Marty Moates, whose upset victory in the 1980 U.S. Grand Prix of Motocross at Carlsbad Raceway was a landmark moment in American motorcycle racing history, has died. He was 49.
Moates, who later became one of the founders of No Fear, a Carlsbad-based sportswear firm, died Thursday night of gunshot wounds in an apparent suicide. He was found in his car by his wife, Heather, near their home in La Costa.
Friends said Moates was living in great pain from old motorcycle-related injuries.
Before he won at Carlsbad, no American had ever defeated the more experienced European riders in 10 years of the U.S. round in the 500cc world championship series.
When the 23-year-old San Diego rider beat world champion Hakan Carlqvist of Sweden, five-time world champion Roger DeCoster of Belgium and American favorite Brad Lackey in a pair of 45-minute U.S. Grand Prix motos, it opened the floodgates for U.S. riders. No European won again at Carlsbad before it closed in 1986.
"I never thought I had a chance to win. I just hoped I might finish in the top five," Moates said after his upset. "Winning surprised me as much as everyone else."
Riding a privately owned Yamaha, he also became the first non-factory rider to win a world championship event.
"Seeing all those American flags being waved really inspired me," he said later.
The hundreds of tiny flags were not there for Moates, however. They had been distributed by U.S. Grand Prix of Motocross promoters in support of Lackey, the leading U.S. rider who was challenging for the world championship.
Moates and Lackey were racing side by side, trading off the lead, in the second moto when Lackey fell late in the race to assure Moates of the win.
That was Moates' only notable victory. He had won the California Grand Prix in 1977 for 250cc bikes, but never won another major race after his 1980 breakthrough.
Even so, his infectious smile and prankish sense of humor made him one of the sport's best-liked figures.
With fellow racers Mark and Brian Simo, he later helped found No Fear, a clothing brand that appealed to adventurous young sportsmen. Moates was also president of FMF International, a spinoff of No Fear that specialized in motocross gear.
He is survived by his wife and a son, Dakota.
In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations be sent in Moates' memory to Loma Linda University Children's Hospital.