R.I.P. WARD ROBINSON (1937-2022)
Ward Robinson was one of the founding fathers of American motocross. From his early days of owning a motorcycle dealership in the 1960s and sponsoring riders to compete in the relatively new sport, to building one of the most famous motocross tracks in the world–Unadilla MX in New Berlin, New York–Robinson’s vision and dedication to the sport was immeasurable in both its early growth and continued success in the decades that followed. With his wife, Peg, at his side, Ward Robinson became a pillar of the motocross world, hosting some of the biggest and most important national and international events in the sport’s history. Peg passed on September 2, 2014; Ward passed on Monday morning, August 8, 2022, after a long illness. He was 85 years old.
It’s somehow fitting that Ward Robinson would pass on the eve of the 2022 Unadilla National, the biggest event at the track he first began running more than half a century ago. After opening in 1969, Unadilla Valley Sports Center, nestled in the rolling hills of scenic Central New York, began hosting AMA-sanctioned motocross races in 1970 and quickly grew to the point where it became synonymous with the sport of motocross.
In 1970 Unadilla hosted a Trans-AMA event, which was part of the first AMA-sanctioned motocross tour in America. Two years later, in 1972, it hosted an Inter-Am event that was included in the very first AMA Pro Motocross Championship Series. In 1978 Unadilla hosted the first U.S. 250cc Grand Prix as part of the FIM World Championship Series, won by California’s Marty Tripes. Then, in 1987, Robinson’s facility became the first U.S. track to host the prestigious FIM Motocross of Nations, which was won by Team USA’s Rick Johnson, Jeff Ward and Bob “Hurricane” Hannah, and managed by international racing legend Roger DeCoster.
It was Hannah and DeCoster, back in his own days of racing, who really put Unadilla on the global motocross map in the seventies. Their annual Trans-AMA battles embodied the rivalry between the European masters and the aspiring young Americans, as the highly respected DeCoster was a five-time 500cc World Champion from Belgium, while the brash California upstart Hannah was the vanguard for the rapidly improving Americans. Unadilla fans embraced both of these great champions and the two rivals responded by putting on their most epic duels at Ward Robinson’s track, which both considered to be among the world’s premier motocross circuits.
“The passing of Ward Robinson is a big loss for everyone—he was the face of Unadilla,” said Hannah, a multi-time AMA Supercross and AMA Pro Motocross Champion. “First time I met him he was at the ’76 Trans-AMA, and he was out there on a tractor. He had no idea who I was, nor did I know who he was, but over the years we got to be pretty good friends. I really enjoyed visiting the area and working with him and his family and of course Unadilla was my absolute favorite motocross track—it was a man’s track—and I loved it more than any other track in the world. That’s why I made sure the ’89 USGP at Unadilla was my very last race.”
Over the 53 years since Unadilla MX first opened more than 100,000 different motorcycle and ATV racers have competed on the prestigious track, and not just in professional competition, as the facility also hosts a variety of amateur events for both motocross and off-road participants.
Surviving Ward Robinson are his children, Jill Robinson and Greg and Linda Robinson; his grandchildren Alex and Nick Robinson; and numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins. Godspeed, Ward.