Photos by Namsia, Bill Petro
Ross “Rollerball” Pederson was born October 7, 1960 in Medicine Hat, Alberta. He didn’t start riding dirt bikes until he was 15 years old, a relatively old age by today’s standards. One day Pederson saw a bunch of guys out in a field riding around and figured he could do that and tried it. He was hooked right away. His father, Jim, bought him a dirt bike and he soon started leaving his friends behind him in the dust. Everyone encouraged him to join the CMA and start racing sanctioned motocross.
“I really didn’t have motocross heroes to inspire me as such. If there was a role model for me Bob Hannah was it,” Pederson said.
Unlike most aspiring motocrossers who get into the sport for the sheer passion of racing, Pederson got into it because he knew he had what it took to win and make a career out of motocross. And that’s exactly what he did! He totally dominated Canadian motocross, supercross, and arenacross for more than a dozen years. Between 1980 and 1993 he won an unprecedented 42 National Championships, including all eight of the Supercross Championships held in Canada. Pederson left the sport in style, winning his final Supercross at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium in 1993.
“Like today it wasn’t enough to just being a good rider back then if you wanted to make the grade. You had to be able to deal with management, sponsors, the industry, promoters, sanctioning bodies and the media to be successful. From day one I treated motocross not only as a sport but also as a business. I was fortunate to have Carl Bastedo take me under his wing, manage my career and help keep me focused,” Pederson said.
Pederson rarely focused on provincial championships, but like most riders that’s where he cut his teeth, winning the Alberta Junior title in 1977. By 1979 he was competing in Canada’s National Championship as a Senior. Pederson got recognized and picked up by Eddy McDonald, who had ties with Can-Am. That first year the up-and-comer missed the National Championship by a couple points due to a crash that left him scoreless. But he had served notice: Ross “Rollerball” Pederson was going to be a major force in Canadian motocross!
In 1980 Pederson turned Pro with a Yamaha Canada ride and he took the 125, 250, and 500cc machines to three National Championship titles. The Pederson “Era” had begun and it wouldn’t end for 13 years. In addition, he was a consistent top-10 to top-five finisher in the United States, where he rode National Motocross and Supercross events as well as a number of Arenacross races, which he excelled in.
“During my racing career motocross was the most important thing in my life. I loved it. I lived the motocross life 24/7 and wanted to win everything there was to win. I felt I needed to,” Pederson noted. “Every time I raced I was under the gun to produce. My rivals had nothing to lose, but I had everything to lose. If I won, so what, it was expected to. But if they won, they were heroes.”
On an international level, Pederson was the only top rider without a factory bike. Everyone knew this and it added to his legend both in the U.S., Australia, and Europe. He regularly competed in overseas supercross and motocross events, never failing to finish top-10 and as high as third.
Pederson was the only Canadian to win both the Toronto and Montreal Supercross. From 1982 thru 1988, he won every Canadian National Supercross title. In 1991 he recorded his fifth “Triple Crown”, winning the 125, 250, and 500cc National Championships, competing in six, 40-minute motos the same day at each round and more often than not winning them.
Pederson’s best year was 1987. The first half of that year he competed in a staggering 46 different events throughout the world and finished every one. He recorded 21 first-place finishes; his worst finish was a 17th at the New York City Supercross, when he limped home with a blown engine. During one, weeklong period, he rode races in North Carolina, Quebec, Toronto, and Winnipeg. At the halfway mark of the ’87 U.S. National Motocross Championship he was in fifth overall.
“Out of all the Americans there were about four or five that I considered a tough act to beat and they were on works bikes. If I would have had a works bike, then the odds would have been even,” Pederson said.
Perhaps Pederson’s best ride in 1987 was at Giuseppe Luongo’s “Masters of Motocross” event in Maggiora, Italy on September 27th. On a borrowed Yamaha that he installed his own carb, forks tubes and bars on he carried with him from Canada. Pederson finished fourth overall behind Ricky Johnson, Davey Strijbos, and Mickey Dymond. He beat such heavyweights as Michele Rinaldi, Georges Jobe, Ronnie Tichenor, Keith Bowen, Eric Geboers and Jeff Stanton among others.
After his retirement from motocross, Pederson became a successful Calgary real estate agent, did a stint as a colour commentator for the CMRC Nationals television broadcasts, and later became an oil sands worker in northern Alberta. Pederson was the first motocrosser to be inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame in 1998 – in 2010 he was inducted into the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame.