One of the greatest legends of American motocross has died. Marty Smith, a hero of the early days of the AMA’s national series, has died in a dune buggy crash, along with his wife Nancy.

Smith rose to prominence in the mid-70s; his dad was one of the pioneers of the desert sled scene in California, and that’s where San Diego-born Marty learned his early riding skills. In the early ’70s, he moved to the MX scene, and it was obvious he had skill. In 1974, Honda asked him to join its factory motocross squad for the AMA national series.

Smith repaid Honda well. He won the AMA’s first 125 cc national championship in 1975, and repeated the feat in 1976. His final national title was the 1977 500 cc AMA championship. He won all those trophies while riding for Big Red, and Honda used him as on the face of its promotional material. Not only was he winning, he also had stereotypical California surfer dude looks, and he was young. A high-school senior when his career began, he managed to graduate while winning races.

Things took a tough turn in 1978, when Smith crashed hard in a Supercross race and suffered a serious hip injury after being run over. His race career never recovered; he left the Honda team after 1979, and almost left racing, but Suzuki sweet-talked him into riding its bikes for a couple of years. Smith retired from racing in 1981, and moved into a teaching role, training new racers.

He did have one last high-profile win, as part of the team that took the 1991 Baja 1000 victory.

Smith was 63 years old when he crashed in the California dunes earlier this week. He was a member of the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame, and there’s a great write-up of his life here.

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