Jeremy McGrath, Motorcycles, Class of 2010
Mark it down as the date that changed the sport. On Saturday night, January 23, 1993, with a single breathtaking pass, Jeremy McGrath claimed ownership of Supercross racing in America. For nearly a decade thereafter, he ruled virtually unchallenged.
The totality of McGrath's Anaheim Stadium coup was unexpected, in part because his resume was atypical. He started two-wheeled life on a minibike (his was Briggs-and-Stratton powered) then veered into bicycle motocross, compiling a BMX Hall of Fame career. Not until age 14, when his motocross contemporaries were already negotiating factory contracts, did he return to the motorized game.
That background served him well. Jeremy won back-to-back championships in the regional Supercross training series, earning full Honda factory support, and entered that pivotal '93 season as a big-league rookie, expected to learn from his superstar teammate Jeff Stanton, who had won three of the previous four Supercross titles and was the prohibitive favorite to make if four out of five.
Thus it was stunning, just three races into the campaign, to watch McGrath chase down, pass and defeat Stanton for his first Supercross victory. And it was positively jaw-dropping that he went on to win nine more times, dominating the season and becoming the first rookie ever to win the Supercross championship!
Over the next seven years we became accustomed to such greatness. McGrath claimed six more titles and compiled Supercross stats that remain unmatched - 72 career wins, a single-season record 14 victories and the longest winning streak in history at 13, to name a few. But more significant is the way McGrath transformed his sport.
Rather than driving away fans with his dominance, Jeremy attracted them in droves with his style and flair. During his reign Supercross crowds multiplied and media exposure, mostly focused on him, brought the sport into the American mainstream. His nickname "Showtime" stems in part from his signature "Nac-nac" move; swinging both legs off one side of the bike as he sailed high over the finish line jump, he created the prototype for today's freestyle motocross.
A pioneering hero of "extreme sports," Showtime's exploitation of his fame was masterful, ranging from a Mattel Toys action figure to his own shoe line to a movie cameo opposite Cameron Diaz. Later he became the first Supercross star to own his own team, attracting major sponsorship from outside of motorcycling.
Don't ever doubt, though, that the man behind the marketing powerhouse is a racer to his core. Despite injury-induced Supercross retirement, McGrath won five "X Game" medals and he competes to this day, a consistent contender in the world of off-road truck racing.
But all of Jeremy McGrath's success, fortune and fame can be traced back to that fateful night in Anaheim when he smoked his teammate and unlocked the door to Supercross greatness. Nearly two decades later, he recalls that pass nearly every day of his life.
"It's tattooed on my brain," he laughs.
And wouldn't we all like to have a memory like that?
by Dave Despain