MIKE BROWN | 2001
125cc AMA PRO MOTOCROSS CHAMPION 2001
LET BRANDEN BY
Mike Brown is known by most of the younger generation for his off-road exploits, most recently riding a Rockstar Energy Husqvarna in the AMA Endurocross Series as well as being on the US ISDE team for several years. However, two decades ago, Brownie was a motocross star, and he won the 125cc Pro Motocross Championship in 2001 after a fierce battle with South African Grant Langston, who was racing in America after winning the 125 FIM World Championship just the year before. It was an exciting season with an interesting twist in the end.
Brownie is not one to brag about his successes. He’s more of a quiet, blue-collar type, which is why so many love him. The Tennessee native spent the 1999 and 2000 seasons in Europe, also riding the 125cc World Championships, where he finished third on both occasions.
In 2001, Brownie came back to the United States and raced the AMA series for Mitch Payton’s Pro Circuit Kawasaki team, while Langston also came to America and rode the series for KTM.
Travis Pastrana was the defending 125 champ heading into the 2001 season, but it was Langston and Brown who dominated. However, Brown was slow out of the gate.
“I got off to a bad start to the season; I DNF’D both motos at the first round at Hangtown,” Brownie said. “The bike broke in the first moto and then something else happened in the second moto, so I started the season 50 points in the hole. During the middle part of the season I won three races in a row, so that kind of put me back in it.”
The series wound up being a back-and-forth affair for most of the year, while in the 250cc class, Ricky Carmichael was killing and, in fact, wrapped up the title early on his Kawasaki, meaning he didn’t need to ride the final round at Steel City.
At that time, Ricky was tied on the all-time 125cc wins list with Mark Barnett and needed one more 125 win to break Barnett’s record. Since his 250 title was already wrapped up, he was more than happy to drop down and try for the record at the series finale in Steel City and, at the same time, perhaps help his friend, Mike Brown, and his old team, Pro Circuit Kawasaki, win the 2001 title. Many think it was team orders that prompted Ricky to move down for the final race. After all, if he could get between Brown and Langston and help Brownie win the title, it would be in Kawasaki’s best interest.
“Going into the last round, Grant had a nine-point lead on me, and there was a lot of talk going around that Ricky was riding so he could get between me and Grant and help me out,” Brown told Dirt Rider magazine. “Maybe that’s what Kawasaki wanted, but I think Ricky was more interested in beating out Mark for the most 125 wins.”
When racing got underway at Steel City, Brown won the first moto, with Langston in second. Ricky got a bad start and was only able to work his way up to third, so Brownie was able to gain a few points on Langston.
Going into the second moto, Langston now had a six-point lead over Brown in the title chase and just needed to stay relatively close to the Kawasaki rider to win the championship.
Making things easier for Langston, Brown crashed on the first lap of the second moto and dropped to the back of the pack. “I was about top 10 off the start, but then I crashed at the bottom of the big uphill, which put me pretty far back,” Brown said. “I was almost dead last, but I worked my way up pretty fast. A lot of guys helped me out by letting me by easy; I guess they were wanting me to win.”
Meanwhile, Ricky had gotten off to a much better start and rode away with the second moto win. But things would go terribly wrong for Langston when the rear spokes on his 125 KTM started to break. Langston slowed trying to save a finish, but he was eventually left stranded on the side of the track with a collapsed rear wheel, handing the title to Brownie.
By this time, Brown had moved up into second behind Ricky and on the final lap, with title in hand, he slowed to allow Branden Jessemen to go around, handing Ricky his recordwinning 26th 125 overall victory.
“When I passed Grant, I thought he had a flat tire because he was riding so slow; I didn’t know what was going on,” Brown said. “The next time I came around I saw him sitting on the side of the track and I knew it was over for him.”
WANT MORE This feature story was inspired by a “Raiders of the Archives” we did with Brad Lackey a few years back. Check it out at dirtrider.com/lackey-archives.