based KX. They did well, but won no overall victories
that year. In ’ 89 and ’ 90, Jeff Ward gave the KX its first
National Championships on consecutive KX500s, then,
in 1992, it was Mike Kiedrowski. The final year for the
500 National Championship was 1993, when Mike
LaRocco’s victory made the final entry in the MX record
book for both Kawasaki and the class itself. Altogether,
Kawasaki won forty 500 Nationals with the KX500 and
its predecessors. Oddly enough, Kawasaki never won a
500 World Championship in Europe. But, Ron Leichien’s
1988 domination of the Motocross des Nations on a
Kawasaki 500 was legendary.
However, that was only half of the KX story. In 1986,
Donnie Griewe won two National Hare & Hounds on a
KX500. A few years later, the flood gates opened. Danny
Hamel won every single desert National from 1992 until
1995—every one. He was killed in a Baja accident in late
’ 85, but the Kawasaki’s desert championship run continued with Greg Zitterkopf (1996), Ty Davis (’ 97 and ’ 98),
Brian Brown (’ 99) and Destry Abbott (’00 and ’01). In the
meantime, Kawasaki utterly dominated the Baja 1000
under the leadership of Team Green Czar Mark Johnson.
He hired Larry Roeseler in 1987, and the two of them put
together a program that proved unbeatable from 1988 to
1996. The riders who took their turns winning the Baja
Mill for Kawasaki was a very impressive list: Roeseler
himself, Ted Hunnicut, Ty Davis, Danny Hamel, Danny
LaPorte, Paul Krause, Greg Ziterkopf, Paul Ostbo, and
even Marty Smith.
Among Japan’s giants, Kawasaki came late to the
motocross party. Suzuki built the first production open-class
two-stroke in 1971, but by 1973, it was clear that all motorcycle manufacturers saw the dirt as a way to bring young
customers into the building. Kawasaki had great success
with its early 125, but the big bikes were mediocre or downright poor motorcycles well into the mid-’80s.
1973: Kawasaki’s first open-classer was a very limited
production bike called the S12. In 1973, it was offered to a
few dealers for their supported riders, while Brad Lackey
and Jimmy Weinert rode works versions. In 1974, it was
renamed the KX450. It had a plastic gas tank (very for-ward-thinking at the time) and horizontal reservoirs on the
shocks (dubbed “Hammerhead” shocks). It wasn’t a very
good motorcycle compared to the new Yamaha YZ360,
but it was a start.
1975: Kawasaki detuned the 450 and downsized it to a
400. The plastic gas tank was gone, and there were a
number of cost-cutting features. Again, Kawasaki lagged
behind Yamaha in the open class. By then, the YZ360 had
a Monoshock rear end, and it was the most sought-after
bike in the class. Kawasaki kept the 400 in the line during
1976, but quietly worked on something big for the future.
1980: Kawasaki unleashed the next big thing in
motocross. The Uni-Trak rear suspension system was
unveiled on a KX125, KX250 and an all-new KX420. It
By 1985, the KX500 came into its own. The next year it would
get a KIPS power valve, which technically set it apart from
other 500 two-strokes.
A 1992 KX500. The increased flywheel mass was its last big