John DeSoto had earned considerable recognition over the decades for his prowess on a motorcycle, but for the most part that originated from abroad rather than from the local community in his native Hawaii. That finally changed this past Tuesday with his induction into the 2004 class of the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame.
The motocross legend joined world champion windsurfer Robby Naish, Olympic volleyball player and coach Sharon Peterson and golf champion David Ishii as this year's recipients, all honored in person at the induction banquet held at the Honolulu Country Club. The four new members brings the total of athletes, pioneers and contributors in the Hall of Fame to 93 since the organization's founding in 1997.
"I'm honored to be inducted and included in this prestigious list of prestigious athletes and stars," DeSoto indicated during his acceptance speech, which his large contingent of family, friends and supporters greeted with the evening's only standing ovation. "Motocross gave me the opportunity to broaden my horizons, to travel and to experience life in many different countries - throughout Europe and to see life behind the Iron Curtain. I was honored to be chosen as the first American to represent the United States on the Grand Prix circuit and again honored to be twice selected to represent our country in the Trophy of Nations and Motocross des Nations (in 1972-73, under the patronage of Dan Gurney and All American Racers). I developed close friendships that continue today, and I can draw upon those experiences now."
DeSoto's competitive riding career began with three state motorcycle championships from 1965 to 1967. He subsequently moved to California and became the first American representing the US on the world 250cc motocross GP circuit in Europe in 1968-69, at a time when locals regarded US riders as second class citizens. He also earned national titles in the 250cc and 500cc classes in 1971-72. After returning to the islands in 1975, he won the state 250cc motocross title the following year before embarking upon a new career in politics, spending four terms on the Honolulu City Council.
Those who turned out in support of DeSoto included several of his fellow City Council members, Hawaii Raceway Park founder Jimmy Pflueger (who competed against DeSoto's father Cobra and Jerry Unser in NASCAR-sanctioned stock car races at Honolulu Stadium in the 1950's) and current HRP owner Michael Oakland.
"Sports have provided many opportunities for our young people and teach the three D's which I have learned throughout my life - determination, dedication and discipline," DeSoto added. "And being from the Leeward coast (among the poorer communities on Oahu) and raised out on that side, you learn how to appreciate these."
DeSoto becomes only the second motorsports personality inducted into the Hall of Fame, following Maui's Danny Ongais in 2001. Ironically, both earned the label of the "Flyin' Hawaiian" during the peaks of their respective careers. He made it into the American Motorcycle Association Hall of Fame in Ohio in 1999 as a motocross pioneer and is also an inductee in the Motocross Action Hall of Fame.