If you say Bruce Gates to a motocross racer or enthusiast in Minnesota, many will think of a super-fast Vet, how well he rides at Millville, or that
he was always on a Honda. But long before he was known for any of those things, he had a weekend to remember on the national stage.
Early in the history of the 125 Supercross championship, Detroit and Saint Louis were the closest venues to Minnesota. In April of 1987, Bruce Gates and
his crew made the drive out to Pontiac (RIP Silverdome) to race a double header. Based on his Motocross results the last two seasons, and his only other
Supercross event, there was not much to suggest that an amazing weekend was on the horizon.
In the first night, Suzuki had dominated the 125 proceedings during the qualifying heats, as they had done most of the year. When the riders came out of the
first turn in the Main event, it was not a Suzuki rider, but Gates leading the way, sending the fans scrambling for their programs trying to figure out who
just got the holeshot. Still in the first lap, Ron Tichenor was going for the lead, but got a little too close on the pass attempt. He described it
this way, “I tangled with Gates and I guess his bike hit my front brake, and I just flipped over.
A few laps later, the next Suzuki rider to take his crack at Gates was Keith Turpin. Turpin immediately dove inside Gates, then double jumped past him in the
next section. Turp then put the factory power to the ground, riding smoothly to a convincing victory.
The next rider up for Gates was Yamaha-mounted, local favorite Todd DeHoop. DeHoop made a pass, but this time, Gates was able to match the pace. Gates and
DeHoop had the crowd on their feet as they traded positions several times. DeHoop eventually broke away, but they had gapped the rest of the field during
their battle. Gates held third to the end. He had a podium in his second Main event. It was only a few weeks removed from a victory by defending 125 West
Supercross champion Donny Schmit. It was a very good month or so for Minnesota riders.
But yes, it was a double header. In Sunday’s main event, Tichenor got the holeshot, followed closely by Gates, Team Green’s Rodney Barr, and Iowan, Rich Halsted.
Turpin crashed and was way back, as did Barr on the same lap. Tichenor pulled away, but Gates held second for many laps. It all came undone when Bruce crashed
in the whoops. He was able to recover for an eventual 6th. At the end of the race, he was closing on another future uber-Vet, Barry Carsten.
After two consecutive seasons where Minnesota-born riders finished on the podium in 125 Supercross, the next one would not be until Ryan Dungey won
the 125/250f/Lites race in Atlanta, over 20 years later. And then everything changed. But that’s another story altogether.
Here he is at Millville between two of the most successful racers in history.
Thanks Tim Bernloehr