Let's get the elephant in the room out of the way: Jeremy McGrath is the best supercross racer who ever lived. He was #1 on our previous list of Monster Energy's Best Supercross Racers of all time, and there was no doubt about that. Even ten years after he retired, no one is close to his record of seventy-two wins, and no one may ever get close. But this list is about AMA Motocross, something the King of Supercross didn't often put his full effort into. In fact, in the latter part of his career, he signed a supercross-only deal in order to maximize his staying power and focus on his preferred form of racing.
Nonetheless, in the time McGrath did spend on the AMA Motocross tour—from his rookie year of 1991 through the start of the 1998 season—McGrath won seventeen outdoor nationals (fifteen in the premier class) and the 1995 AMA 250 Motocross Championship in dominant fashion. Given his speed, his time and his competition, McGrath ranks 18th on our list, just ahead of Ron Lechien.
McGrath was a late bloomer, famously working a regular job in a Ralph's grocery store and winning a Novice-class championship at Loretta Lynn's in 1987. By the time he turned pro in 1990, he was being called a natural in supercross—he seemingly came out of nowhere to win the Las Vegas 125 SX. Even back then, when you begin studying Jeremy's numbers, you will see a string of podium finishes in 125 SX, and then outdoor finishes like 20-12-39-8-10.... It was obvious early that outdoor tracks were his Achilles’ heel, just as the indoor tracks were for Ricky Carmichael. At first.
For McGrath, 1993 proved to be his breakout year outdoors.
Fran Kuhn photo
He went on to win the SX crown that year, as well as the next year, and the next year, and the next year. But the '93 125 MX title was lost to his teammate Doug Henry, and the '94 250 title went to Mike LaRocco, as Jeremy finished third and never won a race. The knock was that he just wasn't that good outdoors. That was apparently all he needed to hear.
McGrath came out swinging in 1995, revamping his training program and focusing hard on proving his doubters wrong. He put it to the likes of his longtime rival Jeff Emig, multi-time champs Mike LaRocco and Mike Kiedrowski, and even incoming world champ Greg Albertyn. McGrath won more than half of that year's 250 Nationals, clinching his one and only AMA Motocross title. He seemed in control the next year too, taking five of the first six rounds and holding a 40-point lead, but he made a terrible mistake in practice when he tried to turn two tabletops into one big double at Millville and tweaked his ankle, forcing him to ride very tentatively for 9-7 finishes that day. The next race was Washougal and he only mustered a fifteenth overall, pulling out because he just couldn’t stand riding around at the back of the top ten just for points. He would later call it the biggest regret of his career; had he stayed out there and collected a few more points, he would have had a better shot of holding off Emig and repeating as champion. Ultimately, he and Emig went down to the wire nearly deadlocked in points, and Emig beat him with 1-1 scores at the Steel City finale to take the 1996 250 National Championship.
McGrath won his first, and only, outdoor title in 1995.
Paul Buckley photo
Prior to the 1997 season, McGrath had a falling-out with Honda and ended up spending a mostly lost season on Suzuki, where little went right, indoors or outdoors. Emig won both titles.
One year later he was on a Chaparral Yamaha, back on top of supercross, and once again leading the 250 Nationals after three rounds, including a win at Hangtown. But then he cracked his wrist and had to pull out, leaving Doug Henry with a clear shot at the title on his YZ400F.
For all intents and purposes, McGrath's outdoor career pretty much ended there. He signed a supercross-only deal and focused on rewriting the entire record book there. He rode the occasional national, showing the inherent speed that comes with being such a remarkable natural talent. The record shows those seventeen career wins, plus thirty-five career podiums, which places him eighth on the all-time list in the 250/450 class.
When we add it all up—the title, wins and podiums, the quality of his competition, sheer speed, and more—we have Jeremy McGrath at #18 on our list of the Greatest AMA Motocrossers ever.
#19 - Ron Lechien
#20 - Jean-Michel Bayle
#21 - Tony DiStefano
#22 - Steve Lamson
#23 - Jimmy Weinert
#24 - Chad Reed
#25 - Brad Lackey
#26 - Gary Jones
#27 - Pierre Karsmakers
#28 - Kevin Windham
#29 - Grant Langston
#30 - Johnny O'Mara