Creator of Supercross
July 1972. Los Angeles Coliseum. The very first supercross. Little did anyone know that a single event would change motor sports, make & break careers, spawn new industries, and even change the lives of many people.
Pure unadulterated, adrenaline pumping action, plus a flare for showmanship and promotion. That was Mike Goodwin.
Mike Goodwin is accused of plotting the horrific 1988 murders of racing legend Mickey Thompson, 59, and his wife, Trudy, 41. They were shot execution-style outside their home in Los Angeles County. Goodwin says he’s innocent of any involvement in the murders. He and others have been working on his exoneration since just after the murders.
Goodwin, whose business dealings with Thompson had soured before the murders, has been held without bail since his arrest on Dec. 13, 2001.
Two bicyclists were seen fleeing the scene of the crime, but were never found. Investigators concluded that the motive was probably not robbery, as both had valuables on them. They viewed Goodwin as the prime suspect, given that he had bitter business disputes with the Thompsons in the past.
Motocross had been raced in Europe since the late 40’s and came to America in the 60’s. The Europeans were the masters of motocross. Steeped in tradition, the European racers were initially skeptical of Supercross, and were reluctant to even try it.
Finally, the legendary Roger De Coster of Belgium, relented to race a Goodwin event in consideration of a large guaranteed appearance fee.
Mr. De Coster quickly recognized the future of the sport. This broke down the barriers of European rider participation. Following that they flocked to America.
Big sponsors like Coca Cola, Miller beer, Toyota trucks and others paid handsomely to be affiliated with the sport, and saw their product sales sky rocket from the association.
“The Olympics was the largest promotion we at Coca Cola, Los Angeles had done. Case sales were up tremendously. However, our Supercross promotion during October generated a case sale increase 50% higher than the increase rate during the Olympics (a 20% increase). Considering the scope of the Olympics, the Supercross was exceptional. The Supercross pre-race party drew 700 executives and their families. I am talking about heavy hitters. It is a rare occasion that decision makers come to any activity in that kind of force. Thank you Mike.”
I can say another thing about working with Stadium Motorsports Corporation and Mike Goodwin … I love working with them and they always deliver more than they promised.” Arlen Renfro, Vice President of Marketing, Coca Cola, Los Angeles.
As the big bucks started rolling in, Goodwin built a dazzlingly lavish lifestyle with fur coats, exotic automobiles, a 60′ yacht and champagne-laced parties. The consummate showman, Goodwin nurtured this image of his wild lifestyle to generate loads of controversial publicity, which would push ticket sales even more.
At the second Superbowl of Motocross at the Coliseum in 1973, Goodwin added a crazy but spectacular uphill and jump. Racers soared 100 feet back to the floor of the Coliseum after racing up over the stands, out toward the arches at the end of the Coliseum and eventually back through the larger center arch, which seemed to spit the racers back into the bright lights and all the way to the floor. It seemed death defying. And since the riders disappeared out of the first arch before jumping back in, it built tremendous suspense.
Also that second year attendance grew by 50%, fueled in part by this wild peristyle jump. The peristyle jump became the symbol of the excitement of Supercross.
The phenomenal growth continued. One year at Anaheim Stadium, over 20,000 fans beyond the 70,000 capacity were turned away, even though Goodwin’s staff went on radio and television before the event announcing a sellout, and asking people without a ticket not to come.
Goodwin’s 1979 L.A. Coliseum event still holds the all-time Supercross attendance record of 79,000 fans. Goodwin made a profit of $661,000 on that one night alone.
As soon as other promoters saw the big money to be made, a few of them jumped on the Goodwin bandwagon. They copied his Supercross events. However, Goodwin still averaged the largest crowds in the series, and had more television coverage and national sponsors than the rest of the motorcycle industry combined.
John Bradley / TV producer/ Director Justice on Trial: “Before Supercross, Goodwin had promoted groups like the Rolling Stones and in partnership with legendary Bill Graham: Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, the Who, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Bob Dylan’s band, the Grateful Dead, the Moody Blues and dozens more.
I first met Mike Goodwin (well, more like encountered him) at lunch in 1966 where my partner and I hired him, over my objections. I did not like Goodwin; not many did. But, I finally had to admit, he was perfect for the job. So Goodwin became our road manager. We were promoting concerts in eleven cities in the west in the late 60’s. We needed someone smart and brawny, who did not do drugs, to handle the stoned acts and spectators, keep the box office crew honest and be an occasional bouncer.
Mike turned out to be much more than that; more than could comfortably fit in our small company. He was loud, fiercely independent and had a stormy temper that became legendary. However, after our frequent skirmishes Mike’s anger quickly dissipated and it was back to business as usual.
When he went to work for us, Mike agreed to do things as we always had. “Super, I’ll get right on it!” he told us, but then did things by his own, very organized, standards. Goodwin thought big. Always bigger; biggest: super, even. To him, everything worthwhile was “super.” When my partner told him he was hired, Mike said simply “Super!” After he negotiated 50% more than we had intended to pay him, he carefully reviewed the employment contract, saying, “This’ll be super!” Mike eventually turned out to be far better at promoting concerts than we were. After a couple of years, he went out on his own.
Before he left our company, Mike and I became close friends, and we remain so today. In those early days Goodwin stored his dirt bike in my garage and, waking me up at sunrise on Sunday mornings to ride the hills behind my house. I had never been a rider. But Mike talked me into riding on the back of his Honda 250. No helmet, no gear, no shoes. I burned the inside of my thigh, badly bruised the heels of my feet, and never rode again, even after 12 years of producing Supercross TV coverage.
Mike became extremely successful independently promoting rock concerts. However, he was still a dirt bike rider at his core.
Mike would capitalize on the excitement of motocross. One afternoon in 1972, it came to him: charge admission for people to watch a motocross race in a comfortable NFL stadium. No one had done it; no one had even thought of it. He drew his first Supercross track on the back of a cocktail napkin, took it to the L.A. Coliseum and wound up persuading the manager there to let him bring in hundreds of truckloads of dirt to stage a motocross race, no, a SUPER motocross, the very first Superbowl of Motocross.
Goodwin created motocross in stadiums, nurtured it and made it more successful than any other motorcycle event before it.
Mike had always admired Mickey Thompson’s white-knuckled, flat-out, off-road racing events. There were several meetings between them and, after a lot of haggling, Mike and Mickey thought that their joining forces might ultimately benefit both. In light of Goodwin’s phenomenal successes and the poor box office receipts at Mickey’s events, Thompson fought hard for 30% of the combined business, should the trial association work out.
However, it did not. It only lasted 3 months. Mickey sued Goodwin and, by Mickey’s own admission, through his judicial “connections,” won a $500,000 judgment against Mike. They wrangled in the courts for over 3 years, until early 1988 when a settlement was reached.
Speaking from behind a Plexiglas wall in the Central Men’s Jail, one of the principal characters in one of Southern California’s most enduring murder mysteries made it clear the case is far from over.”
Bradley: Although some of those now involved with Supercross have eradicated references of you and your contributions to the history of the sport, those of us who were there know that you alone invented Supercross. How?
Goodwin: The manager of the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1972, Bill Nicholas, had an interest in motocross because his son was a rider. We were in a cocktail lounge across from the Coliseum discussing the possibility of putting on a race inside the Coliseum, an idea I had suggested earlier. He asked me how I would build a track; I sketched it on a cocktail napkin. He said “You give me a monster cleaning deposit, bring in the dirt and let’s go for it.”
I was the first to try to translate motocross into mass entertainment. Certainly, other people had done motorcycle racing in a big way. In Europe, road racing drew thousands, but motocross was not a big sport yet here. Few in America had even heard of it. We thought that by bringing it into a stadium where you wouldn’t have to smell the chemical toilet, drink hot beer, eat cold hot dogs, and not be able to see much, and that we could charge admission and attract enough spectators to make a profit.
The idea came to me while my wife and I were dating. We had gone to the Carlsbad Grand Prix motocross. She told me if I ever took her to another one of those events, she would never go out with me again. She couldn’t stand the lack of parking, overflowing portable toilets, clouds of dust, no shade, and even the danger of standing next to track with speeding motorcycles. She couldn’t hear the sound system, and when motorcycles went around about every minute and a half she could not tell who was in front, especially late in the race when the leaders lapped the stragglers. For her it was a noxious nonevent.
Bradley: Some people think Mickey Thompson was the first to bring dirt in stadiums for his off-road cars. Can you clear that up?
Goodwin: Mickey Thompson definitely was not the first person to bring dirt into a stadium. I did the first stadium motocross – the Superbowl of Motocross at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1972. Mickey Thompson never did a stadium event for his off-road cars in an NFL or baseball stadium until after he and I had a temporary business arrangement in 1984.
Interestingly, Mickey Thompson also never ran a real Supercross race – an AMA sanctioned Supercross race – with AMA team riders. The only event he ever ran that came close to that was an attempted Supercross at Anaheim Stadium in 1988, shortly before his murder. It didn’t have an AMA sanction and didn’t have the team riders. He drew a half a house and lost a lot of money. I had sold out Anaheim Stadium for about ten years, every year, prior to that.
So it is a misnomer that Thompson ever ran a real Supercross or that he ran his car races in stadiums prior to me doing so. Mickey even tried to change all the rules of a motocross race by renaming it “Ultra-cross,” but it failed.
Bradley: On the CBS 48 Hours segment “Murder In The Fast Lane”, host Bill Lagattuta implied that Mickey’s stadium off-road races were successful when you attempted to combine your businesses. Your comment?
Goodwin: Again, Thompson did not run any stadium events prior to our temporary business association. We were only associated for a little over 3 months. In an article about his life and accomplishments, Mickey was quoted in LOS ANGELES MAGAZINE, July 1988, that he had invested millions of dollars in building the sport of stadium off-road racing and had yet to make a profit. And, in fact, his company, Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group, M.T.E.G., never made a profit until 1989, after Mickey’s death. The company made a profit when Mickey’s sister and primary heir, Colleen Campbell, combined Supercross and off-road racing; Supercross was profitable, subsidizing the off-road cars. The company was bankrupted in 1995 and I eventually became the biggest creditor of M.T.E.G. because I was never paid for the rights to produce Supercross.
Bradley: If it is true that you and Mickey were in business for only a short time, why did the merger fall apart and did Mickey ever really become your partner?
Goodwin: There was no merger. The two companies were kept completely separate. In fact, on 10/10/84, after less than 4 months in business together, Thompson and I split up and in Thompson’s own attorney’s words, ” … went our own separate business paths.” We were never partners. It was a joint business association, a test, if you will, with certain goals that had to be achieved in order for us to sign a final merger contract. Our companies were always two separate corporations, only sharing overhead but never merged.
We staged a few events together but Thompson did not want to write his portion of the checks. I can prove, conclusively, that I put up over $500,000 and Thompson did not put up his share. I’m not certain he even had it to contribute, since we now know his financial condition was perilous at the time. In spite of that, he claimed I was cheating him; that he couldn’t read and never understood the agreement. He sued my company and won a $500,000 judgment that I appealed. During the next 3 years we negotiated through our attorneys; and had no direct contact. Shortly before the shootings, a settlement was achieved but Mickey was murdered before he could sign it.
Bradley: Authorities have said to the media that you were so enraged at Mickey for having taken your business, all your money, and having ruined your life that you “threw caution to the wind” and that’s why you ordered the killings. Did you hate Mickey that much?
Goodwin: No, of course not. And there is no evidence that I ever did. Thompson did not take my business. He did take some of my stadiums, that’s all. We still had InSport, the company that owned all the AMA sanctions for my Supercross races. In fact, his company never did pay for those rights. Because Mickey did not have these sanctions at his Anaheim race, he could not get top riders. My wife and I still had over $2 million dollars in assets left, plus over $800,000 cash in a trust account set up to pay the Thompson settlement. (Over the 3 years between the original suite and settlement, interest and other costs had swelled the original $500,000 to over $700,000.) Up until Mickey’s death, he had only “taken” $1800 from me. He did not take my Mercedes, as he claimed and we still retained the valuable Atlanta event plus other, substantial business interests.
I was fully prepared to wait him out; wait for him to go broke staging un-sanctioned events at the stadiums I had been using previously. I thought the industry would eventually come to me since there were no stadium events for factory riders to participate in. That’s why my wife and I had been planning for over a year to leave the country on an extended dive and photography vacation boat trip in the Caribbean. My wife had successfully outbid Thompson and still owned the AMA sanctions for the races, we believed it was only a matter of time until Thompson went under.
Bradley: Can you describe the current living conditions of this jail you are in?
Goodwin: The conditions here were beyond Guantanamo. I was in a punishment section of the Los Angeles jail. This is the biggest jail in the world, with over 7000 inmates. Used to be that I could use the phone 3 days a week, usually for less than 10 minutes and I had to make most calls before 6 AM. Mail took weeks to get in and out. I got to go outdoors once a week, I got one warm meal a day. My cell floor was 3′ x 7′.
Conditions are better now. I have a small window, a slightly larger cell, and I get to use the phone at a time undetermined in advance, once per day between 6 a.m. and midnight. My mail gets in and out within 5 – 10 days.
I’ve got great supporters out there too. I’ve heard from a lot of folks who remember my contributions to the sport. Please tell people to visit http://www.JusticeOnTrial.org and see for themselves. Since before my arrest, the nonprofit organization had been assisting in my defense, raising money, helping me personally. It is my goal to dedicate the rest of my life to working with Justice On Trial to help others as I’ve been helped. I hope readers will visit the web site and make a contribution to help me and others.
Also, they can get an e-mail to me through the web site, and via regular mail. I love hearing from friends and supporters, and we really need help. Justice On Trial is a nonprofit corporation and is applying for tax-exempt status. You and I look at this as a way to assist some who possibly have been charged erroneously.
Goodwin, Michael F. #8178-058
L.A. County Jail Twin Towers Pod 132A
PO Box 86164
Los Angeles, CA 90086-0164
I am innocent. My attorneys and supporters have been super throughout this ordeal. I welcome a trial as I know a jury will see that I am innocent and, by acquitting me, end this nightmare.
Â© 2005 John Bradley, from the upcoming book & movie