ROCKET REX Bio

- ROCKET Rex Staten -


   By the mere mentioning of Rex Staten in dirt bike conversation, most people know who this motocross racer is and the berserk full-bore riding style that was synonymous with him. His nickname “Rocket Rex” was born from his blazing teenage speed on CZ's at the Corona night races where a Cycle News writer referred to Rex as a Rocket on the track in a weekly race article. From then on the nickname literally conjured up tension and intimidation among his competitors on the starting line and during stiff battle on the track, and he used it to his advantage every race day. To this day he is commonly called ROCKET by name. His cousin Kevin Ward describes Rex as

“A Patton-esque figure on the battlefield of motocross back when the moto's and courses were grueling for 45-60 minutes long! It took a different kind of athlete back then. It was tougher and less dependent on finesse. The tougher the race conditions got, the more Rex shined above his competitors.”

   Rex Staten was born January 22, 1955 in San Bernardino, CA. A neighborhood close to the Southern California Deserts where folks would travel on the weekends to ride and race in the wide-open spaces. At the tender age of 9 Rex began riding behind his dad “Slim” in the desert dust on an old Jawa 125. Next, he got on a brand new 125 Pirelli his dad bought him, then a Honda 305 Superhawk. Later by age 12 he was riding a 175 Ossa. Then one day Rex and his dad were at a race in the desert spectating to where he finally asked Slim, “Dad can I race?” Slim said, “No son, it’s dangerous.” “Dad, I just want to follow.” Slim finally relented, so Rex lined up and came off the line in second place, and by the next lap Rex was leading! He liked being in front not eating the dust anymore. From that day on Rex said “It was hell ever since.” Then at age 15 he was on a path to greatness in the very competitive Southern California motocross scene.

     During his early privateer career Rex had many come from behind marches to the front that are legendary often finding himself lapping the field, even stopping for a quick splash of water, then motoring on to the win. One of these come from behind wins occurred while riding in the Expert class as a Junior on a 250 Ossa Stiletto. The event organizer had to be persuaded to allow the 16 year old Rex to enter the expert class as there were some hot Pro’s there that day, and Rex wanted to beat the best. It was 1970 at the Deadmans Point motocross track, Apple Valley, California. In those days 3 motos per class was the norm. The first moto went well netting Rex a solid 3rd place finish which completely shocked the spectators. The second moto found Rex dicing it out with the pro’s in a wild side swapping, bang up finish in 2nd spot. By now the crowd is frantically cheering Rex even into the pits after the moto. Everybody is thinking, Rex Staten is for real, this kid can really fly. By mid-afternoon in the hot Mojave Desert, Rex and the field lined up for moto 3 for the rubber band start. Rex lined up right next to the top visiting pro who on Saturday had put on a Motocross school for the locals. Rex thought to himself, “I’m going to school that teacher!” And that’s exactly what he did. The race was a pure battle of opposing forces. The professional squeaky-clean veteran against the local barehanded kid with no fear, sporting a bell star helmet, lineman’s boots, a T-shirt and Levi’s! It came down to the last 2 laps when Rex was in front by a bike length on the backstretch flat out in 4th gear. When entering the right-hand sweeper towards the famous rock section, it was noticed Rex was heavily manhandling the Stiletto in a frantic manner. When he jumped out of the rock section onto the main spectator front straight, he was even more frantically jumping all over his bike contorting his body to keep from crashing, but he held first spot. The final lap it was realized something had broken on the bike. Rex held a full back stretch wheelie flat out and when he entered that sweeper again, he was kicking his front wheel! What was going on? The last section leading into and out of that rock section was a most remarkable handling of a broken motorcycle. With legs flailing and kicking the front wheel to keep the bike straight, both Rex and the pro leaped out of the rocks side by side and when Rex landed, he gave the front wheel one last hard kick under full throttle and beat the pro by half a bike length! As he took the checkers he let go of the bike and crashed out in a plume of desert dust. The crowd roared and surrounded Rocket Rex in praise as he lay dead tired. So what actually broke on thr bike? The triple clamps broke up rendering the Ossa un-steerable! This one event was another pivotal moment in the timeline of forming Rex Staten’s determination and future on a motocross bike. On that day, the student schooled the teacher.

    At age 18 in 1973 Rex decided professional motocross was all he wanted to do. He began rigorous physical training and practice sessions during the day and built his race machines by night. As a privateer in 1973 while piloting Maico's for Holladay Cycles, of the 95 races Rex entered, he won a whopping 76 races! 1974 marked the first season Rex became an official factory rider for Team Honda. He won a moto in the 1974 Daytona Supercross 500cc class over world champion Roger DeCoster with a 400cc motor! In his first Trans AMA in the 1974 season he finished in the top 10 in a solid 8th place for the Nationals! Next was Basset Racing sponsoring him aboard a CZ for the 1975 season. It’s on this basically stock 247-pound CZ that Rex made small history again getting the hole-shot on Roger DeCoster and the Europeans. This was in the first moto of the 1975 USGP at Carlsbad. Rex held on for 8 laps but once the motor mounts failed, he hung on vibrating around the track to a respectable 4th place finish. Rex still holds the record for being in the lead against the Europeans longer than any American in this race. In fact, he was pulling away on a 30-pound heavier bike until the chassis failed. By the time he entered the pits his hands were like tree roots! DeCoster has been quoted referring to Rex as “crazy” for his on-track bravado at this and other USGP’s.

    In 1976, Dick O’Brian of Harley Davidson approached and signed Rex for the new MX 250cc and 500cc machines debut. Rex having a ferocious competitive racing style was the perfect test rider as HD wanted someone to thoroughly ride the bikes hard for R&D purposes. It has been said by team engineer Rex Marsee that while a rider for Harley Davidson’s short-lived motocross program, “Rex’s pile of broken and battered machines at the shop was four times as high as his teammate Marty Tripes pile!” To say ROCKET Rex was brutal to his equipment is an understatement. Rex took 5th place in the 1976 Motocross des Nations with teammates - Bob Hannah, Toni DiStefano and Kent Howerton. Then 8th place in the 1977-500cc Trans AMA Nationals on the Harley’s. Rex’s best HD highlight moment on the Harley 500cc machine was at Unadilla. In one of the moto’s he got a 40th place start and ran through the pack taking 2nd place! Rex overall finish for the day was 2nd, his best effort on the lumbering machines. The short-lived Harley effort came to a close in 1978 as the racing program lost its funding because they just weren’t competitive with the Japanese programs.

    Prior to 1978, John Bassett helped Rex with new Yamahas. Team Yamaha then signed Rex as a factory rider where he no longer had to fight as a privateer. He’s said of this new contract, “I can live now; I don’t have to fight anymore”.  He took 2nd place at the 1978-500cc Trans AMA Nationals, and 5th place at the 1979-500cc Trans AMA Nationals on Yamaha. The new season found Rex as a privateer conquering both the 250cc and 500cc classes of the CMC California Golden State series winning a record holding 69 motos, 29 of those wins in a row on a Holladay Maico!

    At the 1980 Daytona Superbowl of Motocross Rex took home the big money by winning that event for Yamaha over Marty Smith on Suzuki. He was then chosen to replace injured teammate Rick Burgett on the US team for one leg of the Trophee des Nations and Motocross des Nations in Europe. In 1981 Rex won the AMA World Four-Stroke Title on a Honda XL350. He then accepted an invitation to race the British Petroleum (BP) South Africa series. In those series with Yamaha he won three of three races at Johannesburg. Three of four with one second place at Cape Town, and three of three at Durbin. Staten had earned his place on the SA Yamaha team that included Stuart Beattie, Brett Redman and Gary Bergstrom. He captured the 1982 Camel South African National 500cc Championship. 1983 Camel South African National 250cc Championship and took second in the 1984 250cc Championship. As a result of this and his motocross schools, Rex Staten single handedly transformed SA motocross into a greater level of fierce competition never before conceived. Such great riders as Greg Albertyn, Grant Langston, Tyla Rattray and more were inspired by Rocket Rex. He is still considered a fan hero loved to this day in that country.

    After he came back home to America he began a new chapter of sponsored privateer racing into his mid 40’s as fast as he ever was!  He captured the 1988, 90, 91, 92 - World Vet Championships. He recorded the fastest Lap record during the Desert World 24 Hour Endurance Championships in 1993. The record was "8min, 25sec over 10 miles - avg speed of 72mph.” In 1998 Rex took 1st place in the Desert Vipers GP, and he was a 2-Time Mammoth Mountain over 40 Motocross Champion. Summing up his career, Rex Staten was a Factory Rider for Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Harley Davidson and CZ for 10 years, and 20 years in the Professional privateer racing saddle culminating into a 30 year career at full throttle on 2 wheels!

    Rocket Rex took the sport of motocross to a higher level of fierce competition. With some controversy he made it an open no holds barred “contact sport” that required his competition pay much closer attention when encountering the Rocket. Like his favorite racing hero Dale Earnhardt, "intimidation is a fact of life on the track" and Rex was the best at it. Also, Rex Staten was a key figure to birth what we see today as Freestyle Motocross. He was one of if not the first to perform aerial gymnastics on a motocross bike all the way back to the early 70’s on Maico’s and CZ’s.

    By the same token Rex is a very giving and generous human being off the track that will often do whatever it takes to help a friend or stranger in need, or a young fellow he thought had talent dreaming of his first motorcycle and racing, Rex would provide the necessary equipment. There are many personal accountings on record of this motocross giant’s career and tenacity from around the world that easily smooth the rough edges Rex has been known to possess.

   When one ponders how hard a motorcycle can possibly be ridden for extended periods of time to the point of falling apart at the seams, Rex Staten in the motocross world is at the top of the list of riders to pass this test. His tough and gritty approach to motocross racing was the norm as he negotiated the track with many unusual lines and bravado seldom performed by his contemporaries. Fear? Not even in Rex’s vocabulary especially when powering full throttle on the down hill’s, his favorite place to overtake racers by blowing by them with a smile, then rocketing through the eventual turn with ease. Rex Staten is regarded as the Cowboy of Motocross who has been quoted as saying:

“If someone’s going to beat me, I want them to work hard and have a tough time doing it. I want to beat the guy ahead of me twice as bad as he wants to win!”

    Rex Staten to this day is a great ambassador for the sport often present and helping out in a myriad of ways at many Vintage and Professional races. Whether he is doing an event interview or talking with his fans, The Rocket has a solid standing among his peers and fans that will be a lasting testimony to the rough and tough aspects of motocross. Ultimately, the heart of this motocross legend was centered on winning at whatever cost. That’s pure Rocket Rex… After retiring in 2000, Rex Staten left the sport with 2,000 plus moto wins in various series and events here at home and abroad.

    Always a fan favorite on and off the track, ROCKET Rex Staten was and is bigger than life to the young and old alike. May this Motocross Ironman and his tough as nails, blue collar racing ethic be long remembered as an important chapter in American Motocross history.


Eric EJ Johnson
2006


7 comments:

  1. All, this is the cover letter I submitted to the AMA Hall of Fame board for the nomination of Rex Staten in 2006. We may try again to get him in if there is enough fan interest. The Rocket surely deserves his spot there...

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  2. I am from South Africa and was privleged to see Rex Staten along with Jim Tarantino and Larry Wosick really up the level of motocross in this country. All these decades later Rex is still fondly remembered on these shores :)

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  3. Ahh..i grew up right around the corner where rex did..even into the 80s his shop was behind his parents house..as a kid i would bug him into giving me stickers..always the nicest guy!i grew up watching him ride his bike full throttle up and down the street..Robert "Tiger" Jones

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  4. I remember Friday nights at Corona Raceway when Rex would be tearing it up on his Maico or CZ in the Open Class. I was there racing my Bultaco as a 17 year old local. Rex had a flashy and aggressive riding style that was super fun to watch. I heard rumors in the pits that his dad was a hard-driving influence. Rex seemed at times to just be playing with the competition. He'd get so far in front during the motos that he could show off just for fun. He was truly a star and I wish him the best.

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  5. one time rex hit me onhis track on foothill blvd breaker was there iwas on my 500 also being a sore loser that's what goat said you slammed me so i slammed ya back .. you couldent catch me if you tried when i was going to lap you you went home. never come out to my track if was there ,,hell i liked goat, but always said you were the dirtiest rider around ya never beat me. RCRJ wanna try again what are ya 65 beat ya then do same now hi brecker recognize the old scoot?

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  6. FACTORY HONDA , So funny to see that you still remember Rex beating you in Fontana at East Ave And Foothill !! He beat us all there , Including Animal Jim Fishback . Rex could also beat you on a XR-70 as he liked riding down my driveway on the front wheel . Proud to have been a friend of Rex And Slim and family . RCRJ The Social Security Vet Class Race Is coming SOON Take Care DW

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  7. Hi Rex , Just wanted to say Congrats for your induction into The Trail Blazers Hall Of Fame . For all of us that knew you and your super competitive Race style , Let me say , Rex be sure to say a few words about your strong Dad and his strong support through out your career
    when they induct you into the AMA HALL OF FAME . And Also Stay Clear Of Flying Crescent Wrenches Lol Another story you should tell one day on your site DW

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