racing and teaching the craft of motocross.
In the mid-‘70s Marty rode his two-stroke Honda factory bikes to an artform. As an all-time best direction changer, Smith’s infallible cornering style prototyped the modern standard. He went in deeper, made dazzling pivots, and came out faster than his opponents. His well-oiled, waste-no-energy riding technique devoured rugged MX/SX tracks as easily as melted chocolate pours into an intricate casting mold. Rhythmic and eye-pleasing, Marty’s liquid riding methods incorporated well with, and in turn were the result of, his ability to pace and utilize speed. This, along with confidence, placed him at or near the top of many AMA/FIM programs.
When Smith was “on,” he was virtually unstoppable.
Nineteen-seventy-three and ’74 sealed Marty’s valiant fate. Winning the ’73 L.A. Coliseum-based High School Motocross and Hangtown Classic (Plymouth), he scored a factory Honda deal for the ’74 outdoor AMA season. A then 17-year-old Smith would readily produce a first championship for himself, as well as a brand-new 125 national tour class, carving a path for decades of future transitional grade success.
Having watched Marty brush the competition beneath the proverbial rug, cynics cried “fluke” due to a thin number of other factory-backed riders.
A better-established 125 class proved more interesting for Smith in ’75. With various factory-propped riders invading the frenzied small-bore division, Marty’s Honda teammate — and fellow longhair — Tommy Croft and Yamaha’s Tim Hart, among others, were fast company. Nonetheless, MX’s original “golden boy” prevailed in seven rounds — losing only one moto in Hangtown mud — to snag his second consecutive championship. The striking red rocket/surfer dude combo testified as Honda’s finest two-wheeled cash cow to date.
Determined to obtain “headliner status,” Smith toyed with the 250 and 500 classes, as well as other events that year. His Mid-Ohio 125 USGP win, topping class world champion Gaston Rahier and his notorious European counterparts, capped his second pro term off with an assuring formality: Marty Smith was as genuine and robust as bootleather.
New kid Bob Hannah became Marty’s antagonist in ’76. In his first full-time 125 nationals season, the factory Yamaha pilot’s caffeinated riding style and outspoken disposition thwarted Smith’s relaxed nature at every cusp. Marty’s core skill would not be enough to stop the crazy kid’s
autoboard and approach; he needed technology-advanced machinery.
     Ironically, the cobby-looking water cooled Yamaha OW 125 monoshock was light years ahead of the sleeker, air-cooled Honda RC 125. Fresher-running longer, the frigid yellow rev bomb also featured longer suspension travel. By comparison, the rad-looking yet antiquated ’76 Honda RC 125 overheated badly and suffered redesigned reedvalve problems—his ’75 racer had been faster!
Honda kept the solution under wraps. The “claim rule,” which allowed privateers to spontaneously seize factory bikes for substantial sums, forced the corporation to conceal the alluring, high-tech Honda RC 125 Type 2. Would-be buyer, soloist Mickey Boone was out of luck; the ultra-trick 165 lb. bike would see daylight in but two “claused” ’76 events.
Marty validated his RC 125 type 1 power deficit the hard way in Europe. Competing against the same GP riders he’d spanked the previous year at Mid-Ohio, his venture in the ’76 FIM 125 World championships, like the AMA nationals, was futile. Winning only in Denmark, Smith would return to America sans “gold.”
Good equipment re-activated Smith’s spectacular form. Armed with a claim-rule exempt RC 125 Type 2, Mid-Ohio’s ‘76 125 USGP allowed Marty to take a steadier aim at his oppositions. Namely Bob “Hurricane” Hannah—whom had enrolled in the day’s international festivities!
Suddenly on parallel implements, Hannah would lead both motos, only to yield to an unmerciful Smith sweep. With Rahier and Europe as non-factors, some tagged the conquest a ’76 125 nationals recount.
He also won both Moto’s at Delta, Ohio, the last ’76 125 national, aboard the Type 2,  and 500 Trans AMA, prevailing over world champion Roger
Confirmation came again in the shape of retribution in ’77. The beach bum rider having been promoted to the sophisticated 500 class, a subdivision famed by the aristocratic Belgians, he was followed by pesky new 125 champ Hannah! Boisterous Bob had a “stinkin’” point to make. But Marty’s silent intensity was fixed on the championship. Intent on schooling his stalker-rival via weekly installments, Smith would see that the thunderous Hannah paid his dues honorably.
The two cutting-edge riders engaged in series-long warfare, Hannah savage and fleeting; Smith picturesque and consistent. With the points chase coming down to a nail-biting wire, Marty would spray the champagne at the gritty conclusion.
A 20-year-old Marty Smith sustained a career-damaging hip trauma in ’78. The victim of a Houston Astrodome first turn pile-up—including then 250 national champion Tony DiStefano, and Marty’s Honda team mates Jim Ellis and Steve Wise—Smith felt something “pop” deep inside upon being struck by another bike. In affect, it would set into motion a prolonged, even agonizing, conclusion for the colorful champion.
“Marty’s hip injury took a lot out of his career,” states then Smith mechanic Dave Arnold. “The pain that he powered through would be inconceivable to most riders.” So courageous Marty, the international MX hero with more stateside “cool” than Van Halen, would ingest his pride and soldier on as a moderately successful racer with an excellent reputation.
Honda contract woes and an attorney-riddled ’79 season would be the slick rider’s last red sunset. Threatening retirement, a still-aching Smith said farewell to his beloved employers with a Seattle podium.
Looking startlingly different on yellow, a lucrative factory Suzuki deal ushered the still-in-demand rider back into the MX limelight. The first of a two-year agreement displayed a flash of near-brilliance for the less-than-one-hundred-percent star. A passionate second in the Daytona 250 main provided an almost retrospective atmosphere for crazed Smith fans, male and female. He rounded out the year third in the 500 nationals.
An exhausting ’81 season, the last on his Suzuki contract, saw Marty casually ride out his commitment, again his ailing body anticipating resignation.
Yet again retirement would elude him. With a brief turn of events, in a season that almost was, Smith was diverted again by Italy’s Cagiva motorcycles. In their works bike-plus-offer, Marty would receive double his best championship-era salary.
Marty couldn’t say no. But his vast popularity exceeded a tuckered-out Smith. With poor showings at the ’82 season’s first few supercross races—chiefly due to 190 displacement machines—he would announce his permanent retirement from full-time racing after his home San Diego event.
Professional motorcross is greater for having Marty Smith within the folds of its history.
Two-Wheeled Authority
      Educations in motorcycle racing are nothing new.  Most classifications of cycling, on or off road, offer accomplished options for novice to expert-level riders.  Russ Darnell and  “Professor” Gary Baily—Father of ‘80s factory Honda star David Baily— made motocross schools “hip” with how-to institutions of the late ’60s, early ’70s.  Emphasizing dump truck loads of technically proper riding/racing techniques, the two highly-regarded instructors garnered the respect of even factory team managers.
Team Yamaha, or any well-organized mototribe, provide and/or encourage personal trainers for their racer-investments.  Moreover, in an attempt to esteem and/or harmonize dormant talent, company directors have sought special-case provisions, gunning for championship results.
Others have remained in-house.  Eighties and ‘90’s Honda luminary Ricky Johnson was a fascinating MX virtuoso.  Comparable teammate Jeff Stanton required nurturing—from RJ himself—prior to attaining AMA prosperity.  For riders zealous enough to learn non-inborn liberations of motocross, sweet rewards may await.
MX school objectives point first at accelerated lap times.  Good insight on rut-riding and line selection can clearly hasten track speed.  Past and present moto-terminology as “pre-jump”, “stay low”, and “scrub” each offer time-eating concept.  But watching the world’s most innovative pro’s execute these precision moves could prove more effortless than the airborne reality.
All can be dangerous to the inexperienced, as well as seasoned pros.  As James Stewart has attested, the fastest riders are not always victorious.  Combating not only other riders, but erratic course obstacles and conditions, savvy riders pursue the win via “passage sanctuary”.  So how do you, a rider of individualized dexterity, learn to maneuver a 220 to 240 lb. motorcycle as swiftly as possible over/through cruel MX/SX track hindrances with never a cartwheel-inducing hiccup?   There are no guarantees in MX.  But whispers had it that –shhh—Jeremy McGrath and Ricky Carmichael shared a guardian angel, hence their respective G.O.A.T statuses.  The guardian, a rare but hardly extinct bird, is tagged “cool collected know-how.”

Scholar Conception Racing
    Three-time national champion, global racing hero Marty Smith reshaped MX in the mid-70s.  Projecting dignified grace, Smith built his titles from energy conservation and progressive thought processing.  Advancing on the opposition never included wild, risky riding.  Smith accessed his position, did the math, and found the pass—if not now, next moto!  “I’m a control freak,” he insists.  “I don’t think anyone should ride beyond their abilities.  It’s where honesty in a rider becomes a healthy attribute!  It’s the most important rule of MX.”
When Smith faced the expiration of his AMA/FIM racing career in ’82, he had arrived at a perplexing intersection.  With the lion’s share of his vocational earnings wisely tied up investments, a 25-year-old Marty needed two things, a new job and the congruent income.
Indecisive, Marty quizzed mentor-father Al Smith for direction.  The first clue would be the most obvious. “I wanted him to go out and teach these young kids the vindicated ropes of the sport,” the elder Smith recalls.  “The most important element of MX is knowing what you’re doing out there!  I knew it was my son’s calling to teach people a better way to ride.”  Life values and commodities his kid knew best were motocross, pretty wife Nancy, and loud music.  And the junior Smith couldn’t play or sing.
Among the greatest motocross racers of his generation, a down to earth Marty was skeptical.  How did he go about articulating his MX proficiency to a pack of students?  Riding and racing were one thing—his agility on a motorcycle  was second nature—but actually teaching it would entail a separate, more vigilant skillset. He would need to transform his championship winning formulas into an MX lexicon, his definitions spelled out in riding displays.

      The Saddleback Park hillsides were seasonally brown for the Marty Smith Motocross Clinic debut in October ‘83.  Despite a 20-rider sign-up limit, 25 would be accepted.  With earsplitting bench racing the student-arranges assignment of the day, a young Smith would oblige, temporarily.
Cemented in the apex of his teen idol epoch, Smith emerged the outline of Rolling Stone magazine as much as Dirt Bike.  Never mind the lessons; Marty’s clannish brand of devotees wanted war stories, autographs, and snapshots.  “I was surprised with all the fans,” humble Smith laughs.  “Those first few years, all my patrons just wanted to play 100 questions and pound laps with me.”  Thousands more were calling to “hang” with their favorite rider.
The Marty Smith MX clinic was a “hit” from the onset; but Marty’s
starstruck undergrads were not faring well on midterms.
By ’86 Marty had added structure and discipline to his enterprise.  With noble retrospect’s restricted to after-hours, thriving group classes, stormed riding exhibits and drills like a Manhattan subway—unwrinkled with stout constitution.
Fresh one-on-one lessons were also promoted to receptive clients that year.  Reversing a “women-and-children first” proverb, a male attendee may later refer an impish wife or giggling mini-rider to Smith, an equation that would evolve into extensive child tutoring.  It seemed everyone, excluding diehard Bob Hannah fans, wanted their kid to be the next Marty Smith, a notion that Marty himself downplays.  “I want those kids to be exactly who they are,” the thoughtful coach sighs. “Guarded riding is our focus”.

      Soon thereafter, a quiet SoCal adolescent named Jeremy McGrath knocked on Smith’s door.  A polite BMX kid, all of 12, Jeremy would not be a standout rider in a group of 25.  Would the clinic then springboard McGrath’s later record-breaking career?  An unassuming Marty declines.  “The MSMX Clinic is not designed to build champions,” the gentle MX genius states.  “We merely give a perceptive rider ample pro riding secrets to help him/her remain upright.”  His reciprocation avoids MC by name, yet the sparkle in his eye sustains the topic.  “I credit a rider’s good work ethic, along with steps they take to become better.”
Jeremy, like Marty, was considered the most polished rider of his era (both triumphantly for Honda, prior to brief, failed Suzuki stints).  But “Showtime,” as Smith’s most victorious coed, maintained an uncanny ability to study and wire technical tracks quickly—again similarly to you know who.  Thus, McGrath’s past aptitude in determining an on-track situation and sniffing out resourceful, hazard-free answers.”  I just hope the short time spent at my clinic saved him some painful trips to the ER.”  It goes without saying.
Seven years in, a newly hair-cropped, 32-year-old Marty was almost solely doing private lessons.  The customized sessions insured, and still do, the now clean-cut MX teacher’s undivided attention.
Consequently, what were the MX guru’s briefings when a nervous, middle-aged man rode an entire “singles moto” (10 mins) with his goggles up-side-down?  “Relax.  Go further into the turn before sitting.  Let me walk you through some jumping demos.  And by the way, the Scott logo on your goggles strap should be right side up.”  No way!

“The poor guy was troubled,” a compassionate Marty shrugs.”  He was very shaken ‘cause he had not been on a bike in years—something I see a lot!  He was embarrassed and hyperventilating.  I could see how rattled he felt, and it really made me respect him.  It takes so much courage to face your riding insecurities.  Who am I to judge?  For anyone that wants to dig deeper, I’m a good listener— I’m here for a rider to lean on.”  Re-grouping therapy for earnest pros or jaded wanna-bes, sweat, tears and humility are within the rules at the MSMX Clinic.

Hold the blood.  “I don’t see many booboos at my schools,” Smith says.   People don’t tend to ride over their heads when this guy’s around— or after his departure.

     The ding-dong at the door in ‘95 wasn’t Avon calling;  it was the MSMX clinic.  Akin to FedExing yourself a new set of riding gear, rambling Marty would become available at the convenience of your own practice track, save buckshot-happy hillbilly estates.  With various affairs, moto and non-moto related, making arrangements, Marty was summoned to what would develop into the most comprehensive MX school assemblies in America, and smallest.
Accommodated in everything from Hawaiian twig huts to Florida guest houses, Smith has held class at hand-shoveled tracks and secluded  SX layouts of the rich but not famous.   “I’ve done clinics everywhere,” the schoolmaster states. “There have been incredibly interesting circumstances, and I’ve met the nicest people.  I enjoy teaching folks how to `feel`
the track correctly— instead of a tweaked knee.”

A sunny spring in 2000 meant a flight to Mickey Kessler’s New Jersey turf— the MSMX Clinic merged with an entire district to make it a turn-of-the-century Racetown social event!  With hyper mini-riders instigating the week-long “clinic expo,”  the children held fund raisers and beckoned Marty via phone.  The daylight hours emphasized buzzing youth classes and independent parental recruits; twilight comprised of slumber parties and healthy home cookin‘!

The end-of-the-day community riding time— which includes the MX instructor himself — typically serves as partial reward for savings and preparations for such clinic functions.  Homework repetition, which  grows into refined MX knowledge/capabilities, consummates the deed. At the MSMX clinic, conformity is a vivid motto.

But, despite his almost fully intact MX potency, Marty is not a stuntman for hire.  In fact, on most days, he will dispute doing backflips and no-handed can-cans for birthday parties on his YZ450F.

     In an inevitable yet astonishing ‘04 episode, the MS Clinic graduated a 14-year-old MX einstein from school mascot to faculty trainer. Tyler, the youngest of Smith’s three children (including older daughters Brooke and Jillyin) had been he silent clinic “Bat Boy” most of his life.  Brisk and silky smooth on a 250F, the shoe-in  MX scholar had memorized the ins and outs of clinic drills as splendidly as SoCal tracks Horizon and Berona.  But the little Smith would settle into manhood in Rio Bravo, Texas.
“We had 25 students and I was sidelined with a few struggling riders,” Marty shakes his head recalling the unlikely incident.”  It put the remainder of the group on hold…until Tyler got bored.  I looked over and saw him leading some cornering approaches without me! I knew he was an amazing rider—he’s better than me now—but I was stunned he’d gathered enough confidence to step up at 14.“  He has championship genes.

But Tyler, now 21, the certified MSMX Clinic auxiliary, doesn’t  race as seriously as his father once did, regardless of his MX wizardly.  “I don’t want him involved in racing much,” Smith wrinkles his forehead. “Too dangerous.   MX was safer when I raced full-time!  Now, the more threatening tracks keep half the field on injured list.”  Not to mention current launch-a-rival race tactics that may blue-yonder a challenger into row F!
Cold facts:  Paraplegia and fatalities were near non-factors with the natural-terrain MX and easier-to-gyrate SX courses of the ’70s.  Yet extreme uncertainty remains the promotional draw of present day motocross.  At whose expense?
“I don’t want Tyler hurt!” says an adamant Joan Smith, Marty’s 80-year-old mother.  “And I’m elated Marty is there to teach youngsters to be safer.  It’s so sad for those families, the Masterpools an Emersons, that have recently lost children to what we want to call a wonderful sport.”  Alas…

Along with the extensively-publicized demise of Mini-Rider Jesse Masterpool last year, ‘09 witnessed the passing of previously non-printed Logan Emerson.  The 8-year-old Sandy, Utah, resident was tragically killed instantly in a jump-related crash at SLC’s Rocky Mountain Raceway, the location’s second casualty since it’s ‘70s inception.
What were we saying about the increasing perils of our sport?
Notwithstanding, the beloved Tyler Smith lingers further from harm’s way as a specialist MX coach, at an arm’s length from the pressures of the pro circuits.
Then there are the ravenous souls that live on the edge.
Contemporary  clinic science project  “Crazy Bob” defies the odds–as well as gravity—with his skyshots.  Oddly able and daring, 52- year-old Bob Megdal of Phoenix, Arizona, doesn’t “roll”; he clears 120’ triples with ease!   “He’s out of his mind!” Smith exclaims, emulating Mr. Martys freeform jumps with a raised hand.  “I’ve been working with him for a few years, off and on.  He’s very gung-ho– -he loves to jump!  So I experimented with him gradually, eventually showing him safer big/jump procedures.  I’ve created a monster–now he leaps like a pro.”  Smith gushes of his prize vet pupil.

“I’m a progressive rider now,” Bob grins.  “My imagination no longer exceeds my skill.  A few years ago, I was terrified to jump five feet.  Now I can do all the best jumps at my local track with confidence.  Marty cares about his students—you can feel it!  His positive presence gives you a boost that helps you improve.  He’s a great guy with a truly magical touch.”  It seems the shielded riding system that keeps now 53-year-old Smith virtually injury-free is working for Crazy Bob, too.  Though Marty hardly recommends other half -century old men leap tall buildings in a single bound.

The two supervets are planning a spring’11 race tour.  The same as hobos on a Baja Surf Safari, the teacher-student motodrifters will go online to find races in seven western states, ending back in Phoenix, the second home of the ET Moto Park-based MSMX Clinic.

Some of the world’s greatest Musicians are self-taught; others have attended NYC’s renowned Julliard.  In contemplating an education in Motocross or off road, a serious rider might ask themselves this question: As a competitor or recreational rider, are you meeting your personal expectations?  Either way, guidance in the dirt is not well-versed bragging rights. At the MSMX Clinic, who is looking at a pending 30-year anniversary, it’s about ascertaining an expert safety program.  An inner-self “health insurance” policy, if you will.  For those “invincible” champs that appear to have a celestial safeguard, the first rule of thumb is self-protection.

Q and A with Marty

Dirt Bike:  How does a rider know how to differentiate between schools?  Is one school as good as the other?

Marty Smith:  Once upon a time, most of the schools — Darnell’s and Baily’s for example — were rock-solid.  These days, however, you have local pros and intermediates doing MX schools to supplement mediocre careers.  Well-established schools that stress shielded riding are the best.

DB:  Mike Craig and Ryan Hughes — who now has his own MX school — attended your clinics as kids, both fantastic riders that fell short of McGrath’s dream career.  When riders are equally skilled, how does one out distance the others?

MS:  Tremendous riders both Craig and Hughes.  And props to Ryan and his school—that kid came to my schools for a long time.  He had the race heart of a lion!  And Mike was one of those perfect riders that could do no
wrong—he looked great on his bike!  Some of those young MX athletes attract beautiful ladies, and are popular with their friends.   Social lives can be distracting.   Life choices can make a difference subconsciously or otherwise, generally speaking.

DB:  Is riding and teaching motocross still fun?

MS:  It’s a blast!  Motocross has always been a lot of fun; the exception being racing in pain when injured.  The only way I could ride fast and win was by enjoying the thrill.

DB:  You and your family are on TV!  What is the CNN and FOX TV commercial all about?

MS:  This is my second year doing commercials for the Resistance Chair.  My family—Mom, Dad, Nancy, Tyler—all got to do it with me this time.  It’s a good little product for those days I can’t make it to the gym.

DB:  You are a supercross team manager.

MS:  The Slaton/AT&T/Kawasaki team is a west/Lites exclusive.  It will be a four-rider team.  I’m stoked!

{The MSMX clinic is a full-service school, offering room and board, bike and gear rentals & DVDs.
email: [email protected].  Phone 619-659-0273}

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