The Hannah/Howerton slugfests. The Johnson/Bailey Anaheim Supercross. The bar-in-the-face Weinert/DiStefano berm battle. The Jimmy Mac/Monty Roy 3-Foot-Trophy Day 250 Junior Race. I’ve witnessed hundreds of exciting races, but if you ask me to name my favorite all-time battle, I have no hesitation in answering. It was Rex Staten versus Mike Hartwig at a CMC Carlsbad race in 1974.
MEMORY IS NOT RELIABLE
I know my memory is questionable and unless you’ve got a photogenic memory (like Jody Weisel), your memory may not be totally accurate either. That’s why before I retell my favorite battle story, I need to corroborate the facts.
Rex Staten would visit Troy Lee Designs when I worked for Troy. I couldn’t get a better confirmation than from one of the guys who lived it. The problem was, Rex didn’t remember the race! I don’t remember all my motos either (fact is, I don’t remember many of them), but I figured Rex would have to remember this barn burner. Nope. It drew a blank. I was shattered. Was my memory that far off?
This left me with Mike Hartwig. Problem was, I had never met Mike who is a Michigan guy. Our paths never crossed. Then, Motocross Action Magazine did a profile on Mike in their October 2020 issue. Jim Kimball wrote the story (a great read) and Jim was easier to track down than Mike. He was kind enough to get Mike to give me a call. I had butterflies. Here I was asking a guy who I never met if he remembers a race from 45 years ago. He not only remembered the race, his recollections matched mine perfectly. Here you go.
The year was 1974 and Rex Staten was pretty much unbeatable in the CMC Open Pro ranks. Factory guys would show up and leave stunned by the beating they took from Rex.
Mike Hartwig had just left Husqvarna and signed with Yamaha. “I raced two California events when I first signed,” remembers Mike. “I raced Baymare Raceway and Carlsbad. I don’t remember the order I raced them so the race you’re talking about was either my first or second race on a Yamaha. It was definitely the first time I raced Carlsbad.”
I watched the first moto from the fence near the scoring tower. Tommy Pearl was next to me, but like Rex, he didn’t remember the race. The Pro motos were long and Staten and Hartwig were never more than a few feet apart the entire race. Rex had the home court advantage and Mike could not find a way around him (while trying to adapt to his new Yamaha and Carlsbad’s rock-hard adobe surface). Moto one finished with Staten first and Hartwig, his shadow, in second. The locals were not surprised.
Moto two was near the end of the day. Most racers had left, pretty much assured that Rex would take care of business. Which he did until…the last lap. Mike was never more than a few wheel lengths behind Staten as the clock wound down. On the white-flag lap, it looked like Rex would show the factory boy who was the boss of Carlsbad. They headed up the Carlsbad Freeway one last time.
“The uphill was fast and had a bend in it and a tighter corner at the top before it headed straight down the hill,” remembers Hartwig, perfectly describing Carlsbad’s layout. “I made my move by going under Rex in the sweeper, hitting the downhill in first. It wasn’t even a quarter of a lap to the finish and I stayed ahead to win the moto and take the overall. We raced bar to bar for two motos and I won the overall by leading less than a quarter of a lap.”
Exactly how I remember it. Thank you Mike for taking the time to humor this old racer and I’m relieved that my memory still has some accuracy left in it.