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What a crazy and wild week it’s been trying to create the next addition of all-time great from province to province. I actually did a poll to see what province should be next and Alberta won but there’s a lot of misconception and who’s from where, and a lot of older names so finding the info was tough. Therefore I’ve pushed it back a week to ensure I get a solid list that earned the respect of the racers and province.
Ok, I never really specified the exact parameters of these lists. It was a fun idea and thus far has been fun for not just me but the reads and some of the racers mentioned like Kevin Ferguson and Wayne Jones in the Saskatchewan List. This list wasn’t just guys that hall ass on their own turf but rather provincial racers that hauled as everywhere. National numbers, championships, and global reach all have power in this decision. Plus, I’m not the only guy that has made this list up. I’ve reached out to key folks that have been around for a long time and done my homework. So, without further explanation let’s get to the all-time top 5 Ontario racers.
#5 Marty Burr
This one may come into question but for me, Marty Burr was an animal on the race track and his lone title in 1996 in the 125 class is what gives him this nod. Marty was a solid guy off the track once you got to know him. On the track, he may be the toughest mentally and arguably the biggest A-hole ever. I mean, he was so hard to pass, didn’t care about anything but trying to win, wore the ugliest gear, rode the most stock looking bikes, and gave absolutely no F’s about any of his completion and would run them off the track to score a point. He was a true racer’s racer.
Marty was a consistent top 10 guy for many years. His two claim to fame moments was in 1995 where he won all four motos at the Walton Pro National (both 125 and 250 we raced back then) which wasn’t unheard of but not many racers before he can claim such days other than Ross Pederson and a couple others. In 1996 he won the 125 title over Marco Dube by just a couple points at the final round to give him his only title. He was never able to wear the number 1 plate because it was a combination of points and Dube was the man for that but Marty will always be known as a champion.
Marty rode for Yamaha Motor Canada his entire pro career. He was a hot shot in the minis and became a great pro racer in his own right. In 1999 he called it a career and left the sport with a distinguished resume no doubt. I have no clue what Marty does these days or if he even follows the sport that once dominated his world, but regardless of that in my eyes, he sits in the #5 spot all-time for Ontario born racers.
#4 Mike Harnden
I knew Mike quite well after his astonishing well-told story was done. He was a good dude with a passion for the sport like me. He put everything he had into motocross and it gave him one hell of a career in return. I can’t write about better than this right here by Bill Petro. The story of how Mike won the 1984 500 champion over Ross Pederson is truly amazing and one for the ages. This title, his lone title, is the reason he scores #4 in my eyes.
It was the summer of 1984 and early that morning the Honda pits were full of excitement and confidence. Team Honda was poised to clinch the biggest upset in Canadian Motocross since 1980. Harnden had arrived that morning in Copetown with a 16-point lead over defending 500cc champion Ross Pederson. Mike had won the previous two rounds and needed only 4-5 moto scores to clinch the title. Team Honda boss Hank Howard had already shown Mike the #1 t-shirts he had printed during the week. “I figured I would take it easy, let Pederson win the race and go 2-2 or 3-3 to clinch the title,” quips Harnden while relaxing in a lawn chair at his home in Ottawa.
Unfortunately, the first moto had turned out to be a disaster. Normally full of confidence, Mike was nervous. He tensed up and fought his bike. He started poorly and couldn’t make time on his competitors. The track was fast and smooth, making it difficult to pass. “There were eight or 10 guys all going the same pace and I didn’t find that at the other rounds,” Mike recalls. “I couldn’t make any time or pass anyone.”
Frustrated and feeling the championship slipping from his grasp, Mike’s attitude switched from assurance to desperation. He took unnecessary chances, which resulted in three crashes. One was a spectacular highside right in front of the mechanics’ area where Howard was standing.
“I got up winded, dirty, frustrated and way back,” Harnden remembers. He finished the moto in eighth and what was to be touted as one of the biggest upsets in Canadian history was now likely to be one of the biggest blunders. Sitting on the line for the second moto the pressure was immense. “If there was ever a time to pull a rabbit out of the hat the second moto was it,” says Harnden. “I had just squandered all my hard work from the West Coast and blew it all in one moto. I was mad at myself.”
Waiting for the start of the second moto, he pressed his fingers against his grips to stretch his forearms. Arm pump, a very rare occurrence for Mike Harnden, had reared its ugly head in the first moto. The blue sky was streaked with wisps of white clouds as the sun started its descent across Copetown, ON. Mike tipped his visor toward the backward falling gate to block the sun’s rays, checked his gas petcock one more time, and fought off the urge to yawn.
Thirty-nine competitors were lined up beside him, fidgeting nervously, yet Mike sat unaware as his tunnel vision was focused on the long fourth gear downhill start. This would be the most important start of his career.
The Second Moto
So, what happened in the second moto at Copetown?
“I was literally screaming inside my helmet as I let the clutch out,” Harnden says. “I was probably over-revving and everything but I got the holeshot. I was so scared to death of screwing up that it just made me try harder.” Mike did grab a spectacular holeshot and continued to lead for the opening laps. “All I remember is taking a deep breath and riding as fast as I could for about five laps. I got a pit board that said I had a five-second lead. I was feeling good about that – nobody breathing down my neck.” However, nothing seemed to come to Mike without a fight and his tranquil race soon turned tense. “I kept riding fast and focused and then all of the sudden I heard a bike behind me – it was Ross. He showed me a wheel and made a few aggressive pass attempts so I had to let him by. I was wary of the fact that he would try to take me out.” Despite his disastrous first moto, Mike still had a five-point lead coming into the final moto. If Ross won and Mike placed second, Harnden would still win the championship by two points. There were two remaining intangibles. Would Ross try to take him out and where was Rudi Zasko, who led the first moto until the final lap?
While Mike did his best to stay with Pederson, Rudi started catching Mike. Rudi actually passed him in the late stages and dropped him to third – a position that would give Ross the title. Then, Mike was finally on the receiving end of some good luck. Zasko crashed and Mike calmly slipped back into second. Now Pederson was desperate. He had to make something happen to get Mike out of second place. “He slowed obviously and everyone saw it,” Harnden recalls.
Ross knew that Mike was concerned about a block pass and would avoid overtaking him so he slowed to let the rest of the pack catch up, hoping someone would pass Harnden for second. It was too little too late. “I remember right at the finish line there was a single rut right before the checkered flag and Ross put both feet down and pulled the clutch in and stopped,” Harnden says. “I let my clutch out and pushed him across the finish line. He made it interesting but when it was all said and done, I placed second and it was enough. I was relieved, to say the least.”
#3 Ron Keys
I don’t know a darn thing about Ron Keys but he was a two-time 250 class Canadian champion from way back in 1971 and 1973. He was also one of these guys that were just born to race. Like many from back in these times of motocross, they would slingshot through the ranks. Keys went from Junior to Expert in 1 year:
From Wil De Clercq
“I couldn’t afford a dirt bike at the time so I took the lights off my Superhawk, put knobby tires on it and fitted it with a couple of old rusty pipes I got from Speedy Muffler King. Those were about the only modifications I did to it,” said Keys. “I got a lot of strange looks at the track, but not for long.”
To the disbelief and chagrin of his mx bike mounted competitors Keys, who’d never laid eyes on a motocross track, and with less than one year’s worth of riding experience under his belt, took the unlikely street bike to a second place finish in the Open Junior class. Having taken to dirt like a fish to water, Keys decided to take advantage of the long weekend racing schedule and headed for St. Agatha, ON, where he entered his second motocross meet the following day.
Although he found himself with the front-runners once again, his prized possession succumbed to a broken rear hub on an extremely rough whoops section, putting an end to what looked like was going to be another podium finish. Thanks to a local motorcycle dealer, however, who gave him a brand new Superhawk rear wheel, the aspiring motocross star was able to take part in the final race of the holiday weekend at Copetown, ON. Despite a total lack of competition experience, he smoked all comers on the highly technical track and booked what would be the first victory of an illustrious career.
In 1967, Keys won six consecutive races aboard a CZ, which was lent to him by his boss at an Oshawa garage. A major crash, resulting in a dislocated shoulder, prematurely ended his season. Thoughts of not pursuing the sport entered his mind but Keys returned the following year on a 500 Maico in the Expert class.
“I was bumped right up to Expert from Junior,” said Keys. “I didn’t know what to expect. The Maico kept breaking down and I wasn’t getting any kind of results. It was pretty discouraging and since I couldn’t find another sponsor, I decided to pack it in.”
A two-time Canadian champion in the premier class gets the nod for #3 all-time on this list.
#2 Doug Hoover
I grew up idolizing Doug “The Sweeper” Hoover back when I first started racing in 1986. Doug would be the first pro racer I would ever meet and at that time he was #1 after taking down Ross Pederson for the 125 title the year before.
Doug had a really short career by today’s standards calling it a career at 24 years old. He shared this ina story from Legends of Canadian Motocross, “A lot of people wonder why I quite motocross so early but I achieved what I wanted to and racing for eleven seasons was enough for me,” said Hoover. “I also started thinking more seriously about my future and for me, it was only natural to continue on in the family business. I still like to go out riding for fun and get together with some of the guys from the old days whenever I can.”
I used to be able to ride with Doug at his house in Mt Albert and I will never forget those days he took an 8-year-old around his track while I followed the Canadian champion. His two titles in the era of Ross were astonishing because nobody beat Ross enough to make him notice. Both Doug Hoover and Al Dyck were the only racers to do it. I know anybody from that era or after that era would agree. Doug Hoover was an amazing talent with a toughness that matched the greatest of all time in Canadian moto.
#1 Tyler Medaglia
It was funny when I started thinking about this article I almost forgot Tyler Medaglia. I mean how could I forget him; he’s a two-time Canadian MX2 champion and has been one of Canada’s best for over a decade.
Tyler first turned pro in 2004. His claim to fame up till that point was winning the Saturday qualifier in the 125 class over eventual champion Randy Valade as an Intermediate rider. After this Tyler’s career began to crumble as two huge injuries shut him down until 2006. It was funny then because I personally was having a great year as a nearly 30-year-old in the MX2 class and Tyler was a young gun coming off these injuries (Broken Back and semi Ken Roczen Elbow type injury that was so gross) and we were battling it out for top Canadian in the MX2 series that year. Tyler would come out on top and earn a ride for 2007 with the factory Suzuki team. From that moment on Tyler became one of Canada’s elite. From the end of 2008 until present day Tyler brought home those two titles and has earned #5 4 times, #3 twice, #6, #7, and #11. He’s been on Team Canada MXON 5 times. He’s a US Lites AX champion, and ISDE Gold Medal winner, and a father of three. He might likely be one of the best athletes Canada has ever had let alone just Ontario.
I’m probably missing some highlights of this unbelievable career but I hit the main parts. Tyler Medaglia in my eyes is the greatest Ontario racer of all-time.