Wednesday, November 29, 2017
THE DAY JEAN-MICHEL BAYLE STUNNED AMERICA
Although only 6,000 fans were there that day to witness the feat, what Jean Michel Bayle accomplished on March 5, 1989 at the Gatorback Cycle Park in Gainesville, Florida was, undisputedly, one of the greatest single victories in motocross history. And while that may sound like some very heavy praise, what the Frenchman pulled off in the Sunshine State was not only a tale about where Bayle was going at that point in his young career, but where he had been.
Despite winning the 1988 125cc World Championship and later that summer battling fiercely with American Jeff Ward at the Motocross des Nations in Versenne, France (“I knocked Jean-Michele Bayle down in the last moto to win the overall. It was in France and he was there World Champion or whatever it was,” said Ward of that day) most everyone in the United States of America knew something close to nothing about JMB. Remember, this was the late 1980s, and the American onslaught on global motocross was in full-gear and, for all intents and purposes, be it a United States Grand Prix, an international supercross or a Motocross des Nations, the Yankees won every race they lined up for. Undaunted, Jean-Michele Bayle, even at that point, made it clear to anyone who cared to listen that he had a dream and a dream he refused to let go of.
“In 1989 my goal was to show what I could do in the USA,” said Jean Michele Bayle recently. “The 1989 Grand Prix season for the 250 world championship was not starting up until April so it was okay for me good to start the SX season that January.”
From there, Bayle, be it buy, beg borrow or steal, and sought out any help he could conjure up. “When I arrived in the U.S., I did not have very much help from American Honda. Instead Mitch Payton and Roger DeCoster (who was then overseeing American Honda’s race effort) helped me a lot. Mitch take care of the engines and Roger and Showa took care of my suspension. The bike was a standard base model with a Pro Circuit engine and Factory Showa suspension we took from my practice bike.”
Mitch Payton, who had only started upon creating his Pro Circuit empire at this point, knew Bayle had the right stuff and was highly impressed by Bayle’s attitude and pioneering approach. “Nobody had been at that level in Europe,” reflected Payton. “He had been a 125 champion but his dream was to come to the United States. He was a very independent, strong minded person and was like, ‘I don’t care what, I’m going to the United States.’”
For a rookie Grand Prix refugee, Bayle performed remarkably well during his foray into the supercross stadiums of America. After crashing out heavily in the season opening race at Anaheim, Bayle bounced back – litteraly and figuratively - to record five straight top 10 finishes (highlighted by a dazzling second at Miami). “The adaptation for supercross was hard due to the close and hard racing,” said Bayle. “However, I was really motivated to show my full potential at the opening round of the 250cc National at Gainesville.”
Back in the 1980s, the American Motorcyclist Association tossed the orphan Gainesville National smack in the middle of the supercross series and so it was eight days after the Atlanta Supercross that Bayle, working out of the back of a large white cargo van that Roger DeCoster had loaned him, that Bayle was about to go head-to-head with the Americans on what he felt was “neutral turf” (read: natural terrain motocross).
That morning during practice, the paddock was rocked heavily with the news that then-dominate rider Rick Johnson had severely dislocated his right wrist. The “Bad Boy” (as he was known at the time) was out of the race. His understudy and American Honda teammate Jeff Stanton was immediately thrust into the Big Red Machine team leader role. Meanwhile, Jean-Michel Bayle began preparing for the opening moto.
When the gate dropped to launch the ’89 National Championship Series, Honda man Stanton aced the holeshot, leading Jeff Ward (there’s that name again) and Bayle out onto the typically sandy Florida track. Stanton would hold sway during the opening phase of the race, while JMB motored up on Ward. Soon, Bayle was through and after Stanton he went. As he began to file away at the American’s lead, Stanton handed the lead over when he slid out over a small jump. Bayle raced away to win the moto by 25 seconds. The pits went quiet.
Bayle found himself in the lead at the start of the second and all conclusive moto, chased by Stanton and Ward. Stanton would find his way past the “Star Buster” (as the back of JMB’s JT Racing pants read) as would Ward (who would win the moto), but Bayle would hold on to a comfortable third place finish, and with it, the overall victory. It was a stunning result and a result heard around the world.
“Of course I realized then i did something very important,” said Bayle, some 25 years later, “because i proved that i was able to race with the best Americans fighting for the USA title. I was also happy for Roger and Micth because they were the two peoples from America to believe in my challenge. I think, to this day, that when I won they were more happy then me! On this day I think the American motocross people understood why I was there. I was there because my goal was just to race with the best riders in the World.”
That spring, Jean Michele Bayle would go back and make a run at the 1989 250cc World Championship. He won it. For the 1990 season, JMB was hired on by American Honda to race in the U.S. on a full-time basis. By 1991, he was the AMA supercross and 250cc and 500cc National Champion. He was also a revolutionary, the first Grand Prix rider of the modern era to fight a war that would allow future champions (and we all know who they are) to come to America in an effort to prove they were, in fact, the world’s best.
“Yes I was the very first to come to USA from the GP circuit,” explained Bayle of his amazing journey. “Of course I had to open many doors and the road to my titles was not easy. However, it was great to realize my goal and my dream, I RACED AGAINS THE BEST! When you are racing you want to win, but you want to win again the best the world has to offer. I was able to do that.”