Doug Henry was a three-time AMA Motocross national champion in the 1990s. He was on the leading edge of a revolution in professional motocross racing by becoming the first prominent rider to race four-stroke machines in national competition against a sea of traditional two-stroke motorcycles. Just a few years after Henry became the first four-stroke rider in AMA Motocross history to win a national championship in 1998, AMA Motocross Championship racing would become almost exclusively the domain of four-stroke bikes. After retiring from motocross full-time, Henry went on to become one of the leading Supermoto riders in the world.
Henry was born in 1969 in Milford, Conn. He grew up on a small farm in nearby Shelton. When he was 4, his father bought him his first mini-bike and Henry learned by riding around the farm. The family property bordered a power line right of way and logging trails that the local kids used as a motocross track. Henry's father allowed riders to ride through his property to get to the trails.
"For years, I'd see all the older neighborhood kids riding through the farm to go riding and wanted to go riding with them more than anything else," Henry said. "When I got older, I advanced up to a Yamaha YZ80. My dad saw a flier in the shop for motocross races at Southwick [Massachusetts] and before I knew it I was signed up for the 80cc beginners class and having fun."
As a teen, Henry progressed to one of the top junior motocross racers in New England, but in spite of his regional success, racing, as a career, never crossed Henry’s mind.
"Motocross was something I did that was fun and kept me out of trouble as a kid," he said.
Motocross was not televised often in those days and Henry recalls becoming a Broc Glover fan because Glover, a future Hall of Famer, was a Yamaha rider and Henry saw him racing in the ABC Wide World of Sports Superbikers competition.
By 1988, Henry began competing in a few AMA Motocross Nationals. For the first couple of years, he stayed close to home and didn’t race full time, but by 1990 he began to travel the entire circuit and started turning in some solid top-10 finishes. In 1991, Henry signed with DGY Yamaha and pursued both the AMA 125cc Motocross and 125cc East Supercross Series. He scored a surprise victory at the Hangtown National that year, his first career national win, and instantly became a nationally recognized rider. It was a rare victory for a non-factory rider in the championship.
"Hangtown was in the mud that year," Henry recalled. "A lot of people discounted my win because of that, but I went from a relative unknown to someone that at least people had heard of after winning that race."
Henry's career exploded in 1993 when he signed with Honda and won both the AMA 125 East Supercross title and the AMA 125 Motocross Championship. Henry called the ’93 motocross title one of the highlights of his career. He edged out future Hall of Famers Jeff Emig and Jeremy McGrath for the championship that year. In 1994, Henry won three nationals en route to defending his 125 motocross championship in another close decision over Steve Lamson.
In 1995, Henry moved up to the 250 class and finished fifth in the AMA Supercross Series. He looked poised to be one of the contenders for the 250 national title in his first year in the series. He won the national in Mt. Morris, Pa., but just a few weeks later experienced what might have been a career-ending crash at Budds Creek, Md. Henry lost control of his motorcycle on a steep drop-off and overshot a landing during a duel with McGrath. Henry broke his back on impact and the crash — captured in vivid detail by television cameras — became one of the most famous in motocross history.
At first, doctors told Henry that he would never race again, but Henry’s wife Stacey refused to accept that diagnoses and sought a second opinion. They found surgeons in Washington, D.C., who claimed they could fuse Henry’s back and enable him to race again.
After nearly a year away from the sport spent in rehabilitation, Henry made a triumphant return to motocross, endearing himself even more to the fans. He gradually regained the speed he had prior to the crash and in 1997 he proved he was fully recovered by winning three rounds of the AMA Supercross Series, riding for Yamaha. His victory at the Las Vegas, Nev., round aboard a Yamaha YZ400F prototype was historic in that it was the first time a four-stroke motorcycle won an AMA Supercross event.
Henry faced another turning point in 1998 when Yamaha asked him to campaign its new YZ400F four-stroke motocross bike full time.
"I had worked so hard to make the comeback after breaking my back," Henry said. "And now I was being asked to race an unproven motorcycle. I felt like I was starting all over again."
Despite going through the normal teething problems associated with racing a new motorcycle, Henry adapted well to the four-stroke machine and won five AMA 250 nationals on his way to winning the 1998 AMA 250 Motocross Championship, becoming the first rider to earn the title on a four-stroke. Henry’s championship proved to be a turning point in motocross racing. With increased government regulation of two-stroke engines, Henry's championship proved that state-of-the-art four-stroke motocross bikes could be successful on the racetrack. That started a major revolution in the sport and within a few years four-strokes dominated the sport.
Henry was named AMA Pro Athlete of the Year in 1998.
By 1999, Henry was a family man. He and Stacy had two children and the constant travel of the year-round AMA Supercross, Motocross Championships and testing schedule was getting to be too much. He announced that season would be his last as a full-time motocross/Supercross rider. Henry was showered with accolades by fans in his farewell tour and managed to win one last national at Troy, Ohio, in July of 1999.
After retiring from motocross, Henry kept busy racing snowmobiles and mountain bikes. He raced occasionally in motocross, primarily at his home track of Southwick. He also shocked the off-road racing world by winning an AMA Grand National Cross Country race in Florida in 2005.
In 2003, the second chapter of Henry’s motorcycle racing career began. He was asked to join a Yamaha-supported team in the newly formed AMA Supermoto Championship. Supermoto was a hybrid series that was based on the old ABC Wide World of Sports Superbikers competition that pitted riders from all disciplines on motocross bikes with road racing tires on tracks that featured elements of road racing, motocross and flat track racing.
Henry was immediately successful in AMA Supermoto, winning a round in Irwindale, Calif., and finishing second in the 2003 championship race in Las Vegas. In 2004, Henry rode with Troy Lee Designs Honda and won more AMA Supermoto races that any other rider in the series that year. Mechanical woes were the only thing that kept him from winning the championship.
By 2005, Henry was considered one of the best supermoto racers in the world. He backed up that view by beating visiting World Champion Thierry van den Bosch in a race held at Elkhart Lake, Wis. Henry then beat an international cast of Supermoto greats at the X-Games aboard his Graves Yamaha YZ450F. Henry suffered a serious injury in a Supermoto race in 2007 that ended his racing career.
Henry was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2005.