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 USA.
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 1998. 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. Like Greg, he enjoyed some hard times and good
times in the US, eventually winning his first outdoor title in 2003.
He won 2 Supercross titles in 2005 and 2006. He finally won the
premier class in USA, the 450cc class, in 2007, during the outdoor
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 now competing under the wing of Mitch Paytons Pro-circuit
Kawasaki team in the USA. He already has a Supercross and Motocross
victory under his belt.
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
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 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!!!!