Blast From the Past
By Broc Bridges
Don Davidson was a Marine veteran, college football athlete, college professor, urban planner, architect, and newspaper owner/publisher hailing from Pontiac, MI. He spent an entire decade turning his obsession of building a new stadium in the Greater Detroit Area into a reality. Through an incredible series of discussions with city officials, planning, and designing he began building the 56-Million Dollar, 80 thousand seat, silver-topped multi-purpose dome. On September 19, 1973 the ground broke at Pontiac Metropolitan Stadium, and on August 23, 1975 the stadium opened. Davidson’s dream of revitalizing a struggling metropolitan area finally materialized, with the Stadium immediately attracting many professional tenants including the Detroit Lions (NFL) and Detroit Pistons (NBA). Included in the Silverdome’s history is one Super Bowl, NBA All-Star Game, College Basketball National Championship, four World Cup matches, WrestleMania, and massive concerts from Elvis Presley to The Backstreet Boys. Supercross took no time to visit the newly named Pontiac Silverdome and, in the third official Supercross season the first Pontiac 450SX Class round was held only seven months after the Silverdome opened its doors. “The House Don Built” would hold a then-record 48 450SX Class rounds from 1976-2005. Supercross raced in the Silverdome for three seasons after the new Ford Field was opened before moving to the upgraded location in 2006 for good. From the first race in 1976 through the upcoming 2024 Ford Field Supercross there have been dozens of intriguing Championship battles across both 250SX and 450SX Classes in the two locations.
1976 was a huge year in the development of Supercross, having been the last season where the moto-format was used. In a non-point paying race at the end of the season in Angel Stadium, the round used a Heat Race system to qualify for a single Main Event, which is a system used to this day. In the five round Championship battle starting at Daytona International Speedway and ending in the L.A. Memorial Coliseum 18 motos were held, paying out points individually, which resulted in a close Championship battle between Jimmy Weinert, Pierre Karsmakers, Kent Howerton, and Jimmy Ellis. Pontiac was the penultimate round and held four motos over two days with a close Championship battle at hand. Weinert held a 14-point lead over Howerton going into The Silverdome and would hold onto that lead with a 1-2-1-7 overall weekend. Weinert went 5-5-4 in the L.A. finale and Karsmakers finished only 10 points behind in the final standings after a 2-4-3 performance. Howerton DNF’d the finale and fell to fourth in the final points tally. The Silverdome quickly became an important late season multi-round weekend early in the sport’s history.
Bob Hannah was in his second season of 450SX Class racing in 1977 and leading the point standings through five rounds. Having won three of the five rounds, he only led Jim Pomeroy by five points going into the multi-round weekend in the Silverdome. He began a streak that weekend that has stood the test of time only to be tied to this point- six straight wins in a single venue. His sweep in the 1977 season buoyed him to a 24-point lead going into the final three rounds and he cruised to a 46-point Championship victory. Hannah was having a third-year slump in 1978 and a 12th place finish at Round 2 in Atlanta had him playing catchup heading into the Houston Astrodome doubleheader. Hurricane Hannah and his Yamaha trailed by 25 points to Honda rival Marty Tripes who had taken two of the three wins and a runner-up in the opening round. Hannah would sweep the Astrodome bringing his deficit down to 19 points, and then scored Pontiac victories three and four in-a-row. Tripes struggled, giving 16 points back to the now hot Hannah who aptly won Pittsburgh and New Orleans to tie and pass Tripes in the standings. Tripes did not gain a single point in the final two rounds and lost the title by 52 points to Hannah. Nobody could touch Hannah in the 1979 Supercross season, especially after reeling off two in-a-row in Seattle and Atlanta. He held a 58-point lead heading into the Silverdome where he swept for the third-straight season and third straight 450SX Class title. Only Jeremy McGrath has won a venue six straight times since in the 450SX Class, and that was in the HHH Metrodome in Minneapolis. Eli Tomac could tie this record with a sixth straight Daytona victory in 2024.
In the following six seasons from 1980 to the inception of 250SX Class racing (then 125cc) in 1985, Supercross visited the Pontiac Silverdome for a doubleheader in each season except 1985. Fast forward to 1986 and David Bailey swept the 450SX Class in the Silverdome but Rick Johnson’s 2-2 was good enough to hold a strong points lead en-route to his first of two titles. This was also the first year the Silverdome hosted 250SX Class racing and it was the fourth and fifth round of the Eastern Regional Championship. Honda’s Keith Turpin (50 points) and Kawasaki’s Ron Tichenor (42 points) were in an intense title chase going into the weekend. Tichenor won the first night’s action closing the points gap to 72-67. Turpin gained back those points the next night going into the finale with a 97-89 lead, ultimately winning the title by 22 points. The following season Tichenor and Turpin became Suzuki teammates but were the two title contenders for the Eastern Regional. Pontiac served as the fifth and sixth rounds of the eight-round series and this time it was Tichenor who had the advantage going into the Silverdome (83-67). An eighth-place finish on night one of the doubleheader gave Turpin, who won the round, 12 points back in the point standings. Tichenor won the second night but only led by seven points going into the final two rounds. Turpin went 1-1 to get as many points as he possibly could but fell one point shy of back-to-back titles due to Tichenor going 2-2 in the final two rounds. The 450SX Class had just as an exciting Championship battle going on as Rick Johnson held a three-point advantage over Jeff Ward. The Championship rivals had each won a title in the previous two seasons and fans were excited for a huge battle in the Pontiac Silverdome. Unfortunately, Johnson was injured in his Heat Race and missed both nights of action, returning in Tampa Bay in Round 11 now down 40 points. Wardy held the seven-race winner Johnson off by 34 points in the final tally.
Ford Field began hosting Supercross in 2006 and has seen its share of close Championship battles as well. In 2006 Carmichael, Reed, and Stewart embarked on one of the closest three-way battles in the history of Supercross. The Detroit Supercross was round 12 of 16 that season and James Stewart won his second of an eventual five of six to end the season. At season’s end only two-points separated Carmichael from Stewart and Reed, who had tied for second-place. Ben Townley and Ryan Morais stole the show in the 2007 Eastern Regional finale, with only three-points separating the two athletes. Townley scored a second compared to Morais’ fifth giving Townley the title. Reed scored his second Championship in 2008, but yielded 11 points to Windham in Ford Field bringing the title much closer. For the first time since the first Silverdome round in 1976, the Detroit Market did not hold a Supercross for multiple seasons in-a-row. Racing returned in 2014-2017, 2019, and 2022 to present. Once again Championship battles became prevalent in the Detroit Market, this time in Ford Field. Last season Cooper Webb came into Detroit with a one-point lead over Eli Tomac and up 13 on Chase Sexton. Sexton won the race but was penalized four points. Unfortunately, both Webb and Tomac would suffer injuries late in the season which gave a surprising Championship win to Sexton, who himself suffered multiple bad luck rounds throughout the title fight. This season, much like the previous 56 Detroit Market rounds across both classes, point-standing battles are abound- with only 23 points separating the top-eight riders in the 450SX Class. Aaron Plessinger holds the red-plate after a Stanton/Carmichael-esque consistency. Teammate and reigning Champion Sexton is only four points back, former Plessinger teammate Webb only six points behind, and 450SX Class rookie Jett Lawrence eight points back. For the first time ever, Pontiac will host an Eastern Regional 250SX Class Opener and reigning 250SMX Champ Haiden Deegan is looking to turn his purple plate into a red one by weekends end. He has a lot of fast competition between the Pro-Circuit Kawasaki team, his own Monster Energy Yamaha teammates, among other athletes. Supercross has once again given life to what has always been an incredible destination for the series.