Motocross reached Canada about the same time the sport took root in the United States after Edison Dye brought it to North America from Europe in the 1960s. Back then, the Canadian Motorcycle Association sanctioned off-road or scrambling races as early as the 1950s but it wasn't until the late 60s that a checkered flag waved on the first Motocross race in Canada.
Who won? Better yet, who are the stars over the years who helped popularize the sport in Canada? Today, Motocross events bring hoards of people to tracks all over the Great White North and the Motocross Nationals invite popular riders worldwide every year. Last year, Australian Brett Metcalfe won the MX1 National and this year American Mike Alessi put up a good fight to the homegrown and eventual champion Colton Facciotti.
The past of Canadian Motocross is rich with history and it's these details that Bill Petro and Carl Bastedo set out to uncover and bring to their fellow citizens when they founded the Legends of Canadian Motocross in 2013.
The racing stars from the early years as well as the promoters and organizers who helped get the sport started and fueled its growth get their official recognition in this project. A database of the who's, what's and when's including present-day movers and shakers is available online and is continually being updated but a traveling photo exhibit available for rent functions more or less as a public relations centerpiece highlighting this virtual museum.
MotoSport talked with Bill Petro about the Legends of Canadian Motocross and a little bit about the sport in the Northern Lights.
Gerrit Wolsink at 1976 Canadian 500cc Motocross GP
Name: Legends of Canadian Motocross
Year Founded: 2013
Who Founded: Bill Petro and Carl Bastedo
Home city: Brampton, Ontario, Canada
Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ross Pederson #10 becomes first Canadian to win Canadian GP in 1985
1. How did Legends of Canadian Motocross get started?
Long time friends Carl Bastedo (Racer, Businessman and Promoter) and Bill Petro (Photographer) recognized the absence of a concise history of Motocross in Canada. Not only were the old competitors disappearing, the younger riders were not even aware of the rich history that preceded them yet the US legends were easily recognized.
2. What's the goal?
Our goal is to gather and preserve the information and images of motocross in Canada in the form of a searchable database and give back to the sport by helping young riders compete on the international stage.
Veteran Photographer, Bill Petro, heads up this project as a way to add to the already extensive archive he has created. After over 40 years of photographing all types of Motorcycles for magazines and companies, Bill is the perfect person to tackle this project.
Aside from the searchable Database, this information would all come together in the form of a book.
3. Is there a brick-and-mortar museum component or strictly an online website?
There is a place where the analog archives (film, magazines and brochures) live. There is also a server that manages drive banks full of digital assets, but no place for people to visit. A travelling photo display exists to entertain visitors to various events indoor or outdoor that can be put together in a number of configurations to suit the venue.
4. Do you honor only Canadian born Motocross legends who did well in Canada MX, Canadians who did well in Motocross anywhere, or anyone who did well in Canadian MX?
Although the emphasis is to recognize the competitors, champions or not, who competed with their full enthusiasm, The Legends of Canadian Motocross will not forget the many people who contributed in other ways to help the motocross scene thrive in Canada. The promoters and organizers and a record of various events and stories are also part of the information gathered.
Whether a rider became legendary throughout the country or just in their region, or they came from another country they should be recognized. Also there are many places and events that became legendary on their own. Collecting all of this information and compiling in an accessible medium that is entertaining as well as informative will help preserve the many stories that may get lost as the early pioneers disappear.
Jaak Van Velthoven at 1976 Canadian 500cc Motocross GP
5. How are you tackling what sounds like an immense project?
Because this all started out of a need to record the facts of an era that Bill Petro was not witness to, and to identify important images from his own archive, he was surprised at the scope of what lie ahead of him. He was fairly active in the Eastern region of Canada and specifically Ontario, so his first task was to introduce the project to the motorcycle community here in southern Ontario and hope that the rest of the country can get the message by presenting a display wall with a timeline of images showing some past Legends at motorcycle shows, social gatherings and racing events.
A website has been put together www.locmx.com where guests can search for past legends or events, read about upcoming events and see pictures from past events. It also is the gateway to the North American Motor Sport Image Archive (NAMSIA), which is a searchable cloud based database that is being loaded with the information and images gathered during our research.
6. How far along are you?
Our first official introduction to the public was at the North American International Motorcycle Show in Toronto, January of 2014. There we were received enthusiastically, but delays due to unexpected website construction issues, legal battles and lack of funds made the forward momentum slow.
With some help from Alex Moroz of the Legends and Heroes Tour in the US, we were able to bring Ross Pederson, one of Canada's most accomplished Champions, to represent the Legends Project at the Toronto Supercross at the Rogers Centre in March of 2014. Ross provided some entertaining stories with Jim Holley, Host of Supercross Live, who was a great friend as well as fierce competitor on the track. The project was enthusiastically received by the thousands of attendees.
Other than a few small gatherings of Motorcycle enthusiasts, we have displayed a backdrop consisting of a Timeline of Pictures at two of the three Ontario MX Nationals where past legends would gather and tell stories. I have also teamed up with Brent Worrall who hosts the Canadian Moto show, an internet live talk show every Wednesday evening talking to racers across the country. He is in Western Canada so we can help each other as well while connecting with the whole country.
Recently, the Legends of Canadian Motocross was displayed and recognized by the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame during their Induction Ceremony in Edmonton. The event was attended by a large contingent of the motorcycling industry and community.
Most of these accomplishments were done while experiencing a busy work load at the studio this summer. So now that the season is slowly coming to a close more time can be focused on the Legends project.
7. So, how did Motocross in Canada get started?
Our history in Motocross will not be that different than what happened in the US. Through the 50s and 60s there were numerous motorcycle clubs in Canada actively promoting the sport of off-road competition under the banner of Canadian Motorcycle Association (CMA) sanctioning. Back in those days it was still called "scrambling," the name given to all-terrain racing by the British, inventors of the sport in the mid-1920s. Sometime in the late 60s the word motocross was being used more often and on Sunday, November 2, 1969, the first high-profile International Motocross race featuring a number of European guest stars was held at Copetown, Ontario. Until the late 1980s the name "Copetown" was synonymous with Canadian motocross.
The success of the 1969 event at Copetown, both in terms of rider participation and paid attendance, led to the prestigious CanAm Series. The best homegrown, American, and European riders of the era were drawn to participate in this series. At that time Canadian Motocross was enjoying a rapid growth in popularity and would continue to do so until the early 1980s. By the mid-70s, World Championship GP Motocross had become a fixture on the Canadian Motocross calendar. Although the action was limited to Quebec and Ontario we saw more western riders competing in these events and eventually a true Canada wide series existed.
Roger DeCoster at 1976 Canadian 500cc Motocross GP
8. How is Motocross in Canada different than in the United States?
The motocross scene here in Canada is not that much different than what you see in the US. What is different is the number of teams that compete and the spectators are less in size though when Supercross hits Toronto, we pack the stadium. We also have a handful of American riders that compete full time in the Canadian national series. The overall budget that is available for motocross racing in Canada is considerably less that what would be available in the US, so we here have to be somewhat creative to be able to put on a first class event
9. Tell us about some of Canada's legends.
In the 50s and 60s names like Bill Sharpless, Yvon Duhamel and Jack Hunt were constant winners in the east . Rudy Zascko Sr., Zoli Berenyi Sr. and Vern Amor were some of the consistent winners on the western side of the country. During this era it was not uncommon for a rider to compete in many different types of racing. People like Bill Sharpless and Yvon Duhamel were also road race and trials Champions.
Although 70s Swedish motocross sensation Jan-Eric Sällqvist wasn't the first foreign import to contest the Canadian National Motocross Championship, he was by far the most successful. Riders like Finland's Seppo Makinen and Jorma Rautiainen, and Czechoslovakia's Zdeno Syrovy and Vlastimil Valek, had preceded and won national No.1 plates before Sällqvist but none tallied his total championship booty. Sällqvist collected 5 national titles during his Canadian tenure between 1974 and 1977.
Through the 80's Ross Pederson dominated all of the classes, but nipping at his heels and sometimes beating him, riders like Doug Hoover, Allan Dyck, Carl Vaillancourt, Zoli Berenyi Jr. and Mike Harnden need to be mentioned.
During the 90s, riders like Jean-Sebastien Roy, Blair Morgan and Carl Vaillancourt were a common site on top of the podium.
10. Who are Canada's best riders today we should keep an eye on?
The three riders that represented Canada at this year's MXON in Latvia, are a good example of our top guns. Colton Facciotti (2014 MX1 Champion) has been here before with three other MX1 titles, Kaven Benoit (2014 MX2 Champion) and Tyler Medaglia (overall 3rd in MX1 for 2014) who has two other MX2 titles behind him.
Interview with Bill Petro
Written By: AndrewT