Salem resident and former McNary grad Mark Gregson shows off the award he was presented at the Legends and Heroes motocross tour in Seattle, Wash. (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).
Mark Gregson doesn’t consider himself a legend when it comes to the sport of motocross.
However, some of his peers beg to differ.
On March 22, during the Monster Energy Supercross Series, Gregson was honored at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Wash. by the Legends and Heroes Tour for his time spent as a privateer racer in the late 70’s — during the infancy stages of motocross.
“Mark was a very accomplished motocross racer,” said Alex Moroz, who is the general manager of The Legends and Heroes Tour. “The Northwest has a rich history of riders and Mark was a guy that came up through the ranks to have a successful career. Everyone remembers him and speaks highly of him.
The goal of the Heroes and Legends Tour is to share with fans the rich history of the sport of motocross. From the riders, to the history of the bikes, this tour can be seen all across the country at multiple different motocross series events — 2019 marks the tour’s 10-year anniversary.
It’s been nearly 40 years since Gregson last raced competitively, but that didn’t change how grateful he was to be honored in front of a roaring crown of die-hard fans of the sport he loves.
“It was a huge honor,” Gregson said. “Racing is like a huge family.”
Influenced by his father, Gregson first got into motocross when he was a student at McNary High School in the early 70’s, and it became a passion that he got to share with his friends.
“There was a fairly large group of us at McNary that were into motocross and racing at local events on the weekends,” Gregson said.
After graduating from McNary in 1975, Gregson continued to compete in local events and was the top rider in the Northwest for three straight years.
“I just had the desire to compete and win,” Gregson said.
After his success at the local level, Gregson had the desire to see if he could compete on the top stage. So, in 1978, he set off on his own dime to compete on the national tour in the 125MX division.
As a 21-year old privateer, Gregson was at a significant disadvantage compared to his competitors. While Gregson was sponsored by the Chicago-based company Lorenz Offner Products, he was not directly supported by an automobile manufacturer and had to race with equipment that was inferior to his competition.
“It’s hard to go out there on your own against stiff competition against well-funded people. You have to get that to realistically compete for a championship,” Gregson said. “I had to make a lot of modifications to the bike.”
However, that didn’t stop Gregson from having success at the highest level.
In his first season as a professional, Gregson finished in the top-10 in four different races — including a pair of fourth-place finishes at Sunshine Speedway in St. Petersburg Fla. and Metrolina Speed Park in Charlotte, N.C. respectively, and a third-place finish at Agency Motocross in St. Joseph, Mo.
Even though he moved up to the 250SX class the following season, 1979 was Gregson’s best year of Gregson’s career.
Gregson earned seven top-10 finishes over the course of the year and finished the season in fifth place at the 1979 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships — which was the highest finish for a privateer.
“I wasn’t the most talented guy out there, I just think I had a lot more desire than others,” Gregson said. “You have to have the desire to compete and win.”
“It was hard, but I loved it.”
However, competing as a privateer can only last for so long. Gregson was on the road for all but two weeks in ‘79 and wound up putting 65,000 miles on his truck that year in traveling to competitions.
So, after competing in three races in 1980, Gregson decided to retire from the sport he loves.
“I just got to point where I didn’t see it going any further than where I was at,” Gregson said. “The amount of work was too crazy.”
Gregson now resides in Salem and is the superintendent at Riverbend Sand and Gravel, where he has worked for the last 25 years.
But even though his days as a professional racer are long behind him, his dedication to motocross is admired by those who love and respect the sport.
“It is very hard to compete as a privateer,” Moroz said. “You have to find your own transportation and try and live off your winnings.”
“It’s for the love of the sport that guys like Mark did what they did.”