Our list of 10 guys over 50 who still haul ass is dedicated to the guys with five decades or more to their credit, guys who are over 50 years old, and who are hauling ass still to this day. (Not to be confused with those who used to haul ass.) This was actually a much harder list to put together than we expected simply because there are so many of them still racing motocross and off-road.
This list also proved impossible to quantify, considering the range of the wily 50-somethings to the guys well into their 60’s and even 70’s who are still twisting the throttle. So although we have listed them with numbers 10 through 1, do not consider that numbering system as rider rank (in fact, you’ll also note that these riders are listed in alphabetical order of their last name.
We just want to celebrate these silver foxes and their stunning abilities—aged to perfection and still giving “the kids” a run for their money.
10. Dick Burleson
68 years old
All hail the King! King Richard Burleson has dominated off-road racing since the early 70s, and was one of the early pioneers of Husqvarna’s dominant legacy. Burleson ruled the AMA National Enduro scene for eight consecutive years from 1974-81, a feat not since repeated (Mike Lafferty is an eight-time champion, but they weren’t all in a row). Burleson even has MX cred to his name, and depending on who you ask, might have been the first AMA Grand National Motocross Champion in 1970.
Fast-forward to now, and “King Richard” is 68 years young, still whipping through the trees like a ghost in the woods on his trusty KTM 200 two-stroke. Through the help of Moose Racing, where Burleson works with promotions and product development teams, he still gets out to many events and even races several GNCCs a year. Burleson was also honored just this year as an AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Legend at the 2016 ceremony—a fitting honor for a guy who has been dominating off-road racing for five decades.
9. Scott Burnworth
52 years old
It’s not just that “Burner” still hauls ass, it’s how he hauls ass. Scott Burnworth is a big part of the Marty Tripes 100cc Works Revenge movement. Under the organization of original Superbowl of Motocross champion Marty Tripes, this form of vintage racing resurrects 100cc two-stroke motocross bikes, presenting somewhat of a spec class. While horsepower rules the modern landscape of motocross, this unique throwback is the antithesis, with flyweight engines and peaky two-stroke power. It’s not easy to go fast on these little bikes, and the 100cc Works Revenge class is a salute to the rider’s who race. It’s a blast to watch if you ever get a chance. Almost as fun is watching Burner ripping by guys on 450s on his little 100cc two-stroke Yamaha on an open track day.
These days Burner enjoys putting on races just as much as racing them. You can catch him at his annual So Cal Vintage MX Classic, or at CALVMX races in Southern California.
8. John Dowd
51 years old
The Junkyard Dog, John Dowd, is another racer who didn’t stop winning just because his pro career ended. The New Englander managed to keep his speed and his stamina up well beyond what many considered his prime. As a late bloomer in MX, most of Dowd’s successes came later than expected, and he still holds the record for being the oldest rider to win a Supercross championship (125cc West in 1998), and the oldest to win an AMA National (125cc class at Southwick also in 1998), both when he was 36. He still went on to collect an overall podium at the Southwick National in 2009 at 44 years young. Just to mix it up, Dowd also contested the 2006 AMA EnduroCross Championship, and took home another number one plate.
Dowd is still riding strong, and earlier this year made the trek to England’s Farleigh Castle for the Vet MXdN, where the men and machinery were both vintage. But put him on a modern bike and watch the lap times drop.
7. Doug Dubach
53 years old
You could argue that Doug Dubach reached the prime of his career after he retired from professional racing. While he celebrated successes in his pro career, his name soon became synonymous with vet motocross events such as Mammoth Mountain MX. Most significantly, Dubach dominated Glen Helen’s famous World Vet MX Championship for quite literally decades on end. From 30+ to 40+ and now 50+ divisions, “Dr. D” has kept it pinned in some spectacular battles, many times with racers more than 10 years his junior. He has amassed 25 World Vet Championships in that span, an attendance record that sadly came to an end only at the recent 2016 event, which he missed due to illness.
His absence notwithstanding, Dubach is still the undisputed king of vet motocross racing.
6. Fred Hoess
50 years old
Twenty-five International Six Days Enduros under this guy’s belt. Think about that for a minute. As an American stalwart in the tough and prestigious ISDE, Hoess has been through just about every terrain imaginable around the globe and back again. Just when he thought he was ready to hang it up at the Six Days, a new class was introduced for 2016 – the FIM Enduro Vintage Trophy. Hoess’ friends at Hall’s Cycles built him a ‘86 Husqvarna 250 WR for the inaugural event in Spain, which was a throwback to the one he raced in 1985 in the same country. Hoess was the lone American in the contest, and rode to victory.
Of course, naming Hoess also calls to mind another Six Days hero, Mr. ISDE himself, Jeff Fredette. The AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer has an unprecedented 34 ISDE’s to his name—a record that stands worldwide. Fredette, 58, ended his run at the annual event in 2014. Both men are worthy of being on this list, but on account of his recent victory, our nod goes to Hoess.
5. Gary Jones
64 years old
Four-time 250cc National Motocross Champion Gary Jones is regarded as one of the greats of motocross, with his impressive tenure stretching back all the way to 1969. He was a pioneer, as the first American Champion in the 1971 Inter-AMA series, and as a member of the first team to represent the U.S. at the Motocross des Nations in 1972. Jones won his national titles as a factory rider for Yamaha, Honda, and Can-Am, and he even went on to design and produce his own brand of motorcycle, Ammex, in the mid 1970s. Numerous accomplishments throughout his career earned him a rightful spot in the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
Since his pro career, Gary has continued to enjoy life from the seat of a motorcycle. Whether it’s doing magazine testing, lining up for desert races or local motocross events, the smile on Jones’ face hasn’t faded, and neither has his skill. Jones has captured World Vets Championships in 30+, 40+, 50+ and now 60+ classes, and can still often be found at Glen Helen doing what he loves most.
4. Danny LaPorte
59 years old
This guy flies under the radar. You might only catch a glimpse of him ripping up the single-track in Baja with his buddies as he doesn’t race much, but make no mistake: America’s first FIM 250cc MX World Champion (1982) is in great shape and still burns plenty of fuel. When the time is right and the trails are wet, he will disappear on the trails in Mexico for days at a time, most often with his good buddy Don Emler of FMF (another Master of Moto, who is worthy of mention here).
LaPorte, another AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer, is on the cusp of the big 6-0 (Dec 3). We’re betting it won’t slow him down one bit.
3. Lars Larsson
75 years old
Perhaps the most amazing of the silver foxes on this list is everyone’s favorite Swede, Lars Larson! One of the originators of American MX, and one of the first to help Husqvarna to the States in the 1960s, Lars’ influence on the landscape of motocross as we know it is substantial. From bike-building innovation to the advent of dedicated motocross gear, Lars was a part of it right alongside people like Edison Dye and Torsten Hallman. The best part of it all is that the 75-year-old still races motocross to this day! He even has a few 70+ Vet World Championships to his name (yes, the 70+ class is really a thing, and there were no less than 16 septuagenarians from four different countries at the 2016 World Vets).
Lars was the recent recipient of the 2016 Edison Dye Motocross Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to him at the World Vet Championships, though the ceremony had to wait until after his second moto took place before getting underway. Larsson carded an eighth-place finish, commenting, “Those kids that are just turning 70, they’re hard to deal with.”
2. Kurt Nicoll
52 years old
The key to being over 50 and still able to run lap-times with current pro racers? Never slow down, and that’s what British MX star and former MXGP vice-world champion Kurt Nicoll did. Following Nicoll’s storied pro motocross career, he worked in KTM’s racing department and more recently for the Nitro Circus, but always found time to keep himself involved in competition along the way. Whether it was the Erzberg Rodeo, AMA Supermoto, X Games or AMA EnduroCross, Nicoll racked up wins and multiple number-one plates in his spare time.
Nicoll’s career has effectively taken him full circle with his newest venture, Champion MX California Vacation. Hosting motocross tours has afforded the Brit even more track time, evidenced by his astounding speed, which he proudly showcased at the 2016 World Vet MX Championship. Nicoll nabbed a proud second-place in the hotly contested 40+ Pro class, and soundly whipped the field in the 50+ Pro class by over a minute in each moto.
It wasn’t the Dubach faceoff he was hoping for, but it’s another number-one for the trophy room and plenty good reason to have Nicoll on this list.
1. Rodney Smith
52 years old
It’s not actually that long ago that Rodney Smith was competing in the premier class and winning. In 2004 he claimed his fifth and final Grand National Cross Country Championship at 40 years of age. (Something to remember for any current pros in their late 20s who feel they are “aging out” of their profession.) Smith has a long and varied career in racing that spans all the way to Brazil in the 1980s where he won five MX national championships, Europe after that for the MXGP series, then back to the states to study the fine art of off-road racing where he went on to win 13 major national championships including AMA National Hare Scrambles, GNCC and AMA National Reliability Enduro championships.
Smith, who was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame last year, went on to mentor other pro racers, something he now does for Beta USA as the off-road company’s team trainer and spokesperson. Of course, the nature of the job keeps Smith on the bike plenty – a perk that he thoroughly enjoys.
“I always tell the kids I coach to remember why they started racing motorcycles; because it’s fun,” Smith says. “I still love to race motorcycles because it’s the most fun I’ve ever had.”
It seems keeping it fun will also help keep you fast. Or is it the other way around? Either way, Rodney Smith has it figured out.
Malcolm Smith deserves an honorable mention on this list, and would have been an easy choice had we done this story a few years ago. Unfortunately Malcolm hasn’t ridden much in recent years, but he has left a lasting vision of skill and strength on a motorcycle that defied logic, and will never be matched.