Tony DiStefano was a top motocross champion of the 1970s. He won three AMA 250cc National Motocross Championships and an Inter-AMA title during his nine-year pro career. "Tony D," as he was known in the racing world, was also a member of four U.S. Motocross des Nations teams and was part of the 1974 team that finished second in the international competition, which proved that American motocross was finally on par with the established European motocross racers.
In all, DiStefano won 16 AMA nationals, including victories in Supercross, 250cc and 500cc motocross and Inter-AMA and Trans-AMA competition. After retiring, DiStefano founded a successful motocross school and continued the school despite suffering paralysis in a riding accident in 1988.
DiStefano was born in Bristol, Pennsylvania, on February 6, 1957. His father owned a small motorcycle shop and a young Tony began riding minibikes by the time he was 5. By age 8, DiStefano began racing locally in scrambles events and steadily improved through his early teenage years. By the time he was 14, DiStefano started competing in the burgeoning sport of motocross, riding a CZ. He quickly became one of the fastest riders in his district.
DiStefano was so eager to race in the pros that he illegally raced on an older rider’s license and began racing in pro motocross events by the time he was 15 (at the time, the AMA required riders to be 18 to obtain a pro license). The fun for DiStefano came to a temporary halt when he was caught with the other rider’s license and was suspended from competition. Fortunately for DiStefano, the AMA changed its rules and lowered the age that riders could turn pro to 16. The change too effect just before his 16th birthday, so Tony D was soon reinstated and back on the track.
DiStefano’s first full year on the pro circuit was 1973 and he showed great promise from the very start. Riding a privateer CZ, he earned 11 top-10 finishes in the 500cc outdoor nationals and finished the season ranked ninth in the series.
Despite his strong rookie season, DiStefano only received minimal support from CZ for the 1974 season. In March of 1974, he started the season strong, earning his first national podium finish in the 500cc Supercross class at the Houston Astrodome. He followed that up with another second in the 500cc motocross opener in Plymouth, California. DiStefano broke through the following week in Moorpark, California, winning his first AMA national, in the 500 class. DiStefano led the 500cc series for much of the year before being slowed by a broken thumb. He won again at Morgantown, West Virginia, and finished second in the standings to Jim Weinert. DiStefano finished the year off by teaming with Jim Pomeroy, Brad Lackey and Weinert to finish second in the Motocross des Nations held that year in Sweden. It was the best finish to date by an American team in the international competition.
His performances in 1974 earned him a factory ride with Suzuki for 1975. At 6’ 1” and 200 pounds, DiStefano was built more like a football player than a motocrosser and most people assumed he could only be competitive on the powerful 500cc machine. But DiStefano proved otherwise.
Riding a factory Suzuki TM-250 in 1975, DiStefano earned a slew of top finishes, including a victory in Herman, Nebraska, and unexpectedly won the AMA 250 Motocross title in a close battle with Kent Howerton. The ‘75 season proved to be the zenith of DiStefano’s career. He not only won the 250 national title, he also won all three rounds of the Inter-AMA Motocross Series and took that title. He was the top American in the ultra-competitive Trans-AMA Series, having won three Trans-AMA nationals that year and he won his first Supercross race in the 500cc class at Houston.
DiStefano was just getting warmed up in the 250 class. He went on to win three AMA 250 MX national titles in a row, a feat that to date only he, Gary Jones and Ricky Carmichael ever accomplished.
DiStefano continued on the factory Suzuki team and the ’77 season was another good one. He won the final three 250 outdoor nationals to wrap up his third straight title. By this time, DiStefano’s popularity was such that he had a line of off-road apparel bearing the name of "Tony D."
Things began to take a downward turn for DiStefano in 1978. He crashed hard at the Houston Supercross and injured his knee. He never fully recovered from that injury that season and went from winning three-straight titles to not even cracking the top 10 in any series. It was a discouraging year, and to make matters worse, he was released by Suzuki at the end of the ’78 season.
At the end of 1979, DiStefano seriously injured his eye in a home construction accident. He made a valiant effort to come back despite being nearly blind in one eye, but from that point on DiStefano couldn’t seem to regain the combination that had made him one of the best riders in the country only a few years before. He picked up a factory ride with the fading Can-Am team and later Husqvarna, but only managed a few top-10 finishes through the 1981 season, after which he retired from professional racing.
DiStefano was still a fan favorite, even in his waning years as a pro, so he decided to use that relationship with the fans to start a motocross school in 1982. In 1988, while practicing at a track in New Jersey, DiStefano crashed, broke his back and became paralyzed. Encouraged by friends and sponsors, DiStefano continued teaching his school using an ATV to get around the tracks and watch his students.
When DiStefano was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999, he still lived in his native Pennsylvania and was busy running his successful schools and coaching young motocross racers.