Jeff Smith – British
For most people, Jeff Smith needs no introduction. As one of the driving forces behind Can-Am, Jeff provided the world champion race expertise and European perspective to Gary Robinson, the lead engineer designing the first bikes. Jeff can also claim setting Can-Am on their winning streak with a silver medal in the 1973 ISDT on a 175 TnT
Before joining Can-Am, Jeff had developed impeccable pedigree of race experience and victories. This includes 500cc World Motocross Championship in 1964 and 1965 on a BSA. In addition Jeff was a six time member of the winning British Motocross des Nations team and earned 8 gold medals in the ISDE in 11 competitions.
On retiring from active completion, except for ISDT’s, Jeff joined Can-Am in 1970 to work with Gary Robinson in the development of the Can-Am. He worked with Can-Am for nearly its entire existence, including when the assembly of the bikes transferred to Armstrong in the UK.
His attitude to racing is best summarised in his infamous quote “My wife said to me 20 years ago, ‘It’s time for you to stop racing’.” “I said ‘OK, I’ll just ride from now on’. “So I just ride these days”.
So much for just riding, Jeff still competes as this photo taken in 2011 (aged 77!) at the Canadian Cordorouy Enduro, shows.
Now retired in the Wisconsin, USA, Jeff writes a regular article in Class Dirt Bike magazine. I have had the pleasure of meeting Jeff several times, both in the USA and UK, one occasion included a stop by at his house.
Gary Jones – American
Gary clinched his third consecutive AMA National championship in 1974 for Can-Am after winning it in 1971 and 1972 for Yamaha and again in 1973 for Honda.
Although retired, Gary still competes at special events. I recently saw him in action at the 2010 Australian VMX nationals near Melbourne.
Jimmy Ellis – American
Jimmy placed 3rd in the 1974 AMA National Championships (along with Gary Jones and Marty Tripes) and was winner of the Supercross title in 1975, both of which were won on a 250 Can-Am.
Marty Tripes – American
Marty started his race career in early, winning the first ever Superbowl of Motocross at the age of 16 in 1972. Can-Am lured him away from Husquavana midway through the 1974 season. On the newly launched MX-2, Marty went on to place second in the AMA championships of that year, completing the 1-2-3 hat trick for Can-Am. His tenure was short lived and Marty signed with Bultaco in 1975.
Marty went on to eventually win 11 AMA Nationals
Geoff Ballard – Australian
Geoff Ballard is synonymous with Can-Am in the 1980′s as only him and John Martin continued as factory riders when production shifted to the UK, and appeared in some of the sales sheets with John. His career with Can-Am culminated with winning the 1984 AMA National Hare Scrambles Championship.
In more recent times he is now more well known for his off road business www.ballards.cc where he continued to support cross country and enduro racing in his native Australia.
Now semi retirement has meant an eye towards some vintage racing and Geoff has recently contacted me looking for a 1984 ASE 250, as per the bike he won the championship on.
Geoff notes the following about some of the pictures “The ISDE shot is in Wales in 83 and I went over to Armstrong and built the bike. I had to fight like hell to get the KX500 front disc put on it. I had a shocking event at that ISDE, but beat the Americans in most of the special tests, so that’s what got me the ride in the States for the following years and it eventually allowed me to stay there another 2 years. Then unfortunately it all ended for myself and Can Am.”
Lars Larsson – Swedish
Lars originated from Sweden who immigrated to the United States in the late 1960’s and was largely responsible for introducing both the sport of motocross to America, along with a number of European technologies and products. He was a leading International-Six-Day-Trials (ISDT) rider during the 1960s and 1970s. Lars rode with Can-Am in the late 70’s and 80’s towards to the end of racing career.
Tony DiStefano – American
In 1980 Tony joined Can-Am as he neared the end of his racing career. Following a non-racing related accident; Tony was left blind in one eye which affected his racing abilities.
Billy Uhl – American
Winning 7 gold medals in ISDT events, he gained his sixth in 1974 ISDT at Camarino Italy – aboard a 175cc TnT. Billy missed the 1975 event, although he was signed to ride for them, Can-Am unexpectedly pulled their support at the last moment.
Finished his racing career with Can-Am in 1980 on his retirement from professional racing.
Buck Murphy – American
Buck is a multi-title winning motocross rider with numerous AMA motocross, dirt track and supercross championships and podium finishes.
Raced for Can-Am in 1975/76 on a 250 GP bike where he finished fourth ion the Supercross Stadium series
Steve Brand – Canadian
A native of Ontario, Canada, Steve had a long involvement in the success of the Can-Am race team. In 1979 Steve accepted a sales position with Bombardier Inc where he served in various sales positions within the Moto Ski and Ski Doo snowmobile divisions, and with Can Am motorcycles. He was the Can Am off-road motorcycle Canadian race manager from 1980 to 1987 and coordinated the ISDE effort each year in Europe. In 1990 he transferred to the marketing department in Valcourt, Quebec, where he was involved in several key snowmobile R&D projects.
Steve now runs his own real estate company and racing accessory business (TekRider). He also owns a 1974 TnT 250.
Blair Sharpless – Canadian
Blair may not be someone who is well known on world stage, but as Canadian and leading rider for Can-Am during the 80’s, he gets a special mention. Son of Bill Sharpless, another well known and winning bike racer in the 50’s, Blair is probably the most successful modern Canadian off-road racer.
Included in Blair’s accomplishments are; 17 Canadian National Championships, 18 Ontario Provincial Championships, 10 International Six Day Enduro(ISDE)Medals
International ISDE(T) medals: 1980 Brioude France 350cc bronze, 1984 Holland Bronze Medal, 1985 Italy Silver Medal, 1986
Poland Silver Medal & Ontario Cup, 1987 France: Silver Medal & Ontario Cup, 1989 Germany Gold Medal & Ontario Cup, 1990 Sweden Silver Medal & Ontario Cup, 1993
Holland Silver Medal & Ontario Cup
Blair is now a fireman with the Toronto Fire department and still regularly competes in motocross and enduro events.
Geoff Burgess – British / American
I recently asked Geoff about his race history and his time with Can-Am, he replied:
I’m an ex-pat Brit (Scot) who grew up in the Midlands and ended up becoming a Mechanical engineer working in the UK motorcycle industry. My first job in 1963 was at Villiers at Wolverhampton which became Norton-Villiers-AJS. I then worked for the BSA-Triumph group at the infamous R&D centre at Umberslade Hall. I emigrated over here in 1972 after BSA-Triumph went bankrupt.
Spectating at a Motocross meeting in 1975 at Unadilla in NY I stumbled across the Can-Am race team. As I had worked at BSA in the development department I knew Jeff Smith and one of their employee/riders, a Northern Irish ex-pat Ron Matthews, who I had met on the World MX Championship circus in Europe. Anyway, Smitty offered me a job at Can-Am in Quebec. I started as an engineer in April 1976 and survived the closure of Can-Am in 1981 to become Director R&D for recreation products, Can-Am/Ski-Doo/Sea-Doo. The bikes were made by Armstrong from 1983-1987 but the motor specs were released to Rotax by us to be built in UK. I left Bombardier in 1988 and went back to work in the US. Worked at GM chassis engineer, Chief engineer for Victory motorcycles, VP R&D S&S Cycle, CTO/Sr VP Custom chrome and VO Prod Dev for Indian (6mos) in NC. Now retired.
I raced in the UK in Scrambles (Motocross) from 1963-1972 mainly in the Midlands and Wales regions. I did several BBC TV Grandstand winter scrambles in the support class. I also raced in the Isle of Man motocross races held in between the road race races. Bikes raced were a DOT, 250 CZ twin pipe and a Husqvarna 400. I suppose I reached expert rating in the ACU. When I immigrated to California I tried desert racing on a Monark 125 and a Husky 400. I finished 2nd in 125 Amateur class, 80th overall with 2556 starters, in the 1973 Barstow-Vegas 140 mile desert race. Raced as an expert for the Desert MC after they found out I wasn’t an amateur after all! Did Baja 500 on 125 Monark but crank broke at 100 mile check. Raced at ISDT/E 2-day qualifiers in US and Canada, in ‘73 Oregon Gold, California Gold, Washington Gold, in ‘78 Alabama Gold, Texas Gold, NJ Gold, MI Gold, Canada several Gold. Won various Enduros in Quebec and Ontario lost count/memory. Raced for Can-Am team in Canadian Enduros and Team Canada in ISDT/E 4 times, ‘76-‘77-‘80-‘82, one Silver and 3 DNF’s. DNF’d on Friday pm both times in Czech events in ‘77 and ‘82, one time there was only 83 out of 330 starters so I felt pretty good even though I didn’t finish the day. 1982 was basically my last race as I then had senior job responsibilities.
There’s nothing like capturing history in a person’s own words.
Rode with Can-Am in the late 70’s.
Gary now runs a leading motocross training school in Ohio and is an author on a number of books on riding techniques
John Martin – American
US National HS champ one in the 80′s on a Can-Am.
John was the effectively the poster child for Can-Am in the final years appearing in a number of sales brochures.
Mike finished second in the 1975 Supercross Stadium series.
Rich is another ex-pat Swede who claimed two AMA Trans-AMA 250 Championships. He rode for Can-Am
Jim rode for Can-Am in 1980 on a then yet to be released Qualifier IV.