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U.S. Motocross : From Front or Back, There Was No Slowing Ricky Johnson

Times Staff Writer

Ricky Johnson proved Saturday that he can win a motocross any way he wants.

In the first 45-minute moto of the Nissan U.S. Grand Prix--the last one ever to be held at Carlsbad Raceway--the 21-year-old from nearby El Cajon led every lap of the 20-lap race.

In the second moto, he won from behind after getting off the starting line sixth behind Belgians Eric Geboers and former world champion Andre Malherbe, Americans Jeff Ward and Ron Lechien and defending world champion David Thorpe of England.

By the end of the first lap, Ward had moved past the Belgians into the lead, with Johnson moving up to second. He chased Ward’s Kawasaki for six more laps before catching the Mission Viejo rider in the twisty part of the course at the end of a steep downhill.

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From then on he was never headed.

“I’ve been watching this race for most of my life, so it was one I always wanted to win,” Johnson said. “I’m glad I got a chance to win the last one.”

A remarkable statistic about Johnson is that in the first moto, all of his 20 laps--even those in traffic while passing slower riders--was faster than his qualifying time of 2 minutes 17.5 seconds. His fastest lap was the third, 2:11.2.

And all of this was done on a 500cc Honda, a bike he has not ridden all season, in a world championship event.

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“This was a good win for me, with the national 500cc season starting next week in Michigan,” Johnson said. “The 500 is much more powerful than the 250 I’ve been riding all season and it takes a totally different style of riding. You can’t jump on the throttle like you can on a 250 because if you do, you’ll probably end up spinning the rear wheel.

“I had to be more relaxed today and concentrate harder on being smooth. Throttle control is more important. Everyone has the same speed on the straightaways, so the race is won coming off the corners.”

Earlier this year, Johnson won both the stadium Supercross series with six wins and the national 250cc championship with three wins. If he wins the 500cc championship Johnson will become the first rider in the American Motorcyclist Assn. history to sweep all three in a single year.

In his only previous Grand Prix, a teen-aged Johnson finished second behind his El Cajon neighbor, Broc Glover, here two years ago. Last Sunday, on the Grand Prix course, Johnson tuned up by winning a 500cc CMC main event.

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Seldom has a rider dominated Carlsbad the way Johnson did Saturday.

He had an 11-second advantage over second-place Ward at the end of the first moto and 12 seconds over Bailey in the second.

At one point Johnson was 50 seconds ahead of Thorpe, the first European at the time.

Thorpe, incidentally, was not too impressed with the rutted clay Carlsbad track that made portions of the mile-long circuit like riding on pot-holed asphalt.

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“My bike ran well, but the track was awful,” Thorpe said after finishing sixth in both motos. Thorpe is still the world points leader after 7 of 11 events, but Malherbe, with a fifth and a fourth, closed ground.

Thorpe has 205 points to 199 for Malherbe.

The disparity between the four leading Americans--Johnson, Bailey, Ward and Lechien--and the European riders made it at times seem like they were in two different classes. Had there been no Americans, the battle among Malherbe, Geboers, Thorpe and Georges Jobe would have been a thriller for ABC-TV’s first live production of the U.S. Grand Prix. As it was, they were out of the picture by the time Johnson and his Yankee friends had passed.

Bailey and Ward traded second and third positions behind Johnson to finish second and third overall.

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If Lechien had not fallen over a downed rider in the first moto and injured his ankle, the Americans would have finished 1-2-3-4. Even with the fall, Lechien finished fourth in the first moto. In the second, however, despite a fast start that saw him riding with the leaders, the El Cajon youngster dropped out after four laps.

Apparently, the motorcycle movie, “On Any Sunday,” was well titled. On a Saturday, with ideal weather conditions for riders and spectators, less than 10,000 fans showed up for the track’s final international race. It was by far the smallest crowd of the race’s 17 years.

This will be Carlsbad’s final Grand Prix because the United States is being dropped from the 500cc schedule next year.

Micky Dymond of Yorba Linda was an easy winner on a Honda in the 250cc support race as he won both motos over Brian Manley of Placentia.

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