Years before he rose to the top of AMA Motocross and Supercross, Jeff Emig developed a love for motorcycle racing not only in his hometown of Kansas City but also in the hills of southern Missouri.
Fast forward, then, to his breakout season of 1992, when Emig won his first AMA national in the 125cc class.
“It was like the floodgates opened after that,” Emig once said. “I had the taste of winning and I just kept it going.”
Did it ever. Emig climbed from regional success to national iconic status in the 1990s, rocketing to the top of the sport and earning a fanatical following that called him “Fro.”
So it’s only natural that his path has led to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, which is proud to induct Emig with the Class of 2017. The ceremony is part of the Enshrinement in Springfield presented by Killian Construction, set for Sunday, January 29. (For tickets & the full lineup, see below.)
In all, Emig won four AMA national championships, an FIM World Supercross title and was a six-time member of the U.S. Motocross des Nations team. During his 11-year career, Emig earned 37 AMA National wins. When he retired, he was fourth on the all-time wins list of AMA 250 National Motocross, sixth on the all-time AMA 125 Motocross list and tied for seventh on the combined wins list of AMA Motocross/Supercross wins.
In 2004, he was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame and, in 2013, named No. 11 among the Top 30 Motocross racers of all time by Race X magazine.
Truth is, Emig was a natural fit in the spot. He followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Brian, and then won events in the early 1980s, including the AMA Amateur Motocross Nationals at the Loretta Lynn Ranch in Tennessee. Soon, their dad switched his business model building race cars to motorcycles.
It was in the 1980s when Emig also signed with Kawasaki’s well-respected Team Green amateur racing program. He then piqued the interest of many by competing well in the final AMA Motocross National of 1988.
But the 1992 season, a year after he switched to Yamaha’s team, vaulted Emig’s career to the top of the sport.
In winning the 125cc class, Emig had to come from behind to do it. He was far behind Mike LaRocco in the championship points but closed out the second half of the season by winning six of seven nationals. That put him within one point of LaRocco entering the final national, although it meant Emig needed to win both motos to secure the championship.
Think he wanted it? He asked his family not to attend, later saying, “I wanted everything to be business as usual.”
The final lap of that race will never be forgotten.
“I turned the final corner to head up to the hill to the finish line and it finally hit me that I was about to become a national champion,” Emig said. “It was one of the most emotional moments of my life. I was completely overwhelmed. All I could think about as I took the checkered flag was all of the effort my dad put into helping me get to that final point. It was what we’d worked so hard for all those years.”
Almost overnight, fans who loved his racing style began to wear giant fake afros in Emig’s honor.
Credit a friend and fellow racer, Denny Stephenson, for the fake afro movement. He had drawn a design on Emig’s desk notepad that read, “Jeffro,” and the artwork was put on his fridge and many began calling him Jeffro, later shortened to just “Fro.” The nickname soon was on his racing pants and ads. After a freestyle motocross video featured Emig riding with a giant fake afro and a 1970s disco suit, fans followed his lead.
Starting in 1996, Emig found his form at the top level of the sport in the 250cc class, winning two AMA 250cc Motocross tiles and the coveted Monster Energy Supercross title in 1997. That 1997 season concluded a six-year stretch of Emig being selected to the U.S. Motocross des Nations team, and he was named the AMA Pro Athlete of the Year.
The year 2000 was his final one as a pro. However, Emig has remained in the spotlight by serving as the color analyst on multiple television broadcasts, including the Emmy winning, Monster Energy Supercross on Fox Sports. He also spends time as a brand ambassador for Husqvarna Motorcycles, Shift MX, Fox Racing and ODI Grips.
What a career it was.
ENSHRINEMENT IN SPRINGFIELD
When: Sunday, January 29
Early Reception: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 3861 E. Stan Musial Drive in Springfield. Event is sponsored by Meek’s The Builder’s Choice.
Reception, dinner & ceremony: 4 p.m. at University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center in downtown Springfield, 5 p.m. dinner and ceremony. Sponsored by Killian Construction. Associate Sponsors are Advertising Plus, Hartman & Company, Inc., Hiland Dairy, Hillyard, Inc. and White River Valley Electric Co-op
Inductees: St. Louis Cardinals speedster Vince Coleman, Kansas City Royals outfielder Amos Otis, Chiefs quarterback Bill Kenney, the Voice of the Missouri Tigers, Mike Kelly, Houston Astros owner Jim Crane (University of Central Missouri baseball), former Mizzou football coach Warren Powers, Missouri State volleyball coach Melissa Stokes, Mizzou head athletic trainer Rex Sharp, B.A.S.S. champion Rick Clunn (Ava), motocross champion Jeff Emig (Kansas City), Missouri State basketball standout Kelby Stuckey, NFL referee George Hayward (St. Joseph), the Voice of the Missouri State Bears, Art Hains, track coach Rod Staggs (St. Louis Berkeley), Penney High School football coach David Fairchild and Glendale High School soccer coach Jeff Rogers. The Hall of Fame also will induct the New Bloomfield High School Baseball Program and its coach, the late Rod Haley, and the University of Central Missouri Mules Baseball Program. The John Q. Hammons Founder’s Award will be bestowed on Jack Henry & Associates, and the Hall will present the President’s Award to Leon Combs.
Tickets: Call 417-889-3100. A sponsorship table of 10 is $1,500 and includes an autographed print of the Class of 2017, sponsor recognition in the printed program and at the table. An individual ticket is $150. Numerous other sponsorships also are available, including congratulatory ads.