From the 1990s through the early 2000s, Ty Davis was arguably off-road motorcycle racing’s most versatile champion. Winning at national-caliber events from the tight enduros of the east to the wide-open spaces of the western desert, Davis racked up AMA National Championships and captured the respect of fellow racers across the nation.
Born in Bakersfield, Calif., in 1969, and raised in Hesperia, Davis was encouraged by his father to start riding at an early age. Despite his dad’s affinity for desert racing, Davis says there was no pressure for him to start competing at a young age.
“I just loved riding,” Davis says. “I would just go out there and ride in circles. Did I want to become a racer? No. When they had races, I kind of shied [away] from it. But then when I finally started, around 12, I did OK. Then I did another race, and I was hooked. My dad, though, said it was too extreme to race desert and that I should race motocross, as he was trying to qualify for the [International] Six Days [Enduro] team, so we didn’t do much desert racing after that.”
Davis was a top regional amateur motocrosser, winning the Golden State National Championship in the 250cc Pro class in 1987 then the 125cc and 250cc TransCal Series championships in 1988. Davis’ most high-profile title came at the 1990 AMA Supercross 125cc West Region Championship, when he beat future AMA Supercross star and Hall of Famer Jeremy McGrath.
“The biggest thing about the 125cc title was the story behind the scenes,” Davis says. “I bought my own two bikes, and Jimmy Button and I were driving our own vans to the races. I just raced a production bike out there, but I had the determination.”
Davis pointed out of the 125cc class and had to move to the 250cc class in 1991.
“Mentally, I wasn’t ready for the 250 class,” Davis says. “I needed another year to mature in that class. That’s when ATK called, and they offered me a bunch of money to win the White Brothers Four-Stroke Nationals.”
Davis accepted ATK’s offer and raced the series after the AMA Supercross season concluded, winning the 500cc and 600cc titles and then competing in the famed Baja 1000 desert race.
“The first year I raced Baja 500 for ATK, they took care of me,” Davis remembers. “They screwed up in the pits and never changed my filter. We lost the race by 17 seconds, but they were so happy, and since they realized they screwed up, they gave me my win-bonus anyway.”
Davis stayed with ATK in ’92, but was hurt most of the year. The next year, he moved to Kawasaki. The next several years were a development period for Davis. Although he was on the winning Baja 1000 team four times, from 1993-96, he was still finding his speed in individual events.
“I either got my [butt] handed to me by LR [Hall of Famer Larry Roeseler] or I couldn’t beat Danny [Hamel] in the desert,” Davis says. “I decided that if I’m going to stay at Kawasaki that I need to find another place where I can be the hero. That’s when I looked at doing the AMA National Enduro Championship.”
It was a good move. Davis earned Kawasaki its first, and only, overall AMA National Enduro Championship in 1995. Davis won again in 1999, giving Yamaha its first overall enduro title. By now, Davis was also winning in the desert, claiming the AMA National Hare & Hound Championship in 1997, 1998 and 2002.
Davis’ success hasn’t been limited to the racecourse. In 2001, while still actively competing at the highest levels, Davis started Zip-Ty Racing Products to develop and sell specialized parts for off-road race bikes. He continued to run the company when he was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2012.
Davis says he’s honored to be recognized by the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
“It’s amazing, really,” Davis says. “To be honored with so many of the guys I raced against and those who I’ve looked up to is humbling. Being in the Hall of Fame is a huge honor, and I’m excited to be recognized like this.”
Ty Davis was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2012.