From the moment professional motocross racing crossed the pond and came to prominence in the U.S. back in the late sixties, right up until today, one name has consistently been associated with the sport; Roger DeCoster.
Roger DeCoster had amazing speed and technique, along with his gentlemanly manners, earned him the honorable nickname, "The Man." Belgian-born DeCoster lived and breathed motorcycles, rising through the national motocross ranks of his home country, garnering numerous 500cc wins and titles.
By the age of 19 in 1964, DeCoster was riding a CZ motorcycle in the 500cc Junior Belgium National Motocross Championship, winning the title, as well as a Belgian Trials Championship and earning a coveted gold medal in the ISDT that same year. He won the premiere 500cc Belgian Title in 1966, moving to the world motocross championship the following season.
DeCoster was part of promoter Edison Dye’s strategic plan to introduce European Motocross to America via a series of exhibition races in the late 60s. Dye had bought the rights to distribute Husqvarnas in America and he needed something spectacular to promote the Swedish motorcycles (which were virtually unknown stateside). A young DeCoster, aboard a CZ motorcycle, rode the crest of that first MX tidal wave that literally consumed the nation.
The crew of European mx riders that Dye brought to America-of which DeCoster was a part-dazzled the crowds with awe-inspiring displays of sheer brilliance, the likes of which had never been seen on American soil. Practically overnight the sacred "Hare Scrambles"-America’s premiere dirt racing discipline-was ushered aside in favor of the more dynamic Motocross.
By 1971 motocross was catching on like wildfire. That same year DeCoster switched to Suzuki and started his reign over the 500cc class. The Japanese motorcycle manufacturer had decided that motocross was an important market to develop and had built a game-changing motorcycle in the form of the Suzuki RN370. The bike used titanium prodigiously, resulting in an open class machine that weighed a rumored 167 pounds.
Suzuki had snatched up DeCoster to compete in the 500cc World Championship as a companion to their dominance in the 250cc Championship with Joel Robert. DeCoster rewarded them with a world title in 1971-the first 500cc title for a Japanese mx manufacturer.
Over the ensuing years DeCoster stayed loyal to Suzuki, winning the 500cc World Championship a total of five times, as well as winning the American-based Trans-AMA (formerly the Trans-Am) four times in succession, from 1974 to 1977.
After a successful tenure with Suzuki DeCoster switched to Honda, finishing out his career in 1980 by winning the last event he raced-the Luxemburg GP-in convincing fashion; winning both motos. During his racing career DeCoster earned an amazing 36 500cc Grand Prix victories. He competed with the Belgian team in the prestigious Motocross and Trophy des Nations, helping bring home the title six times.
In an interesting twist for the man who had helped introduce motocross to America, it was Roger DeCoster who then turned his talents to managing Honda’s American motocross team, coaching the U.S. to its first ever Trophy des Nations win. DeCoster, a Belgian, was now in full charge of American dominance in a sport that had been wholly European.
In 1996, thirty years after DeCoster won his first MX title, he was reunited with Suzuki, serving as the motocross team manager, earning the brand the 250cc AMA Championship (with Greg Albertyn) in 1999. DeCoster continued to manage the American onslaught in the Trophy des Nations that went on for an unprecedented thirteen years in a row.
In 2011 Roger DeCoster, The Man, embarked on yet another endeavor. The legendary racer and manager left Suzuki to join Austrian manufacturer KTM. His entire focus, as always, is to win.
Today, at racing events, it’s not uncommon to see an equal number of fans asking for DeCoster’s autograph as those of his team riders. What is amazing is that the people asking for his autograph run the gamut of ages, from kids to grey-haired men.
DeCoster was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999. He was also inducted to the Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1994, becoming only the seventh motorcyclist and the first foreign-born rider ever inducted. Cycle News named him Motocrosser of the Century.
All eyes will be on Roger DeCoster and KTM for 2011 as "The Man" works his magic once more to bring a team to prominence.