The History of Motocross in
By Laren van der Westhuizen
For a relatively small 3rd world country, South Africa has
enjoyed great success in the sport of motocross. Having won
5 world championships and various AMA Supercross and outdoor
titles, as well as various National titles around the world,
we have definitely produced more talent per rider than most
of the great motocross nations, dominated by Belgium, UK and
Motocross started in SA like any other country and grew from
strength to strength through the 70s. It wasnt
till the early 80s that Camel International got involved
and suddenly the sport was catapulted to a premier sport in
SA. Manufacturers started relishing the exposure given by
the LIVE TV broadcasts. They contracted top international
stars to represent their brands, like Rex Staten, Larry Wosick
and Jim Tarantino. All of whom were top riders in the USA
at that time.
Motocross in SA enjoyed what can only be described as an
explosion of popularity in the 80s and was topped off
by us hosting our very first world championship event at Corobrick
in 1985. The level of SA motocross was so high, that our top
riders ran in podium positions during the grand prix. The
late 80s had some of the biggest teams SA ever saw,
in the form of Blue Stratos Kawasaki, Marlboro
Yamaha, Shell Suzuki and Caltex Honda. Legends, like Russel
Campbell, Alfie Cox, Robert Herring, Wayne Smith and the unforgettable
Mad Murdoch Derick Graham, were born.
It was also at this time that we started to see our
top young riders start to make the move across to compete
in the international world of MX and with Gary Butcher
and Rob Herring being amongst the first to go, the pathway
was set. Both riders enjoyed BIG success internationally,
and were joined by the likes of Karl Prestwood and a
few others shortly thereafter. It wasnt till the
little freckle face of Greg Albertyn, did we finally
realize our first world champion might be near. In 1992,
while riding a CR125, Greg won the World 125cc Championships
and SA was finally noticed as a real force to be reckoned
with. Greg went on to win 2 more World Championships,
in 1993 and 1994, in the 250cc class, before moving
to the United States. He enjoyed much success in the
US and remains an ambassador for motocross in SA.
With the realization that that SA could produce a world champion,
many international teams started looking at potential in SA.
This fueled a frenzy of young riders leaving for brighter
horizons, Ryan Hunt, Denis Hewertson, Paul Cooper and later,
Glen Dempsey, to name a few. All these riders did well in
the countries they resided and scored points in GPs,
but none showed glimpses of the talent Albertyn had, until
A young KZN born rider, Grant Langston made the move
to Holland. Riding for Champ KTM under Kees Van Der
Ven, he would have a slightly different twinkle in his
eye. Grant progressed through the ranks of the world
125cc champs and finally brought home our 4th World
Championship trophy in 2000. Like Greg, Grant immediately
decided to take on the Americans and made the move to
USA in 2001. He enjoyed some hard times and good times
in the US, eventually winning his first outdoor title
in 2003. He won two Supercross titles in 2005 and 2006.
He finally won the premier 450cc class in the USA in
2007 during the outdoor season.
Grant Langston won his AMA Outdoor
450 Title in 2007.
Once again, Grant brought the belief of world titles back
to SA and a few more riders would attempt to step up to the
plate. Gareth Swanepoel had won an Amateur title in the USA
and was proving to be the next threat to the world champs,
he was followed by Tyla Rattray, a relative unknown at this
stage. Through hard work and discipline these 2 riders made
waves in the international scene. Tyla Rattray would finally
pick up a factory ride with KTM and win SAs 5th World
Championship trophy in the MX2 class in 2008. Tyla is then
competed under the wing of Mitch Paytons Pro-circuit
Kawasaki team in the USA. He already has a Supercross and
Motocross victory under his belt. In 2014 Tyla heads back
to Europe to compete in the GP's as part of Kimi Raikonnen's
IceOne Racing on the new factory Husqvarna.
A proud moment for SA in 2011. AMA outdoor
national at Southwick - Moto-X 338. Tyla Rattray took first
and Gareth Swanepoel took third.
All while this was going on overseas, SA motocross would
face a few hiccups locally. Cigarette sponsors were banned
in the early 90s and motocross lost its premier sponsor.
This would see a steady decline though the 90s of Supercross
in SA. Supercross was the form of the sport that attracted
most spectators and was the best marketing tool the sport
had. Various other sponsors and promoters tried to hang on
to the exciting format, but ultimately, we would see the end
of the National Supercross Championship in 1995. One off Supercross
events still happen around the country, but the face of this
sport was gone.
Fortunately, motocross was given a face lift, when SA was
awarded a round of the World Championships in 2005 at a circuit
to be built especially for the occasion at the ever popular
Sun City. This was the motivation the local community
needed to pep up a sport that had hit its heights n the 80s.
For 2 years, the world of motocross descended on the beautiful
facility at Sun City. Whilst we got to witness all the top
riders in action and drew a crowd larger than any seen in
this country for some time, it was clear, that the local riders
had dropped off the pace of the international scene. SAs
top local riders rode hard, but battled to score points in
the top 20. It was only the internationally based riders,
like Tyla Rattray and Gareth Swanepoel that managed to keep
the fans smiling.
This was the wake-up the local sport needed and new trainers
and training tactics were set in motion. The riders did feature
a bit better in the 2006 SA Motocross GP, but unfortunately
it would also come with news that SA would not be hosting
a GP in 2007.
It was back to the drawing board for SA riders and with only
a 1 year break from the international scene, grand prix motocross
returned to SA. This time it was to be held in Nelspruit,
on the border of the Kruger National park. The event was a
great success, with several local riders featuring in the
main races and inside the top 20. Unfortunately though, it
came at a high cost, during a collapsing global economy and
would be the last for some time.
Through many sponsors, the sport is working hard to be resurrected
again. It enjoys its own TV program and the coverage is coming
back. Whilst some of the smaller provinces are still struggling,
motocross is on the up in others. With riders like Calvin
Vlaanderen, Caleb Tennant, Aaron Mare, David Goosen, Damon
Strydom and Nicholas Adams out there still giving hope to
local riders, SA hopes to produce another world champion soon
to put us back on track!!!!