Marty Smith started out riding in the desert but became a multitime motocross champion in the 1970s. Here are 10 interesting facts about Smith, who was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2000.
Born in San Diego in 1956, Smith started out riding with his dad, Al, a San Diego firefighter, on a little step-through Honda 50. He was so small then that there was no way he could reach the ground so he rode on the pegs standing up the whole time. He believes that this early riding technique gave him the foundation for his smooth riding style.
After desert riding for a few years and moving up to bigger bikes, he got the urge to try his hand at racing. His parents took him to the legendary Carlsbad motocross track when he was 14. After forgetting to turn on his bike’s fuel petcock in the first moto and running it out of gas, Smith charged from the back of the field and earned a fifth overall.
Smith’s first major victory came aboard a Swedish-made Monark at the Hangtown Motocross Classic near Sacramento in 1973, one year before the wildly popular West Coast race became an AMA National.
A week after his Hangtown victory, Smith got a call from Honda asking him to join the team as a factory rider in 1974.
Still a senior in high school, a 17-year-old Smith began his first full season on the AMA circuit in 1974. He contested the newly formed 125cc National Championship riding the eye-catching fire-engine-red factory Hondas. Smith won the very first AMA 125cc Motocross Championship race at Hangtown on April 8, 1974. He dominated the four-race series that year and won the inaugural 125cc national title.
At the time, Smith was the youngest rider to earn an AMA Motocross Championship.
He won the title again in 1975, winning six of the seven rounds and scoring the No. 1 plate by an amazing 543 points over Yamaha’s Tim Hart. It marked the biggest winning point margin ever recorded in AMA motocross.
Smith became the first teen idol in motocross and legions of young fans followed his every move. His popularity was a boon to the new 125 class and helped the series gain instant credibility.
In 1977, he won the 500cc motocross national championship.
During his formative years of racing, he had no teachers and learned more by carefully observing the fast guys, then applying what he saw. Smith said he almost never rode at 100 percent.
“I always wanted to be in control and during my career,” he said. “This approach kept me from a lot of the injuries that most motocrossers encounter.”
In 1976 he split his time between America and Europe. He raced in the 125cc World Motocross Championships, won a round, and finished a very respectable fourth in the championship despite missing several rounds. Smith didn’t enjoy his time in Europe.
“I got a cold reception over there to say the least,” Smith recalled. “I didn’t like anything about Europe, so that pretty much ended my desire to contest the world championship on a full-time basis.”
Smith retired from racing in 1981.