Takeshi Koikeda's latest lesson in the art of advanced motocross takes place Saturday night at the Coliseum.
Koikeda, 21, is from Kanagawa, Japan, but has lived in Chatsworth since 1997.
That's when he started competing in the AMA Outdoor National series and the Supercross series on a factory-supported Yamaha 250 under the tutelage of Chatsworth's Jim Holley, the 1985 world supercross champion.
Team Yamaha Japan was created in 1993 to compete in the Supercross and AMA Outdoor National series. Yamaha sends its best rider to the U.S. to compete against top American riders.
Once upon a time, motocross, which originated in Europe, was dominated by European motorcycles and riders.
The sport caught on in America in the early 1970s, helped by Bruce Brown's film "On Any Sunday," which featured Steve McQueen in real races.
Promoters quickly seized the idea of staging races in stadiums, and the Superbowl of Motocross was born at the Coliseum in 1972.
American Marty Tripes rode a Yamaha to an upset victory in the inaugural race and also won in 1974.
Tripes' and the Coliseum's success was an omen. The sport is now dominated by American riders--many from Southern California--and Japanese bikes. There is a stadium motocross series, the Supercross, that is separate from the AMA Outdoor National series.
Although Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki and Kawasaki have dominated both series for more than a decade, Japan has not produced a champion rider.
Holley, who won Mickey Thompson Ultracross championships in 1988 and 1989, said the sport is dominated in Japan by older Americans nearing the end of their careers. No Japanese rider has won the Japanese motocross championship for 12 years.
"It would be like the Tokyo Giants coming over here to play baseball against major league teams for a couple of years, learning all of the secrets and techniques, then going back over there and being untouchable," Holley said.
Koikeda, who started riding motorcycles at age four and first raced competitively at 10, is Holley's most successful student. His sixth-place overall finish this year at an outdoor national event in Delmont, Pa., was the best ever by a Japanese rider in the U.S., and Holley believes Koikeda can finish in the top five in the Summercross on Saturday.
"Jeremy McGrath [defending Supercross champion] is going to be there, and he realistically is an odds-on favorite," Holley said. "This is a one-off event, and our focus is the outdoor nationals."
Koikeda is learning things off the track that help him on the track.
"Learning another culture has also helped," Koikeda said. "Just the whole approach, the professionalism of the American racers. It is more free over here. There are too many rules and restrictions in Japan.
"We don't have a desert to ride in, or off-road parks with open riding."
Koikeda is 15th in the outdoor national points standings despite missing eight races because of visa restrictions and mandatory sessions testing Yamaha's newest motorcycles. He finished 27th on the 1999 Supercross tour and placed 13th in New Orleans and Indianapolis.
Tommy Fowler of Newbury Park, who races an I-4 Modified at Ventura Raceway, used to look like singer-guitarist Sammy Hagar.
Since Saturday night, he has looked more like Telly Savalas.
Fowler had vowed he would shave his head if he won a main event, which he did Friday night, and word of the boast reached promoter Jim Naylor.
Naylor arranged for Fowler to meet the razor after the 15-lap Pony Stock main event Saturday, in which Fowler's teammate, Marty McLaughlin of Thousand Oaks, notched his first victory and a $1,000 purse.
John Wright of Ventura won Friday's 30-lap IMCA Sprint Car main event at Ventura, and Jimmy Crawford of Ventura won Saturday's 40-lap IMCA Sprint Car main. . . . IMCA Modified rookie Mike Furlong of Thousand Oaks won his second consecutive 30-lap feature Friday. . . . John Uccellini of Lancaster won Saturday's Street Stock main event after Ed Perry of Carpinteria was disqualified for a weight-placement violation.