5 Minutes With ... Ron Lechien

By Steve Matthes

While Brett Dailey and I were wandering around the Indy Dealer show, we came across the Maxima Oils booth and ran into none other than Ron “The Machine” Lechien. A part owner of the company, he was the 1985 125cc national champion and a multiple supercross winner. One of the sports legends, he sat down and took the time to chat with us….

RXC: Congrats on the new helmet, you must be stoked.
Ron Lechien: Totally, the guys at ONE did a great job. Marc Blanchard, Corey Bendo, they all had something to do with it. I am really pumped, they did a photo shoot a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t realize they were going to make this big of a deal of it.  I am super happy.

I would’ve personally done the bad bone motif but hey….
I kind of left it up to Marc really; he has been around a long time. He was the original designer of the Dalmatian print that the helmet has on it. That was one of JT racing’s biggest sellers ever. There was the bones stuff but that was … I wouldn’t have done the bones either. If I had a say it would be Dalmatians.

The Dogger with his One Industries signature helmet. Visit www.oneindustries.com for more info on the helmet.

What about you doing the Racer X shootout a while back? Tell us about that.
That was fun; I was a little nervous going in. I do try to ride once a week and keep up on it but going into the shootout I hadn’t done much riding and I knew it was going to be five bikes and I had to spend time on each. I was thinking, Man that’s going to be a lot of riding! Once I got out there and got my feet wet, I put my head down and just motored around. I couldn’t believe how good the bikes are; I ride a Kawasaki normally so I was a little partial to it but the motor on the new Honda just blew me away, it is so good.

Ron Lechien displays some of his classic style at the 2007 Racer X 450F shootout.

photo: Simon Cudby

I think the Kawasaki motor is pretty good; a lot better than my prior Yamaha.
Yeah for sure. The Yamaha is deceivingly fast though, because it’s so smooth. They are all awesome bikes for sure and any one would be good.

Did you see some of the old Honda works bikes at the Anaheim races?
No, I never got over there. I saw photos and people were like, “You gotta get over there.” I just was always late, running around talking and trying to get up to the Knothole to get a seat. I am totally bummed that I missed it, hopefully they do it some more; bring it out to Vegas or one of the other races. I have to get over there. I heard they had one of my old 125’s over there. I saw the tiny radiator on the one side

No I don’t think they did. I thought it was also but it turns out it was O’Mara's 1984 championship bike. Which 1985 works bike was better for you, the 125 or 250?
Honestly both were great bikes but that 250 with the seat that ran all the way up the tank was pretty awesome. That was the most killer bike I have ever ridden, it was insane. I didn’t get to ride it all year round, because the way the series was structured—it was one week indoors, one week outdoors. I never had a chance to get really used to it. Man, if I had a chance to really focus on one bike, it might’ve helped.

Team Honda displayed some of their exotic works bikes at the Anaheim rounds this year. Lechien won the 1985 125cc title on a works RC125.

photo: James Lissimore

I am not sure if you are into it, but you have to get the World’s Greatest Supercrosses DVD because you are all over it. I know some guys don’t care about seeing themselves on video…
Yeah I am familiar with that, I haven’t seen it [Ed note: Matthes sent him a copy last week] but Gary Bailey sent me a bunch of races that I asked for. He sent me the 1984 Oakland supercross and I couldn’t believe how cool it was. I emailed him back and told him thanks; there was like five or six guys going at it, swapping the lead. Bailey, O’Mara, Hannah—everybody. There were two whoop sections on the track; it was pretty gnarly.

My question for you is: on that DVD, there is the 1985 Rose Bowl and you go into the last race two points out of the lead but were not a factor in the race. What happened?
Actually the root of the story is that I had fallen earlier in the week; I crashed practicing with Terry Fowler and cut my elbow to the bone. We had a friend who was a nurse and she had some Novocain, I couldn’t ride without it really. If you see off the start, I was right there, I hit the turn, cased the jump and my arm flew off the bars. I was just numb from the drug! You can see Bailey looking back, wanting to let me go but I wasn’t there. That was a lot of pressure that night; my dad hadn’t come to many of the races that year but he was at this one. I could just feel the pressure there; I was like, Whoa man! It was a bummer to lose the title but, you know, my whole goal for my career was to win the 125 title and I did that. Maybe I should have set my sights a little higher! [Laughs] Once I did it, I was pretty content. I came close a couple of times in supercross and I can remember that year [1985] I threw away a whole bunch of points--five, ten points, I would be leading and just fall down, not really thinking of riding just for points.

Ronnie "The Machine" Lechien began his pro career on the #224 Yamaha in 1983 and earned national #7 and a contract with Team Honda. 

photo: courtesy Racer X / Moto Verte

Yeah, you are all over that DVD set, lots of Pontiac races on there as well. There is one where you hit Broc Glover and Larry Maiers is asking you about it. You smirked and said he was in the way!
Yeah, he probably was! [Laughs] I always liked Pontiac; it was a double header and I did good there, it was rutted up most of the time and I was good in the ruts—Seattle also. But getting back to the Broc thing, some of the old times, it was go for dead man, whatever you had to do—especially Ricky [Johnson] and I. I would just say screw him, knock him down, leave him in the dirt! We didn’t have to worry about the cameras and the internet, you just waited until you were somewhere in the back to do it!

Was it true that a lot of your problems with RJ were over a girl?
You know, we just had animosity towards each other, naturally. The girl situation certainly didn’t help, though. He had a girlfriend and I was young and probably telling her things I shouldn’t have. We had a lot of fun at the races on the weekends and some of us had girlfriends at home that didn’t know what was going on. She probably finagled me into saying some things that, looking back, I shouldn’t have said.

I was with my buddy in his truck one day and we saw him [Johnson] on his bicycle on the side of the road, just pedaling away. I was in the passenger seat and we pulled up and I was like, “Hey Rick, what’s up?” Well it turns out that he had just found some stuff out about her and I and he was out blowing steam off on this bicycle ride. Here I pull up, acting all happy and he was just looking at me like he wanted to kill me! [Laughs] I was like, we need to get back in the truck and go, this guy’s going to explode!

Honda's 1984 team was one of the strongest in the history of the sport. Riders from left to right are: Danny Magoo Chandler, David Bailey, Bob Hannah, Johnny O'Mara and Ron Lechien.

Was there one race that stands out in your mind?
There are a few of them: San Diego 1983 when I won on a bike that we bought. I had been dropped by Yamaha and didn’t have a bike for that week. Bevo Forte was my mechanic for that one. I won in front of my family and friends. It was a dream come true. I was in 11th grade and on Monday morning they were announcing all the sports scores and also that Ron Lechien had won the supercross on Saturday. I was rubbing my hands together thinking, This is going to be a fun week man! [Laughs]

The Motocross des Nations races were great also. At that time, things were rough for me and to come out and win both motos on the 500 was something special. My last win, Troy, Ohio on a 250. I never really did very good outdoors on a 250 after ‘84 or so. I got bigger and the guys got faster, so my last 250 win was also memorable.

At 16 years old, Lechien won the San Diego supercross in 1983 in front of his hometown crowd. Not bad for a rookie! He was back at school on Monday. 

When you broke your leg at Steel City in 1989, did you know that was the end?
Yeah, kind of. With the troubles I was having in my personal life at the time, I had to make a decision. Obviously, [pauses] I don’t know how you say it, but because I was addicted at that point, it was telling me what to do. I couldn’t keep on racing and being addicted at the same time, and I was like, What’s easier? Partying was.

But you did come back wearing #100 in 1992.
Yes, I raced the 500 nationals and got fourth on a pretty stock bike. Andy Stacey from TUF Racing called me and I wanted to ride, I still enjoyed it. I didn’t want the pressure of a factory ride, kind of like Windham’s deal now. I wanted to go out and do it my way, have fun, low key. I had a good time and I did okay, but it was hard to look at the other guy’s bikes. I had always had the best equipment and I will tell you, it makes a difference. It’s a lot harder.

Did you get any offers for the next year?
Well, actually, I rode for TUF again in 1993. I earned number 35 and rode the first supercross of the year in Orlando. I didn’t qualify for the main and it was way tougher than I remembered. I wasn’t training for Supercross; I wasn’t into it as much. They also had Ron Tichenor on the team and had to make a choice between us. They let me go and I wasn’t real bummed about it to be honest. I didn’t have the good suspension, and I didn’t have the motivation to hang with the guys. I remember watching LaRocco up in the stands for the main and thinking, Whoa, these guys are really fast! [Laughs]

I was pretty much done in the States at the point but I was getting offers to ride European races. I was still racing in Japan. I won the very first race in the Fukohama Dome. I always did the Switzerland races. I was racing a lot in Germany, I met a girl over there and I dated her for about two years. I rode a lot of international races, making money as I went. I even raced the first 500 GP in 1995.

How did that go?
I think I got eleventh; my goal was to get top ten. One of the guys over there was Chris Brunner and he had built me my 500. It had a 250 rear fender on it. Remember those old Kawi fenders that looked like banana scoops? He fixed it good for me. I was just talking to one of the promoters; I paid my way to get over there but once I got there, everything was paid for. He had this unbelievable chalet in the mountains, rolling hills and green grass. The night before the race, we had dinner, went to bed and woke up in the morning and everything was white! It had snowed bad during the night! [Laughs] It was a blanket.  I was asking if we still race in this kind of stuff and he said it depended on how bad it was! I was like, I’m from California and we don’t normally do this! We went to the track and I climbed up into the bunk and had a little nap. About an hour later, I hear this 125 wide open going around the track. We were racing! It was a mudfest man, so crazy. I think I fell two or three laps in a row in the exact same corner, and I remember looking over at these spectators laughing at me. I took my goggles off and threw them at them thinking, You guys come out here and try this! I rode a lot of Euro stuff in the ‘90s and made some money.

Our fearless reporter, Steve Matthes, talks with Lechien, now a part owner of his father's company, Maxima Racing Oils. A big thanks to Danny Massie for not kicking us out! Check out all of those #1 plates on the wall.

photo: Brett Dailey

Did you ever race in Canada?
No, never did actually. I know they had the Toronto and Calgary supercrosses, Montreal also.

Since we are from Racer X Canada, we have to ask you for a Ross “Rollerball” Pederson story.
I knew him pretty well; I didn’t hang out with him a lot. I would see him at the races all the time. He was a bulldog man, he was the type of guy that you ran into and he didn’t move. You would be thinking, I’m going to knock him down, and you come in and boom, he just stayed on the bike. I was pretty good at knocking guys down back then also. I think Ross was a bit much, he was a stocky guy; it was like hitting a wall! He did well and never had the killer equipment back then either. This was the era of full works bikes, the top eight guys all had great bikes. You were so out-biked that it wasn’t even funny, especially suspension. The stuff was so good back then, I think the older bikes would be competitive today if we were back on two-strokes.

Ronnie, do you ever think back on your career and think, What if?
Yeah, I do actually. Especially because of where I’m at now. You know, I realize that I would’ve had a completely different outlook on things back then. But I can’t change what happened. There were times where I would try to do it the right way, or at least the way that I thought it should be done. I would go out and train and do all the right things during the week, then at the race, I would get fifth or sixth. The next week I would go and have a good time, party it up, not really care about anything, and I would win! What are you going to do? Maybe if I had kept up the training and everything, I would have seen some rewards down the line…

You were looking for immediate results from the week, huh?

Do you get a lot of feedback from the groundbreaking Racer X story a while back?
Yeah, that was killer; I was stoked that Davey did that for me. What was funny was the stories in there were just scratching the surface of what went on. I was actually incarcerated when he told me he wanted to do a story on me. He sent a bunch of magazines into the jail and said when I got out we would do the article. Like I said, that was about a quarter of the stories. I know way too many, that’s for sure.

What do you think about the races today?
It’s pretty awesome, really. I was at all the Anaheims and watching Bubba…. I was just telling my friend the other day, I didn’t think you could go that fast on a bike. It’s incredible.

What do you think when you look at these kids today and the money and the attitudes?
I think about some of them sometimes. It’s hard to not draw comparisons, because I did it, I had everything and didn’t put the effort into it. It’s easy to sit back and say they aren’t working, I mean I do it also sometimes. I would say Lawrence and Hansen aren’t doing it the way they should, but then I would be a hypocrite because I was the same way.  It’s so easy when you’re sitting there to criticize and say that they aren’t doing enough, and I really don’t know. I just hear the stories. I can just imagine if there was the internet back when I raced, all the stuff that I used to do … I am sure I couldn’t pull a lot of it off nowadays. But when you look at the track and what they are jumping and doing out there, they have a lot of talent.

So you don’t look at James Stewart and think, I was about that fast?
No way man, no way. Everything is different though; I don’t think you can really compare eras. Everything is different, the bikes, the tracks. Back then we didn’t have uniform track builders. Every town we went to, it was a different crew. Now the whoops are the same … once you do the triple at Anaheim 1, you did it all year.  It makes for better racing.

Required reading: If you're a Ron Lechien fan, beg, borrow or steal (or you could always order from the archives) a copy of the April/May 2000 issue of Racer X Illustrated for Davey Coombs' epic interview with Lechien.

How did you practice for supercross back then? Where did you ride?
Later in my career, like 1988, Kawasaki had the track that they have now. Not that I spent a lot of time there though. [Laughs] The Honda track was in Simi Valley but that was three hours for me. I would go there for testing and stuff. David Bailey would be there with Johnny O’Mara and basically live there. It was a big advantage for them, riding three or four times a week on a full supercross track. I would be out at Palm Avenue jumping road jumps. I did have some tracks I built, but they weren’t that good.

Why did so many fast guys come out of El Cajon?
It was a wicked place to ride back then, lots of outdoor tracks everywhere you looked. I rode right out of my garage. Everybody had tracks back then, Marty Smith, Broc, they all had these places that were pretty good. There was a field next to my house that I had what I called the Pond Track. Its kind of funny, my girlfriend’s parents live on the same street that I grew up on and I look up at the Pond Track and I might even wander up there and see if its still there. Just about everywhere else has a building on it.

Watching those DVD’s, you are killing it in the turns, you barely ever sit down!
You know, I spent a ton of time on the bike. I don’t really get a lot of credit for how much I rode before I turned pro. I didn’t train very much; I rode all the time. I never went a day without being on the bike. I watched Broc and Bailey and saw how they rode and also down in San Diego, everything is real dry and slippery. I didn’t have prepped tracks in the backyard like these kids do nowadays. I just went out and rode the ruts and beat up tracks. A lot of the standing up was because I didn’t want to sit down, that was a waste of energy! [Laughs]  

Is there anyone racing today that reminds you of yourself?
Yeah, I am not sure. Everybody says Kevin Windham, I guess he would be the closest, he’s smooth and tall like I was.

Maybe Stefan Everts?  After watching the Des Nations, I saw some of the same style.
I haven’t seen the video, but I heard he was on it there. It’s hard to say, I was impressed that he beat Bubba. I didn’t think he could. I mean Bubba crashed and all but usually when he does crash, he just berserks it to catch up. The tracks are just different over there, ruts are deep and it’s a different deal.

I always really liked Stefan; he is a genuine, nice guy. Whenever I raced over there he would talk to me. He reminds me of Jeremy [McGrath]—a real class act. He’s done everything that you could do and he’s humble. Whenever I went over there, he was the king. I remember going over and racing at Foxhills and looking at his works Kawasakis …  man were those sweet. I would love to ride Bubbas bike, its gotta be just Cadillac man, plus you don’t have to work as hard on a bike like that!

One of Ron Lechien's finest moments was the 1985 MXdN where Team USA won the title with Lechien (125), Jeff Ward (250) and David Bailey (500). By the way, 1985 was the year that Canadian Mike Harnden finished 5th in the 250 class, setting a Canadian record that still stands today.

photo: courtesy Racer X / Jack Burnicle

Have you ever thought of being a riding coach for one of these guys? Or just helping one of these kids out?
I have had a ton of people asking me that—to do the riding schools and the coaching thing. It’s hard to put it into words, to go and tell a kid to jump some triple and then he goes and gets hurt. My buddies have asked me to help out Josh Hansen and stuff like that, I am just not into it. I have done some schools and just wasn’t comfortable.

But you could help some of these kids with just life lessons!
Yeah, that’s true … I would be good in that area with them. I think of myself back then and all the people around me that tried to get me to straighten out and none of them had an effect on me, none of them at all. If I told you who it was that helped me realize what was going on, he really wasn’t in my life at all. I barely knew the guy at all, but what he said, how he perceived me, just made something in me stop and go Whoa. Believe me, my parents, my friends, my sponsors did everything they could do to stop me and it didn’t work. How wild I was, what I was doing, shit, I am lucky to be alive. Nobody could get me to change my mind—when you have the money and the addiction, it’s hard. Locking me up was the only way to get me to stop.

I did hear some rumors of Jason Lawrence and Jeff Emig getting into an argument. If it’s true, I am bummed out on Lawrence, man. That sucks. People have told me that he reminds them of myself back in the day, but until he wins a race, come on. Until he wins a 250 supercross at 16 years old, don’t talk to me, and he’s already 17 so he’s out! [Laughs

All right, what about the Canadian riders and series? Do you follow it?
Yeah, a little bit. Darcy Lange got a PC ride and won some arenacross titles, that’s cool.  The series has a big buzz down here. The TV coverage is great, and the announcers are awesome. They make it exciting. Dusty goes out there and kills them but they still make it exciting. That’s too bad that Blackfoot lost Honda. I know Jimmy Nelson and he is riding Yamahas I guess. I look forward to watching it this year.

What would tell a guy like Dusty Klatt who was winning handily up in Canada and now is struggling a bit this year in supercross?
I like Dusty; he seems like a good kid. I would tell him to keep trying and obviously it isn’t going to happen overnight. Supercross is a different deal. You can ride all the tracks and practice during the week but race speed, that’s a different deal. Then he is a little dinged up and loses a bit of confidence. I saw that crash from Anaheim 1, which was ugly, he could’ve got it a lot worst, like lost a finger or something.

Thanks for doing this and congrats on the helmet again.
No problem, thanks a lot.