As motocross spread across the globe and became a dominant motorcycle racing discipline, Gary Jones was at the leading edge of the coming American storm.
The four-time American 250 national motocross champion (1971 to 1974) was first exposed to motorcycles started shortly after birth. “My dad, the only thing he had was motorcycles, and when I came home from the hospital, I was on it with my mom,” said Jones.
His father Don Jones, a BSA/Matchless dealer, was also one of the first Yamaha dealers in Southern California in the 1960s. Young Gary was riding a BSA in local TT, scrambles, flat track, and motocross, winning his first expert class race at the age of 15.
Jones recalls the debut of the Yamaha DT-1: “There was this new lightweight bike coming out, and it was cool. We were making a lot of modifications to it, racing it every week.” The Jones family was well placed to help lead, direct, and develop the advancing wave of Japanese motocross innovation.
The motorcycle that Jones and his father developed was to become the basis for the strap tank YZ Yamaha.
“Our bike was the basis for the ‘74 YZ, we made the very first one,” Jones said of the design. “We started with at DT-1, cut the frame, and lengthened some of the bars here and there. We moved the pegs back, lowered the engine down, flattened out and lengthened the swingarm. All of our spacers and bolts were titanium with holes drilled in them, sometimes using pins instead of nuts, and we trimmed down the fork castings to take weight out of it. We gave the bike back, as Yamaha was paying for us to do the work. We used to call that bike ‘A to Z’ because we had done everything from A to Z on it. When the bikes came back from Japan, A-Z became the YZ.”
In 1971, Jones won the U.S. 250 Motocross Championship, based upon being the highest placed American in Edison Dye’s Inter-Am series. Also the winner in the Baja 500 desert race that year, Jones was becoming a dominant force in American off-road racing.
For 1972, the AMA instituted national motocross championships, no longer based upon the highest finishing American in a European-dominated series. Jones not only won the 250 Championship again for Yamaha, he also finished second to Brad Lackey in the 500cc Championship.
Jones commented on the change to Honda for 1973: “We were happy with Yamaha, but Honda kept coming to us saying, ‘We want you to ride our bikes.’ They rubbed more money in our face than we could stand, so we decided we were going to try to ride this new Honda.
The classic Honda riding sweatshirt of the era with the horizontal bands of red, blue and white was based on a design originated by Jones’ mother. “They didn’t have clothing, so my mom cut out the names and letters, and cut up red, blue, and white football jerseys to make our Honda jerseys,” Jones said. “She made the first American Honda race gear.”
Although Jones found success on the Honda, the bike was constantly breaking the one-off factory racing parts, and it was a challenging venture. A special, large-displacement version of the Elsinore had been made by Honda for the 1973 USGP, their first attempt at the 500cc GP category. In the second moto, Gary Jones led his first GP for a lap and a half on the 450 Honda, until the frame broke. Despite reliability issues, Jones went on to win the 250cc National Championship on the Elsinore.
For 1974, Jones was racing on the powerful rotary valve Rotax engine Can-Am motorcycles. Together with talented teammates Marty Tripes and Jimmy Ellis, this dream team was foundation for the Canadian company’s first motocross challenge.
Jones secured his fourth consecutive 250 National Championship that year. A strong contender for what could have been a fifth consecutive title in 1975, Jones broke his leg at the Daytona Supercross, and Can-Am bought out his contract.
1976 was to bring the Ammex venture, with the Jones family’s Mexican manufactured brand of American-Mexican motorcycle. Amidst the catastrophic devaluation of the peso by a factor of 10, the value of the company was wiped out almost overnight.
Jones was to turn his efforts toward other off-road competition, and became the SCORE off road World Champion in 1982.
Sadly, Jone’s father passed away in 2008 at age 84, a giant in his own right in the history of American motocross. Although Jones continues to race in both vintage and other off-road series, he is passing the torch to a new generation of Jones racers.
Gary Jones was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in 2000.