Cycle News

Cycle News 2014 Issue 05 February 4th 2014

Cycle News is a weekly magazine that covers all aspects of motorcycling including Supercross, Motocross and MotoGP as well as new motorcycles

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CN III ARCHIVES BY LARRY LAWRENCE I t's still fresh on the minds of racing fans – Marc Marquez missing his last opportunity to pit at the Australian MotoGP, denying him the opportunity to clinch the championship that weekend. Motocross racing has its own ver- sion of the "Big Error." It came at the 1978 U.S. 250cc Motocross Grand Prix at Unadilla, and it happened to an American Jimmy Ellis. Unlike Marquez, who went on to be crowned World Champion, there was no redemption for Ellis. A misunderstanding of GP scoring cost Ellis his one and only chance of winning the 250cc Motocross GP in America. Ellis, who has lived in Australia for 30 years (so long in fact, he now has an Austra- lian accent), was back in America last week to celebrate the gathering of past AMA Su- percross Champions at Anaheim II. Ellis coming home gave American journalists a rare opportunity to interview him. And the story he tells of the '78 GP at Unadilla paints quite a differ- ent picture of what happened that historic day than the popularly known version of the story, oft told by the winner of the GP that day nearly 36 years ago. Ellis grew up in the New England village of Co- balt, Connecticut. That's where his nickname of "Captain Cobalt" originated. His dad George was an enduro rider and Jim grew up racing local scrambles and flat track events. That area of the country had long been a hotbed of the then niche sport of motocross, thanks to a group of dedicated enthusiasts called the New England Sports Com- mittee (NESC). Ellis rapidly advanced through the ranks and by 1973 Ellis turned pro and scored a stunning podium finish at the AMA 500cc National at Road Atlanta in 1973. That led to Ellis earning a factory ride with Can-Am in 1974. The powerful Can-Am factory bikes always drew a lot of attention by the fans and even the other factory teams trying to figure out just where this Canadian maker was finding extra horsepower. The team played right into the curiosity and came up with some humorous tricks that had onlookers craning their necks to get a closer look. "One time we put a sparkplug in the oil drain plug and had a lead coming out of it that went to nowhere," Ellis laughs. "People were scratching their heads trying to figure that one out." Ellis had great success with Can-Am. In 1975 he swept the still newly formed AMA Supercross Series (then called the Yamaha Super Series) to become only the second 250cc Supercross Champion in history. He accomplished the per- fect record (four Supercross wins in four events) against riders who would go on to become icons in the sport, such as Marty Smith, Kent How- erton, Marty Tripes and Steve Wise. Ellis calls his victory at the Superbowl of Moto- cross that year in the Los Angeles Coliseum, the ELLIS' ALMOST GP VICTORY P118

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