As we prepare to mark the official 30th anniversary of the 1986 MXoN visiting the historic Maggoria track in Italy, we must take a look back at exactly what that day signified in the sport. With so many entertaining races taking place in the 1980s, why was this one so different? I personally think that it was as much about what happened after this race as it was about what happened on that important day.
Throughout the early 1980s, Team USA had become dominant at the MXoN with multiple wins over the Europeans. At the time, the Americans were just so much better than everyone else in the world, and winning in Italy was completely expected in 1986. One big advantage the Americans had that day was the dream team that they sent over to Italy. The three rider team of Rick Johnson, David Bailey and Johnny O’Mara were all at the top of their games 30 years ago, and even before the gate dropped, the Euros were in for extremely tough times. Another thing that was in the Americans’ corner was that each rider came into that race with something to prove. First off, the team’s 125 rider, Johnny O’Mara, knew that he wasn’t being included in Team Honda’s plans for the following season so he wanted to prove to his former bosses that their decision was a mistake. The other two riders had been at war with each other all season long and they each wanted to get the upper hand on each other entering the off-season. So while the Americans were a team in 1986, they entered the MXoN that year with their own very specific agendas.
We all know what happened on that day; Bailey and Johnson dominated the 500cc and 250cc classes with ease. Although their rides were very impressive that day, it was 125 rider O’Mara who stole the show and the headlines. Coming from behind in both his motos against the bigger and more powerful 250s and 500s, O’Mara passed every rider on the track (except his teammates) including the new 500cc World Champion, David Thorpe, enroute to the win in the 125 class. It was perhaps the best ride of O’Mara’s long career, and it was so good that it briefly made the Honda brass rethink their decision. Little did they know that the O’Show had already signed with Team Suzuki for 1987, so it was all for not. On what turned out to be his final ride for Honda, O’Mara was absolutely brilliant.
As I mentioned earlier, a lot of things changed after that day in 1986. Not only did O’Mara leave Honda for Suzuki, but in January ’87 David Bailey was paralyzed in a practice crash. This was an injury that no one saw coming as Bailey was one of the smoothest riders ever to throw a leg over a motorcycle. A few weeks after Bailey’s crash, the 1987 SX season began and Johnson knocked himself out at the opening round in Anaheim and never really recovered in that series. As for O’Mara, he never really felt comfortable on the Suzuki as the bike was far behind what he was used to riding at Honda.
Yes, things were never really the same after that day in Italy, and that is just one reason that it’s so cool that we’re going back in a week’s time. Our Canadian team led by Manager Kourtney Lloyd is ready to go and is looking forward to racing for their country on one of the world’s most famous tracks. Will this race provide the same headlines as it did in 1986? Most likely not for the American team, because they’re not exactly sending another dream team. However, for Team Canada, this might just be the year that we will be talking about in 30 years. Good luck to all of our team in Italy next week. Until then, enjoy this video from the 1986 MXoN.