Motocross South Africa

The history of Motocross in South Africa.

By Laren van der Westhuizen

For a relatively small 3rd world country, South Africa has enjoyed great success in the sport of motocross. Having won 5 world championships and various AMA Supercross and outdoor titles, as well as various National titles around the world, we have definitely produced more talent per rider than most of the great motocross nations, dominated by Belgium, UK and USA.

Motocross started in SA like any other country and grew from strength to strength through the 70’s. It wasn’t till the early 80’s that Camel International got involved and suddenly the sport was catapulted to a premier sport in SA. Manufacturers started relishing the exposure given by the LIVE TV broadcasts. They contracted top international stars to represent their brands, like Rex Staten, Larry Wosick and Jim Tarantino. All of whom were top riders in the USA at that time.

Motocross in SA enjoyed what can only be described as an explosion of popularity in the 80’s and was topped off by us hosting our very first world championship event at Corobrick in 1985. The level of SA motocross was so high, that our top riders ran in podium positions during the grand prix. The late 80’s had some of the biggest teams SA ever saw, in the form of “Blue Stratos” Kawasaki, Marlboro Yamaha, Shell Suzuki and Caltex Honda. Legends, like Russel Campbell, Alfie Cox, Robert Herring, Wayne Smith and the unforgettable “Mad Murdoch” Derick Graham, were born.

It was also at this time that we started to see our top young riders start to make the move across to compete in the international world of MX and with Gary Butcher and Rob Herring being amongst the first to go, the pathway was set. Both riders enjoyed BIG success internationally, and were joined by the likes of Karl Prestwood and a few others shortly thereafter. It wasn’t till the little freckle face of Greg Albertyn, did we finally realize our first world champion might be near. In 1992, while riding a CR125, Greg won the World 125cc Championships and SA was finally noticed as a real force to be reckoned with. Greg went on to win 2 more World Championships, in 1993 and 1994, in the 250cc class, before moving to the United States. He enjoyed much success in the US and remains an ambassador for motocross in SA.

With the realization that that SA could produce a world champion, many international teams started looking at potential in SA. This fueled a frenzy of young riders leaving for brighter horizons, Ryan Hunt, Denis Hewertson, Paul Cooper and later, Glen Dempsey, to name a few. All these riders did well in the countries they resided and scored points in GP’s, but none showed glimpses of the talent Albertyn had, until 1998.

A young KZN born rider, Grant Langston made the move to Holland. Riding for Champ KTM under Kees Van Der Ven, he would have a slightly different twinkle in his eye. Grant progressed through the ranks of the world 125cc champs and finally brought home our 4th World Championship trophy in 2000. Like Greg, Grant immediately decided to take on the Americans and made the move to USA in 2001. He enjoyed some hard times and good times in the US, eventually winning his first outdoor title in 2003. He won two Supercross titles in 2005 and 2006. He finally won the premier 450cc class in the USA in 2007 during the outdoor season.

Grant Langston won his AMA Outdoor 450 Title in 2007.

Once again, Grant brought the belief of world titles back to SA and a few more riders would attempt to step up to the plate. Gareth Swanepoel had won an Amateur title in the USA and was proving to be the next threat to the world champs, he was followed by Tyla Rattray, a relative unknown at this stage. Through hard work and discipline these 2 riders made waves in the international scene. Tyla Rattray would finally pick up a factory ride with KTM and win SA’s 5th World Championship trophy in the MX2 class in 2008. Tyla is then competed under the wing of Mitch Payton’s Pro-circuit Kawasaki team in the USA. He already has a Supercross and Motocross victory under his belt. In 2014 Tyla heads back to Europe to compete in the GP’s as part of Kimi Raikonnen’s IceOne Racing on the new factory Husqvarna.

A proud moment for SA in 2011. AMA outdoor national at Southwick – Moto-X 338. Tyla Rattray took first and Gareth Swanepoel took third.

All while this was going on overseas, SA motocross would face a few hiccups locally. Cigarette sponsors were banned in the early 90’s and motocross lost its premier sponsor. This would see a steady decline though the 90’s of Supercross in SA. Supercross was the form of the sport that attracted most spectators and was the best marketing tool the sport had. Various other sponsors and promoters tried to hang on to the exciting format, but ultimately, we would see the end of the National Supercross Championship in 1995. One off Supercross events still happen around the country, but the face of this sport was gone.

Fortunately, motocross was given a face lift, when SA was awarded a round of the World Championships in 2005 at a circuit to be built especially for the occasion at the ever popular “Sun City”. This was the motivation the local community needed to pep up a sport that had hit its heights n the 80’s. For 2 years, the world of motocross descended on the beautiful facility at Sun City. Whilst we got to witness all the top riders in action and drew a crowd larger than any seen in this country for some time, it was clear, that the local riders had dropped off the pace of the international scene. SA’s top local riders rode hard, but battled to score points in the top 20. It was only the internationally based riders, like Tyla Rattray and Gareth Swanepoel that managed to keep the fans smiling.
This was the wake-up the local sport needed and new trainers and training tactics were set in motion. The riders did feature a bit better in the 2006 SA Motocross GP, but unfortunately it would also come with news that SA would not be hosting a GP in 2007.

It was back to the drawing board for SA riders and with only a 1 year break from the international scene, grand prix motocross returned to SA. This time it was to be held in Nelspruit, on the border of the Kruger National park. The event was a great success, with several local riders featuring in the main races and inside the top 20. Unfortunately though, it came at a high cost, during a collapsing global economy and would be the last for some time.

2018 was a big year Calvin Vlaanderen as well as youngster Camden Mc Lellan, look out for these two to produce great results for SA in the coming years on the international stage.