Via the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame
Mark Barnett was the dominant AMA 125cc motocross racer of the early 1980s. "The Bomber" won three AMA 125cc National Motocross Championships from 1980 to 1982 and proved his versatility by winning the AMA Supercross Series in 1981. When he retired from racing in 1985, he was the all-time win leader in AMA 125cc Motocross history with 25 national wins in the class and was second to Bob Hannah on the all-time AMA Supercross wins list with 17 stadium victories.
In addition to his four AMA championships, Barnett also had success on the international stage as a member of the winning 1983 Team U.S.A. Motocross and Trophee des Nations squad. He twice won the 125cc U.S. Grand Prix of Motocross.
Barnett, born in 1960, grew up in Bridgeview, Illinois. He learned to ride on a pull-start minibike as a kid and began racing motocross by the age 10 in Illinois and Indiana. He rapidly became the dominant rider in whatever class he competed. As a boy, Barnett was a big fan of Belgium motocross star Sylvain Geboers. He saw first saw Geboers race a factory Suzuki in a Trans-AMA race in Wisconsin.
In his 1977 rookie pro season, the Midwesterner turned some heads by scoring three top-10 finishes in the 125cc nationals and finishing sixth in the final standings. In 1978, Barnett signed his first factory contract with Suzuki, paying him $1,000 per month. Later, at the height of his career, Barnett would sign a three-year, one million dollar contract with the company.
Barnett was one of the few riders from the Midwest to earn a factory ride at the time.
On April 23, 1978, Barnett won his first AMA 125cc National riding the factory Suzuki in Houston, Texas. A shoulder injury put an early end to his 1978 campaign and hampered his return early in 1979, but by the end of the year Barnett was fully healed and closed out the season with a string of consecutive victories in the 125 nationals and finished runner up to Broc Glover in the series. Perhaps his biggest confidence booster that year was winning the 125cc U.S. Grand Prix of Motocross at Mid-Ohio against the world’s best.
In 1980, his first full season of AMA Supercross, Barnett finished fourth in the series.
While Barnett was coming into his own by 1980, no one could have dreamed he would experience one of the most dominant seasons in AMA Motocross and Supercross history in 1981. That year, he gave Suzuki its first AMA Supercross Championship, winning a series-best six races along the way.
In the 125 nationals, Barnett was simply unstoppable. He won 14 straight motos and seven consecutive nationals en route to the title. He broke his collarbone at home practicing and was forced to miss the final national. That was very likely the only thing that kept him from turning in the first undefeated season in AMA motocross history. As it was, he won 14 of the 16 motos that season. In spite of missing the final round, Barnett set a number of AMA winning-streak records that would stand for over 20 years.
If the 1981 AMA Supercross and 125 Motocross Championships weren’t enough, Barnett put an exclamation mark on his unbelievable season by humiliating the Europeans at Mid-Ohio in the 1981 125cc U.S. Grand Prix. He lapped the field up to 10th place in the first moto and was nearly two minutes ahead of the second-place rider at the finish. In the second moto, he came from dead last in a pouring rain to win again. Motorcyclist magazine said the one consolation the Europeans had when they returned home was that Barnett didn’t go with them.
Barnett was runner up in the 1982 supercross series and went on to defend his 125 Motocross title in a close battle over Johnny O’Mara. It marked his fourth AMA championship.
In 1983, Barnett finally relinquished the AMA 125 Motocross Championship after he experienced a tough string of mechanical problems with his bike. In the 1983 AMA Supercross Series, Barnett led most of the season, but again had bike problems late in the season and lost the title to David Bailey by just two points.
In 1984, Barnett moved to the 250 motocross class for the first time. He had some good results, but suffered a knee injury and finished fifth in the final standings. It was then that he felt the desire to stay on top was beginning to wane.
In 1985, he signed with Kawasaki, but re-injured his knee and never regained the speed he had before the injury. Barnett decided to retire after the ‘85 season.
He was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2001. In 2002 Racer X Illustrated ranked Barnett sixth on its "25 All-Time Best American Motocross Riders."