Art Eckman's Column: Bar to Bar - They did it their way (Atlanta) It's the supercross version of "Survivor." It's one of the most spectacular reality shows in sports. It happens almost every weekend at a stadium or outdoor venue near...
Art Eckman's Column:
Bar to Bar - They did it their way
(Atlanta) It's the supercross version of "Survivor." It's one of the most spectacular reality shows in sports. It happens almost every weekend at a stadium or outdoor venue near you. Which rider will turn away first from the glory, travel and riches? Will he retire to a less dangerous life before the taxing sport decides it for him? Our two contestants are Mike "La Rocket" LaRocco who just turned 32 years old about a month ago and Larry Ward, who will turn the page, becoming 33 in about a month. They are the only two riders in Supercross history who have earned points in the 250 class in three decades.
Ward actually earned professional 125 supercross points a year before LaRocco, but the two entered the preeminent 250 class on the same day - 2/18/89 in Miami, Florida with the younger one gaining a fourth place, the elder finishing in 10th. They both landed on the podium one time that year running in seven races. "La Rocket" place third at Daytona while Larry excitingly took a second in the first Pontiac race. After spending '88 in different 125 regions both riders were full time in the 125 West the year they broke into the higher classification. LaRocco finishing second in championship points just ahead of Ward in third.
The two finished surprisingly close in the standings over the years. In their first full 250 season ('90) Larry finished in sixth just ahead of Mike in seventh. The next season the order was reversed with Mike in ninth and Larry in tenth. The 1992 campaign had Mike with a one place advantage. Five times in the next seven years the two were separated by no more than two positions.
Both would finish runner-up to the 250 champion one time. LaRocco trailed Jeremy McGrath by 48 points in '94 while Ward placed behind the seven time champion by 50 points in '95.
Both riders have raced an entire supercross season seven times. Ward's had ten top 10 finishes in the championship points while LaRocco has had 11. LaRocco has five top five seasons to four for Ward.
Both Mike and Larry have ridden at least one season on all four Japanese manufactures. They were teammates on the Suzuki factory team in 1990 &'91.
Despite all the career similarities these two riders, have advanced to the 2003 round of "Supercross Survival" their own way. Larry's still a roving bachelor while Mike's kidding us that he'll retire when his son Rider goes pro. It used to be you were over the hill by 27. And if you were married forget it. Now the pits look like a nursery school.
Whereas outstanding riders used to make hundreds, average riders now make thousands. That plus advances in medical procedures, and training now make it possible to extend ones career.
Both Ward and LaRocco leave contrasting legacies. It was that 1995 season that Larry Ward put the highlighter pen to the record books. Larry had seven podiums on a stock Noleen/Yamaha for the highest non factory rider ranking in the sports history.
Mike LaRocco achieved his legendary status by winning the last AMA 500 motocross series in 1993 and the 250 National motocross championship in 1994. His nine supercross wins compared to three for Ward also have helped him stay with factory teams until his decision to field his own AmsOil Honda support team. While LaRocco has made the top five in almost 62% of his races Ward has had to fight tooth and nail going back and forth from privateer to factory, to support team rides.
No one can survive 15 years of supercross without riding through the injuries. Here's where Ward has had the upper hand. Larry missed a few races with a broken thumb after racing in Europe prior to the '96 season, but for the most part his injuries haven't finished him for the rest of the season.
Not so with LaRocco. This year's shoulder surgery limited Mike to six races. Last year wrist surgery finished his season after seven races. In '93 he missed most of the season with a wrist injury, but his worst year for injuries was 1995. A broken arm at Charlotte caused him to miss the rest of that season. Then at Millville his motocross season ended when he got his leg caught in a rubber tire put at the tracks edge for rider safety. A ski doctor in Utah rebuilt his knee and he was back for the next supercross season. What hampers Ward's 250 endurance record was choosing to run the 125 class in 2000 and 2001 seasons. Both riders have done it the hard way albeit diversely.
Until LaRocco's injury this season we were getting ready to celebrate a supercross milestone. If he would have been able to run every race through the end of the season, Las Vegas, the sight of his very first 250 supercross win, would have been his 200th start in the top class.
Now that Ward continues to rifle Clear Channel's pockets for privateer bonus money it has become a race for career "Iron man" honors between two guys who started their 250 career on the same day. Should Larry make the last six main events he would be only one 250 race behind the sports endurance record holder. The current count - LaRocco 190, Ward 183.
Ward is a roving bachelor , LaRocco a settled in family man with young son Rider and wife Elizebeth . Money - own team with Honda support. Ward in and out of factory rides was able to survive through the hard times as a privateer. Each can say the "did it my way." Both riders survived to this 2003 season from different directions.